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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Time to take waste reduction seriously

One of the problems we face in trying to live more sustainably is that when managing waste we are starting too far down the hierarchy.

Effectively there are a number of ways to reduce the amount of stuff we send to landfill and conserve resources which would otherwise be diverted into cosmetic packaging. At the top of that hierarchy is the need to prevent the waste in the first place by finding other ways of doing things. Below that is minimisation, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and disposal.

Most government initiatives focus on getting people to recycle their waste, whilst the development of facilities to burn waste products to generate energy is also a popular option. I would suggest that a far more sustainable and useful role for Ministers would be in preventing and minimising the waste in the first place, especially when it comes to packaging.

As ever it takes the private sector to lead the way, with the very welcome initiative from Iceland in seeking to become the first major retailer to commit to eliminating plastic packaging for all its own brand products within five years to help end the "scourge" of plastic pollution.

As the Independent reports they plan to replace plastic with packaging that includes paper and pulp trays and paper bags, which would be recyclable through domestic waste collections or in-store recycling facilities.

Surely it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility for others to follow suit or for government to consolidate initiatives they are already considering on reducing plastic by legislating to force through a revolution of this sort.

I am positive that the hard-pressed householder would welcome assistance from Ministers in living sustainably, instead of having to bear the burden of recycling initiatives all by themselves.

Monday, January 15, 2018

That awkward moment when your Brexiteer PM tries to claim credit for an EU initiative

There is some controversy over recent changes to terms of payment which bans retailers, airlines and other businesses from hitting shoppers with hidden surcharges when they use credit or debit cards. These surcharges can be as high as 20 per cent and costs consumers around £166m each year.

The downside is that retailers will now try to recover the cost by raising their prices and this will hit people who tend not to use credit cards for purchases.

The reality of course is that as a society we are addicted to credit and that the vast majority of people will use credit cards for major purchases, not least because there is an insurance element attached to these transactions. So balance this is a development to be welcomed. Which of course is what the Prime Minister did.

As the Independent reports, the Prime Minister tweeted: "From today we're banning hidden charges for paying with your credit or debit card – a move that will help millions of people avoid rip-off fees when spending their hard-earned money." The only problem being that it was not her that did this, it was the EU, that institution she is trying to take us out of:

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato told The Independent: "In spite of her rhetoric about fairness Theresa May is failing to give credit where it is due in suggesting that it is her government that is banning credit card charges.

"The truth is that it was my committee in the European Parliament that fought for and won the cap on credit card fees paid by many retailers which will mean lower charges for UK consumers. To achieve this we had to battle against national governments as well as the finance lobby. "It’s also clear that it was the power of 500 million consumers that enabled us to put pressure on the credit card companies. Brexit Britain will be much weaker and its consumers more vulnerable to financial rip-offs."

Labour MEP Clare Moody also criticised the claims, addressing Ms May on Twitter: "No, you haven’t. This is an EU initiative from which all EU citizens will enjoy, not instigated by UK Government." Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: “Once again the Tories are claiming a popular policy that they had nothing to do with."

“These new rules will make things easier, cheaper and more efficient for consumers. Once again EU rules are helping people in their everyday lives. Unfortunately this doesn’t match Theresa May’s spin so instead the Tories are lying to the public.

“This is a welcome change that gives more freedom and flexibility to people in their everyday lives.”

Perhaps Theresa May would like to reconsider her determination to take us out of the European Community after all.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Should Norway just grin and bear it?

I suppose that in a week in which the President of the United States has branded dozens of countries as 'shitholes', a minor spat between Norway and Australia can easily be ignored. And so it would be, if it wasn't so amusing.

The origin of the non-row lies in official advice given by the Australian Government to its citizens thinking of journeying to the northern reaches of Europe. As the Telegraph reports, Smart Traveller, which appears to be an official Australian Government travel advice website, advises that there 'are risks for travellers to the arctic archipelago of Svalbard relating to avalanches, glacier accidents, boating incidents and polar bear encounters. The level of our advice has not changed. Exercise normal safety precautions in Norway.'

Norway, however is having none of it. They tweeted in reply: 'Thank you #Australia for your concern. We can assure you that in mainland Norway all polar bears are stuffed and poses only limited risk.' and followed it up with this:

Of course Australia was actually referring to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, better known by its Dutch name Spitsbergen, meaning "jagged mountains". These islands lie in the Arctic Ocean, north of mainland Europe, about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole.

