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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blair twists the knife in Miliband

The Times reports that Tony Blair has intervened in the long-standing row over Ed Miliband's leadership by expressing his fear that the Conservatives will win next year’s election because the Labour leader is too left-wing for the British public. They add that he has warned to Mr Miliband that he needs to stop alienating the business community:

Mr Blair suggested that under Mr Miliband Labour had returned to the days of the 1980s when it swung to the left and became unelectable. The former prime minister repeated his warning, made in an interview in October, that the election could be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.

Asked whether a “traditional result” was a Tory win, Mr Blair said: “Yes, that is what happens.”

“I am convinced the Labour party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground,” he told The Economist.

Asked what lessons he derived from his experience of winning elections, Mr Blair replied: “Not alienating large parts of business, for one thing.”

Mr Miliband had been criticised for attempting to divide the business world into “predators” and “producers”, a line of attack said to worry Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, who has been trying to win back business confidence.

Senior Blairites were also angered by Mr Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy prices. They worry the plan will lead to a collapse in investment and price rises before and after the freeze.

As ever Tony Blair's timing is spot-on, managing to undermine the Labour Leader's New Year message whilst offering fresh ammunition for the Tories' election campaign.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An outstanding riposte to the Times naming Farage 'Briton of the year'

Monday, December 29, 2014

Nigel Farage - arse of the year?

As nominations open for the annual Rear of the Year, there is an emergent campaign on some social media networks to hijack the competition by nominating Nigel Farage. The Independent has the details here.

Apparently, he qualifies because he is an 'arse'. No good can come of this. However, if you want to take part in the competition then vote here.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A female candidate for US President?

As we move into 2015 the newspapers have already started to speculate as to who will be running for the office of US President. This also gives me the opportunity to indulge in one of my hobbies, following US politics.

Jeb Bush has already announced that he is running for the Republican nomination, whilst Hilary Clinton is favourite to head the Democratic ticket. However, as the Observer relates there is another woman who many would like to draft in to run as the Democrat nominee, namely Elizabeth Warren:

Warren’s path was more fraught with difficulty. Her family – whom she has claimed, controversially, to be loosely descended from Cherokee, Native American ancestors – came close to financial ruin when her father had a heart attack and lost his janitor’s job; she watched their station wagon be repossessed, saw her mother forced out to take a telesales job at 50. Warren herself gave up a full scholarship to George Washington university in order to marry her high school sweetheart, and struggled through college once she had two children; by the time she was a professor, she had experienced divorce, single parenthood and remarriage. Her chosen teaching subject at Harvard, when she arrived there at 40, was, pointedly, bankruptcy. “My daddy and I were both afraid of being poor, really poor,” she writes in her book. “His response was never to talk about money or what might happen if it ran out – never ever ever. My response was to study contracts finance and most of all economic failure to learn everything I could.”

That determination has given her the most expert grounding in the key political issue of her times – the imbalanced structure of the “rigged” economy and the vast resultant inequalities of wealth and opportunity. It is the grounding that provides her point of difference not only with Clinton, but also with Obama – who brought her into government but backed away, in the face of Republican opposition, from appointing her as the first chair of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she had worked to create. “He picked his economic team and when the going got tough, his economic team picked Wall Street,” she says of Obama’s administration. “They protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over.”

Warren believes it must not happen again. It is the kind of argument that leads inevitably to that other question: Can Elizabeth Warren be the change she describes? There are, it seems, a growing number ready to respond: “Yes she can.”

This video shows Senator Warren in action:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why are Tories making fox hunting an election issue?

The Telegraph reports that the Conservatives will try to lift the fox hunting ban if the party wins May’s general election. They say that the party will offer a free vote in the next Parliament to legalise hunting if the party wins in May:

The Hunting Act 2004, which prohibits the pursuit with hounds of various wild mammals in England and Wales, came into force under Labour in February 2005. The pursuit of foxes with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2003.

Simon Hart, a Tory MP and chief executive of the Countryside Alliance between 2004 and 2010, said: “All the indications are that a commitment will be just as robust as it always has been and there is no reason to believe any changes are intended or planned.”

The wording is likely to be the same as the 2010 party manifesto, which said: “The Hunting Act has proved unworkable. A Conservative government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the hunting act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.” 

