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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reforming stop and search

The announcement by the Home Secretary today that she will be reforming the rules around stop and search after it was revealed that 250,000 conducted last year may have been illegal, is very welcome.

Theresa May said that official figures have shown that people from black and ethnic minority communities are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
She added that she could only assume that people are being stopped and searched solely because they were black:

She is to revise the code of practice under which stop and searches are carried out to make clear what constitutes “reasonable grounds for suspicion” which is the the legal basis under which officers can stop and carry out a search of a person.

Police officers who fail to use the powers properly will face disciplinary or performance proceedings, Mrs May told MPs.

Other measures include a review of training for stop and search, an assessment of the fitness of officers to use the powers and an instruction to police forces that they are required to allow public scrutiny of stop and search records.

A voluntary “Best Use of Stop and Search” scheme it to be launched this summer in which participating police forces will provide more detail of the link, or lack of a link, between a search and its outcome.

The scheme will also allow members of the public to apply to accompany police officers on patrol and the introduction of a stop and search “community trigger” in which officers must explain to the public how the power is being used where there have been a large number of complaints.

These reforms are long overdue. What is astonishing though is Labour's insistence that she could have gone further. Given their party's record on these matters and their disregard for civil liberties a period of silence might be their best response.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A challenge to Nigel Farage

The UKIP leader is in Swansea tomorrow and will be addressing what is being billed as a 'sell-out' rally. My focus however is on what he will not be telling us.

In particular I hope that he will use his visit to clarify the position around his own expenses. Mr. Farage recently performed a major u-turn on his offer to allow an independent audit of his spending of European parliamentary allowances. He said: "I don't think the general public are that interested in whether I've strictly observed the rules" This is despite the majority of British MEPs publishing independently audited accounts of their expenses

UKIP are treating Wales and devolution as an ‘inconvenience’ and are willing to put Welsh jobs at risk. Around 160,000 jobs in Wales are reliant on UK trade within the EU’s single market. That is more than 1 in every 10 jobs in Wales. 500 firms from other member states are based in Wales, providing more than 59,000 jobs.

As far as UKIP are concerned those jobs are expendable.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Five facts about immigration

Update: More information here.

A cautionary tale for Labour

This is an interesting article from 2008 about Ed Miliband's new strategist David Axelrod and his company, ASK Public Strategies. Given Labour's policy of freezing energy prices I was especially taken by this passage:

One TV commercial, penned by ASK, warned of a ComEd bankruptcy and blackouts without a rate hike: "A few years ago, California politicians seized control of electric rates. They held rates down, but the true cost of energy kept rising. Soon the electric company went bust; the lights went out. Consumers had to pay for the mess."

High energy prices are a major problem but the danger with Labour's solution is that we could end up in the same place as California. More effective regulation and breaking up the informal oligopoly currently practised by the big six is a much better solution.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

More racism surfaces within UKIP

Just in case people think I am becoming obsessed with UKIP, then I am not the only one. Suddenly the media are all over them like a rash. Me, I am just warming up for Nigel Farage's visit to Swansea on Wednesday.

Today's Guardian says that Ukip is facing a fresh storm of controversy as further evidence emerged of racism among its local election candidates, including a suggestion by one that the comedian Lenny Henry should emigrate to a "black country":

Candidates have taken to social media sites to rail against Islam as "organised crime under religious camouflage" while likening the religion to Nazism, and suggesting that the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence has received a disproportionate level of attention.

One candidate for election in Enfield, William Henwood, responded to a recent speech by Henry, in which he suggested there was a poor representation of black and ethnic minorities on British television, by tweeting: "He should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites."

For their part UKIP continue to claim that their party are "non-racist, non-sectarian" and that "any comments made by members that fail to uphold these values will be duly investigated and acted upon".

And yet these are approved candidates. What is more the increasing frequency that these gaffes are appearing indicates that they are more representative of the party than they would want us to believe:

Ukip has attempted to improve its vetting of candidates in the local and European elections to be held next month, but it appears that some of their members will not be constrained on social media. Along with his comments about Henry, the party's candidate in Enfield Town, London, has tweeted that "Islam reminds me of the 3rd Reich, strength through violence against the citizens". He said Muslims "like us to fawn to them" and "young Muslim men remind me of young Afrikaners. They are taught at an early age they have the right to abuse".

A Ukip candidate in Camden, Magnus Nielsen, used his Facebook account to post: "70% of mosques in the UK have been taken over by Wahabbi fundamentalists. Islam is organised crime under religious camouflage. Any Muslim who is not involved in organised crime is not a 'true believer', practising Islam as Muhammad commanded".

And, earlier this month, in the wake of allegations of police corruption in the investigation into the murder of Lawrence, Matt Pavey, a Ukip candidate in Lewisham, tweeted: "Does anyone remember the name Jean Bradley murder unsolved in Acton, London, in 1993. Anyone looking for corruption here? No, thought not." Pavey tweeted two days later: "Lets all take a moment to remember Jean Bradley stabbed to death on the streets of London in March 1993 and no justice #stephenlawrence." And again that day he tweeted: "Lets please take a moment to remember Penny Bell stabbed 50 times in London 1991. No justice #stephenlawrence." Pavey said he was not prepared to comment on his tweets but that there was "no malice" intended.

