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Friday, October 31, 2014

Council reprimanded for misrepresenting UK Government policy

Mark Pack references an interesting and important legal ruling that may have implications for the Welsh Government and councils in Wales.

He says that the Supreme Court has excoriated Labour-run Haringey Council for running a “misleading” consultation that falsely claimed cuts were being forced on it by the government, ignoring the other policy options open to the council:

The reason? In the consultation, Haringey Council claimed that reductions in their council tax benefits for some people was being forced on them by changes in government policy, but failed to point out that there were in fact alternative policies available to Haringey Council which would have avoided these reductions – and that therefore the cuts flowed from a decision by Haringey Council not to take alternative action.


These were not just theoretical options; the majority of other local councils used such alternatives to reduce or even completely remove the cuts in benefits. The judicial ruling also quoted the example of Birmingham Council’s consultation which set out the alternatives available, unlike Haringey’s.
Indeed Haringey Council so comprehensively buried its reasons for rejecting the alternative courses that in the ruling a judge said:
I speak as one who, even after a survey of the evidence filed by Haringey in these proceedings, remains unclear why it was minded to reject the other options. Perhaps the driver of its approach was political.
The importance of this ruling of course is that public bodies cannot use public money to misrepresent a particular issue or to make a political point. What intrigues me is its implications for the Welsh Government's consultation on the M4 around Newport which specifically excluded questions on a more environmentally acceptable alternative.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Obese test dummies

Nobody can accuse the Americans of pulling their weight, at least not when it comes to vehicle safety.

The Daily Mail reports that are packing on the pounds to better reflect the expanding waistlines and larger rear ends of many Americans:

Manufacturer Humanetics has developed the new model after studies found that obese drivers are 78 percent more likely to die in a car crash.

Dummies have traditionally been modeled on a person weighing about 167 pounds with a healthy body mass index.

The new super-sized dummies are based on the measurements of a 273-pound person with a BMI of 35. 

A BMI of over 30 is considered morbidly obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have all been designed for thinner people and don’t fit larger people in the same way,

Chris O' Connor, CEO of Humanetics, told ABC. Typically you want someone in a very tight position with their rear against the back of the seat and the seat belt tight to the pelvis,’ he said. An obese person has more mass around midsection and a larger rear which pushes them out of position. They sit further forward and the belt does not grasp the pelvis as easily.’

A similar conclusion was reached in a 2010 study from the University at Buffalo and Erie County Medical Center.

A sign of the times?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A monster task

For those of us still struggling with the question as to whether the Loch Ness Monster actually exists this news story is a bit of a shock.

The Independent says that the National History Museum hatched a sinister plot to slay the Loch Ness monster and display its carcass:

Documents exposed by David Clarke in his new book Britain’ s X-traordinary Files, show that in March 1934 an unnamed official at the museum issued instructions to 'bounty hunters' on how to tackle the mythical creature.

He said: “Should you ever come within range of the ‘monster’ I hope you will not be deterred by humanitarian considerations from shooting him on the spot and sending the carcass to us in cold storage, carriage forward.“

Short of this, a flipper, a jaw or a tooth would be very welcome.”

Perhaps conscious that their claim to Nessie was being challenged, the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh wrote to the Scottish Secretary Sir Godfrey Collins in the same year.

“The museum urges strongly that the RSM have the reversionary rights to the ‘monster’ if and when its corpse should become available,” the letter read.

“We think the monster should not be allowed to find its last resting place in England.”

That would have been quite a challenge for any taxidermist.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fighting to stay in the European Arrest Warrant Club

For once the Home Secretary, Theresa May makes a valid point when she warns her cabinet colleagues and Tory backbenchers that we need to stay signed up to the European Arrest warrant if we are to retain Britain’s right to keep foreigners accused of terrorism, murder, rape and paedophilia behind bars.

The Times reports that the home secretary has warned that a failure to back Britain’s membership of the European arrest warrant (EAW) system raises a risk that the country would have to release more than 500 people from jail and the prospect that EU partners such as Ireland would refuse to hand over suspected republican terrorists or Islamist jihadists for trial in Britain:

May said ditching the arrest warrant would also lead to Britain becoming “a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice”.

Britain has opted out of 130 EU police and justice directives but plans to rejoin 35, including the warrant, which makes it easier to extradite suspects within the EU The plan is, however, the subject of a cabinet row. Senior ministers say Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, and Michael Gove, the chief whip, have urged David Cameron to consider ditching the arrest warrant because he faces a rebellion of 100 Tory MPs if he forces a vote on it.

The rebels think the warrant makes it too easy for British citizens to be sent abroad on trumped-up charges.

George Osborne, the chancellor, also considers the situation a potential political disaster because a decision has to be made by December 1, just 11 days after the Rochester by-election, which the Tories are expected to lose to Ukip. Cameron summoned May and Gove to No 10 on Tuesday and told them to devise a way of persuading MPs to back the plans.

May will this week launch a PR offensive, warning of a “high” risk that the 524 people remanded in custody in the UK on European warrants will launch “successful litigation” allowing them to be released if Britain withdraws.

They include people accused of involvement in 12 murders, 18 rapes, 14 armed robberies and 14 incidents of grievous bodily harm. Suspects in a terrorism case and in seven child sex offences are also remanded on such warrants.

The Home Office has warned, in a briefing note for MPs, that other countries “would have to discharge suspects held on EAWs issued by the UK”.

Let us hope that they listen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Court rules that women are 'persons'

The picture above is part of an installation outside the Canadian National Parliament in Ottawa. It commemorates an historic legal ruling in 1929 which enabled women to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. But it was much more wider ranging than that as the Canadian Broadcasting Company archives make clear:

On Oct. 18, 1929, women are finally declared "persons" under Canadian law. The historic legal victory is due to the persistence of five Alberta women -- Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

The battle started in 1916. From Murphy's very first day as a judge, lawyers had challenged her rulings because she is not a "person" under Canadian law. By 1927, the women have garnered support all across Canada. They petition the nation's Supreme Court. After five weeks of debate, the appeal is unanimously denied. Shocked, the women take the fight to the Privy Council of the British government; in those days it was Canada's highest court.