The dangers for the Tories of taking the course of action are obvious. As the paper says Labour has sought to use the hunting issue to portray the Conservatives, and the Prime Minister personally, as preoccupied with the concerns of a privileged elite, and out of touch with wider public opinion.

In addition, Lynton Crosby, Mr Cameron’s election adviser, is said to have warned ministers in the past that raising the hunting issue would be a damaging distraction from the party’s core election message, which focuses on the economy, welfare and immigration.

What exactly they are trying to achieve by raising this issue again and so close to the election is difficult to see. Hunting is an issue that will polarise voters against the Tories and swing floating voters away from them. Bring it on I say.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tory Minister in 'do what I say not what I do' row

When I listen to Ministers talk about deregulating planning I wonder if any of them have ever sat on a planning committee. It is never as black and white as they like to pretend.

That is not to say that the planning process could not be improved or even that planners could not be a bit more relaxed in their approach to certain restricted areas with the objective of helping people onto the housing ladder for example. Clearly, that change in approach is desirable.

This story in the Times though is one that all those calling for change should note. They say that a senior Tory who is a close ally of George Osborne and who has highlighted the virtues of planning deregulation tried to block an “ugly” new development next to his £1.6 million Edwardian home:

Matthew Hancock, the business and energy minister, opposed an application to build a family home on the site of a row of disused garages in Kensal Rise, northwest London.

He told The Times that he had supported the principle of building a property on the site but objected to its aesthetics, which were described by planning officers as “an innovative contemporary design” made of cedar timber boards and a metal roof.

“It’s a line of Edwardian houses that have a particular style and then they were proposing to put a very modern design on the end which was very ugly,” Mr Hancock said. “I’m worried about it because it’s inconsistent with the street and it’s right on my doorstep.”

He ultimately failed to prevent the request being approved by Brent council, a decision he described as “disappointing”. However, after the meeting on December 10, the developer offered him the chance to discuss the details of the design.

Mr Hancock, who also has a home in his West Suffolk constituency, has previously spoken in favour of relaxing planning rules. Speaking at a meeting of the Commons public accounts committee, the former housing market adviser to the Bank of England said: “Is not a value-for-taxpayer-money way to build housing to grant more planning permissions?

“Would that not have the twin effect of allowing that uplift to be used for the building of affordable homes — in other words, affordable with a capital ‘A’ — and for making homes more affordable by increasing their supply?”

Sometimes Ministers need to be careful what they wish for.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town - The Boss

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The real story of the Christmas truce

There is a fascinating article in yesterday's Independent relaying the true story of the 1914 Christmas truce in the trenches:

It is the diary of Lieutenant Charles Brockbank; page after page of tiny, immaculately even handwriting in which the Cheshire Regiment soldier laid out his daily testimony in black ink, capable, as he was, of stepping outside the physical agonies which were befalling the 6th Battalion and consigning them to paper. His Christmas Day entry is testament to a night the likes of which we will not experience – “the most agonising I have ever had,” as Brockbank described it, enduring what reads like the onset of frostbite until 4.30am, when even the threat of sniper fire cannot deter him from stamping around in the mist of the frozen dawn.

Then, a momentary release, rounding up hens with his compatriots on a deserted farm behind the lines. And then “the most extraordinary incident”, Brockbank wrote. A cease to the firing at 2.30pm and “the Germans started shouting to us to ‘come out’ and ‘have a drink’ and also climbing about in the trenches. One of them came out in front without rifle or arms, as one of ours went out too. A huge crowd formed... We had found a little rubber ball so, of course a football match came off and we exchanged various things...”

Note the casual description of the object which served as a football because it was not the laced-up pig’s bladder which belongs to the legend of how two sides played out a game of football 100 years ago tomorrow, perpetuated by the film Oh! What a Lovely War, the Sainsbury’s TV advertisement this Christmas and countless others in between. Although up to 15 ad hoc matches took place along the Western Front, the evidence of an organised meeting between the British and Germans in no-man’s-land to play football a century ago is thin – as the new exhibition reinforces.