As Wikipedia records, the islands were first taken into use as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, after which they were abandoned. Coal mining started at the beginning of the 20th century, and several permanent communities were established.

The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 recognizes Norwegian sovereignty, and the 1925 Svalbard Act made Svalbard a full part of the Kingdom of Norway. They also established Svalbard as a free economic zone and a demilitarized zone.

It goes on to say: 'Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also features polar bears, reindeer, the Arctic fox, and certain marine mammals. Seven national parks and twenty-three nature reserves cover two-thirds of the archipelago, protecting the largely untouched, yet fragile, natural environment. Approximately 60% of the archipelago is covered with glaciers, and the islands feature many mountains and fjords.'

So technically both countries are right. There are no live polar bears on the Norwegian mainland, but there are in Svalbard. Still, the publicity will not have done Norway any harm.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Farage has his pay docked

There are some who would suggest that his contribution and that of his party to the European Parliament does not justify the full £101,808 a year salary, but Nigel Farage and his fellow UKIP-refuseniks have been elected and they are accountable to their electorate not the likes of me and other pro-Europeans.

However, as the Guardian reports, Farage has finally got his comeuppance after a European parliament investigation alleged he had misspent public funds intended for staffing his office. As a result, he has been docked half his monthly salary.

The paper says that the former UKIP leader, who recently bemoaned being “53, separated and skint”, will lose €40,000 (£35,500) in total after European parliament auditors concluded he had misspent that amount of EU funds:

Financial controllers have been investigating the role of Christopher Adams, who was hired by Farage to work in the European parliament as his assistant.

Auditors suspended Adams’ contract last year, because they were not convinced he was working for Farage on European parliamentary matters. Although paid as Farage’s assistant, Adams was also the national nominating officer for Ukip, where he was described as one of the party’s “key people”.

“Since 1 January [2018] the European parliament has withheld 50% in order to recoup the €40,000 due in salary that was paid to Christopher Adams and which cannot be proved by Farage,” a parliamentary source told the Guardian.

Docking Farage’s pre-tax MEP salary of €8,484 a month would mean he would have repaid what officials call his “debt to the EU” by October 2018.

UKIP have used the European Parliament as a means of funding their political activities for too long. This sanction is welcome.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Is another referendum now more likely?

The sudden conversion of Nigel Farage to the idea of a second referendum on whether we should leave the European Union or not, backed by the co-founder of the Leave campaign, Arron Banks, has certainly animated many Remainers. Even Sir Nick Clegg tweeted, 'I agree with Nigel'.

Nigel Farage's rationalisation for his U-turn is that another Brexit vote would lead to a more decisive victory for the leave campaign and silence remain supporters for a generation. My view is that the result of a second plebiscite would be close, could go either way and could still leave the issue unresolved. Timing is also crucial.

As the Guardian says, the natural time for a second EU referendum would be a poll on whether to accept any deal that May negotiates with Brussels before the date of Brexit in March 2019, or whether the UK should leave without an agreement if she fails to secure one. They suggest that if parliament were to vote against May’s deal with the EU, it could provoke another referendum on the issue or a general election in which Brexit was the central issue.

Personally, I would prefer a referendum because General Elections are rarely decided on single issues and do not as a rule provide clear mandates for constitutional change.

The most interesting part of this little bit of mischief making by Farage is the impact it will have on the Labour Party. The Guardian believes that growing support for another referendum could fuel divisions within Labour. The party leadership currently maintains that there is no need for another popular vote. That is a contrast to some of its pro-EU backbenchers.

Farage has opened the door for a U-turn by Jeremy Corbyn. It is time he showed some leadership, acknowledged his role as an opposition party instead of propping up the Tories and came out for a confirmatory referendum that might give us the opportunity to stay in the EU.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

When Dylan Thomas drank with Kingsley Amis

I admit to a level of scepticism earlier this week when I stumbled across a plaque fixed to the fence at the side of Swansea's Uplands Tavern, which boasted that Dylan Thomas and Kingsley Amis drank together in that pub.

My first reaction was to ask whether the two had even been in Swansea at the same time, however a bit of googling soon verified the claim, though any suggestion that the drinking session was repeated is soon disabused by Amis himself.

