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Friday, May 31, 2013

More problems for Ed

As if it wasn't bad enough that the Labour leader finds himself less trusted than Gordon Brown in an opinion poll last week, now some of his party's largest donors are piling in to point out the obvious, Labour don't have a coherent message on the economy.

Yesterday's Independent reports that John Mills, the head of the television home shopping retailer JML, has warned the party that it still lacks a “credible” economic message about how to get Britain’s economy growing again. He said the party was “policy-light” and had still to develop a “compelling message” to take into the election.

Mr Mills also criticised the party’s position on Europe, warning that Ed Miliband’s opposition to offering an EU referendum pledge could be a vote-loser in 2015.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The cost of Welsh Government Housing policies

Today's Western Mail contains an extraordinary attack by UK Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles on the Welsh Government's housing policies in which he claims that a 'burden of red tape' from the Welsh Government will put Wales at a competitive disadvantage, leading to less house building, fewer first-time buyers and more expensive rents and mortgages.

These claims have come about through a furious spat between Pickles and the Labour Assembly Member, Ann Jones who was responsible for introducing a new law in Wales that said that all new homes and adapted homes should come with sprinklers to save lives.

So what are the facts? Personally, I am not clear what the actual costs of introducing sprinkler systems are. The figure that was presented to committee during the passage of the legislation is now under dispute from the building industry, but they did not challenge it at the time. Indeed those who are now most vociferous in their opposition to sprinklers were very quiet when they had the chance to oppose this legislation.

The likelihood is that the cost is somewhere between the two extremes, but that in itself is not in my view too big a price to pay for the security that sprinklers bring and on its own seems not to be too onerous a burden on the house building industry. The only cautionary note I would sound is that the economic climate when this law was passed was markedly more favourable than today and so some caution needs to be exercised in bringing it into effect.

The real burden on house builders it seems, and the one that has given rise to claims by Redrow chairman Steve Morgan and others that in Wales it will cost between £11,000 and £13,000 more to build a 1,000 sq ft house than in England, are the proposed changes to Part L of the building regulations by the Welsh Government.

Ministers here are proposing far more drastic reforms than on the other side of Offa's Dyke in pursuit of carbon neutral homes, at least that was what their consultation said two years ago. Personally, I think that this is not a sensible way forward when we are already bringing in the sprinkler legislation, when house building in Wales is falling behind that over the border, with a consequential hit on the Welsh economy, and when the economy is in such a fragile state.

My understanding is that there is a five year moratorium on changes to building regulations in Wales in any case, which means that any amendments to Part L will not be enacted until after 2016 or thereabouts. I am seeking some clarity on that. However, the very fact of the consultation has generated uncertainty and that has hit confidence. As a result house builders are reluctant to commit to projects in Wales on the scale they should be doing.

Add into this some less than prudent interventions in the planning system by the Welsh Government, as happened recently in my region and it is no wonder that the building industry is jumpy.

What would help is some reassurance by the Welsh Government on Part L of the building regulations. If they can tell us what their proposals are now and when they plan on bringing them in then everybody will know where they stand. That will also enable AMs to scrutinise the government's position and seek to push for changes if that is necessary.

At present we are all in limbo, waiting to see what is going to happen. Whilst that continues the claims and counter-claims will grow ever more shrill and the economy will suffer. The Welsh Government need to introduce the certainty into that process that will at least give us something to argue about and which will hopefully calm things down.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The need to listen on-line

I am currently representing the Assembly Presiding Officer at a European working group on e-government in Seville. It is not as good as it sounds. There are two days of travel and one day in the working group. I will not see much of the City at all.

The discussion though has been very interesting, involving a look at the results of a survey of 21 regional Parliaments and how they use new technology to engage with their citizens, as well as a presentation by three Spanish Professors.

Some of the points I picked out include the diverse way Parliaments use information and communications technology. It is used to convey information, to deliver organisational change, to consult, to enable participation and as part of democratic deliberation.

The challenge we all face is to put into place strategies and tools to secure the effective participation of citizens in the decision-making process. We have to listen and to engage.

The points I made were that ICT is a tool not a solution. There are dangers with an institutional approach, not least that you will fail to properly listen to those you are seeking to engage with. If we are to get added value from the use of information and communication technology then we need to use it to improve access to politicians and to the bodies they serve in. That access has to be two way.

Like any other tool, ICT is at its best when it is used skilfully. That does not pre-suppose any technical ability. A politician's main skill, when s/he bothers to use it, is in communication. ICT can be used to re-engage with our roots, to listen better and to respond. But it is not the only tool in the box and must be used alongside other tools as well.

Mobility is the key. It means that we can respond on the move. But we must not use social media, for example, as a broadcast tool. It is an interactive medium and if we are not going to use it properly then we might as well not use it at all.

Finally, we need to remember that most people do not want to routinely engage with politicians. They are happy to be kept informed and to see us about but will only want to contact us when they need us. What they need is reassurance that when they need help they can get it, and quickly.

An active presence on social media alongside other more traditional methods of communication is a means of offering that reassurance.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

English badger cull looks like another disaster

The English badger cull starts on Saturday and already it is looking like it will be an unworkable mess.

I still find it difficult to believe that any responsible Government minister could conceive of a cull method that involves free-shooting marksmen targeting unsecured badgers at night.

There is no guarantee that a clean kill can be taken every time, leaving the possibility of badly wounded animals crawling away to die in pain. When you throw in the likelihood of protestors on the scene it seems that we are facing an accident waiting to happen.

The Government are seeking to cull 70% of the badgers in any one area but as this article makes clear they have no idea how many of this protected species are in any one place at any one time. That means that there is a real danger that they could illegally wipe out every badger in the cull zones.

And the Government do not even appear to have taken into account the possibility of perturbation, in which badgers are shaken out of their normal environment in fear of their life and spread bTB elsewhere. That is one of the reasons why scientists do not believe that a cull is the right answer.

The Guardian explains that the stakes are very high for DEFRA:

The government is determined to have an impact on the disease which in 2012 meant that more than 37,000 cattle had to be slaughtered at a cost to the taxpayer of £100m. But the costs of carrying out and policing the culls will mount as animal rights campaigners mobilise to disrupt the night-time shoots and last-minute legal challenges loom.