Its artefacts also include one of the best known images of the so-called Truce match – taken, it transpires, 1,500 miles south-east of the trenches at Salonika, in Greece, when the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment played the Argyll and Sutherlands Highlanders on Christmas Day 1915: a 3-2 win for the Germans. The evidence of an arranged Christmas Truce game is equally slim in the testimony of Private Ernie Williams, who served in the place where the game is thought most likely to have taken place – a turnip field on the vividly named “Stinking Farm” near the village of Messines, on the France/Belgium border where the 1st Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment and the 16th Bavarian reserve infantry regiment laid down arms. Williams talks of the commanding officers – with whom the soldiers did not circulate – ordering the men back when the fraternising started. “One officer was shaking his hand, saying, ‘Oh, bloody fools, you don’t know  what you are doing,’” Williams relates. “They thought it was a trap.”

The doubts the exhibition raises bear out the testimony of Lancaster University’s Dr Iain Adams, whose research points to ad hoc truces along 17 miles of British lines, though nothing organised. Neither did they did start with a football and Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve. The Argylls and Highlanders were opposite the 134th Saxon Regiment before Christmas 1914 when a nearby river flooded and with it the trenches, too, forcing both sides to climb out and rebuild, less than the length of a football pitch away from each other. “They didn’t shoot at each other but started sharing tools,” said Adams, whose research featured on the BBC World Service’s Sportshour. “When you are working with people and are face to face, it is quite hard to shoot them.”

Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

UKIP - From the sublime to the ridiculous

Those of us who are used UKIP candidates from the south of England making idiots of themselves are reassured today that Wales was not left out when Nigel Farage specified the parameters of his party's gene pool.

This discovery has come about due to the widely reported remarks of UKIP's candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth about homosexuality. The Independent's account provides some context:

A Ukip parliamentary candidate standing in Wales has claimed a “homosexual donkey” tried to rape his horse.

John Rees-Evans, who is running for Cardiff South and Penarth in May’s general election, told the bizarre story to protesters outside a new campaign office in Merthyr Tydfil.

An anti-Ukip demonstrator had asked him to respond to a string of controversial quotes by fellow party members, including on from Dr Julia Gasper in Oxford, who allegedly claimed that “some homosexuals prefer sex with animals”.

“Actually, I’ve witnessed that,” Mr Rees-Evans responded. “I’ve got a horse and it was there in the field. And a donkey came up…which was male, and I’m afraid tried to rape my horse.”

The stallion bit the “homosexual donkey” in defence, the former soldier continued, saying he leapt to the animal’s defence and hit the horse to protect it.

“I don’t think that’s what she meant but it’s a coincidence,” he added.

You couldn't make it up if you tried.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fighting to save Parkland's Playing Fields

On Wednesday I visited Parkland's School in Sketty to see for myself the playing fields that the ruling Labour group on Swansea Council want to sell.

I was shocked. These fields are at the heart of the school and form an important recreation area for the 520 plus children who attend it. If the fields were lost the children would lose their infant playground, would be cut off from ancient woodlands and be confined to a small space at the far end of the school, leaving them with inadequate sports facilities.

I understand Swansea Council's need to sell off surplus land to fund school improvements but these playing fields are not surplus to requirements, they are fundamental to the ethos of the school. Judge for yourself from this video made by parents and children at the school.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Nigel Farage crosses a line

There is some speculation on-line as to whether UKIP's recent slump in the polls is the result of the cumulative impact of a series of gaffes by high profile candidates leading up to Farage's own defence of the terms 'chinky' and 'poofter' or just the voters finally waking up to the reality of the sheer-awfulness of this party of reactionaries and bigots.

Fortunately, the Independent has provided a useful on-line guide to UKIP's top excuses for a series of blunders that has peeled back the veneer of respectability that they have painted themselves with over the last 18 months.

These include Farage's bizarre claim that he missed a meeting in South Wales due to immigrants clogging up the motorway, the candidate who claimed that the Nazi salute he was pictured giving was just him 'imitating a pot plant', and this:

Christopher Monckton, Ukip’s former head of policy for Scotland and he of “gay men have ‘20,000 sexual partners’ in their ‘miserable lives’” fame, called on the far-right British Freedom Party (BFP) to “come back and join Ukip” in 2012.