The story is set out in the Shiraz Socialist blog from Kingsley Amis' own account, which was first published in the Spectator in 1957, republished in 1970 as part of the Amis anthology What Became of Jane Austin? and finally appeared again in modified form in Amis’s 1991 Memoirs:

I met Dylan Thomas on a single evening in the spring of 1951, when he had accepted an invitation to give a talk to the English Society of the [University] College [of Swansea]. The secretary of the society, a pupil of mine, asked me if I would like to come along to the pub and meet Thomas before the official proceedings opened. I said I would like to very much, for although I had lost all my earlier enthusiasm for his writing, I had heard a great deal, not only in Swansea, of his abilities as a talker and entertainer of his friends. I arranged with my wife and some of our own friends that we would try to get Thomas back into the pub after his talk and thereafter to our house just up the street from there. I got down the pub about six, feeling expectant.

Unfortunately, Amis' expectations were left unmet:

Thomas was already in the pub, a glass of light ale before him and a half-circle of students round him. The impression he made was of apathy as much as anything. Also in attendance was, I said in 1957, a Welsh painter of small eminence whom I called Griffiths. In fact this person was a Welsh poet of small eminence by the name of John Ormond Thomas and later known professionally, I understand, as John Ormond. In the course of the session he told us several times that he had that day driven down from his house in Merionethshire (north Wales, now part of Gwynedd) on purpose to see Thomas, whom he had known, he said more than once, for several years. Thomas seemed very sedate, nothing like the great pub performer of legend. He was putting the light ales down regularly but without hurry.

Thomas stuffed a couple of bottles of beer into his pockets and headed off with his entourage to give the talk he had been engaged to deliver:

The bottles were still in Thomas’s pockets — he checked this several times — when in due course he sat rather balefully facing his audience in a room in the Students’ Union up the hill. About fifty or sixty people had turned up; students and lecturers from the College mainly, but with a good sprinkling of persons who looked as though they were implicated in some way with the local Bookmen’s Society. With a puzzled expression, as if wondering who its author could be, Thomas took from his breast pocket and sorted through an ample typescript, which had evidently been used many times before. (And why not? But I thought differently then.)

His first words were, ‘I can’t manage a proper talk. I might just manage an improper one.’ Some of the female Bookmen glanced at one another apprehensively. What followed was partly run-of-the mill stuff about his 1950 reading-lecturing tour of the US, featuring crew-cut sophomores and women’s literary clubs in pedestrian vein, and partly the impressionistic maundering, full of strings of compound adjectives and puns, he over-indulged in his broadcasts. Then he read some poems.

Once the talk is over, Amis records that they retraced their steps:

Not very long afterwards we were all back at the pub, Griffiths [ie J.O. Thomas] included. With his performance over, Thomas’s constraint had disappeared and he was clearly beginning to enjoy himself. Griffiths, however, was monopolizing him more and more and exchanging a kind of cryptic badinage with him that soon became hard to listen to, especially on one’s feet. The pub, too, had filled up and was now so crowded that the large group round Thomas soon lost all cohesion and started to melt away. I was not sorry to go and sit down at the other end of the room when the chance came. It was at this point that my friends and I finally abandoned our scheme of trying to get Thomas up to my house when the pub shut. After a time the girl student who had been with us earlier, and who had stayed with Thomas longer than most, came over and said: ‘You know, nobody’s talking to him now, except that Griffiths chap.

‘Why don’t you stay and talk to him?’

‘Too boring. And he wasn’t talking to any of us. Still, poor dab, he does look out of it He was in a real state a little while ago.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘All sorry for himself. Complaining that everybody’d gone and left him.’

We all felt rather uncomfortable, and rightly. Although I can vividly recall how tedious, and how unsharable, his conversation with Griffiths was, I am ashamed now to think how openly we must have seemed to be dropping Thomas, how plain was our duty not to drop him at all. Our general disappointment goes to explain our behaviour, but does not excuse it. We were unlucky, too, in encountering him when he was off form and accompanied by Griffiths. At the time I thought that if he had wanted to detach himself and talk to the students he would have found some means of doing so: I have since realized that he was far too good-natured ever to contemplate giving anyone the cold shoulder, and I wonder whether a talent for doing that might not have been something that he badly needed. One of us, at any rate, should have found a way of assuring him that he was being regarded that evening, not with a coltish mixture of awe and suspicion, but sympathetically. Then, I think, we should have seen that his attitude was a product of nothing more self-aware or self-regarding than shyness.