The two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were postponed in October after farmers' low estimates of badger numbers were rejected in favour of higher government numbers. Now the population estimates have been reduced again, after further government study.

Sources have told the Guardian that David Cameron has made clear to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, that another U-turn on the culls is unacceptable and that Paterson's job is at stake. An insider said that key officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are "pale with worry".

Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, was a key member of the team that spent a decade and £50 million culling 11,000 badgers before concluding that culling could make "no meaningful contribution" to reducing bovine TB. She is quoted in the paper as saying: "Badger numbers halted the cull in October and could still be the thing which makes the cull unworkable. That is completely plausible."

Quick fixes will not solve this problem. That is why the Welsh Government's approach of vaccination is a rational solution and likely to be more effective in the long term. The UK Government need to think again.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The wrong conclusion

In yesterday's Observer Henry Porter makes some very sensible points regarding the communications data bill and last week's tragic events in Woolwich.

Like me he notes the intervention of two former Labour home secretaries, a security minister and a former "independent" reviewer of terror laws all of whom have called for the swift review of the communications data bill, following the Woolwich killing:

Give our guys the tools to fight terror on the streets, they say; "the proportionate tools", eagerly adds the former reviewer of terror laws, Lord Carlile. But not one of them bothered to produce the smallest evidence that the type of surveillance proposed in the "snoopers' charter" would have stopped the two suspects, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.

The simple flaw in their case is that both men were already known to MI5, which was aware of their associations and radicalisation. The agency, it's claimed, may even have tried to recruit Adebolajo. If intelligence officers had thought it necessary, they possessed all the powers they needed to monitor the pair's emails, texts, phone calls and internet use. Some 500,000 intercepts are already granted every year. So the idea that giving police and MI5 untrammelled access to the nation's communications data would have provided vital information that would have averted Lee Rigby's murder is almost certainly wrong.

Lone-wolf attacks in a free society are notoriously difficult to anticipate. Evidence may emerge that MI5 overlooked some important clues, but an inability to intercept the pair's communications was clearly not the critical factor. Yet here were the ministers and Carlile, implying that it was. In all their pronouncements, I did not hear one of them admit that monitoring of terror suspects is a matter of routine for MI5 and the agency has all the tools it required for this case, except precognition.

It was all very reminiscent of Labour's years, when these ministers pushed for more and more oppressive legislation to control and monitor the average citizen, on the grounds that massive surveillance and coercion were the only answers to Islamist terror. Remember the costly ID card fiasco, stop and search, stringent control order regimes – for those who had not been found guilty of a crime – and 90 day detention without charge?

He sets out the practical problems with the bill and why it is not the panacea that it is claimed to be:

Last year's scrutiny of the draft communications data bill by a joint committee of MPs and peers identified the problems of the system of mass surveillance that Reid favours. The first and crucial point, apart from the universal intrusion entailed, is that it does not necessarily lead you to the right individuals. There is too much information to process, clunky algorithms throw up false positives, and there are always means of communication that intelligence officers are going to miss. The two alleged killers didn't need the internet or mobile phones to plan and carry out an attack that was no different to an ambush in the dark ages, and the idea that a sophisticated surveillance system can prevent such archaic savagery is simple-minded.

Ah, say the enthusiasts, this system is not merely about predicting the attack. It would sift emails, texts, interactions on social networking sites to pick up the first stirrings of radicalisation and then allow constant monitoring of suspects as they evolve to more dangerous states of mind. Even if it were true that such a system could prevent another Woolwich, the apparatus that en masse fingers people's apparent beliefs, draws conclusions about what is inside their minds and seemingly predicts intention is impossible to accommodate in a free society. This is for the very obvious reasons that it will get things wrong and gives too much power to the government of the day.

I don't want to repeat the arguments against the communications data bill because it is dormant, at least for this parliament, but it is worth mentioning that one of the parliamentary committee's chief worries was the level of access that the "snoopers' charter" was likely to give to, among others, town halls, health and safety inspectors, NHS trusts, the Environment Agency and even the Charity Commission. The system that allows MI5 and police access to people's communications data through a trap door in phone companies and internet providers would soon be made available to every inquisitive jobsworth in the country.

If there is evidence that this bill would have saved the life of that soldier then let us see it. In the meantime the Deputy Prime Minister and the rest of the government must continue to resist the pressure to resurrect it.

As Nick Clegg said in his letter to members at the weekend 'when your values are under attack, you have to hold on to them even more firmly than before.'

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A taxing problem

I listened carefully to Eric Schmidt from Google yesterday when he was challenged on his company's tax avoidance policies and I was not convinced by his answer.

As reported here Mr Schmidt argued that the UK Government should stop complaining and change its laws so that Google was forced to pay its fair share of taxes. The corporation has only paid £10m to HMRC in the five years to 2011, despite generating UK revenue of £11.9bn.

Google argues that they legitimately channel their business through their Dublin office, where corporation tax is 12.5 per cent, compared with Britain's 21 per cent. And that is why Eric Schmidt's answer yesterday was a tad disingenuous. It is not a problem that a single government can solve, as he claimed.

He is right that Governments need to sort this out and that until they do then multi-national corporations will continue to minimise their tax bill and maximise their profits. What is needed is an international solution, but some sense of social responsibility from corporations such as Google would be welcome too.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Blogging will be light

It is Whitsun bank holiday weekend so it must be the Hay Literary Festival. For once it is not raining so some shopping is the order for the morning before Eric Schmidt from Google, Caitlin Moran and India Knight, Sandi Tokswig, Jon Ronson and K.T. Tunstall.

Apparently, I have five messages waiting for me on my mobile phone. I am not ignoring you, whoever you are, honest. It is just that as far as O2 reception is concerned this area is a black hole. I am afraid you may have to wait until Monday night before I can return your call.

Could O2 sort themselves out please? After all it is not as if Hay is a minor literary festival, it attracts people from all over the UK in huge numbers.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The case against the snooper's charter remains unchanged

It was interesting, though not unexpected, that following the appalling attrocity in Woolwich, many of the usual voices re-emerged calling for the reinstatement of the communications data bill that Nick Clegg quite correctly blocked a few months ago.

These included former Labour Home Secretary, John Reid, former First Sea Lord and security minister, Lord West, and former Security legislation reviewer and Liberal Democrats peer, Lord Carlile. It should be noted that none of these are in government at present and so do not have access to all the information about the attack.