And then to cap it all the paper says that it has discovered that UKIP MEPs are employing foreign nationals as parliamentary assistants while the party publicly takes a tough public stance against European immigrants taking British jobs. It isn't just Farage who is being hypocritical on this issue.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

UKIP sink further into mire but voters do not notice

Two reports in the Guardian indicate that they seem to have really got the bit between their teeth at the moment with regards to the various question marks and controversies surrounding UKIP.

In the first one they report that Nigel Farage has performed a major u-turn on an offer he made to allow an independent audit of his spending of European parliamentary allowances by denying that he ever accepted the suggestion.

They say that in an interview with the Guardian, the Ukip leader claimed that it would be wrong for him to be singled out for a spending audit as it would put him in a different position to every other British MEP. He added that it was not the case that a fortnight ago he said he was happy to have his expenses independently audited, telling the Guardian: "I said if every other British MEP wants to, then I would."

This nonsense is soon put to bed though by the Liberal Democrats MEP, Chris Davies who told the paper that almost all Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MEPs commission professional accountants to audit or certify the spending of their allowances:

The audit published on MEP websites is required by all three political parties and goes beyond what is required by the European parliament.

Davies said Farage should stop changing his position.

"He has variously claimed that his receipts have been lost or that he hasn't had the time to complete his expenses. He will not account for many tens of thousands of pounds of public money given to him for office expenses over the years.

"Like the overwhelming majority of British MEPs I publish independently audited accounts for my general expenditure allowance spending. I have done this for many years and will continue to do so."

So what is stopping Farage doing the same? It is time he embraced this sort of accountability and transparency instead of (ironically) hiding behind European rules.

The second article is an opinion piece asking why it is that no-one is hastening UKIP's demise:

It has taken too long to confront methods. Which other party seeking mainstream votes would be allowed to simply laugh off association with extreme rightwingers, racists and anti-semites? Those with whom Farage beds down in Europe. Which other party would be able to evade real responsibility for its representatives? Think David Silvester, the Ukip councillor who attributed the winter floods to gay marriage. Lampitt – who starred in the party's broadcast for the European elections – gave us the second scandal of the week. Another who appeared in the broadcast, depicted as an ordinary voter, had already been unmasked as a party administrator.

Consider the poster campaign, with its central claim – that 26 million Europeans actively seek jobs in Britain – rooted in falsehood. Without the exemption from the advertising code of conduct that is enjoyed by political adverts, the party would have been forced to withdraw it. We rely on politicians to observe ethical codes of honour as to advertised fact, and to argue among themselves about interpretation. But with an eye on the main chance, ethics and honour mean little to Ukip.

The party thrives in a swamp created by others, but that swamp has now become so thick and fetid that we cannot quickly drain it. We cannot raise the alarm with any degree of success, even when the party misleads or offends common decency, because both politics and the media lack the credibility to be listened to by the public.

The author has a point. UKIP is a mess of contradictions and popularist nonsense but their critics and opponents have no credibility with the public because they have lost touch with what people think and want and as aa result UKIP get away with it. That is a worrying judgement on our democracy.

Friday, April 25, 2014

More embarrassment for UKIP as 'poster boy' suspended

News yesterday indicates that star of Ukip’s latest political broadcast has been suspended from the party after claiming Ed Miliband is “not British”.

In what is being billed as a major embarrassment to Nigel Farage, Andre Lampitt, a Zimbabwean decorator and kitchen fitter who appeared in the party’s television broadcast, posted a string of "repellent" messages online.

Amongst his claims are Africans should “kill themselves off”, Islam is “evil” and Nigerians are “bad people”:

Mr Lampitt, who describes himself as “Born British in Rhodesia” and speaks with a Zimbabwean accent, was filmed on a building site wearing a hard hat in Tuesday’s television broadcast. 

He warned EU migrants are undercutting natives’ wages, saying: “Since the lads from Eastern Europe are prepared to work for a lot less than anybody else, I've found it a real struggle.” He was wearing the shirt of his company, Kamina Kawena Services. 

Messages on his Twitter account described the Prophet Mohammed as a “pedo” and say Islam is “an evil organisation respecting a prophet who was a pedo [sic].” He said Ed Miliband, the son of a Jewish refugee, is “Polish and not British”. 

One message read: “Miliband is not a real Brit. I hope he never gets to be PM! He was only born here.” He added: “I believe in being British. It is earned through generations of existence not through birth.” 

Another message read: “I was born and grew up in Africa. Please leave Africa for the Africans. Let them kill themselves off.” 

Another said: “Most Nigerians are generally bad people.” Another message said: “Enoch Powell was right!”

UKIP of course have moved quickly to disassociate themselves from this individual but really it is a bit late. This is not some random member who has gone off the rails but somebody who was singled out to be the face of UKIP on a party political broadcast.

Alas, I suspect that even this latest faux pas will have little impact on Farage's bandwagon in the lead up to the 22 May poll.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Welsh Labour's failure on education

When the opposition raise the Welsh Labour Government's appalling record on education in the chamber we are often pointed at the measures that have been put in place in the last two years as proof that concerns are being addressed.

However, further evidence that this response is too little, too late has emerged with a report on the BBC today that a confidential document from 2007 detailed weaknesses in strategy and teacher training. These are precisely the issues highlighted by an OECD report published earlier this month.