Wikipedia adds:

The Persons Case was a landmark case in two respects. First, it established that Canadian women were eligible to be appointed senators. Second, it established what came to be known as the "living tree doctrine", which is a doctrine of constitutional interpretation that says that a constitution is organic and must be read in a broad and liberal manner so as to adapt it to changing times.

It is quite shocking to think that as late as 1929 the constitution of a liberal democracy like Canada did not recognise women as persons.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Remembering Corporal Nathan Cirillo,

The crowds are still gathering at the Ottawa war memorial this morning to pay their respects to Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot by extremist gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on Wednesday. The Parliament is reopening to visitors tomorrow when I have a day of meetings there, but as can be seen from the picture of the changing of the guard above and the memorial below, people have been laying flowers for days and continue to applaud soldiers guarding the monument.

I walked around the Parliament building this morning and was a bit surprised that I could do so quite freely. Although armed police were evident at the memorial, they were not so apparent on Parliament Hill. But then that is the mark of a democratic nation - protect your citizens but do not allow terrorists to dictate your agenda.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Off-the-wall interview of the year


Friday, October 24, 2014

Ed Miliband under fire again

It is almost as if the Labour Party cannot help itself; today's Telegraph says that Len McCluskey, Unite's General Secretary, becomes latest senior Labour figure to give a less than glowing account of Mr Miliband's leadership since the party's annual conference:

"I'm not sure the last time we had a laugh to be blunt, and I don't really know him well enough to say that I like him."

"Yeah, any talk about is he the right guy, it really doesn't enter into our vocabulary. You know Ed, and I hope this doesn't happen, could get run over by a bus tomorrow, it really wouldn't matter who takes his place."

"No, what matters is the policies. You know we've been saying this to Ed since he became elected. Labour have got to show they're on the side of ordinary, working people.

"If he does that, he'll be the next prime minster. If he fails to do that, then of course, he'll be defeated and he'll be replaced as the leader."

The paper goes on to list other senior Labour figures who have been critical of their leader, including John Prescott, Frank Field and Jack Straw. With friends like that.....

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Council tries to flog off artwork it doesnt own and dummy cameras

The South Wales Evening Post has two stories today that cause one to pause with astonishment.

Firstly, there is the tale of Neath Port Talbot Council's attempt to plug its budget gap by selling off
four works of art in their possession, including the Ludwig Von Hofer statue, the Roman Emperor Statue, Benjamin West American picture and a pair of pictures attributable to the studio of Allan Ramsay.

The paper says that at a council cabinet meeting in September, members voted to sell the four works through Sotheby's, but these plans have now been put on hold after it was discovered they might not belong to the council:

The authority's head of property and regeneration, Gareth Nutt, said: "We have been contacted by the National Museum of Wales to tell us the pictures attributed to Allan Ramsay were part of a loan agreement with them some 40 years ago."

Mr Nutt said any sale of the pictures would be subject to "proof of prominence".

A National Museum Wales spokesman said: "The Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales artworks on loan at Margam Orangery are large portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte by the Studio of Allan Ramsay.

"Neath Port Talbot Council are aware that these paintings are owned by National Museum Wales and are currently on loan to the Orangery.

"We are in contact with the council and further discussions regarding this loan will take place in due course."

Meanwhile, those of us who have been struggling through road works on Fabian Way, the road between Swansea and the M4, will be astonished at this story in the same paper.

For the last four months or so contractors have been building a new entrance to the university campus that is being built there. They have put in place a 30mph zone to protect themselves and drivers and placed average speed cameras in situ so as to enforce it.

Naturally, the Evening Post wanted to know how many drivers had been caught speeding through this section of road. The answer was none, because they had not switched the camera on, even though up to 200 speeding offences are being committed there every day:

A spokeswoman for GoSafe, Wales’ road casualty reduction partnership, confirmed that no speeding offences had so far been “processed”.

She added: “On average there are between 125 to 200 offences that have been recorded daily. This is dependent on day of the week and traffic management activity at this location.

“The average speed recorded is currently 39.4mph with the highest recorded speed of 70mph.

“The system will be going live imminently and we would ask all drivers to comply with the relevant speed limit which is there for a reason.”

The £2.6 million road access work began in the middle of June and is due to take 40 weeks to complete.

The first £250 million phase of the Bay Campus will welcome students and staff at the beginning of next academic year.

A Neath Port Talbot spokesman said the cameras would be in situ until the road access work was completed, and that the decision to switch the cameras to “live” was down to GoSafe.

In other words, they forgot to switch them on and only now that they have been reminded will they press the go live switch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Political footballs and the Welsh NHS

As a Welsh politician I am the last person to defend Labour's management of the health service this side of the border.

Hard-working and dedicated staff are being put under pressure by the under-resourcing of key services, waiting time targets are being missed and major services such as the Wales Ambulance Service Trust are under-performing. There is a clear case for an independent and over-arching inquiry into the way the Welsh NHS is being run.

You only have to read the articles on Freedom Central here to get a picture of everything that is wrong and needs fixing with the Welsh Health Service.

Having said that one has to sympathise with the director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, who told the BBC that arguments between politicians are just adding to the pressure on staff.

Labour have once more fallen back on the claim that the Daily Mail and Tory Ministers are conducting a war on Wales and on NHS staff. They claim that statistics are being distorted and lies are being told.

Of course they have done exactly the same thing with regards to the English NHS so it is a bit rich for them to call foul now. Claims by Labour that the NHS is being used as a political football do not stand up either. After all, as anybody who remembers the War of Jennifer's Ear in 1992 will know Labour has been using the health service in this way since it was founded in 1945.

Amongst all these accusations and counter-accusations it is difficult to establish the facts but, as Nick Servini points out on his BBC blog, it is clear that in certain areas Wales is trailing behind England in terms of how its health service is performing. I have not seen many examples of where the reverse is the case.

This row is going to escalate of course as the General Election gets nearer. After all Ed Miliband invited the comparison when he started to use the Welsh Government's record as an example of what Labour can do.

But we must not forget the essential truth that this row is about political mismanagement. It is not about the staff who, for the most part are exceptional, professional and hard-working. It is about what patients can expect from their health service and whether those in government are delivering on those expectations on both sides of the border.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Employers say cutting EU immigration will backfire

There is a sensible contribution from employers today to the debate on EU immigration with EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, calling for an end to the “misinformation and paranoia” it says is dominating the debate over Britain’s future in Europe.