That is why I am more than inclined to back Nick Clegg's judgement when he says through a spokesperson that “There is currently no suggestion that the proposals in the draft Communications Data Bill would have had any relevance to [Wednesday’s] sickening events. There are already substantial powers in place to track the communications of criminals and terrorists.”

Nick Clegg is not the only person in government saying this however. According to the Independent he has the unlikely support of Eric Pickles in this:

Mr Pickles said he did not believe any measures in a mooted communications data bill, dubbed the "snooper's charter", would have prevented the death of the soldier in Woolwich.

Conservative MP Mr Pickles told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What I am certain about is a free society is vulnerable to an unexplained, heavy violent attack, whether it was as our dear friends in Norway faced a couple of years ago a white supremacist or whether what we faced on the streets of Woolwich, a blasphemy and distortion of Islam.

"I know of nothing that would suggest that provisions that were in that bill would have made any difference in this case or would have saved the life of the young member of the armed forces.

"I think it's probably too soon to assess the powers we need but, once the investigation is through, both aspects of the security services and aspects of the policing of these two individuals will be thoroughly investigated and no doubt recommendations will come out of that."

That is a considered and informed response that should be supported.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Senior civil servants on the town

Yes Prime Minister's portrayal of government mandarins was never a flattering one. Fortunately, their characterisation was often over-the-top exageration and certainly does not reflect modern day civil servants at any level.

Nevertheless, this story in the Telegraph earlier this week, must have set some hares running. The paper says that thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is being used to hire formal evening dress for civil servants:

The biggest beneficiary appears to have been the Ministry of Defence, which has spent £18,616.71 on hiring evening dress over the past five years.

This coincides with the armed forces, who have already complained of being poorly equipped, being in the firing line for sweeping spending cuts.

It has settled 103 claims, equivalent to just over £180 a time. In the last financial year alone, taxpayers spent just over £3,000 ensuring that MoD officials looked the part at formal gatherings.

Meanwhile over at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the bill for reimbursing 23 claims for formal dress hire was £2,807.85 – working out at £122 a time.

The Solicitor General’s department said it had recorded one claim of £75 for full evening dress in 2008.

Details from other departments, such as the Foreign Office, are expected to emerge over the next few days.

However according to the Moss Bros website formal dinner wear can be hired for as little as £38 a time.

Perhaps a review of terms and conditions is overdue.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Five full years

As a Liberal Democrat I will not deny that it has been an interesting couple of weeks. Who would have thought that it would be my party that showed better than our coalition partners the discipline and unity necessary to govern.

For all the speculation the Liberal Democrats stand full square behind Nick Clegg in delivering the party's agenda of lower taxes for the poorest in our society, taxing wealth and excess profits from the banks, better pensions and a greener Britain. The danger is that the Tory Party's disunity and infighting will undermine the consensus we have helped to build for a fairer society.

That is why I was pleased to see Nick Clegg yesterday trying to steady the ship. As the Guardian reports the Liberal Democrats leader warned Tory MPs off "arcane, shrill and tongue-twisting manoeuvres in parliament", saying it distracted the public from the government's main goal of sorting out the economy:

Insisting he was confident of his place in the coalition, he said: "Anyone who is wargaming about what may or may not happen in my party is wasting their time. I am going to be leader of this party up to, through and beyond the next general election. The Liberal Democrats, despite all the predictions to the contrary, have proved to be the calmest, most resilient and most united party in British politics today."

Cameron, pressed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, whether the coalition would last the full five years, said: "That is absolutely my intention and has always been. To anyone who doubts what life there is left in the coalition, I would argue there is more to come – very bold reforming, and strong government, and that is what we'll be right up until polling day."

Of course there will always be differences between us, especially on Europe, civil liberties and constitutional reform, but the national interest dictates that we finish the job we started of trying to steady the ship and put the economiy back to rights.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Progress at last on new school

Today's South Wales Evening Post reports on an important investment in my council ward with the news that a new school to replace two existing dilapidated buildings is likely to be built in the very near future. The Evening Post piece is slightly overspun by the Council officers who contributed to it but that does not change the fact that this is very good news indeed.

As the interim Director of Education says: "The current Burlais school is split across two ageing buildings which need huge amounts of investment to bring them up to modern standards fit for the 21st century." A new school is the best solution, it is just a shame that options for sites are so limited.

This investment has not happened overnight. It has come about after years of work by local councillors, officers and both the present and previous administration in putting together grant applications to the Welsh Government, identifying matching funds, approving plans and arranging the merger of the two old schools into one so that we can access and use the money as soon as possible. All three councillors have been actively involved in initiating and supporting that process.

Also Cwmbwrla Park is not rundown. There has recently been a major investment in a new play area and a shelter for older kids. Ward Councillors continue to stay on top of issues as they arise in the park. The only dereliction is the changing rooms which were burnt down four years ago and were not rebuilt partly due to the cost but mostly because this school investment was on the cards. Once they are rebuilt then football can be played in the park again as it has been for generations.

I spent the weekend delivering a leaflet to every home in the area advertising a public meeting on the Manor Road site this Thursday at 7pm. There is an exhibition at 6pm showing the extent of the plans. There is still a long way to go before this school is delivered and it is imperative that we take the community with us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Too important for politicians

If there is one thing that is clear about the current controversy over Europe it is that the consequences of any decision to pull out are so serious that maybe there is a case for keeping politicians out of the debate altogether.

That is just a whimsical remark of course. After all many of those expressing a view on this matter could not and should not be silenced. But it does underline a basic point, which is that so far the real issues are not being discussed.

That is why an article in today's Independent is so important. They report that some of Britain’s most successful and eminent business leaders have accused Eurosceptic MPs of putting “politics before economics” and abandoning the national interest in their calls for Britain to leave the European Union.

They add that in a letter to the group issue a trenchant riposte to politicians who have argued that Britain’s economic interest would be better served outside the EU:

They also call for David Cameron to “strengthen and deepen” the European single market to boost Britain’s economy by £110bn.

The letter, which is signed by senior figures including the current and next presidents of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as well as the chairmen of BT, Deloitte, Lloyds and Centrica, is the first co-ordinated response from the business community to increasing anti-European political rhetoric.

