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Monday, June 26, 2017

Is Wales being complacent over fire risk in high rise buildings?

The latest news that sixty tower blocks across England have been found to have unsafe cladding is deeply disturbing. At the time much of this cladding was installed it complied with fire regulations. It appears that this is not the case now. But what about Wales?

In my view there needs to be an urgent review of building regulations so as to ensure that they are fit for purpose and to take account of new construction methods. That is a devolved function so why has the Welsh Government not announced that it is doing this work, or at least given an indication that it will do so once the causes of the fire are better understood?

The Welsh Government has offered reassurance that the material used in cladding schemes on our 36 social housing tower blocks is different to that affixed to the Grenfell Tower, Much of that cladding is mineral based and is therefore non-combustible. And with that information the media has refocused is attention on England. But is that enough?

I do not believe that there is any immediate threat to social tenants living in high rise blocks in Wales but I do think that more work needs to be done to reinforce the assurances that have been given to them. It is vital that tests are carried out immediately on all the materials used in cladding those blocks and the outcome of those tests publicised. Why is so little known about whether this is happening?

Equally as important we need to better understand the way that the cladding has been affixed to these buildings. Experts have said that the fire spread so quickly at the Grenfell Tower because the cladding was affixed to vertical pillars creating effective chimneys that carried the flames upwards. Is that a standard means of carrying out this work? Is that the case in Wales? If so then it may need to be revisited to break up those vertical funnels.

There has been a lot of focus on the 36 social housing towers in Wales and all those who own these buildings have done a lot of work on calming the fears of tenants, but very little seems to be known about other high rise buildings. Housing Associations own a number of towers, including in Swansea. Should they not be publishing the outcome of their investigations?

Seven of these blocks have been retrofitted with sprinkler systems, a tribute to the far-sightedness of the Welsh Assembly in insisting on passing a law requiring sprinklers in all new buildings. But isn't it time that the remaining blocks were also retrofitted in this way? Hard wired smoke alarms and robust safety instructions are important, but if a fire can be snuffed out as soon as it starts then that is invaluable.

There are also a large number of high rise towers in private ownership, many of which contain sub-let flats. Nobody knows what cladding or construction methods have been used on these towers. In many cases the developer would have overseen building regulation approval themselves under a delegated scheme agreed with local councils.

There are also non-residential public buildings containing offices which have been over-clad, not to mention cladding that has been affixed to schools and hospitals.

I do not raise these issues to create any sense of panic. I have no evidence that any of these buildings are at risk. However, I expect the Welsh Government and local councils to be seen putting together an action plan that over a short period of time will examine all these buildings and put in place any action needed to ensure they meet the highest possible safety standards.

We are getting regular updates on what is happening in England with regards to this work. Money is being promised to help to correct any deficiencies. Can we now see the same sense of urgency in Wales?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

For those who couldn't afford to go to Glastonbury

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Expectations of a compliant media are anti-democratic

Tim Farron's description of Andrea Leadsom's comments to the BBC last night as 'sinister' and 'stupid' just about hits the nail on the head.

The Leader of the House of Commons' comment to Emily Maitlis was: “It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic. The country took a decision, this government is determined to deliver on that decision.”

It is difficult to know where to start with his crass remark except to say that for a democratically elected politician to try and shut down legitimate scrutiny and criticism in this way goes beyond stupid. It demonstrates an anti-democratic mindset and a complete misunderstanding of the democratic process.

Democracy exists to protect the rights of minorities not to impose the will of the majority. It is meant to foster robust debate and encourage contrasting opinions. Any government minister who fails to understand that is in the wrong job.

Last year's referendum was non-binding, was fought on false pretences and lies and was close enough to justify a confirmatory vote once any deal has been agreed. It was also a snapshot of opinion at that particular time. It is no more set in stone than the 1976 vote that confirmed our membership.

If this is what the Tory party has been reduced to in the place of argument and persuasion then no wonder the government is floundering.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why we must not have a coronation for Lib Dem leader

I am beginning to feel a bit unloved by the Liberal Democrat MPs. Every time I come to a decision as to my preferred choice for leader, that person rules themselves out of the contest.

Like many members my initial preference was for Jo Swinson. I reasoned that she was young, a mother with experiences of the outside world but also somebody who had held ministerial office and had real accomplishments to show for that time in government.

The fact that Jo would have been the party's first female leader would have been a bonus of course, but her appeal lay in her freshness and her ability to relate to non-political people.

It is true that her voting record as part of the coalition could become an issue but that is also the case for every other leadership contender and for the party itself. What matters (and this is the first test) is how the new leader moves us on from that, building on the work Tim Farron has already done.

Alas, and for perfectly understandable reasons, Jo Swinson decided that she was not ready to stand for leader, preferring to serve an apprenticeship as Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Group instead.

My second choice was Norman Lamb. Norman has impressed me since he entered Parliament. His directness, his thoughtful approach to issues and the air of quiet competence he projects would be a welcome contrast to the blundering of Theresa May and the bluster of Jeremy Corbyn.

Norman has also made a name for himself as a minister and for his campaigning on mental health issues. He is a politician who commands respect across political divides.

I did not vote for Norman the first time around because I judged that we needed a more high profile campaigner who was not tainted by a government record. The needs of the party are different this time around.

Norman's problem of course was that he defied the party whip and abstained on article 50. Given so many of the party's membership joined over that issue his candidacy might have been a tough-sell, Norman certainly appears to have thought so. He writes in the Guardian:

I abstained on article 50 because I felt it was wrong in principle to vote against, given that we had all voted to hold the referendum in the first place. For many in the party that abstention was an act of betrayal. I have been accused of supporting a hard Brexit – the last thing I want – while a Lib Dem source told the London Evening Standard this week that the abstention “looks like he can’t make a tough call”. It is actually quite tough to go against your party, and I did it on a matter of principle.

I happen to disagree with Norman on article 50, but he has confirmed that he supports the party's call for a referendum on the final deal and that is good enough for me, though actually it might not be a bad thing for the new leader to take a more nuanced approach to the Brexit issue.