The EEF joins the CBI in defending the EU’s free movement principle, as Mr Cameron pledges to make reform of it his key demand when he seeks new membership terms ahead of the in/out referendum he has promised in 2017.

The Independent says that Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers’ body, will say in a speech tomorrow: “For too long now the debate about our future in the EU has been hijacked, and some would say driven by, a powerful political vested interest, which is to extract Britain from the EU, without any recognition of what that rupture would cost. They must not be allowed to prevail.”

Mr Scouler will express fears that the UK debate will focus on immigration, which is “dogged by misinformation, and in some cases a good dose of paranoia as well.”  He will insist: “Britain has a yawning skills gap, and this will widen in the next five to 10 years as highly skilled employees retire. We need and want employees from other European nations   and indeed from other parts of the world - in this country,  making a contribution, paying tax and supporting our economy.”

Katja Hall, the CBI’s deputy director general, said: “Businesses recognise that free movement of workers within the EU is a sensitive issue but are clear that it is an essential part of the single market. It boosts the attraction of investing in the UK, creates jobs and offers firms here real benefits in working with our biggest trading partners

The danger is of course that the best interests of the country will be lost in the scrabble to neutralise UKIP. That should not be allowed to happen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cameron pushing us out of Europe

The impact of the campaign by David Cameron and the Conservative party to renegotiate our position in Europe on our relations with other countries is not often commented on by the press, but inevitably it has undermined our position in Europe itself and weakened the British Prime Minister's bargaining position in terms of getting a better deal from the EU.

This is made clear today from the comments by the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso who believes that David Cameron is pushing Britain closer to leaving the European Union by running a negative campaign that fails to take on Eurosceptics.

The Times says that Mr. Barrosa says that a British exit from the EU could have a catastrophic impact on the economy and would mean that the UK would struggle to retain even marginal relevance on the world stage.. Yet despite that voters may back the move regardless, unless politicians urgently make the case for the EU’s benefits:

 Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One yesterday, he chastised the prime minister for relying on EU freedom of movement laws only when it suited him. “I remember when prime minister Cameron called me to ask the commission to be tough in ensuring the freedom of movement between Gibraltar and Spain. British citizens have freedom of movement all over Europe. There are 700,000 living in Spain. So the principle of freedom of movement is essential,” Mr Barroso said.

“Freedom of movement is a very important principle in the internal market. Arbitrary caps seem to me . . . in contradiction with European laws.”

The paper adds that in an apparent attack on Mr Cameron’s increasingly hard line, Mr Barroso will warn today that “you can never win a debate from the defensive”.

“We saw in Scotland that you actually need to go out and make the positive case,” he will say. 

“If people read only negative and often false portrayals in their newspapers from Monday to Saturday, you cannot expect them to nail the European flag on their front door on Sunday just because the political establishment tells them it is the right thing to do.”

In a cutting attack on the Ukip leader Nigel Farage, he will profess no interest in the “relentless march to one single super-state”.

“I may prefer a glass or two of red wine than a pint of beer when I am out on the election trail, but I, too, come from a country with a long history, proud of its culture and tradition,” he will say. “And it may be a revelation to some, but the vast majority of people living in Europe are also rather attached to their national identity.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Warning to Tories on European Arrest Warrant

The Guardian warns David Cameron and his Conservative Party that UK efforts to bring terrorists, including jihadis, to justice in this country will be seriously impeded if he bows to pressure from Eurosceptics and opts out of European Union police and justice co-operation.

The paper says that the prime minister is facing what could be the biggest backbench rebellion of his premiership over Europe next month, when up to 100 Conservative MPs could vote against the UK continuing to be part of a package of EU policies that includes the European Arrest Warrant.

Apparently, Tory rightwingers are arguing that the UK should be reclaiming powers from the EU, rather than giving them away, and transferring more sovereignty in Brussels. They are putting pressure on the prime minister to opt out of the EAW, which allows for speedier extraditions between signatory countries. The danger is that faced with the UKIP threat, Cameron might agree.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who is a member of the Commons intelligence and security committee, and former Conservative immigration minister Damian Green, have it absolutely right in warning that pulling out of the EAW would be a disastrous move at a time of heightened concern over terrorism:

Campbell said it was “absolutely extraordinary” that Tory MPs were so determined to end UK participation in the European Arrest Warrant, given that police chiefs and the home secretary, Theresa May, were firmly in favour of retaining it.

Campbell said: “If we don’t have the European Arrest Warrant, it is not difficult to envisage a young jihadist, who is unwilling to face prosecution in the UK, choosing to hole up in some other European country, and putting the British government to the test of seeking his or her extradition – without the presumption of doing so which the warrant confers.”

He added: “When the home secretary and the most senior police offers in the land are convinced of the advantages to this country of the EAW, it is almost beyond belief that their judgment is not accepted, particularly at a time when the terrorist threat has never been greater.”

This is one issue we cannot afford to give in on.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The dysfunctional Ed Miliband

Today's Times reports that Labour MPs are worried that the dysfunctional nature of their leader's office will leave the party exposed and out for the count at the General Election.

The paper says that unforced errors and an apparent unwillingness to expand and explain Labour’s more controversial plans is angering the rest of the party. The problem is made worse by Ed Miliband's tendency to duck big, often binary decisions even when he has been given plenty of notice:

There is a growing belief that while he can be smart when forced to choose between a right-wing and a left-wing solution — on issues such as bankers, phone-hackers and energy companies — he struggles with other kinds of big decisions. Few thought that “English votes for English laws”, parliamentary recall or Palestinian statehood could have caused such internal strife. In a worrying echo of the past, the whole team is prone to call for more research — behaviour learnt under Gordon Brown.

Could Mr Miliband and his team let the general election next year, still firmly within Labour’s grasp, slip away? After a dismal conference dominated by the leader forgetting to mention the deficit in his speech, as well as disappointing by-election results and the discomfort of the Conservatives briefly pulling ahead in some polls, a spine-stiffening address to MPs on Monday, followed by Mr Miliband’s solid performance at prime minister’s questions two days later, was badly needed.