It reflects growing concern in the City that anti-European feeling is not being effectively countered by mainstream political leaders in the wake of last month’s local council elections.

The paper adds that in their letter the businessmen write that on a purely economic basis, exiting the EU would be deeply damaging to Britain:

“The economic case to stay in the EU is overwhelming,” they say. “To Britain, membership is estimated to be worth between £31bn and £92bn per year in income gains, or between £1,200 to £3,500 for every household.

“What we should now be doing is fighting hard to deliver a more competitive Europe, to combat the criticism of those that champion our departure. We should push to strengthen and deepen the Single Market to include digital, energy, transport and telecoms, which could boost Britain’s GDP by £110bn.”

Addressing concerns that European banking legislation is adversely affecting the City of London, the 19 business leaders say that the right answer is to fight for Britain’s interests inside the EU – rather than attempting to go it alone. “The City of London is Europe’s global financial centre,” they say. “Some of the EU’s ideas such as a cap on bankers’ bonuses put this standing at risk. So the Government needs to work hard to protect it.

“But there is also a huge opportunity to promote London’s capital markets to help solve the problems of the EU banking system. We should promote the cause of EU membership as well as defend our position.”

They conclude: “The benefits of membership overwhelmingly outweigh the costs, and to suggest otherwise is putting politics before economics.”

Some businessmen privately express concerns that were Britain to leave and place restrictions on foreign workers, other European countries would retaliate and make it harder for Britons to work in the EU.

There is also a non-economic case for staying the European Union, not least that it it provides an invaluable level of social and political cohesion to Europe and has helped us maintain peace on the continent for several generations. This really is more important than politics.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Labour's opportunistic opposition to housing benefit reform stumbles again

Many politicians hold genuine and deeply-held views in opposition to the coalition government's reform of housing benefit.

There is no doubt changes that will reduce entitlement for those who have a spare bedroom are controversial and will initially cause problems for many people.

That is why the government has put in place additional funds for Discretionary Housing Payments and have altered a number of the regulations to ease specific issues. It is my view that more needs to be done, but that is not the point of this post.

The position of the Labour Party on this issue has been particularly hypocritical. They have been virulent in their opposition to what they have termed 'the bedroom tax' and yet they piloted this reform when they were in government and introduced it for the privately rented sector in 2008.

What is more they have put forward no alternative nor have they pledged to repeal it. That hypocrisy has been brought into stark contrast this weekend with a clarification of the position of the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

According to this article, Liam Byrne went to Newcastle empty-handed and left his audience sorely disappointed on this very issue.

Labour's opportunism on welfare reform is disgraceful. They quite rightly initiated it, now they are opposing it despite not having any intention of undoing the reforms. No wonder they are struggling in the polls.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The 'loons' have it

So what has happened to the Tory party? We have not seen this level of in-fighting since the John Major years and even then their cabinet ministers and SPADs stopped short of slagging off their own activists.

As the Telegraph reports the pressure is starting to get a bit much for some of the occupants of the Number 10 bunker. So much so that a a senior figure in the Conservative Party who has strong social connections to the Prime Minister decided to excuse the 116 rebels who voted to amend the Queen's speech by saying that: “The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad swivel-eyed loons.”

Presumably the same reason will be wheeled out to justify the 150 plus Conservative MPs who are expected to vote against Mr Cameron’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage next week when the legislation returns to the House of Commons.

When we entered this coalition, commentators predicted that the Liberal Democrats would not last the pace. Instead it is the more experienced but less disciplined Tory Party who are falling apart.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A modern circle of hell

I reference this article in the Daily Telegraph as a public service, because I for one an fed up with phone trees. The paper reports that some multi-national companies have almost 80 menu options when you try to call them. If you are able to find a shortcut then it is believed that this could save a person up to eight minutes per call.

The paper say that a Lloyds TSB home insurance customer who wishes to report a water leak would normally have to wade through 78 menu options over seven levels to get through to the correct department.  Two thirds of call centres (68%) use introductions or additional advertising between options

IT manager Nigel Clarke, 53, who spent seven years making 12,000 calls to automated phone centres, has come up with a solution. He has painstakingly catalogued the option sequences of 130 leading companies, and has now published online which numbers to press to reach the required department. Thus, the Lloyds TSB customer referred to above will find that the combination 1-3-2-1-1-5-4 will get them straight through, saving over four minutes of waiting.

Mr Clarke, who has been working on the list for seven years, cites the HMRC as one of the worst offenders, where callers can take up to six minutes to reach the correct department.

As one of the UK's busiest call centres, the Revenue receives 79 million calls per year, or a potential 4.3 million working hours just navigating menus.

Mr Clarke believes that with better menu design, at least three million caller hours could be saved here alone.

He said he became increasingly “frustrated” by the lists. "I thought to myself 'Why don't companies make life easy for their customers and simply show me the menu options before I call so I know what numbers to press to get through much more quickly?'.

"I realised I could often save a minute or two at least per call. That soon adds up in time and money with all the calls I make each year."

My only beef with this article is that it does not give the website address.

Update: The website is here

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tax avoidance and international companies

Today's Independent reports the appalling fact that Amazon paid less in UK corporation tax last year than it received in government grants.

The paper says that its official company accounts have revealed that last year it paid just £3.1m in total taxes on sales of £4.2bn. Its corporation tax bill was £2.44m, less than the £2.5m it received from the Scottish Government in inducements to build a new distribution warehouse in Dunfermline. And it is not just them:

The news comes as MPs say Google employees have turned whistleblower to describe how the Internet search giant misleads Britain's tax authorities over how much business they carry out in this country.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee the head of Google sales in Europe Matt Brittin insisted that all its sales were completed in Dublin.

This allows the company to pay tax at a lower rate than if the sales were completed in the UK.

But MPs told Mr Brittin that they had been contacted by former employees who described the extent of sales operations in the UK.

This includes pay-slips showing UK based staff being paid substantial bonuses depending on their 'sales' and evidence that big clients were being dealt with almost exclusively in the UK.

I will be in the Hay Festival over the Whitsun bank Holiday weekend and have tickets to see Eric Schmidt, the founder of Google. There may be questions. I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Coalition Minister needs to reconsider his rash statement

It is bad enough having to introduce changes to housing benefit so as to make it more affordable, without Ministers putting their big feet in it so as to rub in the impact of their policies on some of the poorest members of our society.