It is possible to feel Dylan's presence wherever you go in Swansea (and of course where he lived in West Wales), but not every establishment he patronised sees fit to record the fact. Kudos to the Uplands Tavern then, for doing so and causing me to find the account of this incident online.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Are UKIP the most dysfunctional Welsh Assembly group ever?

Having secured the election of seven Assembly Members in 2016 it did not take long for UKIP to start falling apart. Right at the beginning of the session there was a coup during which Neil Hamilton ousted the party's Welsh leader from fronting up the group.

Nathan Gill subsequently left the UKIP group and sat as an Independent before he decided that he would rather concentrate on being an MEP and resigned from the Assembly altogether. There are many who say that he will not be missed due to his erratic and infrequent appearances in the Senedd.

And then the now six-strong UKIP group lost a second member as Mark Reckless defected back to the Conservatives.

So it must have been a relief to the remaining five members when Nathan Gill's resignation saw his replacement by another UKIP member. A fresh start? One would think so, alas it was not to be.

As the Western Mail report, Mandy Jones, the new North Wales UKIP AM, lasted just hours as a member of her party's Assembly group. Instead of welcoming her with open arms, Neil Hamilton and his little fan club put out a statement claiming that Ms Jones had chosen to employ people who “are either members of, or have recently campaigned actively for, other parties, or both” and that as such she was not welcome to join them.

Mandy Jones own account of the rift highlights the UKIP group's paranoia. She says she was given a two-hour ultimatum to sack her staff or be excluded, only finding out when she was handed a press release during a meeting with Assembly Presiding Officer Elin Jones:

She said she was “shocked, upset and appalled” to be told that she should dismiss the staff members previously employed by Mr Gill.

A former shepherd and the mother of four grown-up children, Ms Jones, who lives near Corwen, said: “Nathan Gill contacted me a while ago and told me that he intended to resign his seat and that under Assembly rules I would take over.

“I then had a dinner in north Wales with Neil and Christine Hamilton. They were charming, but it was mentioned to me that I shouldn’t reappoint Nathan’s staff and that they would help me to get staff of my own.

“I was very conscious of the fact that I needed people to help me through the transition. Assembly officials told me that Nathan’s staff members had a good work ethic. I was happy to take them on to help me. Otherwise I would have been totally unsupported.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was given an ultimatum. Before the group meeting on Monday evening the other Ukip AMs were all friendly towards me, so I wasn’t prepared for the nastiness. I didn’t sack the staff in line with the ultimatum, but I only found out they had excluded me from the group during a meeting with the Presiding Officer Elin Jones when I was shown the statement. I was shocked, upset and appalled.

“My politics haven’t changed, but after their behaviour I wouldn’t want to work with such a bunch of people. All my energy will be put into representing the interests of the people of North Wales.”

The UKIP Assembly group must surely now have the prize for the most dysfunctional sitting in the Senedd. It is difficult to see what they have achieved other than to squabble amongst themselves.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Trying to have their cake and eat it

There is an astonishing case of the UK Government wanting to have their cake and eat it in yesterday's Financial Times, who report that David Davis has consulted lawyers over the EU’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit, claiming Brussels’ planning is harming British business and breaching the UK’s rights as a member state.

The paper says that in a letter to the Prime Minister, the Brexit secretary pointed to EU “measures” that could jeopardise existing contracts or force British companies to decamp to the continent if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Mr Davis said in the letter that he would ask the European Commission to revise its guidance to business so it highlights the potential for a future transition and trade deal.

It is difficult to know where to start with this letter. If the UK is planning to walk away from EU membership without meeting its legal obligations then why should the Commission and member states play ball in giving us what we want with regards to future trade deals. They are entitled to protect their own position.

The EU is not being unreasonable, they are merely outlining the reality for British business if our government abandons their interests and unilaterally walk away from talks. These are truths that UK ministers have refused to acknowledge.

As Michel Barnier said in November. “I don’t know if the whole truth has been explained to British businesses on the concrete consequences of Brexit.” He cannot be blamed for doing that job on behalf of the UK Government.