Whether it steadies the ship remains to be seen. Where there is clear unity across Labour — from MPs to shadow cabinet teams to figures inside the party HQ — is in the chorus of demands for the Miliband operation to improve dramatically. “Collectively it’s an absolute car crash. Reverse. Re-reverse. Then one bit doesn’t know what the other bit of the office has decided. There are so many people,” said one figure who has to deal with them regularly.

“They” are Mr Miliband’s team on the second floor of a parliamentary outbuilding — Norman Shaw North in Westminster. Here decisions stack up, one on top of the next, like a bad morning over Heathrow, and policy proposals — particularly from Jon Cruddas, the leader’s adviser — mature, leak and sour over months.

A senior Labour source is quoted as saying: “It’s not down to one single person. The office has been f***ed from the start and still is. No one has been able to bring any semblance of order. Some of it is the boss . . .

“The chemistry of the people is that there are many people doing strategy and lots of Oxbridge people who are not practical. They are very clever and philosophical but not practical.”

The paper concludes that the impact of Miliband's office disorganisation is twofold. First it means there are moments of apparent paralysis, such as on English votes or Iraq. Second, caution too often wins the day, meaning that bold messages such as the party’s striking plans on migration get presented in a bland, forgettable way.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Welsh Tory leader has his knuckles rapped?

Wednesday saw all meetings in the Senedd cancelled due to strike action by some staff. The Tories were naturally perturbed by this and took to YouTube to protest that this would never happen in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Westminster.

The tweet advertising the video is still there but the video itself has been taken down.

Perhaps the reason lies in this e-mail sent by the Chief Executive to all Assembly Members the next day:

Members are reminded that filming must not take place in the Siambr without express permission in advance from the Assembly Commission Media Relations Team. Filming that is allowed must relate to a Member carrying out their duties as an Assembly Member. It must never be party political in nature and must not bring the Assembly, or its Members generally, into disrepute. Any use of the Siambr that fails to take account of these points may breach the Code of Conduct for Assembly Members

UKIP on the back foot

The extent to which UKIP, the anti-establishment, anti-politics party depends on public subsidy is laid bare by an article in yesterday's Times on the financial crisis facing them due to the collapse of their European voting bloc.

The paper says that UKIP have suffered a serious blow to its finances due to the defection of a Latvian MEP which has caused the collapse of the seven-state group led by Nigel Farage’s party in the European parliament.

They say that the extinction of Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, the parliament’s biggest anti-EU group with 48 MEPs, means UKIP and its partners will lose influence, speaking time, access to positions on committees and funding:

UKIP alone will lose €1.95 million (£1.55 million) a year of EU funds, according to the Open Europe think-tank. “For UKIP the European parliament has only ever been a stepping stone towards a domestic breakthrough, but the loss of nearly €2 million per year will be painful,” it said

The collapse of the bloc brings UKIP back to the level of euro-hostile parties dominated by Marine Le Pen of the French National Front. She failed in an attempt to form a rival group with Geert Wilders of the Netherlands in the summer. The UKIP-led group crumpled after the departure of Iveta Grigule of the Latvian Farmers’ Union. This reduced its membership to parties from six states, one below the required threshold, although it retained almost double the minimum of 25 MEPs.

Of course the party still has its tame millionaires and individual MEPs will continue to have access to expenses to fund local party offices, such as the one recently opened in Shotton as part of the party's campaign to win Flintshire next year.

And UKIP continue to benefit from a lack of proper scrutiny by the UK media. Why for example did the BBC report on the Shotton office opening when it has not done so for the offices of other politicians?

More importantly why did the BBC's report accept the premise offered to it that the office is part of a campaign to win Flintshire at the General Election, without challenging whether this is a correct use of public money?

The UKIP honeymoon in the media continues.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What was on television on the day you were born?

The BBC have a rather disturbing website that enables you to look back through old editions of Radio Times and find out what was on TV the day you were born.

I was born on a Saturday so there is a lot of sport in my case and we are talking about just the two TV channels and three radio channels. How did we cope?

The highlights which my mother missed that day include Grandstand, The Range Rider, something called 'Garry Halliday' (that weeks' episode was appropriately entitled 'The Outcast'), Juke Box Jury (of course), Dixon of Dock Green, a western series called 'Laramie', The Jimmy Logan Show (who?) Saturday Playhouse presents The Difficult Age (what else?), Sports Special and an Italian Song Contest to lead us into the test card.

Kids today don't know what they were missing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Labour disarray and infighting

It is a sign of how dysfunctional the Labour Party has become when its own leader has to publicly appeal for unity just seven months out from the General Election.

The Times reports though that this is precisely what is happening. They say that Ed Mliband has begged Labour MPs for unity, warning that returning to the “bad habits” of infighting risks consigning the party to defeat. They add that the Labour leader expects “every person in this party” to stop sniping and help to secure victory after weeks of ­anger over election strategy:

Mr Miliband has faced a barrage of criticism since his party conference speech last month, when he forgot passages on the deficit and immigration. Labour’s narrow by-election victory over Ukip in a supposedly safe seat last week has focused attention on its ­inability to deal with Nigel Farage.

Labour whips have been assessing MPs’ concerns after Mr Miliband’s ­performance. One MP said he thought Mr Miliband would go down in history as one of the party’s worst leaders.

Addressing a meeting of MPs last night, Mr Miliband said the election fight would become even more difficult, but maintained that victory was “do­able” if the party maintained discipline.

“Normally, after an election we show disunity and division,” he said. “We have had four years of unity. I am not going to let us, seven months before an election, start lapsing into the bad habits of the past.

“Things are going to be more ­difficult. This is not 1997. There will be ups and downs which make the last few weeks look easy.”

Irrespective of the polls, Labour are looking less and less like a party of government.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The UKIP conundrum

It is a bit late but this article by Owen Jones in Sunday's Observer is well worth reading in full. It is the most damning indictment of our broken political system I have read for some time.

It says to me that if UKIP are the answer then we are asking the wrong question. But then none of the other answers look at all convincing either:

Satire is left redundant by the audacity of Ukip. Just look at the leading lights of this “anti-establishment” insurgency. Their leader is that rare breed in British politics, a privately educated ex-City broker. Their deputy chairman is Neil Hamilton, the disgraced arch-Thatcherite and one-time minister, booted from the House of Commons in ignominy. Their recent byelection victor is Douglas Carswell, an ex-Tory MP who used to work in asset management.