It was clear that our message on Brexit failed to resonate with voters and that in many places it was misunderstood. Putting Norman at the head of the party would have sent a signal to both leavers and remainers that we want to listen to both sides, whilst doing our best to secure a deal that will keep us in the single market and keeps freedom of movement.

What struck me most about Norman's article was the way it articulated many of the reasons why he should have run for leader:

We need to understand why so many people get frustrated with remote power – something that Liberals should understand. The Europrean Union is too often dysfunctional and sclerotic, yet progressive internationalists have been reluctant to admit this. While we have always recognised the need for reform of the EU, the Liberal Democrats have been perceived as being too tolerant of its failings.

My great frustration is that instead of the name-calling, what we need is for progressives to engage in fresh thinking on how we achieve a new settlement with the EU – one that secures free trade, jobs, security partnerships and our place in the customs union.

I want the Liberal Democrats to use our potentially pivotal position in parliament to force cross-party working on the profound challenges we face: not just the Brexit negotiations, but how we secure the future of the NHS and our care system.

If I had decided to run for leader, I would have used my position to champion a different style of politics – rejecting the abuse and aggression that turns so many people off, and instead seeking to build consensus where possible in the national interest. I favour telling it straight, not dissembling – bringing people together rather than dividing them. The public will not forgive the political class if we fail to understand the changed circumstances of a parliament with no majority. We don’t need an early election. We need a new style of politics.

None of this should be taken as meaning that I favour a mushy, value-free equidistance from the other two main parties. You can be a pluralist and hold passionate views. I am a Liberal to my core. I know that we are supposed to mellow with age, but I have done the opposite. I have become more angry and impatient with injustice and gross inequality.

In those few paragraphs Norman has set out what the leadership election should be about, how we redefine ourselves as a party. in the face of the challenges posed by mass migration, Brexit, extremism, terrorism and social change. As Norman says, so many of those challenges were ignored during the General Election. He continues:

Whether it is tenants in tower blocks; people with learning disabilities; workers with no stake in an enterprise watching as the owners of capital take an ever growing percentage of our national income, and their own wages fall; the citizen who feels powerless against remote power, whether at the town hall, Westminster or Brussels – these are the things that drive me on, keep me fighting for justice.

He concludes:

How do we address gross intergenerational inequality, or the impact of automation on jobs we assumed would always be there? How do we fund and improve our public services as the ratio of taxpaying workers to pensioners changes so radically? How do we respond effectively to a new wave of violent extremism, in a way that doesn’t harm our way of life? And then there’s the potentially apocalyptic challenge of climate change, and how to protect those most severely affected by it.

If the progressive side of politics is to prevail, we can’t just hanker after a better yesterday. We have to win the battle of ideas about how we confront these profound challenges.

The party needs a full and proper debate on issues such as these. We need a leader who understands the challenges and who is able to ask the right questions of government and the electorate as well as pose some answers.

It is for these reasons that we cannot have a coronation. There must be a contest in which members and politicians alike can join in this crucial debate on the future of our party, our country, our way of life.

If our group of 12 MPs fail to facilitate such a contest then they will have failed the membership, but more importantly they would have failed the future of liberalism itself.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Constitutional crisis or hubris?

Yesterday's Queen's Speech was notable not just for the Queen's Euro hat but for the fact that it is still uncertain whether the Prime Minister can command a majority to get it through the House of Commons.

The chances are that the DUP will vote for the speech because to do otherwise will remove their bargaining power. It seems to me that Arlene Foster's party views these talks more like a form of Chinese water torture rather than the better defined process Theresa May had hoped for. If that is the case then we could be in for a prolonged period of suffering on the part of the Conservative Government.

Of course what happens to the Government's programme after the Queen's speech is passed and the DUP finally get on board is a moot point. A confidence and supply deal may not be enough to get many of these bills through in the form envisaged by the Prime Minister.

That is evident from the article in yesterday's Telegraph, which reports that Theresa May is facing a constitutional crisis after Labour and the Liberal Democrats threatened to use the House of Lords to water down Brexit.

Some might say that this is a just punishment for a Tory Party who failed to reform the House of Lords when Nick Clegg gave them the opportunity, and who threw away their majority just a few weeks ago. I am not going to demur from that judgement.

The question I would pose is whether this is a constitutional crisis at all. After all no one party has a majority or a mandate, so all the usual conventions do not apply. In these circumstances this is exactly how our antiquated constitution is meant to work.

Time for reform. Yes, please. But why wasn't that reform in the Queen's speech, The answer lies in Theresa May's hubris in thinking she can carry on with business as usual, instead of building a consensus for her policies, following a very personal rejection of her and her party at the General Election.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Labour divisions continue over Brexit

With the Queen's speech due to take place later today, despite the fact that Theresa May has proved incapable of negotiating an agreement with the DUP, it is more important than ever that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party turns a lead in the opinion polls into a coherent opposition narrative if the Tories are to be held to account. Unfortunately, for the country and for Labour such coherence remains unattainable.

As the Independent reports, more than 30 Labour MPs have reopened the party’s split over Brexit by demanding Jeremy Corbyn campaigns to keep Britain in the single market. These rebels have urged the Labour leader not to “throw in the towel” by aping Theresa May in arguing withdrawal is inevitable when Britain leaves the EU.

They have warned that quitting the single market will extend austerity for many years after an independent forecast of a £31bn hit to the public finances. They argue that in agreeing Britain will leave the trading arrangement, Mr Corbyn is siding with a “motley crew of hard-right, pro-Brexit Tories” – including Michael Gove. Boris Johnson, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith:

A letter penned by the 34 MPs reads: “We must be clear – “access” to the European single market is both different and inferior to “membership” of the single market.

“Why? Because, if we leave the single market, whatever the level of access is negotiated, working people across Britain will be worse off and revenue to the exchequer will plummet – revenue the next Labour government will need to bring an end to years of damaging Tory austerity.”

And it adds: “At the very least we should strongly oppose May’s decision to take membership off the table in these negotiations.

“An ambitious and confident alternative government – with Corbyn at the helm – should not throw in the towel as May has done, but could seek membership with reforms on immigration and the other matters we seek.”