Today's Western Mail reports that Lord Freud, who serves as an unpaid minister at the Department for Work & Pensions, suggested to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee that separated parents could either pay the additional rent for an extra bedroom or make use of a sofa bed when children were staying.

The paper characterises it as Families hit by bedroom tax 'can go out to work or use a sofa bed' which puts the comment on a similar level to Norman Tebbit's off-paraphrased statement that the unemployed should get on their bikes and look for work.

The Minister went on to explain his position in less confrontational terms by saying: “The issue is dual-provision of those bedrooms is expensive; basically giving a child a bedroom in two places is a very expensive thing for the state to do and currently we can’t afford that.”  However, I am afraid that the damage was already done.

As if to compound the error the Chair of the Committee, Monmouthshire MP, David Davies dug even deeper. He said: “Do you not think it is entirely wrong that up until now many local authorities have apparently had a policy of just handing out large houses to people who don’t even have families or at least one child on the basis that one day they may well have one. I mean, surely we should be expecting everyone, whether they are on benefits or in work, to live by the same disciplines that those of us who are in work live by...

“Surely it is rather discriminatory to expect people on benefits to live in some kind of different world without those constraints.”

It is not the case of course that local councils have handed out large houses to people who would under-occupy them. All social housing providers have allocation policies that fit the property to need. The reason why people under-occupy homes is complex but essentially it is down to changes of circumstances such as divorce or death.   Perhaps both Lord Freud and David Davies need to get out more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The price of rebellion

The Tory rebellion over Europe took yet another unusual twist today with the Prime Minister effectively embracing it by announcing his intention to introduce a draft Bill to guarantee that an in/out referendum on Europe will be held by 2017.

According to the Independent the draft Bill, which is to be unveiled by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will be seen as a way to strengthen Mr Cameron’s promise of a referendum if his party wins the 2015 general election. They continue:

It is unlikely to be introduced as a government measure because the Liberal Democrats oppose the idea. But it could make progress through Parliament as a backbench Bill. A Conservative source said on Monday night: “We will examine all the options to bring this Bill before Parliament, including a Private Member’s Bill, in keeping with what the Prime Minister has said.”

More than 70 Tory MPs have taken the unusual step of signing an amendment to last week’s Queen’s Speech regretting the absence of an EU referendum Bill. Ministers have been told they can abstain in a vote on it due tomorrow, but backbenchers and ministerial aides will be allowed to support the amendment.

If the Bill starts its passage through Parliament, Mr Cameron hopes it will “shine a spotlight” on his referendum pledge and counter the recent surge by the UK Independence Party. He also hopes the Bill will put the Liberal Democrats and Labour on the spot by forcing them to decide quickly whether they support or oppose giving the public a say on Britain’s position in Europe.

That is all very well, but is this really a good use of Parliamentary time? After all isn't there a constitutional convention that says that a Parliament cannot bind its successors? If that is the case then the draft bill becomes no more than symbolic, a sure sign that party politics and internal dissent have finally trumped the national interest.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Space Oddity

Just brilliant!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Three into one won't go

Those who argue that a coalition is an aberration in a system designed to produce two-party government are forgetting that political parties are themselves coalitions.

That is why those of us who argue for a proportional voting system claim that it is a more honest one, because it allows factions within parties to stand alone on their own terms and fight elections on a policy platform they find more comfortable.

Yes, proportional voting may lead to more coalition governments but at least they will be openly constructed administrations in which we can all see and understand the compromises being made, rather than having to second guess behind-closed-doors stitch-ups within the two biggest parties.

The current furore over Europe illustrates this very well. This is an issue that has split the Conservative party for the best part of 40 years, a schism that has at times led to civil war within that party and even destabilised majority governments. Labour has not been exempt from this anguish either and even the pro-European Liberal Democrats have suffered problems, leading to MPs resigning front bench positions so as to vote against the whip.

Now, we are faced with the extraordinary spectacle of the Prime Minister instructing Conservative Ministers to vote against the Queen's speech and giving his backbenchers a free vote so as to avoid a more damaging split over an amendment seeking a referendum on membership of the EU.

The last time a government suffered a defeat on the Queen's speech was 1924 when the Prime Minister was forced to resign. I am fairly sure that will not happen this time however this affair illustrates my point. With such a strong anti-European faction within the Conservative Party, there are not two parties in this coalition, there are three.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

There was no double dip recession after all?

One of the problems with a 24/7 media is that they are quick to rush to judgement before all the facts are at their disposal, just to get the headline. For example, when the quarterly figures on the economy are published they only contain about 40% of the necessary statistics, making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions. That does not stop politicians and journalists rushing to judgement however, and very rarely, if at all, do we see caveats associated with their pronouncements.

That is the background to this article in the Telegraph that reveals that claims of a double dip recession may have been premature and, in fact it is likely that it did not happen at all.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Thus in the first three months of 2012, after it was revealed that the economy shrank by 0.1pc it was decided that we had indeed reached that nadir. However, the paper reveals that the latest estimates of construction activity for the first quarter of 2012 suggest the economy only flatlined. As a result, there may never have been a technical double dip at all.

The Office of National Statistics has now estimated that construction in the first quarter of 2012 contracted by 5pc, not 5.4pc, and that output in the sector was £108m more than previously thought at £25.273bn, a tiny amount that makes all the difference symbolically.

The Telegraph adds that Simon Ward, Henderson’s chief economist, has calculated that the revision means the economy shrank by 0.04pc in the quarter rather than 0.07pc, all else being equal. When this is rounded to the statistical norm, the change means the economy stagnated at 0.0pc rather than shrank 0.1pc. However, confirmation will not come until June, when the ONS officially reviews past estimates, and any change to past calculations of services or industrial production could yet offset the gains made by construction:

Philip Shaw, UK economist at Investec, said: “As things stand, the revisions to the construction data mean that the UK didn’t double dip over the back end of 2011 and beginning of 2012.

“That’s pretty interesting considering there were fears of a triple dip just a few weeks ago. If markets are concerned about the technicalities of a single dip, double dip, or triple dip, this is a relevant point. But in the broader scheme of things, the economy is still subdued and looks like it will take some time to reach escape velocity.