Their next byelection candidate is Mark Reckless, yet another public school ex-Tory whose previous career – like Nigel Farage – was in the City. They are bankrolled by ex-Tory multimillionaires like hedge-fund supremo Christopher Mills and insurance tycoon Arron Banks. Ukip talks of breaking the “political cartel” while peddling policies the entire political elite agree on, quibbling only on scale and detail: tax cuts for the rich, privatisation, slash-and-burn austerity, curtailing workers’ rights. They are the lone critics of immigration – leaving aside, of course, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Tories and, oh, the Labour leadership too.

The problem is that whatever you think about UKIP, they are filling a gap in the market left behind by the failure of all the other parties:

Britain’s political elite has fuelled more than enough disillusionment for enterprising charlatans to exploit. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but it has been abundantly clear what the political elite has been becoming for quite some time. Technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement.

Owen Jones is scathing about the ability of the mainstream parties to respond to the challenge:

In 1979, 21 MPs previously worked in politics, but in 2010, the figure had reached 90. One in eight MPs elected in 2010 previously worked as private consultants, a jump from one in 25 in 1997. No wonder the Tory and Labour parliamentary parties are so stuffed full of people who can’t even do a rough impression of speaking like a human being. Universal suffrage – fought for at such great cost by our forebears – is silently, stealthily unwinding: a huge gap in turnout now separates middle-class professionals and unskilled workers.

Yes, there was the expenses scandal, the Iraq war, the Lib Dems’ decision to trash what little faith young people had in democracy – all have helped fuel disillusionment with political elites who were never, after all, loved. But for a generation, politicians have surrendered democratic power to the market. In postwar Britain, the promise was that citizens would be provided with a secure job, an affordable home and publicly owned services and utilities to support them. What is left for politicians to promise but the odd tinker here and there, as well as cuts and yet more surrendering of power?

And so we end up with a Labour leadership unable to offer anything resembling a coherent, inspiring alternative expressed in a language people can relate to. No – unable to offer a bit of hope, a sense that politics can be a vehicle for improving your lot, your family’s, your community’s, your country’s. Wages falling, work ever more insecure, an affordable house a fantastical dream for many. With politics unable to satisfy basic needs and aspirations, and in the absence of a convincing message of hope, anger is directed at anyone but the powerful: immigrants, unemployed people, public-sector workers. And now Ed Miliband seeks to defuse the Ukip threat by pledging further crackdowns on immigration. How has that worked out for David Cameron’s Tories, exactly?

Plenty of food for thought there.

MEP stalking

It had to happen and thank goodness it has. After all the fuss over MPs' expenses and concern about the opacity of those claimed by MEPs, somebody has produced an easy to use website so that we can track what our European representatives are getting.

EU Integrity Watch has been put together by the pressure group Transparency International who have collated information made available by the parliament, and put it all together on a user-friendly website.

The BBC reveal some of the headlines: Nearly half of all MEPs have declared no outside financial interests at all. But 398 MEPs cumulatively earn up to 18.3m euros (£14m; $23m) per year. And a select few - 12 MEPs in all - each earn more than 10,000 euros per month, above and beyond their generous parliamentary salaries and allowances.

Among the biggest earners from "outside jobs" are the leading liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, and two former French ministers - Michele Alliot-Marie and Rachida Dati. The UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge is also in Transparency's top 12.

But the big problem is that the Parliament is not asking the right questions or requiring their members to declare the right information:

"The system isn't working," says Carl Dolan, the director of Transparency International EU. "Trust in decision-making requires effective checks and credible sanctions on possible conflicts. Unfortunately, the parliament's current efforts pay only lip-service to this principle."

The trouble is that the parliamentary declaration forms are so vague that it is hard to find out more details about what many MEPs actually do in their spare time. "Consultant" and "Manager" are frequently-used terms.

Campaigners want the parliament to have much clearer guidelines, and effective sanctions against anyone issuing false declarations.

"The rules usually only change in the wake of scandals," Mr Dolan says. "We're trying to persuade the European Parliament to get ahead of the game."

In the last few weeks MEPs have made plenty of noise in confirmation hearings about potential conflicts of interest among incoming European Commissioners. Perhaps they now need to put their own house in order.

And so say all of us.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Teachers treat Labour shadow education secretary with contempt he deserves

The Independent reports that teachers have been posting a series of parody oaths online in response to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt's suggestion of a "Hippocratic oath" for those in the profession.

The Labour MP believes that a public oath for teachers would emphasise the "moral calling and the noble profession of teaching".

However, a number of parody oaths have now started to appear on Twitter under the hashtag #teacheroath, many mocking the suggestion. Some of the examples are:

#teacheroath I swear to follow education policies thought up by people with no relevant experience apart from the fact they went to school.

I pledge to work 60 hour weeks before I'm forced out with complete exhaustion #teacheroath

But the one that sums it up is: #teacheroath Who would be a teacher if they didn't have commitment to the job. Hardly a well paid walk in the park.

Who would have thought that Tristram Hunt could give politicians an even worse reputation than they do already?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another blow to the surveillance state

Today's Independent reports on a legal opinion, submitted to the Home Office, which concludes that the use of surveillance drones by the British government is probably illegal.

The paper explains that several government departments and police forces have increasingly used remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), however the legal guidance warns it is “probably unlawful” for security services to “retain or use surveillance data” captured by drones under current laws:

The release of the legal guidance comes as an influential House of Lords prepares to quiz government officials on drone use on Monday. The House of Lords EU Sub-Committee will question officials from the Department of Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over drone policy, including national security concerns.

However civil liberties and opposition MPs are demanding a fuller enquiry into drone use. Rachel Robinson, a policy officer for Liberty, said “As the use of spy drones by the state and private sector grows, so too do the concerns about the lawfulness of this intrusive technology. We need to know who is spying on us and why and where our right to privacy comes into the equation. The industry grew up in the shadows but can no longer be kept in the dark.”

The guidance, from leading public law barrister Jemima Stratford QC, was commission by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones. It warns the use of drones for surveillance is unlawful and constitutes a “disproportionate interference” with the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The paper continues that the legal guidance states that while drone use is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)this act was not designed for this purpose. It warns, “We consider, on balance, that is a disproportionate interference with an individual's right to privacy for the security services (or any other government department) to retain and use surveillance data, without any safeguards concerning its use, storage or destruction.