Signatories to the letter include Labour big-hitters Chuka Umunna, Maria Eagle, Liz Kendall, Stella Creasy, Pat McFadden, Ann Clwyd, Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw and it follows growing dismay among the MPs at Labour’s confused and – they argue – timid stance on Brexit:

In the last Parliament, Labour said it would leave the single market, voting against an amendment to the Article 50 Bill which sought to keep Britain inside.

Its election manifesto then talked of “fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union”.

In recent days, both Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner, the trade spokesman, have hinted that Labour would try to stay in a “reformed” single market.

But John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, ruled that out, saying: “I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible.”

What a mess, but nevertheless evidence that those who are opposed to Brexit only have the Liberal Democrats to turn to on a UK level.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Are demographic trends killing off the Tory Party?

The Independent carries an interesting theory postulated by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine. He has warned that the Conservative Party's electoral base is dying off at a rate of 2 per cent a year.

The 84-year-old’s comments come weeks after the Tory party failed to achieve an overall majority in Parliament while Labour enjoyed a gain of more than 30 seats, defying the polls and commentators.

“One thing which is just worth having in mind, and you can't do anything about it, 2 per cent of the older part of the electorate die every year - they are 70 per cent Conservative,” Lord Heseltine told Sky News. ”Another 2 per cent come in at the young end of the electorate - they are about 70 per cent Labour. That's about 2 per cent change each year. There isn't that much time.“

This is an extreme example of a core vote strategy but is of course flawed as it assumes that the age split in the recent General Election in which most of the under-55s voted Labour and those over-55 backed the Tories, is set in stone.

It does however reveal a certain mindset within the Tory Party, specifically where they think their support lies and what factors are taken into account when designing their manifesto and governing the country.

It is little wonder that the Tories are opposed to lowering the voting age to 16.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Theresa May's Immigration cap could depress economy further says report

Can Theresa May's Conservative/DUP Government be any more incompetent? Well, according to a report from independent consultancy RepGraph, featured in the Independent, the Prime Minister's pursuit of her unrealistic immigration targets could well cause major problems for the economy unless they are abandoned.

Their detailed study of EU nationals has found that the Prime Minister's post-Brexit plan to slash immigration will have a devastating “double whammy” impact. They say that May's stubborn refusal to dump her “tens of thousands” cap on net migration would not only cut off a vital supply of labour, but deepen existing shortages in key sectors.

They want the Government to base future immigration policy on “economic need” instead of an arbitrary numerical target like that maintained by May:

RepGraph concluded that a “blanket approach to reducing migration” focusing on low-skilled workers could have “a doubly negative impact” by both withdrawing a critical labour supply and compounding existing skills shortages.

Laying waste to arguments for a system that only allows highly qualified individuals in, the report instead underlines the desperate need the UK economy has for low-skilled employees.

“Low-skilled migrants are filling gaps in the workforce where the need is greatest,” the report concludes. It sets out that industries employing the largest number and proportion of low-skilled EU workers are those already suffering the most acute labour shortages, while there are far fewer EU citizens taking high-skilled jobs in sectors that tend to have low labour shortages.

In particular, the study concluded that the Government’s target to cut annual net migration to under 100,000 would disproportionately hit sectors with existing shortages – including accommodation and food, administration and support, wholesale, retail and vehicle repair, manufacturing and construction. 

RepGraph, which analysed Office for National Statistics data, found that the 2.1 million EU citizens make up a small proportion of the UK workforce, some 7 per cent, but only a fifth are in highly skilled jobs – with most employed in London and the South-east, and fewest in the North-east and Wales.

Of the 10 sectors with the most acute shortages, seven have above average EU migrant employment – at around 16 per cent on average, compared with 7 per cent in the economy as a whole.

The report finds tha EU workers are almost four times as likely to be found in a low-skilled job in industry with acute shortages than in a high-skilled post without such problems:

In wholesale, retail and vehicle repair, the proportion of EU workers in the lowest skilled posts is five times higher than in the high-skilled positions. In transport and storage, it is more than eight times higher and in manufacturing almost seven times greater.

Education, health and social work, science and communications have the most EU nationals employed at the highest skill levels.

The study concluded: “Any decrease in EU immigrants is therefore more likely to affect the ability to employ people in jobs requiring the lowest level of skill and less likely to affect the jobs requiring the highest level of skill, and could exacerbate skills shortages where they are already most acutely felt.”

If Theresa May persists with her ideological and illogical targets she could well undermine our economy.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

In this city the ordinary cat lives an extraordinary life

'They say that cats know that God exists. Cats know we're only the middlemen.'

This documentary looks like it is well worth downloading.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

It is time for some dignity in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest

Can we all calm down a little please? Tim Farron has announced that he is standing down at the start of the summer recess, he has put in place a shadow cabinet containing many talented MPs and will continue to provide a constructive opposition to the government. The party has not yet put in place a timetable for the leadership contest and yet already the various camps have started to brief against each other.

Closed Liberal Democrat groups are awash with confused members asking whether such and such a rumour about a particular candidate is true or not. Newspapers are carrying tales of ageism, selective voting records under the coalition when, let's face it all the leading contenders were Ministers and bound by collective responsibility, and speculation about the merits and demerits of various MPs.

On the positive side at least we are being talked about again. But the negatives are greater, not least that we are starting to come across as self-indulgently inward-looking at a time of social upheaval and national crisis.

And can we think about the impression we are making on the many new members who have joined since 2015 and who could be voting in a leadership contest for the first time. Surely they have a right to expect a robust but dignified contest fought around the positive qualities of each candidate and competing visions for the country and how we can build Liberal Democracy from its roots once more.

For goodness sake, we don't even know who is going to stand and yet some people who I will charitably consider to be living in a Westminster bubble and out of touch with real life, are seeking to limit our choice by talking down possible contenders.

These shadowy figures need to read this editorial in the Independent. They argue that the one thing the Liberal Democrats should learn from recent history is the importance of a properly contested leadership election:

'Ms May’s weakness as a campaigner was exposed in the general election; it should have been tested at the hustings in front of party members last year. Ms Swinson, Sir Vince and any other contenders for the Lib Dem leadership should not make the same mistake. They need to be given the chance to take their campaigns to party members and to use the contest to exploit media interest.'