The BBC say that the 2007 report called for a more "coherent" policy programme, highlighting several weaknesses in Welsh education, including:
It was commissioned by the then education minister Jane Davidson and carried out by Prof Richard Daugherty, then of Cardiff University.

It was given to the Welsh government in November of that year, but was not published and has never been seen by anyone outside the Cardiff Bay administration.

The report was given to BBC Wales by someone who worked with the Welsh government at the time.

Prof Daugherty recommended a review of the education system in Wales by the OECD but it was five years before the Welsh government invited the OECD to undertake that process.

There have been a number of education ministers since then, including the now First Minister. The question is why they did not act on this report and why they allowed the Welsh education system to drift for so long with no strategy and no leadership.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Everyday Shakespeare

It is William Shakespeare's 450th birthday and the Independent has marked the occasion by highlighting a handful of well-used (and in some cases, surprising) sayings that come courtesy of Shakespeare:

- "For goodness sake" - Henry VIII
- "Neither here not there" - Othello
- "Mum's the word" - Henry VI, Part II
- "Eaten out of house and home" - Henry IV, Part II
- "Rant" - Hamlet
- "Knock knock! Who's there?" - Macbeth
- "All's well that ends well" - All's Well That Ends Well
- "With bated breath" - The Merchant of Venice
- "A wild goose chase" - Romeo and Juliet
- "Assassination" - Macbeth
- "Too much of a good thing" - As You Like It
- "A heart of gold" - Henry V
- "Such stuff as dreams are made on" - The Tempest
- "Fashionable" - Troilus and Cressida
- "What the dickens" - The Merry Wives of Windsor
- "Puking" - As You Like It
- "Lie low" - Much Ado About Nothing
- "Dead as a doornail" - Henry VI, Part II
- "Not slept one wink" - Cymbeline
- "Foregone conclusion" - Othello
- "The world's mine oyster" - The Merry Wives of Windsor
- "Obscene" - Love's Labour's Lost
- "Bedazzled" - The Taming of the Shrew
- "In stitches" - Twelfth Night
- "Addiction" - Othello
- "Naked truth" - Love's Labour's Lost
- "Faint-hearted" - Henry VI, Part I
- "Send him packing" - Henry IV
- "Vanish into thin air" - Othello
- "Swagger" - Henry V
- "Own flesh and blood" - Hamlet
- "Truth will out" - The Merchant of Venice
- "Zany" - Love's Labour's Lost
- "Give the devil his due" - Henry IV, Part I
- "There's method in my madness" - Hamlet
- "Salad days" - Antony and Cleopatra
- "Wear your heart on your sleeve" - Othello
- "Spotless reputation" - Richard II
- "Full circle" - King Lear
- "There's the rub" - Hamlet
- "All of a sudden" - The Taming of the Shrew
- "Come what, come may" - Macbeth

Ukip giving jobs to the Europeans

In the end the Ukip poster launch yesterday was hijacked by the BBC's Nick Robinson who confronted Nigel Farage with the £2 million questions.

The key one was why, when he is warning that millions of Europeans are waiting to take our jobs, is Mr. Farage employing a German as his secretary? The German is question is his wfie, which raises yet more questions of course about employing family members and what process was used to select staff?

Interestingly Farage's answer was that only his wife Kirsten would be prepared to work unsociable hours, seven days a week, helping him at "midnight, one o'clock, two o'clock" in his own home. So if his base of operation is his home, why is he receiving £15,500 a year to run an office in Lyminster, West Sussex, which he gets rent-free?

It would be nice to think that the Ukip campaign is unravelling before our eyes but alas I suspect instead that most people will not be aware of or will take no notice of these questions in their determination to kick the establishment on 22nd May.

It is clear though that Farage and Ukip have lots of questions to answer and are particularly susceptible to charges of hypocrisy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Government abandon hunting ban vote

There is good news in today's Times, who report that the planned vote on overturning the ban on hunting is set to be abandoned by the UK government.

They say that although the coalition agreement, signed off by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, promised that MPs would be given a free vote on tearing up the controversial Hunting Act, senior Tories have concluded that there is no point in holding the vote before the election as most MPs support the ban. They have also decided that holding a vote with no prospect of success would cause unnecessary problems for Conservatives in urban seats, where hunting is more unpopular:

The scrapping of the vote in this parliament avoids confusion over the result. Mr Clegg has said that, even if the vote went ahead and a majority of MPs favoured repealing the act, the Liberal Democrats would not agree to scrap it.

“As a party, we remain in favour of retaining the ban on hunting with hounds,” he wrote in a letter to the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). “It is important to point out that any vote would simply be an opportunity for parliament to express its view on the act. The vote itself would not result in the act being automatically repealed.”

So it is now down to manifesto pledges. Another good reason not to give the Conservatives a majority in the next Parliament.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ed Miliband lacks political courage says former Labour Minister

More woes for Ed Miliband in yesterday's Independent on Sunday with  a statement by former Labour minister, Barbara Roche that he needs to find the “courage” to take on the threat from Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party directly, or risk a setback for his party at next month’s European elections.