The question now is whether the UK Government will pay any attention or whether it will take a court case to make them do so.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Another good reason why we need Liberal Democrats Ministers

The Independent illustrates perfectly why Liberal Democrats Minister have been pivotal in reining in the Tories as part of the coalition government as it reports that Theresa May is under mounting pressure over claims by a Home Office minister that the Conservatives had “suppressed” two reports into drug abuse because they could prove politically embarrassing.

They say that the Liberal Democrat, Norman Baker, who is the drugs minister, told The Independent last week that the documents are gathering dust despite being ready for publication since July. They add that there are concerns that the reports are being sat on because the department does not want to be seen to endorse less hardline drugs policies.

Mr. Baker has blamed the Conservatives for blocking the reports and accused our Coalition partners of playing politics with addicts’ lives:

Maryon Stewart, who founded the charity the Angelus Foundation to highlight the risks of legal highs after her daughter’s death, said she shared Mr Baker’s frustrations.

“Weeks and months have been wasted when we could have been getting to grips with educating young people and stopping these dangerous substances being sold on the high street,” she said.

Ms Stewart added: “It is just not acceptable there should be political posturing with one eye on the general election when the issue is safeguarding young people. These harmful and unpredictable substances can rob them of their mental well-being and even end their lives.”

Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of the drugs advice charity Release, called on the Home Office to release the research on drugs overseas as quickly as possible.

She said: “The countries they visited included Portugal, Uruguay, Netherlands and Denmark which arguably have a more pragmatic response to drug use.

“It could make a difference to look at policy overseas that works. There are alternatives worth exploring which could have better outcomes.”

She said she was “baffled” by the failure to release the research on legal highs as the Home Office had asked expert groups to submit evidence on the issue.

Danny Kushlick, spokesman for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “Both Tory and Labour governments have a long and shameful history of withholding drug policy analysis that contradicts the prohibitionist orthodoxy.

“Yet again they are playing power politics with the lives of ordinary people in order to maintain an illusion of safety and security. It is citizens’ right to see the evidence and it is the right of all of us to have policies that are genuinely effective, just and humane, and that provide health and security.”

Whatever you think about this issue surely it is better to have the evidence out there so we can have an informed public debate around this issue instead of hiding it away because it is politically inconvenient. Thank goodness we have ministers like Norman Baker who share that view.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Misdirection over council finances

The Public Services Minister's evidence to the Assembly's Communities Committee yesterday was a classic case of misdirection.

Having announced a local government settlement that cuts grant funding by 3.4% he was keen to put the onus back on councillors, hinting that making savings was not going to be as hard as it looks, simply because between them Wales' 22 Councils hold nearly £1 billion in  reserves.

Seven of these councils he said hold roughly 20% of their turnover in reserve. He added that if this money was being kept back for a rainy day then that time has come.

If only things were that simple. The fact is that most of these reserves are earmarked or committed for specific projects put in place to benefit local people.

In some cases tens of millions of pounds have been put to one side to meet equal pay claims from staff. In other cases money is there for pension changes or capital projects. And of course those reserves can only be spent once. If you use them to fill a gap in revenue funding then you are just deferring difficult decisions to future years.

It is not as if councils can complain about these tactics of course. After all many of them have tried the same trick on schools when cutting education budgets. But really, it does not help anybody when having taken a difficult decision the minister then hints that local councils have easier alternatives to the deep cuts they are all contemplating.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

More trouble for Miliband

The Labour leader may have forgotten about the deficit when delivering his conference speech but that could be the least of his worries as one of the Labour Party's biggest donors have now rounded on it over its tax plans.

The Times reports that Assem Allam, the owner of the Premier League football club Hull City, has derided Labour’s plans as an economic “fallacy”. He said that Mr Miliband’s proposed income tax rises and mansion tax policy were a “disastrous decision”. As if to add to his woes, the Labour Party national executive committee has denounced Miliband's plans to freeze child benefit.

Mr. Allam, who is an Egyptian-born millionaire, has donated £210,000 to Labour since 2010, placing him in the top five for individual donations to the party since the last election:

He attacked Mr Miliband’s plans to place an annual charge on all properties worth £2 million or more: “The mansion tax is a very bad idea. It’s a vote killer. He will lose more votes than what he will get.”

The move “will reduce prices in the market place”, he warned, and he said that reduced property prices would mean reduced stamp duty revenue.

Dr Allam also criticised Labour’s plan to hit the rich with high tax rates and urged Mr Miliband not to implement a policy that he believes would harm the economy by compelling many wealthy individuals to flee the country, taking their money with them.

Questioning Labour’s economic calculations, he added: “It is a fallacy really that to gain votes the politicians keep telling people ‘Tax the rich, do this to the rich, do this to the rich’. It sounds nice for the voters, but it isn’t good for the economy . . . The only way to raise the standard of living in society is by encouraging more people to be rich.”

Dr Allam, who owns an industrial generator manufacturer and has property development interests, argued that high net worth individuals were essential for wealth creation and generating jobs.

He also accused the Labour leadership of trying to gain political capital by twisting the economic reality of raising taxes for higher earners and by deploying divisive rhetoric. “I hate the idea of misleading people for the sake of votes . . . You want to increase the number of rich people and stop talking about the societies of the poor and the rich. It is one society, where one person is more capable of generating wealth,” he said.

Some more things for Ed Miliband to forget about perhaps.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Dads Army returns

For those of us who are a certain age the making of a feature film of Dads Army is a welcome development. The fact that it is to star Swansea's Catherine Zeta Jones, will guarantee it acres of coverage in the South Wales Evening Post.

Ms Jones is to be joined by a cast that already includes Toby Jones and Bill Nighy in the lead roles of pompous Captain Mainwaring and his sardonic second-in-command Sergeant Wilson, the roles made famous by Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier in Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s original TV show. The Guardian continues:

Producers today revealed that Tom Courtenay will play Corporal Jones, with Michael Gambon as Godfrey, Blake Harrison (of The Inbetweeners) as Pike, Danny Mays as Walker and Bill Paterson as Fraser. Director Oliver Parker has also added Alison Steadman, Sarah Lancashire and Mark Gatiss to the movie in as-yet undisclosed roles.