David Davis is acting like the playground bully, who suddenly finds himself cornered when his victims gang up against him. He must either negotiate in good faith or walk away and accept the consequences. The UK is being very badly served having a man like this represent our interests in such crucial talks.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Yet another bureaucratic Brexit nightmare

As if things were not bad enough for business it emerged over the weekend that many companies face further problems when we eventually leave the European Union.

The Independent reports that changes outlined in one of the many Brexit-related bills would force over 100,000 companies to pay VAT on goods at the point they enter the UK, rather than after they are sold. This could create severe problems for UK companies, including cash flow issues and additional bureaucracy:

Business groups said the change would create severe problems for UK companies, including cash flow issues and additional bureaucracy.

At least 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay upfront import VAT once Britain leaves the single market, under which import tariffs are not imposed on goods bought from other EU countries.

Currently, firms can register with HMRC for permission to import some goods from the EU free of VAT. They register the charge but the levy is added to the price of the product and paid by the customer.

Under the new system being planned, the Government said, “import VAT is charged on all imports from outside the UK”.

Businesses would then have to pay the tax upfront and claim it back at a later date, meaning they would be spending significant sums of money long before they recoup them in sales.

Naturally, the British Retail Consortium is livid. They told the paper: “If the bill becomes law without any commitment to inclusion within the EU VAT area, UK businesses will become liable to pay upfront import VAT on goods being imported from the EU-27 for the first time.

“Liability for upfront import VAT will create additional cash flow burdens for companies, as well as additional processing time at ports and border entry points attached to the customs process. Mitigation measures could include companies instituting a revolving credit facility, or utilising import VAT deferment reliefs.

“Both measures require companies having to take out costly bank or insurance-backed guarantees, so would increase the costs of importing goods from the EU.”

So much for the Tory party being the party of small business.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

A Brexit brain drain

Sitting firmly in the category of something else the Brexiteers didn't tell us during the referendum campaign, today's Independent headline that more than 2,300 EU academics have resigned from British universities over the past year amid concerns over a “Brexodus” of top talent in higher education is a potential disaster for our higher education sector.

The paper says that new figures show a 19 per cent increase in departures of European staff from universities last year compared to before the EU referendum, and a 10 per cent rise from some 2130 resignations in 2015-16. This is despite the Prime Minister urging EU citizens to stay in the UK after Britain leaves the bloc. Prolonged uncertainty over post-Brexit rights has made some academics fearful for the future and they are voting with their feet:

[The news] comes after a report from the British Academy warned that the UK’s world-leading university sector could be under threat due to prospective changes to immigration rules after Brexit, with subjects such as modern languages and economics facing the greatest threat.

The institution reporting the highest number of resignations was the University of Oxford, which saw 230 departures of EU academics last year compared to 171 in 2014-15, according to freedom of information requests by the Liberal Democrats to 105 universities.

The paper adds that King’s College London also lost 139 members of EU staff, compared to 108 before the referendum, while 173 EU academics resigned from the University of Cambridge last year, up from 153 staff the previous year, and 141 in 2014-15.

As Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran says “This alarming rise in EU academics leaving our universities is the latest sign of a damaging Brexodus.

“Britain’s universities have thrived from having access to talented European researchers, and from years of European cooperation through schemes like Horizon 2020 and Erasmus.

“Now all this is being put at risk by this Government’s botched handling of Brexit, where we seem to be losing all the benefits of EU membership while keeping the costs.

“These valued members of our communities find themselves uncertain about the future and unconvinced by the too little too late wooing by an incompetent Prime Minister. While they were frozen out of the referendum, they are now voting with their feet.”

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Why the latte levy makes sense

The week after New Year is always a quiet one news-wise, hence the wall-to-wall coverage given to Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee proposal to levy a 25p levy on disposable cups and their demand that all paper drink cups should be recycled by 2023 or banned altogether.

For many people who enjoy a takeaway coffee on the way to work this may seem a bit over-the-top, but as the Mirror points out, cups used by chains like Starbucks and Costa are hard to process due to the plastic lining, and as only three recycling sites can split out paper and plastic, fewer than 1% are recycled.

That means that 2.5 billion of these cups go to landfill each year, an unacceptable burden on our environment, especially when one considers the resources expended to replace them.

The introduction of a 5p plastic bag levy, trail-blazed in Wales and copied across the UK, had a massive impact in reducing the use of these carriers. There is no reason why a levy on disposable cups cannot have a similar impact especially when there are alternatives available.