Ms. Roche, who is chair of the Migration Matters Trust and a minister in Tony Blair’s government, writes that Mr Farage has become “Labour’s Voldemort – he whose name cannot be mentioned” because Mr Miliband doesn’t want to tackle Ukip on immigration:

She believes it is a “tragedy” for Labour that the only British politician who has had the “courage” to take on Ukip is Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. While the Deputy Prime Minister was trounced in his two debates with Mr Farage, at least he had been “prepared to fight” for what he believed in, Ms Roche says. She advises Mr Miliband to make a positive, progressive case for immigration and acknowledge the benefits that migrants bring to Britain.

Barbara Roche's challenge is particularly pertinent gven the news in today's Times that a Ukip poster campaign for the European elections will contain stark warnings about the impact of EU immigration. One reads: “26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose job are they after?”

The paper says that the adverts triggered instant controversy, drawing accusations of scare-mongering and that some have compared them to previous campaigns used by the far-right British National Party.  

So far only Nick Clegg has put his head above the parapet to challenge these assertions. Where are the leaders of the other two parties?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Labour as a 'one trick pony'

The Sunday Times reports on warnings by senior Labour party figures if their party continues to base its election strategy on a “cost of living crisis”, it risks becoming a “one-trick pony”.

The paper highlights that the warning comes as polling for The Sunday Times shows that the Tories are closing the gap on the issue, and that Labour now only has a narrow lead on its ability to tackle high prices, boost living standards and provide jobs. The Tories have also extended their advantage over Labour when it comes to questions of economic competence:

A senior Labour frontbencher said that with the election just over a year away, Ed Miliband needed to find something different to say on the economy. “This is the endgame . . . therefore it is really important we are not seen as a one-trick pony on the cost of living. Everyone believes that Labour would tackle that better than the Tories but if they feel that is all we are offering and the economy is doing a little bit better then it won’t be enough.”

The former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn also warned that as the economic landscape shifted, so must Miliband’s economic strategy.

“As the economy rebalances Labour needs to rebalance its policy,” he told The Sunday Times.

“Labour wins a majority in parliament when it rewards aspirations and doesn’t just recognise injustice, and when it focuses as much on creating wealth as distributing it.”

The remarks reflect increasing unease among Labour MPs about Miliband’s insistence on making the cost of living the central plank of the party’s election campaign. They fear the improving economic climate could mean it will not be such a decisive issue for many voters by the time of the general election.

Yet more unrest in Labour's ranks as the leadership of Ed Miliband comes under greater scrutiny.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Borderline insanity

It is not often I find myself agreeing with Conservative MPs, but the senior politician who has described the latest wheeze by HMRC to sell the personal financial data of millions of taxpayers to private firms as "borderline insane" has hit the nail on the head,. even if it is David Davis.

The Guardian says that despite fears that it could jeopardise the principle of taxpayer confidentiality, the proposed legislation would allow HMRC to release anonymised tax data to third parties including companies, researchers and public bodies where there is a public benefit. They add that HMRC documents say that officials are examining "charging options":

The government insists that there will be suitable safeguards on personal data. But the plans, being overseen by the Treasury minister David Gauke, are likely to provoke serious worries among privacy campaigners and MPs in the wake of public concern about the government's Care.data scheme – a plan to share "anonymised" medical records with third parties.

The Care.data initiative has now been suspended for six months over fears that people could be identified from the supposedly anonymous data, which turned out to contain postcodes, dates of birth, NHS numbers, ethnicity and gender.

HMRC's chequered record on data is likely to come under scrutiny given historical scandals involving the loss of personal information about 25 million child benefit claimants and 15,000 bank customers.

Critics fear the data could include details about income, tax arrangements and payment history and would carry a risk that people could be identified. Even the perception that this could happen may lead to a breakdown in trust between HMRC and taxpayers, the Chartered Institute of Taxation warned.

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, said the information could be highly useful to credit rating agencies, advertisers, and retailers wanting to practise price discrimination.

He also raised concerns about any government claims to have made data fully anonymous.

"This is going to be a big battleground," he said. "If they were to make HMRC information more available, there's an awful lot of people who would like to get their hands on it. Anonymisation is something about which they lied to us over medical data … If the same thing is about to be done by HMRC, there should be a much greater public debate about this.

This is yet another initiative that I would look to the Deputy Prime Minister to veto.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Generation rent?

This article in the Western Mail graphically illustrates why the various Government schemes to help people get on the housing ladder are so important.

A lot of attention is being given to the impact of the UK Government's Help to Buy schemes on London and the South East of England, with claims that it will create a housing bubble. It certainly has not done so yet.

However, the biggest impact of these schemes (and the largest take-up) is outside of these areas. We cannot allow UK Housing policy to be dictated by the economy of the South East,  nor can we view these issues just through a London-centric eye. As reported here, three quarters of Help to Buy mortgage applications came from outside London and the South East and eight out of ten were from first time buyers. On average households are looking to buy homes worth £160,000, below the UK average house price of £247,000.
The paper reports that more than 30,000 people quizzed for a survey commissioned by Halifax bank said they accepted they will probably never be able to afford their own home without sacrificing years of financial hardship.