Although these figures are not good by any stretch of the imagination, the disappearance of symbolic double dip will give George Osborne a bit of breathing space. This is especially so with Nida Ali, the economic adviser to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, commenting that there are “signs of an initial recovery in UK trade [and] evidence that the much-needed rebalancing of UK exports towards faster growing nations is continuing”.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Can Labour win in 2015?

I don't tend to take much notice of opinion polls for fairly obvious reasons but when an interesting piece of research comes to light it is worth commenting on. This YouGov poll reported in today's Guardian is a good example, not least as it has been commissioned as a learning process rather than just for headlines.

According to the paper, this poll shows that Labour has a mountain to climb to win the next election outright, and is still failing to chalk up big enough leads on image or leadership to make it likely to secure an overall majority:

The YouGov polling, commissioned by Progress, suggests the party is still seen as "nice" but incapable of taking tough decisions. Miliband's personal ratings have hardly improved over the past year.

In an article for Progress, the New Labour pressure group, the YouGov president, Peter Kellner, describes the polling as "profoundly troubling" for Labour, saying that despite the unpopularity of the government, Labour has uncomfortably small leads and has been unable to generate wide public enthusiasm.

He writes: "The central fact is that no successful opposition in the past 50 years has gone on to regain power with such a weak image and without achieving much bigger voting-intention leads at some point in the parliament."

Labour, he advises, needs to think what it will do if it fails to win an overall majority.

Kellner points out there has not been a single time in more than 80 years when an opposition has returned to power at the first attempt with an overall majority. He also suggests no opposition has gone on to win power without at some point achieving a lead of at least 20%.

The biggest Labour lead recorded by any opinion poll during its current period of opposition was 16%, recorded by TNS last September. The latest YouGov poll gives Labour a lead of 11%.

Kellner suggests that Miliband may be holding back party support. When voter are asked if they would prefer a Labour government led by Ed Miliband or a Conservative government led by David Cameron, the two options are level pegging: Labour 41%, Conservative 40%.

The polling also shows that by a margin of 50-35 points, voters regard Labour as "nice" – but by a larger, 61-24, margin, also as "dim". Most people consider the Tories both "mean" and "dim"; but more people regard the Tories as "smart" than say the same about Labour.

Labour is ahead of the Tories on many of 12 key attributes, but Kellner says on many the lead is "uncomfortably small – the economy, learning from past mistakes and having people who are up to running the job".

He adds: "No opposition could be happy with the fact that, when the economy is flatlining, just one person in three thinks it [the Labour party] would take the right decisions to secure greater prosperity.

"On just two measures do the optimists about Labour's prospective performance outnumber the pessimists, and then by only a modest five points: being 'on the side of people like you' (43-38) and delivering good value services (41-36)."

He points out: "There is one issue on which the Conservatives hold a large lead, and it could be decisive in a tough election campaign. By two to one, voters think the Tories have the courage to take tough and unpopular decisions. By three to two, voters think Labour lacks that courage." Kellner adds: "For a party whose greatest campaigning challenge is to appear reassuring, this should be profoundly troubling."

He also highlights other YouGov polling showing that only 36% of those surveyed credited Miliband with any positive attributes. More than two years later, that figure has crept up to 41%.

In short, Ed Miliband is not perceived as Prime Ministerial material and Labour has not convinced voters that it understands the economic mess we are in and can take the necessary decisions to deal with it. They have a lot of work to do over the next two years to put that right.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Hain kicks Balls

With his Severn Barrage project slowly sinking into the Severn Estuary, it seems that Peter Hain needed something else to keep him occupied yesterday so he decided to offer unsolicited advice to the Labour frontbench.

Whether Ed Balls will appreciate being told that he and his team “need to get out on the stump now and work even harder" is a valid question. A poor work rate has never been one of the Shadow Chancellor's problems, rather he needs to adjust his policies so as to accept current economic realities.

The former Secretary of State for Wales was keen to rubbish suggestions that his intervention was an attack on colleagues in Labour, however it was difficult for anybody reading his views to interpret them otherwise.

Peter Hain has become yet another of the voices-off criticising Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet leaving the rest of us with the distinct impression that Labour is divided and fighting amongst themselves.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A curate's egg?

Today's Queen's Speech was a bit of a mixed bag, and although I welcome many of the measures within it, there were one or two issues that I might take issue with.

"Tough action", including bigger fines, against businesses which employ illegal labour is welcome as are plans to make it easier to deport people from Britain who commit serious crimes, unless there are exceptional circumstances to say otherwise. The rest of this Immigration Bill though seems to be designed to placate the Daily Mail and I will be interested in seeing the evidence to justify the proposed measures as well as how they fit in with various treaty obligations. I will also watch to see whether other countries in the European Union take retaliatory measures against British citizens working in their territories.

More help with child care costs and obtaining a mortgage are also welcome as are the two "meaty" social measures that will affect millions of vulnerable people in the UK.

The Independent says that the Care Bill will reform long-term care so that the elderly do not have to sell their home to pay for residential care. There will be a cap on care costs, which is expected to be set at £72,000 per person, after which the state will fund care. We await the decision of the Welsh Government as to whether this will apply in Wales.

The Pensions Bill is particularly significant as it will bring in a flat rate state pension of £144 a week from April 2016. The change will help women who have given up work to raise children and end means-tested top-ups such as pension credit.

I am also pleased at some of the measures that have been left out. I remain unconvinced that a minimum unit price for alcohol will have the impact claimed for it and am still waiting to see the evidence to support those claims. Finally, good riddance to the Communications Data Bill or snoopers' charter, which was comprehensively killed off by Nick Clegg.

The speech may have been short but it contained many goodies despite the misstep on immigration.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Prosperous in Europe

It may just be me but I got the feeling that former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson was expecting a bit more support from Euro-sceptics when he recently claimed that the UK will be better off outside EU. As it is Mr. Lawson appears to be more talking to himself than speeaking for the nation.

It is amazing how once Ministers are out of office they start to support policies they failed to implement when in Government.

Nevertheless, Nick Clegg has the former Chancellor's measure. In the Guardian today, he says that continued EU membership is necessary, for security, to protect jobs and to ensure Britain's continued influence on the international stage:

"I think leaving it now would make us less safe," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "It makes us less prosperous, it jeopardises, potentially, up to 3 million jobs … it also means we'll be taken less seriously in Washington, Tokyo. … for all these reasons, I think it's the wrong thing to do … it's part of an anguished debate within the Tory party; they've had it before, they'll have it again."