It did not take much for people to remember to carry their own bags into shops, surely it is not too onerous a burden to ask that coffee drinkers change their habits too by bringing their own reusable cup. After all the future of the planet is at stake.

Friday, January 05, 2018

An unacceptable response to homelessness

There has been a visible increase in the number of street homeless right across the UK over the last few years. Even in Wales, where the Government has passed legislation putting the onus on local councils to prevent homelessness, it appears that the system cannot cope with the number and the circumstances of the many individuals presenting themselves as without a home.

The reasons for this are many and complex. I do not work on the frontline, nor have I engaged with those who do for a few years now, so I cannot hope to understand them all. Many of those on the streets will have developed mental health issues and/or alcohol and drug addictions that prevent them from living in a more sustainable way.

There will also be wider health issues arising from their lifestyle. Research by the NHS has found that the average homeless person has a life expectancy of 47, compared to 77 for the rest of the population, a startling difference of 30 years. The life expectancy for women was even lower, at just 43 years.

Changed economic circumstances arising from family breakdown, losing employment and/or wider health issues may well have contributed to people ending up on the streets in the first place. Everybody has their own story, but inevitably at a time of austerity, low wages, economic uncertainty and job losses in the public and private sectors, the numbers finding themselves homeless will rise.

How we deal with these individual tragedies is important. It is never as simple as just providing a roof over somebody's head, though that is the first crucial step. A lot of the people living on the streets will also require intensive support to help them with any mental health, drug or alcohol problems and to enable them to manage their changed circumstances. It is slow and steady work which requires investment in services and in the individuals and which can only really be taken one step at a time.

At present no government is committing enough resources to invest in all those currently living rough, never mind those living on other people's sofas or in temporary accommodation including bed and breakfasts. And in some cases, when a homeless person has a dog for example, they are not always able to find temporary accommodation for them.

For that reason, we are seeing more people begging in shop doorways and elsewhere, tents are being pitched on pieces of waste land and individuals are spending longer sleeping outdoors. The appropriate response is to give them practical help and to find ways to get them back on their feet. It is not to treat them like dirt by seeking to sweep them under a proverbial carpet.

It is for this reason that I find the actions of a number of local councils to be inexplicable. There is of course the high profile case of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, whose leader has reportedly called for police to take action against rough sleepers in the town ahead of the royal wedding later this year. Even Theresa May has had to speak out against these crass remarks.

But there are others too. Labour-run Oxford City Council for example has run into trouble after being accused of "unforgivable" behaviour for removing a rough sleeper's bedding and sleeping bag in the City. Whilst in Wales, Labour-run Newport City Council is considering a blanket ban on begging as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour:

Police though, say that begging is vastly under-reported, and cite the current restriction of “aggressive begging” as “very difficult to prove”.

I am astonished at how these councils are dealing with the problem. It is very uncomfortable to see people less fortunate than ourselves begging on the streets, but we cannot hide away from the problems that have put them in that position.

Our attitude to these situations define us as a civilisation. And in some areas we are not doing very well at all in living up to the compassionate and caring standards and values that must underpin any civilised society.

Let us offer help, not condemnation, sustenance not prohibition. And if we have to take a selfish attitude to this problem, then consider this: it only takes a small change in our own circumstances to put us on the streets. How would we wish to be treated then?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Tony Blair stirs the pot again

It is a peculiar sensation to find myself half-agreeing with Tony Blair, though one that I only experienced after he left office and started to find some sort of conscience. On Brexit though, the former Prime Minister is spot-on, it will be bad for the country and the Labour Party need to step up to the mark and start to provide an effective opposition.

As the Guardian reports, Blair has repeated his support for the Liberal Democrats position that the British people should have the final decision on whether the withdrawal from the EU goes ahead or not:

Describing 2018 as “the year when the fate of Brexit and thus of Britain will be decided”, Blair is open about his opposition to leaving the EU and argues that the 2016 referendum cannot be seen as binding as it contained no detail on what a post-Brexit future would involve.

Much of the 2,300-word article lambasts the Conservatives’ plans on Brexit as contradictory and confusing, saying it is absurd for ministers to pretend the UK can replicate the benefits of the EU’s single market and customs union while accepting none of the rules.

But he ends with a plea to Labour to “be on the high ground of progressive politics, explaining why membership of the European Union is right as a matter of principle, for profound political as well as economic reasons”.