They add that nearly 50% of Welsh people agree Britain will become a nation of renters within the next generation, while one in five of 23-27 year olds have no desire to buy their own home. And yet despite people’s reluctance to climb the property ladder, figures released by the bank last month show buying a house is £124 a month cheaper than renting, making renting nearly £1,500 more expensive a year.

The paper says that these figures expose the largest difference in rent and mortgage prices since 2009, as rents rose by 18% in four years. But for a lot of young renters in Wales, it is simply impractical to consider investing in property because they cannot afford a deposit.

And if you think that those renting may be happy with that condition then there is a Shelter Cymru survey which shows only 15% are content to rent. And given the difference in costs illustrated above that is not surprising.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

UKIP in trouble

UKIP is learning pretty quickly that improved poll numbers leads to imcreased scrutiny and the pressure is starting to show.

The Times reports claims that Ukip members were silenced, ignored or forced out of the party after questioning its use of EU allowances and donations. They say that whistleblowers have alleged that Nigel Farage and other senior UKIP officials traduced colleagues who raised concerns about how the party handled millions of pounds in funds:

Mr Farage called a senior female Ukip official a “stupid woman” and told her to “shut up” when she asked for an independent audit into party finances, according to Delroy Young, formerly Ukip’s only black executive. Another member was allegedly physically threatened. The Ukip insiders spoke out as Mr Farage was confronted by a barrage of questions after The Times revealed yesterday that he was facing an investigation into a “missing” £60,000 in EU allowances

In transparency reports filed on the Ukip website, Mr Farage claims to have spent £15,500 a year solely on utilities, business rates and insurance for his small constituency office in West Sussex. A former office manager said that such costs, which exclude staff salaries, office equipment, phone bills and stationery, amounted to no more than £3,000 a year.

Mr Farage dismissed criticism over his EU spending yesterday as “yet another politically motivated attack from what is the establishment newspaper”. His defence came as:

· The Electoral Commission wrote to Ukip seeking answers as to why Mr Farage’s rent-free office was not declared as a donation for all relevant years;

· The Ukip leader told the BBC that he spent European funds to “push the Ukip campaign” in an apparent breach of EU rules;

· MEPs vote in Strasbourg today on a plan to reform European allowances, amid growing calls for change.

I am not sure that the wheels have come off the UKIP bandwagon just yet, but they are certainly being taken outside their comfort zone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tory rift continues

An apparent show of unity at the recent Welsh Conservative conference centred around leader, Andrew R.T. Davies' call for a 'coalition of ideas' to end Labour's rule of Wales, may not have been a sign that things were moving on within the Welsh Conservative group after all.

A column in today's South Wales Argus by leadership rival, Nick Ramsey shows that wounds are still raw as the Monmouthshire AM takes a side swipe at his group leader:

It seems the political silly season has started earlier than usual this year with the re-emergence of old calls to rebrand the Assembly as the Welsh Parliament - and we wonder why the public are disillusioned with politics!

I wish politicians would get on with the job of sorting out the very real day to day problems facing the country rather than wasting time on issues which primarily interest the political “bubble” class. I certainly won’t be supporting any unnecessary and costly changes to the Assembly’s name or any leap towards unrestricted income tax powers.

A fairly standard view from a Conservative one would think until we remember that the call to rename the Welsh Assembly came from Andrew R.T. Davies himself.

As the BBC report, in August 2012 Andrew R.T. Davies said it was time to change the Assembly's name in recognition of the primary law making powers it was granted in the 2011 referendum. It seems strange therefore for Nick Ramsey to bring the issue up out of the blue nearly two years later, so as to accuse the Welsh Tory leader of being a member of the 'political bubble class'.

The four sacked shadow cabinet members have not been readmitted to the inner circle of course, in apparent defiance of the wishes of the Welsh Conservative Party's ruling body. Factions within the 13 strong group of Tory AMs are growing more acute.

It seems unlikely that Andrew R.T. Davies is capable of even convening talks with other opposition parties to forge a 'coalition of ideas' when he cannot even unite his own group.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Looking for scandals

As the Inside Out blog suggests it is certainly starting to get nasty out there, with recriminations flying around the Conservative party over the failed prosecution of an innocent Nigel Evans, unbelieveable and unsustainable mud being thrown at Nick Clegg over Cyril Smith and of course the latest alleged expenses scandal, this time featuring Nigel Farage.

So, in the interest of a bit of light relief here is the latest episode of 'have I Got News for You' in which the UKIP leader bit off more than he can chew:

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's good to talk

The First Minister of Wales started his own personal twitter account over the weekend and was immediately drawn into discussion with a wide range of people on local government reorganisation. When I suggested that he should have come onto Twitter earlier so that we could make progress on these sorts of issues he said: I was afraid it would become compulsive. I'm still afraid.

What is most revealing is that the conversation between Carwyn and the various parties local government spokespeople on twitter is the first time we have really discussed this issue despite the fact that the Welsh Government have said they want to secure a cross-party consensus.

Perhaps next time, he should not rely on Twitter but get in touch directly.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Where has all the poetry gone from politics?

Reading Graham Henry's account of the war of words between Labour and the Conservatives in today' s Wales on Sunday, I was left lamenting the apparent death of oratory in today's poltics. In short the poetry and wordcraft contained in the speeches of William Gladstone, Lloyd George, Aneurin Bevan, Winston Churchill and Roy Jenkins, to name but a few, seems to belong to a long-gone era.