They conclude that 'there is still a need for a party that is committed to the free movement of people in Europe, that stands for liberal values and that is more sceptical than Labour about tax, spend, nationalise and borrow. For the sake of democracy, the Liberal Democrats must regain their confidence under a new leader.'

Please give us a real choice, but keep it real, keep it clean and fight that contest with some dignity.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Can Labour pull together around a sensible Brexit policy?

With Labour's Leader and Shadow Chancellor continuing to reiterate their support for a hard Brexit that will involve leaving the single market and restricting immigration, it is difficult to see why Theresa May needs to soften her stance, even if she no longer has a majority.

That message does not seem to have got through to Labour's Brexit spokesperson however who, according to the Guardian, has said that Labour will work with MPs from across the House of Commons to force Theresa May to change course on Brexit. This is despite the fact that the Labour and Tory manifestos are almost identical on this subject.

Keir Starmer told the paper: “I think there’s a majority in the House of Commons for a progressive partnership with the EU, and there’s not a majority for extreme Brexit,” he said. “I would like to see the prime minister accept that her version of extreme Brexit has been rejected, and publish different negotiating objectives, around which there could be a national consensus.”

He added: “She’s got to ditch that white paper. She’s got to take a different tone and approach; be much clearer about the single market and the customs union; she’s got to be clear that no deal is not viable; and she’s got to be clear about how she’s going to allow parliament to have a much greater role in scrutiny of that as you go through the process.”

He said businesses had told him repeatedly as he visited marginal constituencies during the election campaign that they were particularly concerned about the risk the UK could walk away from the negotiations without a deal – something May and Davis have stressed is a possibility.

“She’s got to drop the idea that no deal is a viable option. No deal means not just no deal on trade, but it means you have not reached an agreement about anything,” he said, pointing to potential difficulties with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; with regulations governing air travel into and out of the EU; and with customs checks."

All of this is common sense, but surely he needs to get his own leader and shadow chancellor on board before Labour can be considered to be credible on this subject.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Was Tim Farron pushed or did he jump?

In 2006 I was in London with the Welsh Liberal Democrats Assembly group at a meeting with Welsh MPs and Lords when it became clear that something unusual was happening. As a group we strode over to Cowley Street for an extraordinary press conference at which Charles Kennedy announced his resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Unusually for the Liberal Democrats, the men in suits had insisted that Kennedy's lifestyle was no longer compatible with leading a major political party and had forced him out. I recall that I remained angry with the Parliamentary Party for many years afterwards, and it was only when Nick Clegg took the reins that that anger subsided.

During the party's last leadership contest in 2015, I was torn as to whom to support. I delayed my decision for as long as possible and only plumped for Tim Farron because I considered he would be a better campaigner, somebody who would go out to the constituencies and rally the troops. After the debilitating result of the 2015 General Election such an approach was essential in my view.

I was not disappointed. Tim proved every bit the campaigner I had hoped for, but his impact on the national stage was limited. To an extent that was because the media felt that it could now ignore the Liberal Democrats, but there was no getting away from the suspicion that a more heavyweight leader such as Vince Cable would have forced themselves into the limelight through their experience and gravitas.

That suspicion was validated on the doorsteps, as voter after voter told me that they were not convinced by Tim Farron as a leader. Their reasons for this were largely undefined, but there is no doubt in my mind that Tim did not have a good election. He was plagued by massively unfair questions about his Christianity, a situation he exacerbated by his uncertainty as to how to deal with it. In addition he failed to make any real impact in the face of a sustained two party squeeze.

I am certain that the return to the Parliamentary Party of a number of 'big beasts' contributed to Tim's decision to resign. The e-mails to members appear to track the progress of the behind the scenes discussion.

It started with an email asking us 'What's next?' in which Tim expressed his determination that the new group of MPs will be a constructive opposition, holding the Conservatives to account. There was an email announcing that there would now be a Deputy Leader elected by the MPs and then a final communication headed 'My Resignation'.

In his resignation statement, Tim said: “I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society."

He is right but as far as I am aware that suspicion did not come from the vast bulk of the membership, who know that Tim's voting record on matters of conscience has been exemplary, and who accepted that his personal views did not exclude him from leadership provided that he acted as the good Liberal we all know he is.

It is interesting that no other leader was subjected to the sort of questioning directed at Tim Farron. Perhaps Tim was right in his judgement that if he remained as leader then this would continue and it would distract from the Party's key messages.

One cannot help but think however, that the final decision was taken because Tim could not command the confidence of the Parliamentary Party after a bruising election and a result which many felt was at the lower end of acceptable.

Whatever the reason, the decision to fall on his sword so quickly so as to avoid protracted controversy that might have damaged the party, is to Tim's credit. His legacy is a much strengthened party, with record membership and a larger group of MPs.

If 2015 was a low point, 2017 will be judged as the election when the Liberal Democrats put themselves back on the electoral map as a force to be reckoned with. Tim Farron must take most of the credit for that. The party is in debt to him for that achievement.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is Michael Gove an environmental disaster in waiting?

There have been a lot of quips on social media regarding Theresa May's decision to restore Michael Gove to the cabinet, not least that he should take the opportunity to prevent any more idiots running through wheat fields (that was Have I got news for you, not me).

The more serious comments however, have looked at the new Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary's record and questioned the wisdom of appointing him to that particular portfolio.

In the Independent, Green MP, Caroline Lucas sets out the objections in full:

It is hard to think of many politicians as ill-equipped for the role as Gove. This is a man who voted for the fracking nightmare; for putting a tax created to discourage fossil fuels on clean, renewable energy; and against putting our climate targets in line with our international responsibilities. A man who wants to see the fox-hunting ban lifted; who supports the scientifically-illiterate, never mind cruel and callous, badger cull; and who, despite apparently being a “shy Green”, tried to wipe climate change from the national curriculum.