Blair argues that Labour’s current ambiguity on the issue is a tactical error as it means the party cannot fully attack Theresa May’s government for neglecting issues such as the NHS and policing amid an all-consuming focus on Brexit.

The article criticises the “cake and eat it” phrases of people such as John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, who has said that although the UK must leave the single market it can remain in “a single market”.

“Far better to fight for the right for the country to rethink, demand that we know the full details of the new relationship before we quit the old one, go to the high ground on opposing Brexit and go after the Tories for their failures to tackle the country’s real challenges,” Blair writes.

Meanwhile, Corbyn continues to sit on the fence and more and more former Labour members are joining the Liberal Democrats, the only Uk-wide party to have a coherent position on opposing Brexit.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Nigel Farage - a troublemaker in search of a crisis

For somebody who does not like other country's nationals telling the UK what to do, Nigel Farage is an offensively persistent presence abroad.

Whether it is backing Trump's presidential campaign, speaking in favour of the controversial (and losing) Republican Alabama Senate candidate, Roy Moore, or addressing a far right rally in Germany, the seven times Parliamentary loser and three times former UKIP leader just can't keep his nose out of other people's affairs.

Now we learn that he is poised to travel to Ireland next month to attend a conference calling for Ireland to leave the European Union.

According to the Independent, Farage believes that Ireland should follow Britain’s example and leave the EU because it would benefit the Irish people financially. The paper suggests that in reality, this rather selfish idea has been conjured up by a few hardline Brexiteers, so that they don’t have to compromise on the thorny issue of the Irish border, which they so blissfully ignored during the campaign.

The paper's correspondent sets out some of the reasons why Farage's intervention will be rejected by the Irish electorate:

Europe has helped Ireland to strengthen its voice on the international stage, and yes, it bailed us out when the banks failed in 2010 – a moment of national shame from which the country swiftly bounced back. A May 2017 poll showed 88 per cent of Irish people think Ireland should remain in the EU, and a further survey in August 2017 showed Ireland was the country most optimistic about the EU’s future, with 77 per cent of people responding favourably.

And yet the Facebook page for February’s event warns that “Ireland is at risk of becoming a powerless EU province.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

As of 2017, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness is the Vice President of the European Parliament and last month, the EU gave Ireland the final say on whether or not Brexit negotiations should move on to the next stage. This was not for one upmanship against the British, but because Irish politicians and diplomats had lobbied hard to put the border issue at the top of the agenda, and because other EU leaders appreciate the complex issues which have forged a unique situation on the island of Ireland.

This was a display of consensus, respect and solidarity – concepts which may look unfamiliar if your political background is the muddied, chaotic ranks of Ukip.

The crucial difference between Ireland and the UK though is that there is no far right party or significant faction within a ruling group who want to leave the EU. Ireland's membership of the EU has transformed its fortunes and nobody there will want to follow the UK into oblivion. Indeed the fact that we have opted for Brexit may well prove an incentive for Ireland to strengthen their links with Europe.

One is tempted to ask the Irish to kindly hold onto Farage and not send him back, however I happen to like the Irish and would not wish that on them.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Brexit outfoxed on trade deals

Another day, yet another Brexit myth shattered. This time it is the idea that once we leave the EU people are going to be queuing up to sign trade deals with us.

The Mirror reports on the fruitless quest of the UK's International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox who, they say has flown around the world eight times trying to line people up to sign on the dotted line.

They say that Fox has clocked up 219,000 air miles in just 18 months, jetting to 27 countries and every continent except Antarctica. His travel bill is now estimated to have topped £100,000 - despite him being unlikely to be able to sign any official trade deals before 2021. They add that between July and December 2016, he ran up a bill of £37,345 and in the first half of 2017 that increased to £52,198:

Dr Fox has been to the US four times and to Geneva four times, according to The Times. In his first six months he flew 54,000 miles, including to the Indian cities of Mumbai and Pune. In his second six months, he flew 65,000 miles, including to Hong Kong, Toronto and Manila. And in the last six months he flew 101,000 miles, including to Mexico City, Tokyo and Sydney.

It is a high price to pay with so little reward to show for all that effort.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Vince Cable's New Year Message

I am tired so here is some party political propaganda until tomorrow. Happy New Year everybody.

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