The worse possible response to UKIP's success last week is a renewed debate on the future of Britain's membership of Europe. As Nigel Lawson says we need to concentrate on the economy. Membership of the European Community is integral to our chances of recovery. Leaving it would plunge our economy into further crisis.

Monday, May 06, 2013

A unique London café

The Metro reports that Britain's first cat café is set to open in London after members of the public helped raise £100,000 for the venture on crowd-funding website Indiegogo.

They say that the café, which will be filled with cats looks set to open in the coming months, and that thousands of feline fans are set to battle it out to be the first through the door:

The idea has sparked interest in cat lovers across the country and despite not even advertising, Ms Pears revealed she has received over 700 job applications for less than 10 expected positions.

Pre-sales of tickets to enter the café (it will cost £5 for every visit), have also gone through the roof, with around 3,000 passes being sent out to those ‘crowdfunders’ who helped raise capital for the business.

Australian entrepreneur Lauren Pears told the paper that the idea has sparked interest in cat lovers across the country and despite not even advertising, she has received over 700 job applications for less than 10 expected positions.

They add that pre-sales of tickets to enter the café (it will cost £5 for every visit), have also gone through the roof, with around 3,000 passes being sent out to those ‘crowdfunders’ who helped raise capital for the business. She plans to have around 10 cats in the café, with 40-50 people maximum in the property with the animals at any one time.

More information can be found here.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Public in the dark on Labour's spending plans

Thursday's local election results may have been difficult for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and a triumph for UKIP (no matter how over-hyped at the time and since) but they were also a disappointment for Labour, who failed to assert themselves as an alternative government and under-performed against expectations.

In a way, Ed Miliband was fortunate that the hysteria that has surrounded UKIP's performance has succeeded in masking that of his party. Nevertheless, these findings by YouGov will offer little solace.

The polling company report that nearly half of the general public don’t know where Ed Miliband stands on spending, and a quarter of Labour voters think the position he's announced is something other than it is:

Ed Miliband announced after weeks of confusion that Labour’s position on spending come the 2015 election will be to increase borrowing in the short-term, in the hope that this will boost the economy and decrease borrowing in the long-term.

But new YouGov research indicates the message is yet to sink in, with nearly half (41%) saying they “don’t know” or are “not sure” about what Labour have said they will do on borrowing if they win the next election.

And even those who intend to vote Labour are puzzled. A quarter (26%) think the position Mr Miliband has announced is something other than it is and almost a third (29%) don't know, compared to one in four who correctly identify that Mr Miliband said he'll increase borrowing in the short-term to decrease it over time.

In truth elections are won on tone and the feel-good factor than on detailed policy but that is no consolation for Ed Miliband. After all, a general feeling that Labour has no answers or that they do not know what they want to do is just as bad as a major policy disagreement. It also underlines a general disatisfaction with the Labour leadership, who are perceived as not being up to the job.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Pedantry on a Saturday

The Daily Post carries an interesting article today about a particularly embarrassing gaffe on the part of contractors at the headquarters of Flintshire County Council. It transpires that in marking out spaces for Councillors in the car park they spelt the word with only one 'l'.

The Councils has now had them back to correct the mistake but, keeping to the theme of pedantry I have to ask, did they also add in the missing apostrophe?

Friday, May 03, 2013

More on the single measles vaccine

raised in the Senedd eleven days ago my own concerns about a private company targetting the Swansea area with the single measles vaccine and in particular the fact that their website continues to link MMR with autism despite that fact that there is no evidence for that claim. It was interesting therefore to see that the British Medical Journal is now covering this story.

Like me they have noted that in the midst of the measles outbreak in Swansea, the Children’s Immunisation Centre, a private company with clinics in several UK cities, set up a temporary clinic in the city over the weekend of 20 April. They say that the company is still advertising availability in Swansea with the single measles vaccinations at £110 each:

On its website it says that the single vaccination is for children “whose parents had concerns regarding the safety of the MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccination offered to them by their NHS GPs.” The website goes on to say that single vaccination is the “only safe way for MMR.”1 Under the question “Does the MMR jab cause autism?” the site links to three newspaper reports that allege a link between autism and MMR2 3 4 5 but not to NHS or Cochrane review advice about safety. Beneath these links is the line “for peace of mind.”

Use of the single measles vaccine comes with potential problems. It does not have a licence from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). More vaccinations are needed for complete coverage than with the combined MMR vaccine, meaning that the default rate is likely to be higher. The total cost of the vaccinations is several hundred pounds. Mumps vaccine is not available singly in the United Kingdom, meaning that the complication of mumps, including the risks of male infertility, meningitis, and deafness, are carried by an unprotected group, and outbreaks have occurred in the recent past in the UK.

They add that clinically there is no good rationale behind the use of single vaccines rather than the triple vaccine:

Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the GMC, told the BMJ, “Any doctor who makes false and misleading claims about the treatments or services they provide should be in no doubt that they are putting their registration at risk. We are unequivocal on this—when advertising services, doctors must always make sure the information they publish is factual, can be checked, and does not exploit their patients’ vulnerability or lack of medical knowledge.”

What is interesting is that the Children’s Immunisation Centre says on its website, “All our thousands of patients are healthy, with no autism, no hospitalizations or fits (anaphylaxis shock), no febrile convulsions. We have a 100% Safety Record and have given over 70 000 vaccinations (over 18 000 patients).”

They say that in support of this claim Fiona Dickson, the centre’s director, has told the BMJ that the centre would know if any of its patients later had a diagnosis of autism because “parents are spending £600 on vaccines—they would sue us if they did.” But she was unable to cite any audit or follow-up study that the clinics had done to support the claim, saying that they relied on parents to tell them of any diagnoses after vaccination:

In September 2012 the MHRA upheld a complaint about the Children’s Immunisation Centre’s advertising when its website published an “unbalanced view of the safety and efficacy of an unlicensed mumps vaccine.” Its website was subsequently amended.