More recently, Gove has been a cheerleader for ditching EU environmental laws designed to protect many of our most precious and wildest places. Much of the UK’s environment safeguards come from Brussels, and, with Brexit negotiations set to start imminently, Gove’s inclination to burn what he calls “EU red tape” is particularly concerning. He can’t be trusted to ensure vital safeguards are transferred into UK law during the Brexit process.

This appointment does not bode well for our future. As Caroline Lucas points out we have just emerged from a general election campaign that was almost environment-free. It received almost no mention in the leaders’ debates, and was glossed over in the manifestos.

It is time to take the environment seriously. Alas, the appointment of Michael Gove indicates that Theresa May's party are joining their new partners the DUP on the side of the climate change deniers.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Can Tory and Labour rebels force a soft Brexit?

With both Labour and the Conservatives pledging in their manifestos to end freedom of movement and to leave the single market, it is difficult to see how we are going to end up with anything but a hard Brexit.

However, as the Independent reports, dissent is stirring beneath the surface of both major parties in a way that could bring about change in the Government's stance.

The paper says that Labour and Conservative MPs have reportedly met for secret talks amid growing pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to take a cross-party approach to Brexit in light of the hung Parliament following the general election:

The Evening Standard, edited by former Tory chancellor George Osborne, and the Daily Telegraph, both reported that Cabinet ministers have initiated talks with Labour MPs to secure cross-party backing for a softer Brexit which puts business interests front and centre.

A senior, unnamed minister is quoted as having told the Standard: “This is no longer a question just for Government. It is clear to me that Parliament will want to assert its role in a way it did not before.”

After attending the Prime Minister's Cabinet meeting on Monday, Ms Davidson told BBC News: “I'm suggesting that the Conservative Party works with those both within the House of Commons and with people without to ensure that as we leave the EU, we have a Brexit that works for the economy and puts that first.

”There was a real sense around the Cabinet table today, as you would expect from centre right politicians, that that is the primacy we're looking for.“

Ms Davidson suggested the Government may shift its priority from cutting immigration to ensuring a good deal for business and the economy.

All of this is very encouraging but unless Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell change their stance on Brexit it may not be enough to force the Prime Minister into a U-turn.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Could desperate UKIP turn to Farage again?

If Theresa May needs any examples of a politician that can survive virtually any setback then she need look no further than fellow hard-Brexiteer, Nigel Farage.

According to the Independent, Donald Trump's best mate is thinking about resuming his role at UKIP leader for a fourth time. The possible return by Farage comes after UKIP's present leader, Paul Nuttall resigned in the light of his party's disastrous election showing (and presumably to spend time leading the British Lions against the All Blacks):

Nigel Farage has said he is considering returning as Ukip leader after Paul Nuttall's resignation.

When asked whether he was contemplating taking on the position, the Brexiteer, who led the party until just after the EU referendum, told the BBC: "I'm thinking about it."

"It's not top of my bucket list. For me, getting the referendum, forcing the referendum and helping to win it, I thought I was done with it," he said.

"I'm going to watch very carefully, but I do think now we will see backsliding."

So business as usual then.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

How long can Theresa May survive?

It is fair to say that the Sunday papers are gunning for Theresa May. Behind its paywall, the Sunday Times for example suggests that five cabinet ministers have urged Boris Johnson to topple her. Their columnist, Robert Harris says that May should be poleaxed. Elsewhere, papers are reporting on confusion and dissent over the projected deal with the DUP.

Two of Theresa May's top aides have been thrown under the proverbial bus, whilst the Daily Mail quotes members of 'Team Boris' who are said to be circling like vultures waiting for the kill. Meanwhile a 640,000 signature petition is doing the rounds in an effort to block the Tory-DUP link-up.

Most damning for Theresa May is this report in the Independent, which says that she has lost the support of Conservative members who want her to resign after her election failure. They say that almost 60 per cent of grassroots Tories have told the ConservativeHome website that the Prime Minister must fall on her sword after destroying her Commons majority.

The paper says that since Friday’s results, some senior Tories are referring to Ms May as an “interim leader” and her Cabinet has failed to come out publicly to support her:

It would require 15 per cent of Conservative MPs – a total of 48 – to write to Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, to trigger a vote of no-confidence in her leadership.

 Ms May would be forced to resign if she then failed to win a majority. Alternatively, the Prime Minister could decide the game is up and quit without a vote.

ConservativeHome received 4,763 replies in just 24 hours to its post-election survey on Ms May’s future – “the second-biggest response and the most rapid”.

Of those, 65 per cent said the Prime Minister should go. Among members, 894 of 1,503, almost 60 per cent, said her time is up.

All now hinges on Tuesday's meeting of Tory backbenchers. A former minister, Ed Vaizey, has indicated that Tory MPs are actively discussing May’s position using the WhatsApp messaging system. If she cannot get their support then we could be seeing a new Tory leader in post within months.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Has Theresa May signed up to a 'coalition of chaos'?

Having fought an election on the dangers to the country and the Union of Corbyn taking power with the support of a narrowly based nationalist party such as the SNP and others whom she implies are undesirables, the so-called 'coalition of chaos', Theresa May returns to Number 10 having done exactly that

The Conservatives' new partners in government will not be part of a formal coalition as far as we know, but will work on the basis of confidence and supply. That means that they will vote with Theresa May on the Queen's Speech, Budget and No Confidence motions provided that they get what they want. Everything else will be up determined on a case-by-case basis. Nothing strong or stable about that.

More to the point the DUP are not your common-or-garden political party, a Labour-SNP arrangement would be benign by comparison. As James Callaghan found out, the party of Ian Paisley will extract a high price for their support and if they don't get it then they will walk away. In allying herself with them Theresa May has put the interests of her party and herself ahead of those of the country.

If May thought she had problems with the right wing of her party before, she now has to contend with people who make her hardliners look like teddy bears. As the Independent points out, on social issues the DUP have barely ventured into the twentieth century:

The DUP doesn't mention same-sex marriage in its manifesto, but the party has repeatedly vetoed marriage equality for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.

Its members have also made a string of homophobic comments, including branding LGBT people as “disgusting” and an “abomination”.