Carwyn Jones has complained that the Conservatives have declared a war on Wales, whilst David Cameron, in what must be the clumsiest turn of phrase ever used by a British Prime Minister, claimed that Offa's Dyke forms a line between life and death. That may have been the case in medieval times when opposing armies sat either side of it, but it is no way to talk of the Welsh health service.

Mr Cameron said Carwyn Jones was “sinking the hopes of a generation”, whilst Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies used an interview before the conference to compare Mr Jones to a “tin-pot dictator from Eastern Europe." Had he honestly thought through that allusion?

The language of politics is being reduced to the level of a school debating society, but without the vision, the carefully-crafted metaphor or the tightly argued rebuttal that even those contests can rise to.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Welsh Health Service - enough already!

Kirsty Williams was absolutely right in her speech to the Welsh Liberal Democrats Conference last week to express her fury at the way that the First Minister is hiding behind the Welsh people over critcism of his government.

She told the Conference:

Our health service struggles like never before, our schools remain underfunded and underperforming, our economy lags behind the rest of the UK.

I am furious that we as nation are being portrayed in this manner.

Last week Carwyn Jones said these criticisms weren’t a war on Welsh Labour, or the Welsh Government, but a war on Wales as an entire nation.

How dare he take cover behind the people he is meant to lead. What kind of leader does that?

These headlines might hurt our sense of national pride, but we must not forget, it is Labour that is Wales’ weak link. Labour is holding us back, Labour – the weight around our nation’s neck.

Indeed I have commented before that after his ministers and him spent the last few yeats attacking the UK Coalition Government in the Senedd chamber, Carwyn Jones cannot expect to escape reciprocal treatment.

In my view it is the job of the opposition, whether they are Ministers in another place or Assembly Members here in Wales to highlight problems and hold the Welsh Government to account for them. That is not a 'war on Wales' it is a war on failure on behalf of the Welsh people.

The rhetoric in this weekend's Welsh Tory Conference however, has taken that process to a new and unacceptable level. To suggest as David Cameron did that Offa's Dyke "has become the line between life and death" is going too far.

Outcomes are clearly worse in Wales than in England, waiting times are longer here but the Welsh NHS is still in the business of healing people and it still does a reasonably good job thanks to a highly dedicated and skilled workforce.

It is no wonder that the RCN say that nurses are finding the political row over the Welsh NHS both "tiresome and demoralising'.

It is time to rein back the rhetoric and start approaching this issue from a more constructive point of view. That applies to both sides of the argument.

By all means criticise when it is justified, compare one health service to another and highlight government failures, but please can we stop the unacceptable hyperbole? Enough already!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Remembering Sue Townsend

Sad news today that Sue Townsend, the author of the Adrian Mole diaries, has died. Like many others I enjoyed the books immensely but I could not hope to do justice to a review of them as

The point of course, as Sue Townsend says is that the book wasn't even aimed at teenagers: "It was written for parents, that was the intended audience. It was for the mothers of teenage boys.":

That seems obvious now. Reading it as a 40-year-old father, I recognise it as a book clearly written by one of my own: Mole is simultaneously lovable and completely exasperating, and as anyone who has had kids will tell you, love and complete exasperation are pretty much the defining emotions of parenthood. I find my interest resting less on Mole and his on-off girlfriend Pandora than his mum and dad, particularly his mum Pauline, with her ambitions crushed by the suburbs and her late-flowering feminism and her fantastic line in The Growing Pains about how the only thing more boring than listening to other people's dreams is listening to other people's problems.

Indeed, reading it as a 40-year-old father, I occasionally wonder what I got out of it 30 years ago. I missed almost everything I now love about the book. I didn't notice how doleful its very Midlands sense of humour is – like a long resigned sigh you laugh at – or how beautifully drawn the other characters are: not just his parents, but Bert Baxter, the octogenarian communist who refuses to die until he sees capitalism dismantled, and Pandora's earnest, Guardian-reading family, their marriage torn asunder by the foundation of the SDP. I didn't get a lot of the references. I had no idea who Iris Murdoch was, nor Malcolm Muggeridge, nor indeed RD Laing, whom one of Mole's teachers doorsteps during a school trip to London in the hope he will give the delinquent Barry Kent "a quick going-over". And I completely overlooked how Townsend uses Mole's naivety as a vehicle for the occasional burst of more vicious wit: "Bert showed me a picture of his dead wife," he writes. "It was taken in the days before they had plastic surgery."

"That would have been a completely serious point to Adrian too," says Townsend. "He wouldn't think there was any humour in that at all. When it was done as a radio play that was what was so wonderful, the actor who read it was 13¾ as well and he didn't get it at all. He read it without any semblance of humour in it: he didn't know."

And 30 years ago, that was the point. I identified with Adrian Mole, which on one level seems bizarre – he is a self-obsessed prig and a hypochondriac to boot – but on another seems perfectly understandable. His brand of adolescent angst felt and still feels more realistic and relevant to me than any other hero of the great teenage novels I went on to read. Holden Caulfield might have been alienated, but he knew how to book into a hotel, get served cocktails and hire a prostitute, all of which marked him out as almost unfathomably exotic and alien. Adrian Mole couldn't even repaint his bedroom without the Noddy wallpaper showing through, which seemed much more my style.