The second world war-set tale will be shot entirely on location in Yorkshire, some distance from the original show’s fictional East Sussex location. A newly released synopsis reads as follows:
It is 1944 and World War II is reaching its climax. The Allies are poised to invade France and finally defeat the German army. But in Walmington-on-Sea, morale among the Home Guard is low. Their new mission then – to patrol the Dover army base – is a great chance to revive spirits and reputation, that is until glamorous journalist Rose Winters arrives to write about their exploits, setting the pulses racing and putting the local women on red alert. MI5 then discover a radio signal sent direct to Berlin from Walmington-on-Sea. There’s a spy on the loose! The outcome of the war is suddenly at stake, and it falls to our unlikely heroes to stand up and be counted.
Something to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More on the Welsh Assembly budget

Over at Wales Eye, political commentator Daran Hill outlines the significance of the recent two year budget deal between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Government. He says that the deal proves that the Liberal Democrats are not as irrelevant in Wales as their critics sometimes allege:

But there are four stand-out elements.

The first is that it is a two year deal.

Such an arrangement between Labour and the Lib Dems was a tactically clever move for both parties, giving the government financial stability, and the Lib Dems something to smile about for a change.

Secondly, the value of the Lib Dems extraction from Labour at £223m over two years, is considerably more than they might have got considering Labour were only actually negotiating with them this time around.

Money is a key factor.

In 2011 they only secured a little over £50m, which was comparable with the £35m gained by Plaid in their 2012 deal with Labour.

Indeed, it was only last year, when Plaid and the Lib Dems worked together, that they secured a six figure concession, or around £100m from Labour.

The fact that the Lib Dems have exceeded this previous high watermark, and done so for the next two years, is a significant achievement.

The third noticeable element is that the money is to be spent on further increasing the Pupil Deprivation Grant for Wales.

This is exactly the same priority as that set out in 2011 and 2013, meaning that for four out of five years of the current assembly the Lib Dems can point to a single policy initiative they have consistently funded.

This narrative is one they are now able to return to time and time again.The fourth and final point, is the non-money pledge which the Lib Dems screwed out of the Welsh government.

As part of their 2014-16 budget deal with Labour, the Lib Dems secured the following commitment: "an agreement that no construction of the M4 relief road will start before the next assembly elections and a detailed Environmental Impact Study into the project will be commissioned".

He concludes on the M4 that by not walking away and instead playing the game, the Lib Dems have managed to put the brakes on an initiative which aims to alleviate the use of breaks.

It is nice to be appreciated.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Onwards and upwards at Glasgow

This is my final day at the Federal Liberal Democrats conference and it is also the day that the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats gets to address representatives.

As the Western Mail reports, Kirsty to planning to send a very clear message to the party leadership that Wales should not be left out of talks on the future of the UK's constitution:

She will also throw down a challenge to the Lib Dems’ rivals, saying: “Now is the time for the other parties to step up to the plate. I challenge them to do as Nick Clegg has done and sign up to the Silk Commission’s recommendations – so that Wales can speak as one voice.

“Wales must have a proper parliament, one that reflects the will of the people, one that has the powers to make a difference.”

The Scottish referendum, she will say, demonstrated that “people across the UK want more of a say over their future,” adding: “The Liberal Democrats must now take back the devolution agenda. From the conflict of the referendum, must come hope.”

But this has not all been about the constitution. We have pledged an extra £1 billion for the NHS if we get back into government next year, giving Wales a Barnett consequential of £50m for our own health service.

Vince Cable too, will be reflecting the budget deal we recently struck with the Welsh Government by unveiling a proposal to create a single national minimum wage for 16 to 17-year-olds and people on the first year of their apprenticeships.

This would result in around 31,000 apprentices in the first year of their programme benefiting from a pay rise of more than £1 an hour. At present, the minimum wage for apprentices is just £2.73 per hour while the rate for 16 to 17-year-olds is £3.79.

Meanwhile, BBC Wales concentrates its reports on fridge magnets. So much for balanced reporting.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Liberal Democrats lose their heads in face of polling presure

If there is one thing you can say about the Liberal Democrats without fear of contradiction it is that we are stubborn beggars who will do our own thing regardless of the consequences. There are times when to the outside observer that appears to be pointless masochism.

Faced with declining poll ratings and problems with trust, the obvious thing to do is to put up our most popular politicians to front the election campaign, especially those who are instinctively trusted by the electorate and who are perceived to have integrity and principle.

Unfortunately, the leadership do not seem to seen it that way, certainly if the Telegraph is to be believed. The paper says that Vince Cable will not be called upon to be the “face” of Lib Dem financial policy during the forthcoming general election campaign. Instead, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will go toe-to-toe with George Osborne, the Chancellor.

Apparently this is all to do with those around Nick Clegg, the 'kindergarten' as they are known in some circles, wanting to put Vince Cable 'back in his box'. You have to wonder if these advisors ever talk to real people, or get out on the streets campaigning, because they are not just out of touch with the party but with the electorate as well.

Nick Clegg, who does meet and talk with voters all the time and understands their concerns and needs, should ignore these advisors and keep Vince Cable where he can be the most benefit to the party, speaking on the economy.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Fighting to preserve the Human Rights Act

For those of us horrified at the thought that a majority Tory Government might repeal the Human Rights Act the Times contains a handy guide to the legal howlers contained within the plan, courtesy of the previous Conservative Attorney General.

Dominic Grieve, QC, says that proposals outlined by Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, contain a series of factual “howlers” and are not properly thought through:

Mr Grieve said many of the concerns were based on “misunderstandings”, and there were already moves in train to reform the court from within. He also dismissed the idea that the UK could be granted a special status while the other states signed up to the convention had to abide by Strasbourg rulings.

“All courts are ultimately human constructs and they will sometimes get things right and sometimes get things wrong,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“In many cases there is a misunderstanding of what the court does.

“Even the paper which has just been produced by my colleague Chris Grayling includes in it a number of howlers which are simply factually inaccurate.

“One howler is ... where it says that the court of HR in Strasbourg has prevented the imposition of whole life tariffs on whole life tariff prisoners in this country.

“It hasn’t. Its judgment never said that.

“On top of that we then took a case to the court of appeal, which I actually chose to take when I was AG, which found that our rules are completely compliant with what the court wants.

“Yet there it is in the paper which he has put out on behalf of the Conservative Party.”