The party tabled a “petition of concern” following a vote to legalise same-sex marriage last May, meaning the proposal could only succeed if a sufficient number of both unionist and nationalist members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) backed it.

While 41 nationalists backed the proposal, it was approved by only four unionists, meaning it could not pass. 

In 2015, the party's health minister faced criticism when he said: “The facts show that you certainly don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused or neglected.”

The DUP doesn't mention abortion in its manifesto, but it has been open in its support for Northern Ireland’s abortion ban, which sees women imprisoned for having one and denied access to safe and legal terminations.

Ms Foster has said the party remains opposed to any reform of the province’s notoriously strict abortion laws, urging last year that she would “not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England“.

Under a 1945 law, women in the region have access to terminations that provides abortion if their life is at risk or her health is at serious risk. But foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not considered circumstances under which abortions can be legally performed.

The ban on abortion was recently ruled a breach of international human rights law by the Belfast High Court, but it remained in place because DUP and other Northern Irish parties voted against change.

In addition, on environmental matters, the party appointed a climate change denier as Northern Ireland environment minister, and a number of creationists are among its senior members. And on the national issue, the DUP states that progress should be sought to halt “hollowing out Ulster’s Britishness” and promote a “greater embracing” of it. These are not pleasant people.

Theresa May has apparently given assurances to the Tories' Scottish leader that there will be no rolling back of the many liberal measures on LGBT rights pushed through by the Liberal Democrats in the 2010 Coalition Government, nor any retrenchment on other social issues. However, we have not seen the DUP's shopping list as yet and nor has the Prime Minister. Where are her red lines?

On Europe the DUP want a soft Brexit purely out of self-interest. They cannot afford to be responsible for closing the Irish border. But we can see their attitude to Europe (and a lot more besides) from the 1975 referendum poster above (h/t to Daran Hill). That Theresa May no longer has a majority for a 'hard Brexit' has to be seen as a good thing but the DUP are unpredictable and the future remains uncertain.

The really difficult downside of this arrangement however, has to be for the future of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Stormont is currently suspended after a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein. If the DUP are allied to the UK Government then UK Ministers can no longer act as neutral arbiters in talks to get the devolved administration back up and running. That job may have to fall to the Irish Government, if the DUP accept them in that role.

Can the Northern Ireland peace process survive a UK Tory-DUP link-up? I hope so but I am sceptical. Like everything else we will have to wait and see.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Some reflections on the General Election

It is most probably not a good idea to sit down so soon after a General Election result and commit my thoughts to public record, especially on three hours sleep, but here are some initial reflections:

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Some dodgy election leaflets

It is polling day and inevitably it is raining. What this will do for turnout and the eventual result is difficult to predict. Either way I am just about to leave for a seat where the Liberal Democrats are competing to win and I am taking a change of clothes.

In the meantime, here is an article on unintentionally funny election leaflets including the one below that surely legitimises even the dodgiest Liberal Democrat bar chart.

My favourite is the independent candidate in the Cotswolds demanding that we do not consent to a host of crimes committed by an undefined 'they'. This includes 'Don't consent usurious banks' and 'Deny them their implied right to govern/tax you'. The leaflet allegedly contains a 'freeman's New Model GOV; Sample Contract within!'  Perhaps a course on the use of punctuation would benefit this candidate.

And of course anybody who has been leafletting for any significant period of time has met this guy on the other side of the letterbox, determined to resist your entreaties at any cost.

Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, you have been terminated!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

May's threat to rip up human rights legislation has nothing to do with terrorism

The consensus amongst the opposition parties today appears to be that Theresa May’s threat to rip up human rights laws to fight terror is a cynical attempt to revive her failing election campaign.

As the Independent reports, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats insisted there was no evidence that human rights legislation had allowed the Manchester and London attacks to take place, or prevented action against terrorists:

Instead, Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, accused Ms May of a “diversion” from criticism of huge police cuts – while Nick Clegg said she was trying to revive her “lacklustre, flagging election campaign”.

Sir Keir said: “There is nothing in the human rights act that gets in the way of effectively tackling fighting terrorism.

“I can say that with this authority. I was Director of Public Prosecutions for five years. I worked very closely with the security and intelligence services and we prosecuted very, very serious criminals.

“And the Human Rights Act did not get in the way of what we were doing. This is a diversion.” Mr Clegg, also speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said: “None of this posturing about human rights is about keeping us safe.

“It's all about making up for her lacklustre, flagging election campaign. I think it's very cynical and I don't think people will be taken in by it.”

Jettisoning human rights laws has been an obsession for Theresa May for some time as has her mis-directed and misguided determination to erode our on-line privacy. Once we start to undermine people's basic freedoms in response to terrorism then the terrorist are winning.

By all means take effective and targeted measures, which are properly policed and scrutinised, but there is no gain in this sort of grand standing.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Is Brexit putting lives at risk?

Over at the Independent, Nick Clegg has pointed out the obvious truth that Labour and the Tories seem reluctant to admit, Theresa May is putting the safety of Britons at risk after Brexit, by failing to explain how the police will retain access to EU anti-terror information.

He is particularly critical of the Prime Minister for vowing to pull the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), whatever the cost. He has pointed out that outside the ECJ, Britain is likely to lose the right to share data through the Europol enforcement agency and the Schengen information system, which holds the names of 8,000 suspected terror suspects:

On Monday, Ms May was asked if she had an “alternative plan” to keep the national security data flowing but simply referred vaguely to trying to agree “appropriate oversight” of the information. Instead, the Prime Minister vowed: “I am very clear that the European Court of Justice and its jurisdiction in the UK is going to be ended”.

Delivering a major speech on the threats posed by Brexit, Mr Clegg will say: “How will Britain be kept safe after Brexit?

“Theresa May has vowed to pull Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, a decision which means we would no longer have access to vital EU-wide databases of criminal activity.

“So where are the contingency plans when our police forces find themselves unable to check the databases of 28 EU countries at the touch of a button? If only she would deign to tell us, then maybe we could judge.”