We all fell in love with Adrian Mole and his world, simply because it was so realistic in its ordinariness. Sue Townsend's genius was to capture that world in a funny and insightful way. The books were beautifully observed and well-written. They created a genre. That is quite a legacy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Counting the words

The Welsh Language Socety have been busy They have published a word count for all Assembly Members' contributions in Plenary sessions for the first three months of this year.

The intention is to measure the use of Welsh by AMs and the former Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis Thomas leads the field with 96% of his contributions yn Cymraeg, closely followed by Rhodri Glyn Thomas (93%) and Alun Fffed Jones (92%).

As a monoglot English speaker I was a bit surprised to see that I used 61 Welsh words during this period but I am not going to look into it more closely.

What is also interesting about this analysis is that it also covers the number of English words spoken and so offers an indication of the volume (though not necessarily) the quality of the total contributions by AMs in this period.

Naturally, the table is topped by Welsh Cabinet Ministers who tend to speak longer and more often than other AMs as they answer questions and deliver statements as well as making speeches. In terms of the opposition though three members delivered more than 100,000 words.

They are Plaid Cymru AM, Simon Thomas with 126,473 words (of which 65% were in Welsh), Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Kirsty Williams with 111,417 words and myself with 108,614 words.

Bottom of the heap is Labour's Gwyn Price with 2,269 words.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Statistics and police statistics

All the papers today cover the criticism by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee that we cannot rely on police statistics.

The Western Mail says that the report, Caught Red-handed: Why We Can’t Count on Police Recorded Crime Statistics, argues there is “strong evidence” that crime is under-recorded and warns the “attitudes and behaviour” behind the problem are now “ingrained”:

The committee is concerned there is a particular problem about under-recording “sexual crimes such as rape in many police areas.” This was attributed to “lax compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording”.

The MPs are alarmed by the so-called “no-criming” of sexual offences such as rape. These can, they write, can be classified as “‘crime-related incidents’ (CRI), rather than recorded crimes.”

The report states: “Any instance of deliberate mis-recording of sexual offences is deplorable, but especially so if this has been brought about by means of improperly persuading or pressurising victims into withdrawing or downgrading their report. The disparities between different police forces in the ‘no-crime rates’ for rapes and sexual offences are sufficient in our view to raise serious concerns about the varying approaches taken by police forces to recording and investigating these horrendous crimes.

“We look forward to the outcome of the research commissioned by the Metropolitan Police examining the force’s ‘no crime’ decisions in respect of sexual offences. The fact that this research is necessary, following the 2008 Independent Police Complaints Commission report into the Sapphire Unit is a damning indictment of police complacency, inertia and lack of leadership.”

They add that amongst the forces in Wales and England, South Wales and Dyfed-Powys ranked second and fifth lowest for their no-crime rates for reported rape incidents, respectively. North Wales and Gwent ranked 13th and seventh highest, respectively.

The committee note that the UK Statistics Authority has “stripped” Police Recorded Crime data of its quality kite mark and warns that “numerical targets drive perverse incentives to mis-record crime.”

This is something that needs to be put right quickly. Statistics are important so as to direct resources. The Welsh Government has taken a strong line on reducing sexual crimes, the police forces need to keep up and enable those policies to be put into effect. More evidence to back up the case for the devolution of policing to Wales.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

UKIP lose key activist

The Independent reports that a woman who was heralded as the “future face” of Ukip says she can no longer face campaigning for the party because of their illiberal stance on immigration.

The paper says that Alexandra Swann was supposed to represent the party's new, younger membership when she publicly defected from the Conservatives at Ukip's spring conference in 2012. At that conference Nigel Farage introduced her to a jubilant party faithful, boasting: "I'm very pleased to say that the Swann has migrated to Ukip".

However, UKIP's increasingly incendiary rhetoric on immigration has apparently pushed the 25 year old Ms Swann away:

She says: "The focus moved to immigration. It was difficult with the anti-gay marriage stuff. Now so much of their argument is anti-immigration which didn't sit well with me.

"The rhetoric wasn't so much about it when I joined. I think we should be discriminating on the skill level [of immigrants] as opposed to what country they're from."

So UKIP will have to fall back on their base of white elderly middle class males for votes after all.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Fighting for local jobs

The Welsh Liberal Democrats Conference took place in Newport and was a great success. From my perspective though it offered an opportunity to take up a local issue directly with a UK Government Minister.

The UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable held a question and answer session so I was able to raise with him his department's plans to privatise the Land Registry, who currently employ 430 people in the Swansea area.

The Department of Business Innovation and Skills, which Vince Cable heads, is currently asking people to comment on whether the Land Registry should deliver its services at arms-length from Government through a privately owned company.

I told Vince that the Land Registry is an important employer in the Swansea area that makes a surplus which is reinvested in its business. It is an innovative and successful government-run business with a good reputation for customer service.

As a Trading Fund the Land Registry already has the flexibility to innovate and reinvest surpluses as is evidenced by its very successful sale and publication of quarterly house price information. It has also been for some time a flagship department in terms of customer service. There is no evidence that the proposal to privatise it will improve on that.