Additionally, the MHRA told the Breakspear Medical Group and Clarion Health to amend their advertising when it was found to be misleading or incomplete.13 14 The BabyJabs clinic, based in London, had three complaints against it upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority in 2012 after it falsely claimed that the MMR vaccine “could be causing autism in up to 10% of autistic children in the UK.”

Single vaccination clinics exist because of fear and misinformation. This is compounded by misleading advertising on some websites. Their argument is that single vaccines offer a valid choice to parents who are concerned about the triple vaccine. Yet the ethics of using an unlicensed and expensive product that leaves gaps in vaccination coverage, when an evidence based and licensed one is available, should require the GMC to investigate now.

I think that is pretty clear.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Lembit and the ASBOs

It is election day so here is a quick video to keep you amused while I try and get people to the polls. Has Lembit finally lost the plot? Discuss.

Hat Tip: Labour List

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Swansea, the history of the MMR scare and a measles epidemic

As the Western Mail notes Public Health Wales says that there has now been 1,011 cases of measles since the outbreak, centred in the ABMU, Powys and Hywel Dda health board areas, began in November. It is worth reflecting on why the epidemic has been so centred on Swansea.

The media and others have already speculated that the campaign run by the South Wales Evening Post ten years or more ago was a major factor in the decision of many parents not to give their child the MMR jab.

Indeed the scare started by Dr. Wakefield still resonates today, with a call to my office just a few days ago by somebody convinced that there is a link between MMR and autism and even stating at one point that autism could be caught in the same way as a contagious disease. For the record there is no link and it cannot be caught in that way.

I had a conversation with a journalist on Friday who questioned why Swansea should be so different from any other part of the country, that take-up rates of MMR should be so low there. They could not bring themselves to believe that the distinguishing factor was the campaign run by the Evening Post.

The Evening Post themselves say that they were only doing their job, that their reporting was balanced and that they had a duty to state both sides of the story. That may well be the case. However, when 95% of scientific opinion is saying that a vaccine is safe and only 5% is questioning its side-effects, a 50-50 balance is not always appropriate.

What cannot be underestimated is how enormously influential the Evening Post was over a decade ago. Its circulation was most probably around 50,000 and it was read and discussed by virtually everybody in the City and the surrounding area. How it reported the news therefore, and the emphasis it placed on the facts at its disposal were key factors in informing people's decision-making processes.

In that context a selection of articles passed to me by a constituent from 2002 are particularly disturbing. The stand-out article is the front page exclusive from Paul Lewis and Peter Slee on Monday 11th February 2002 that announces in inch-high type 'I don't believe MMR jab is safe.'

The article continues: 'A leading health authority member says he believes MMR left his grandson with autism. Noel Crowley, a member of Iechyd Morgannwg Health and Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, has decided to speak out after his personal experience, His 11 year-old grandson was diagnosed with autism after having the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Now he wants parents to be given the choice of single jabs.'

The article continues: 'His decision is even more surprising because Iechyd Morgannwg Health has always insisted that the MMR jab is safe. And his warning has come the same day as news of a multi-million pound Government publicity campaign to promote MMR.'

The Evening Post makes it clear that Mr. Crowley disagrees with his own health authority and then reports without comment or qualification the following: 'He said his grandson Sam Parry, aged 11, was given the combined injection when he was 16 months old and the effects were catastrophic. He has since been diagnosed as autistic. "He was a perfectly normal child but immediately after he had the MMR injection he started having a temperature," said Mr. Crowley today. "Within a week he was a completely different child who could not speak and still cannot, and could not do anything for himself."

It is worth noting that Mr. Crowley is not and was not a medical professional, he offered no evidence of any link between his grandson's condition and the MMR jab other than conjecture and no reference is made to any attempt to get a medical opinion on the cause of Sam Parry's illness. However, the fact that Noel Crowley was a public figure and a member of the health board gave his view particular resonance with many readers.

On the front page of the same paper, there is a prominent box headlined 'What you think' which reports on the outcome of a telephone poll in which 82% of Evening Post readers say parents should be offered the single jab, 18% demurring.

An article from 5 February 2002 headed 'MMR fighter praises TV poll' reports that a local campaigner has welcomed a television poll showing 85% of parents questioned agreed with her that there should be an alternative to the MMR vaccine. The reference is to the programme Tonight with Trevor MacDonald.  The item goes on to say:

'The Evening Post has been running a campaign highlighting the issue for the past four years. More than 70 families in Swansea, Neath  and Port Talbot claim their babies developed autism, deafness and bowel disorders after receiving MMR.'

Of course if that causal link actually existed then the paper would still be reporting cases on that scale today. It is not.

On 8 February 2002 the Evening Post published an editorial in which they noted the furious debate that was going on over the MMR vaccine.  They pointed out that politicians were sticking to their position that the jab is safe but went onto say:

'That would all be very well were it not for the fact that a substantial group of parents prefer to believe the evidence of their own eyes. And that evidence is that the behaviour of their children changed after they received the innoculation. Coincidence say the medical experts...come off it reply mum and dad.'

They go on to say that the Evening Post's position is that it is better for children to have the MMR jab than not but then go on to conclude: 'Truth is the Government has backed itself into a corner. Had it been less dogmatic, more understanding and provided separate injections for those who felt unhappy about MMR, the whole problem would have gone away. They can do it in France, so why not in the UK?'

To be fair to the Evening Post on Wednesday 6th Februray 2002 they run two big stories in which a local GP warns that Swansea could be next to suffer a measles outbreak because the immunisation rate is falling for MMR and also a story in which Welsh Government health officials state that MMR remains the safest way for parents to protect their children.

Two days later there is a big story about a mum taking her MMR battle to the Assembly, demanding single jabs be made available, but that is balanced by a full page supporting the case for MMR in a question and answer format. It is worth noting that it is this edition of the paper that contains the editorial referred to above.

Finally, there is the role of politicians. On February 6th 2002 we find a story headed 'Tories want choice on MMR vaccines' in which Shadow Health Secretary, Dr. Liam Fox is quoted as saying that although MMR is the safest method of protecting children, the crisis in public confidence over the triple vaccine means that it is 'reluctantly time to offer parents the choice'.

It is most probably impossible to say why Swansea stands out as it does. Certainly the Evening Post was not the only paper running these campaigns. However, it is my view that their coverage unintentionally impacted on parents' decisions and that the current measles outbreak in South West Wales can be traced back in part to that.

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