Mr Clegg, now the Lib Dems Brexit spokesman, will also accuse the Prime Minister of a breathtaking U-turn on the security implications of EU withdrawal.

“Just last year, a not-so-distant era when Theresa May made perfectly rational arguments against leaving Europe, she warned that being in the UK makes us “more secure from crime and terrorism.”

Britain risks a wait of up to three years to be granted an “adequacy decision” from Brussels, threatening to stop the flow of data immediately unless a temporary deal can be struck.

Crucially, separate agreements may have to be struck with individual police forces and intelligence services – with the danger that vital information will “fall between the cracks”, one expert said.

How can the Prime Minister justify this hiatus in the current climate?

Monday, June 05, 2017

Can Theresa May deliver on her promise to regulate the internet?

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to be outraged at the attacks in Manchester and London over the last few weeks, and is right too to want to do everything possible to deny terrorists the opportunities they currently exploit, particularly on the Internet, to plan these attacks and to radicalise others.

As CNN reports, Theresa May wants a new approach to tackling extremism, including changes that would deny terrorists and extremist sympathizers digital tools used to communicate and plan attacks. But what exactly does this mean? How will she implement it? More importantly is it possible at all without the sort of authoritarian approach taken by China to these matters?

In my view we cannot be left without specifics four days before a General Election. We need to know what the Government propose and the implications for everybody else so that we can judge whether these proposals will be effective or not. Vague rhetoric is no longer enough.

I raise this now, because we have been here before. David Cameron made the same promises but did not deliver on them. The reason for his non-delivery was actually because his proposals were half-baked and impractical. In other words he did not understand his subject and nor, it seems does Theresa May.

A more detailed explanation can be found in this article by Cory Doctorow:

It’s impossible to overstate how bonkers the idea of sabotaging cryptography is to people who understand information security. If you want to secure your sensitive data either at rest – on your hard drive, in the cloud, on that phone you left on the train last week and never saw again – or on the wire, when you’re sending it to your doctor or your bank or to your work colleagues, you have to use good cryptography. Use deliberately compromised cryptography, that has a back door that only the “good guys” are supposed to have the keys to, and you have effectively no security. You might as well skywrite it as encrypt it with pre-broken, sabotaged encryption.

There are two reasons why this is so. First, there is the question of whether encryption can be made secure while still maintaining a “master key” for the authorities’ use. As lawyer/computer scientist Jonathan Mayer explained, adding the complexity of master keys to our technology will “introduce unquantifiable security risks”. It’s hard enough getting the security systems that protect our homes, finances, health and privacy to be airtight – making them airtight except when the authorities don’t want them to be is impossible.

What Theresa May thinks she's saying is, "We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back-doors into their tools for us." There are enormous problems with this: there's no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your Whatsapp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (like those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the hacking scandal -- and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years), and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They -- and not just the security services -- will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications. That includes things like the pictures of your kids in your bath that you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to your co-workers.

But this is just for starters. Theresa May doesn't understand technology very well, so she doesn't actually know what she's asking for.

For Theresa May's proposal to work, she will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of her jurisdiction. The very best in secure communications are already free/open source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available, and thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a very high degree of confidence, that the software you've downloaded hasn't been tampered with.

May is not alone here. The regime she proposes is already in place in countries like Syria, Russia, and Iran (for the record, none of these countries have had much luck with it). There are two means by which authoritarian governments have attempted to restrict the use of secure technology: by network filtering and by technology mandates.

He goes on to say that although companies like Apple and Microsoft could be compelled by an act of Parliament to block secure software other EU states and countries like the USA are unlikely to follow suit, and that means that anyone who bought an Iphone in Paris or New York could come to the UK with all their secure software intact and send messages "we cannot read."

Furthermore there is a problem with more open platforms, like GNU/Linux variants, BSD and other unixes, Mac OS X, and all the non-mobile versions of Windows. He says that all of these operating systems are already designed to allow users to execute any code they want to run, meaning that even an act of Parliament cannot do anything to stop people from using all the PCs now in existence to run code that the PM wants to ban:

This, then, is what Theresa May is proposing:

* All Britons' communications must be easy for criminals, voyeurs and foreign spies to intercept

* Any firms within reach of the UK government must be banned from producing secure software

* All major code repositories, such as Github and Sourceforge, must be blocked

* Search engines must not answer queries about web-pages that carry secure software

* Virtually all academic security work in the UK must cease -- security research must only take place in proprietary research environments where there is no onus to publish one's findings, such as industry R&D and the security services

* All packets in and out of the country, and within the country, must be subject to Chinese-style deep-packet inspection and any packets that appear to originate from secure software must be dropped

* Existing walled gardens (like Ios and games consoles) must be ordered to ban their users from installing secure software

* Anyone visiting the country from abroad must have their smartphones held at the border until they leave

* Proprietary operating system vendors (Microsoft and Apple) must be ordered to redesign their operating systems as walled gardens that only allow users to run software from an app store, which will not sell or give secure software to Britons

* Free/open source operating systems -- that power the energy, banking, ecommerce, and infrastructure sectors -- must be banned outright

It is up to Theresa May now to say exactly what she proposes to do, and if not the above then what and how will it work?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

We should not allow terrorists to undermine our democracy

Awaking to yet another terrorist outrage this morning, my shock and my anger quickly turned to defiance. These murderers are trying to intimidate us and like the citizens of Manchester two weeks ago and those in London today, I am not prepared to be browbeaten by a few immoral and unprincipled killers into abandoning my values and my way of life.

We live in a multi-cultural society, nowhere more so than London, and we are stronger for that diversity and for standing together behind common democratic beliefs. Those who seek to disrupt that unity through violence do not represent any part of that society, their actions stand apart from the community they claim to come from. They are neither part of that community nor representative of it.

It is right that we suspend national campaigning today as a mark of respect for the victims of this attack. However, I agree with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who says he “can understand why people don’t want to be canvassing and knocking on doors today” but that it was important the vote went ahead to show Britain would never be “cowed” by terror.

“One of the great things about our way of life is our democracy,” he said in a television interview on Sunday morning.