The present set-up is independent, transparent and accountable. The proposed change is not. The Land Registry is a staff-orientated department with a good record in training and continuing professional development. A private company would not make that investment and as a result the quality of service will suffer.

Hopefully he will take my views on board.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Helping the lowest paid

As of today, 144,000 people in Wales will have been taken out of income tax altogether since 2010. Over 1.2 million people in Wales – the vast majority of working people – will have had an income tax cut since the Liberal Democrats entered Government in 2010.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

UK Government u-turn on badger cull does not go far enough

Over at the Western Morning News at least one Tory MP is quite upset at the UK Government's decision not to roll-out the badger cull beyond the pilot areas.

West Country MP, Neil Parish has labelled the Liberal Democrats "turncoats" for hailing "victory" in halting the expansion of badger culling in the South West they previously supported. His problem of course is that the evidence is against him and the cull, whilst the whole experiment has turned out to be a fiasco.

It is little wonder that even those misguided Liberal Democrats MPs who once supported this cull, are now deeply sceptical of it.

In Wales an alternative approach has been taken. We have introduced a vaccination programme instead. The Minister for Natural Resources and Food has just reported on the second year. He has told the Welsh Assembly that in 2013, over 1,350 badgers were successfully trapped and vaccinated in the Intensive Action Area. In 2012 just over 1400 badgers were vaccinated.

The latest TB figures indicate that the level of Bovine TB in Wales has significantly reduced and that new incidents of the disease are down by nearly a quarter on the previous year.  The full report is available here.

In the circumstances the question is not why has the government not extended the cull but why has it not abandoned it altogether?

Friday, April 04, 2014

Taxing the rich

Today's Times reports that George Osborne is facing demands to cut the top rate of tax again to 40p after figures suggested the wealthy had paid more tax since he cut the 50p rate.

This is not something that I can personally support but the significance of the article lies not in the demands of those who believe that the wealthy should contribute proportionately less than the low paid, but in the way it debunks Labour's narrative.

The paper says that the amount raised from top-rate taxpayers is expected to increase by £9 billion in 2013-14, the year for which it was reduced to 45p by the Chancellor. Data from HM Revenue and Customs showed that in 2012-13 the 50p top rate brought in £39.3 billion for the Exchequer, from earnings of more than £150,000 a year. In 2013-14, the new 45p top rate will have netted £48.4 billion from the wealthy.

Labour have argued consistently that reducing the top rate from 50p to 45p is helping millionaires. Unfortunately, the facts have now proved them wrong. Will they change their policy stance?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Building the nanny state in Wales

This Western Mail headline says it all. It quotes the Welsh health minister as stating that 'This isn't a nanny state; Wales has real health problems'. Yes it does but should that give government carte blanche to legislate to change our behaviour? It is an interesting philosophical point.

In the Assembly plenary yesterday I specifically asked the health minister about the evidence for extending the smoking ban in enclosed spaces to include e-cigarettes. My point was that when we were considering the smoking ban we legislated on the basis of the harmful effect of second hand smoke.  There is no evidence that e-cigarettes cause the same problem.

His reply made it clear that the proposed legislation had nothing to do with the impact of one person's behaviour on another, but it is an attempt to discourage smoking. By all means persuade but I am not in favour of compulsion. That really is the route to a nanny state.

Equally with the proposed minimum price for alcohol, I am sceptical that there is reliable evidence out there that supports this measure as a means of reducing binge drinking. Binge drinking has always struck me as being more of a cultural phenomenon.

We need evidence-based legislation, not laws based on the principle of the state knows best.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

UKIP and misinformation

I hope to be able to get back to Swansea to watch the debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage with other Liberal Democrats this evening but even if I do not make it the run-up to this second confrontation has been fascinating.

The Independent reports that the rivalry is becoming personal. The Deputy Prime Minister told the paper: “Nigel Farage is part of a group of people who have been pumping out misinformation for year after year after year. That’s not going to be reversed in one or even two hours of debate, but since no one else is prepared to actually tell the truth, spell it out like it is, that it makes no sense to be isolated in this world, that we’ve got to work with others to keep ourselves safe, to keep the economy strong, I’m going to continue to do that.”

They say he will also criticise Farage for remarks in which the Ukip leader praised Vladimir Putin as the world leader he most admired.

The big question though, in this crucial debate on the future of 3 million British jobs, is why the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition do not appear interested in taking part in it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reports that police have begun inquiry into Ukip finances

The Times reports that the police are investigating claims of “financial irregularities” at Ukip. They say that the Metropolitan Police hve confimed that they are looking into a series of allegations made against Nigel Farage’s party by Jasna Badzak, a former Ukip press officer and parliamentary candidate:

David Manning, an acting detective superintendent at Scotland Yard, outlined five claims that he intends to investigate in an e-mail sent to Ms Badzak last week. They include financial irregularities “regarding the funding of the party” as well as a number of other allegations made against individuals associated with Ukip.

It is understood that Mr Manning has already interviewed at least one person named in connection with the complaints. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that no arrests had been made.

Mr Farage already faces an official inquiry into allegations that Ukip may have breached parliamentary rules by using taxpayers’ money to fund its political operations.

It is common of course for many to assume that an investigation implies guilt.That is not the case. Nevertheless the timing of these particular inquiries could have been better for UKIP.

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