Mr Grieve added: “It seems to me it is factually inaccurate in what it says, and that is unfortunate.

“Because if one is going to approach a complex subject I think it is very important that we should all collectively adopt a moderate and measured approach towards explaining what the issues are and what can and cannot be done.”

Mr Grieve said that Mr Grayling did not seem to have considered the problems presented by devolution in Scotland and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

“Both of them enshrine the requirement that the convention on human rights should be observed in Scotland and in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I think it is right to say that, in the case of Northern Ireland, it is a requirement that ultimately people in NI can take cases to the ECHR.

“And yet Chris Grayling has just written a paper which makes no reference to this issue or how it can be solved.

“Of course the Westminster parliament is sovereign, we could change the law for Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“But I think that, in view of the way devolution has unfolded, that is something that would be a little bit difficult without consultation and I’m not aware that any consultation has taken place.”

Mr Grieve went on: “We have always been at the heart of developing human rights on the world stage. We have very high status worldwide in doing that and it is an inestimable benefit to large numbers people.

“The paper gives the impression of a retrenchment down to a very narrow focus indeed.

“The final irony is that, when we’ve done all these things and ended up with our own bill of human rights, 99 per cent of the decisions that will be taken by our own Supreme Court applying it, unless it wishes to get rid of human rights, would in fact be identical to those that you would get in Strasbourg.”

This is the problem when you let the Sun and the Daily Mail make policy for you.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Scalpels drawn over the Welsh health service

According to this morning's Western Mail, all-out war has broken out between the Welsh Government and the BMA over the future of Wales' health service.

It all started when the BMA decided that enough was enough and called for an independent inquiry into the way that the NHS in Wales is being run. The chair of the BMA’s Welsh council, Dr Phil Banfield, said the NHS in Wales was facing “imminent meltdown” with GP surgeries on the brink of closure and morale at an all-time low.

The paper goes on to record that BMA Cymru, which represents 7,000 doctors in Wales, also slated the persistent failure of the ambulance service to meet its emergency targets, the “vast” numbers of overdue follow-up appointments in hospitals and the high numbers of patients lying in hospital beds through delayed transfer of care.

Their call for an independent Keogh-style inquiry was backed by both the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Conservatives. The idea is that there would be a “root cause analysis” of the factors which have led, or have the potential to lead to fundamental breaches of care.

Labour hit back, with Mick Antoniw speaking in plenary on September 24, saying: “I read the two sides of A4 that talk about a whole series of things – very little of it justifies any form of inquiry. You do wonder why the BMA have changed their position. You wonder whose sticky fingers have been working their way around this issue at this particular time.

“The Tories can have no credibility whatsoever on the health service and I have concerns about the timing in which the BMA council have brought this forward. This could be an inquiry on just about anything because once this is out of the way there will be an inquiry about something else. You are playing politics with the Welsh NHS.”

Now, an open letter has arrived in my office and in the offices of other AMs refuting these claims:

Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary of BMA Cymru Wales, said: “We absolutely refute the suggestion that this is ‘political games playing’.

“Over a number of years BMA Cymru Wales has raised concerns about recruiting and retaining doctors in Wales. Not just junior doctors, regularly cited by health boards as one of the driving forces for reconfiguring services, but of consultants and GPs too.

“We have offered practical ideas and our assistance in finding solutions, the response has been slow and inadequate.

“When we warned that General Practice in Wales was in crisis, with GP practices finding it impossible to recruit new partners, we were told we were wrong.

“Last week, it was widely reported that Blaenau Ffestiniog is likely to lose its GP surgery because the doctors were leaving. That’s not the only area of Wales experiencing difficulties.

“We are worried that many changes to services are being forced through as a reaction to crises that could have been prevented with better planning and foresight.”

BMA Cymru said it has received more than 400 emails from consultant members across Wales expressing concerns about feeling undervalued as professionals.

Dr Lewis said doctors are now working under extreme stress while managing “avalanching” workloads.
He added: “There are shortages of consultants, staff grade and associate specialist (SAS) doctors and trainees in many departments across the country, and the doctors left standing have to cope with the additional workload.

“This is when mistakes may happen and in the light of doctors’ strength of feeling, we felt that we had to reluctantly reconsider our position on the need for an independent review of services.”

The Welsh Government have put significant sums of extra money into the health service through their latest budget. However, it is clear that extra resources will no longer be enough. There needs to be a wider examination of all the issues so we can have a clear consensus on the way forward for the NHS in Wales.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Wales UKIP MEP commits faux pas with public money

The Western Mail contains a short report today in which Wales' UKIP MEP, Nathan Gill responds to criticism that he is unavailable to the public.

They report that the newly launched Wales Yearbook Online says on its front page that "Mystery surrounds Nathan Gill UKIP MEP for Wales. Elected May 2014, he has no office, website or published contact details."

In response Mr. Gill says that he has been waiting for UKIP to establish their target seats in Wales before opening an office: "We've now come to a decision that Alyn and Deesside is one of our best prospects and we have therefore opened an office at 50 Chester Road, Shotton on Monday. We will soon be opening an office in South Wales too, again in a target seat."

So UKIP will be using public money to establish a campaigning base to win parliamentary seats. I admire his honesty but really, that is not how you are meant to use this cash. It is meant to facilitate Mr. Gill's work as an MEP not his party's political aims.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Not so proud in the USA

One reviewer complained about the film Pride that it was not gritty enough and should have had more sex scenes. Personally, I thought the story of gay activists raising money to help families during the 1984 miners' strike struck just the right balance. It was entertaining, but told the story in a realistic and balanced way.

This has had little impact in the USA though where, as the South Wales Evening Post reports, it has fallen foul of American film censors:

The Motion Picture Association of America has ruled the film was unfit for 16-year-olds unless they were in the company of a parent or adult guardian. 

The film is rated 15 in the UK, and the US verdict has prompted anger among filmmakers and gay activists. 

"It is outrageous, knee-jerk homophobia," says veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell. 

"There's no significant sex or violence in Pride to justify strong ratings. The American classification board seems to automatically view any film with even the mildest gay content as unfit for people under 17."

The MPAA has not given reasons why Pride is considered inappropriate for unaccompanied 16-year-olds.

An interesting difference in cultural outlook.

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