“Elections are a wonderful thing and that’s one of the things that these terrorists hate and one of the things that we can do to show we’re not going to be cowed is by voting on Thursday and making sure that we understand the importance of our democracy, our civil liberties, and our human rights.”

He continued: “I’m not an advocate of postponing the election. I’m a passionate believer in democracy and making sure that we vote and that we recognise that actually one of the things these terrorists hate is voting, they hate democracy, they hate elections, and the public choosing who should be our leaders rather than leaders being imposed on us. That’s why I’ll be voting on Thursday.”

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Another day another Tory u-turn

Considering that the Tories called this election one would have thought they would be better prepared. Instead their whole campaign has been one disaster after another.

If it is not bad enough that the Prime Minister will not debate with other leaders and is too frit to even appear on Woman's Hour, their manifesto has been almost as big a disaster area as Labour's. In fact it is worse as it seems we should be entitled to expect competence from the Government of the day. Instead we have had the dementia tax and its associated U-turn, no costings and now another U-turn on affordable housing.

As the Independent reports, the Tory pledge to build “a new generation” of social housing has all but been abandoned. Theresa May personally promised her policy would deliver “a constant supply of new homes for social rent”, but her housing minister has now admitted planned homes would in fact be of significantly less affordable type:

In mid-May the Conservatives announced they would build “a new generation of homes for social rent”, in a policy seen as critical to winning over the kind of working-class voters Ms May needs to steal seats off Labour.

The Tory manifesto spelt out a plan for “new council housing deals”, which would help councils "build more social housing”. And, in an intervention that spoke to the policy’s importance, Theresa May personally pledged it would create “a constant supply of new homes for social rent”.

But in an interview on Friday with trade magazine Inside Housing, minister Gavin Barwell admitted the party was planning to continue to build homes with higher rents and was not in fact reinstating traditional socially rented council housing.

Asked whether the homes planned by his party would be let at low-level council rents, the minister said: “No, I think the idea is that they are what you’d call affordable rents in housing terminology, but they are social housing.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government defines social rented housing as having lower rents “determined through the national rent regime” – a specific formula set by the Government.

Affordable-rent housing, meanwhile, is separately defined, and simply requires homes to be “of no more than 80 per cent of the local market rent” – meaning rents could be considerably higher. In practice, social rent tends to come in at around 40 per cent of market rent, meaning that in some areas the difference in rent could be twice as much.

As ever I am reluctant to say I told you so, but in fact that is the case. On the 15th May, I wrote: 'Expertise and support is needed to help local authorities build new homes but without the finance which is being promised by both the Liberal Democrats and Labour, this Tory plan is doomed to be nothing more than a damp squib.'

Why has it taken so long for this unfunded Tory promise to catch up with them?

Friday, June 02, 2017

Tory chaos on immigration

As I listened to a local hustings discussion on the subject last night it occurred to me that the only way Theresa May is going to achieve her aim of getting net immigration down below 100,000 is if she institutes a socialist planned economy, something that is not very likely.

This Tory pledge is one of the more bizarre of this election. It is bizarre not just because it is largely unattainable, or because it will badly damage our economy but also because the Tories have failed twice to come anywhere near achieving it and have no plan as to how they will do so on the third attempt.

Theresa May mouths platitudes about how leaving the EU will give us control over our own borders, but the fact is that half of immigrants coming into the UK are arriving from countries outside the EU. If, as promised the Government are going to negotiate free trade deals with countries not in the EU, then that will inevitably involve freedom of movement. And nobody appears to have thought through how we are going to fill the skills gap, not least in the health service.

It seems that these doubts are not just limited to me, but that the Tories themselves are split on the subject. As the Guardian reports, even David Davis, the Brexit Secretary thinks that the Tories may not hit their 100,000 target.

The real coalition of chaos is within the Conservative Party. They really don't appear to care. They will promise anything to get re-elected even if it is not achieveable. Their manifesto is uncosted and what policies they do have will hit the poorest in our society hardest. Theresa May does not deserve her current standing in the polls and she certainly does not deserve to be put back in Number 10.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The mysterious disappearing Tory politicians

I tried really hard to watch last night's debate between seven party leaders all the way through, I really did. However, it was a struggle coping with all that shouting and talking across each other and in the end I gave up. I suspect many other voters thought the same.

The significance of the debate though was not the arguments being put by its various participants, but in the perception created amongst voters by the non-appearance of one the main protaganists in this election.

Theresa May was a no-show and in her absence she insulted us all. After all, she called this election when she didn't need to, the least she could do is turn up to debate the policies and ideas she wants to put in place over the next five years.

But this was not the only no-show by a Tory politician. In Wales where Assembly Members who are not standing for election have inexplicably stood in for their MP counterparts in debates, the latest leaders debate saw a stand-off amongst Welsh Tories.

As the Western Mail reports, an internal party row led to a situation where neither Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns nor Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies represented the party in a BBC TV leaders debate. Instead, the party fielded its Shadow Education Secretary Darren Millar in one of the biggest events of the election campaign in Wales:

A spokesman for Andrew RT Davies said he was celebrating his wedding anniversary and it was "a bit of a surprise" that the Welsh Secretary wasn't doing the BBC Wales debate on Tuesday at 8.30pm.

A spokesman for Mr Cairns said there was "never any question" of him doing the debate as he is not the Welsh Tory leader - even though he did last week's ITV "Ask the Leader" event.

A well-placed Tory source told us: “Originally the invitation went from BBC Wales to Alun Cairns, but for some reason he did not want to do a debate with [Welsh Labour leader and First Minister] Carwyn Jones.

“In addition to the BBC debate, there were two TV programmes last week: an ITV Wales leaders’ debate and a BBC Wales Ask the Leader show.

“Andrew RT Davies would have been prepared to do all three programmes, but Alun Cairns wanted to do Ask the Leader, where he appeared on his own and didn’t debate with any other leaders. Essentially it was a Q&A with the audience.

Why is it that leading Tories are so afraid of debating ideas and policies? Do they really think that their victory is assured and that they don't need to make the effort? The Conservatives may well get a majority on 8th June but they could be in for a surprise as their reluctance to engage comes back to bite them.

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