The short-lived BFP was formed by disgruntled BNP members and was shortly afterwards to get into cahoots with the EDL. A Ukip spokeperson pointed out that members and former members of the BFP were banned from joining the party and Monckton was probably unaware of this because he had been on a tour of the US for most of the last year.

As the Liberal Conspiracy blog points out: “One of their key spokesman doesn’t know about a change in policy, and thinks far-right parties (the BFP always had far-right origins) was fine to reach out to?”

There is also this:

One to rank with the “some of my best friends are black” mantra, former Ukip candidate Anna-Marie Crampton crafted a string of excuses after an anti-Semitic Facebook post was made on her account.

The post said the Second World War, in which six million Jewish people died as a result of the Holocaust, was started by “the Zionist Jews” and that it had been financed by Jewish “banksters to make the world feel guilty”.

Following calls for her resignation and her suspension by the party, Crampton said she had “clearly been trolled” and told the party’s leadership that her account had been hacked. She then added on Twitter that she was not anti-Semitic and that her “great grandmother was Jewish on my mother’s side”.

Never has a party been so damned by the sheer number of awful candidates and officials it places in senior positions and by the crassness of its own leader. It is little wonder that UKIP are seeking to stop its candidates using social media, though we should be clear that the main reason for that is not a lack of training but the fact that they don't want voters knowing what their people really think.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Clegg - A force for good

Over at the Telegraph, Dan Hodges assesses Nick Clegg's seven years as leader of the Liberal Democrats and concludes:

But let’s step back and look for a moment at the New World Clegg has had a hand in shaping through his own eyes. He has lead his party into government. He has proved that coalition government can be stable. He has neutralised the more extreme instincts of his coalition partners. He has helped guide his country to a place of relative social and economic safety. I’ve been one of Clegg’s fiercest critics. 

As I wrote recently, he is no Gladstone or Lloyd-George. But looking at his record in the round, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Nick Clegg has delivered for his party, and delivered on the objectives he set himself seven years, and a lifetime, ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Using taxation to deliver fairness

My article on how the coalition government is implementing Liberal.Democrats policy on tax so as to assist in alleviating in-work poverty is on the IWA website here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas and New Year Recess

The Assembly has not had a formal meeting since Thursday but it has still been a busy week for most Assembly Members.

On Friday I was back in Cardiff Bay in my capacity as a member of the Assembly Commission to meet staff at their Christmas brunch, and then onto Pyle, Morriston and Gorseinon for advice surgeries. I spent the weekend writing and printing a Christmas leaflet for my ward giving residents information on church services, refuse collections, PACT meetings, useful numbers, holiday chemist opening times and much more.

I will gloss over the Swansea Tottenham game quickly and move onto Monday where, in between visits to the vet with my cat, I met constituents, caught up with casework and knocked the doors of local residents.

On Tuesday, I carried on with casework, leaflet delivery and went with the governors of Burlais School to look at the new building currently under construction in Cwmbwrla Park. Yesterday, I visited Parkland School to see for myself the playing fields the council are seeking to sell off.

The loss of this open space will have a devastating impact on the school and the education of the children there. It will deprive them of a valuable green lung and leave very little room for children to play and for teachers to deliver the foundation phase. I have already written to the council asking them to think again on this proposal.

Following that visit I had a very useful meeting with Youth Cymru to discuss their Trans'form project and other work they are doing. Today I am off to Snowdonia National Park to look at projects they have underway. It means that blogging will be light over the next few days.

I am looking forward to learning about the Dolgellau Townscape Heritage Initiative, seeing the Coed y Brenin mountain biking centre, visiting yr Ysgwrn, the home of World Ward One poet Hedd Wyn and seeing the award winning hydro scheme at Plas Tan y Bwlch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Farage the messiah?

The Independent has today's story to stretch credibility with the reported comments of  Ukip’s Commonwealth spokesperson, Winston McKenzie:

In an interview with Chat Politics, he said the Eurosceptic “army” was behind their leader, who can “do no wrong”.

“Jesus was one man, we’re his army. Farage is one man, and we’re his army and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

“Farage is like (non-stick) Teflon – he can do no wrong. Everywhere he goes, it doesn’t matter what he says or does - he gets away with it.”

This is an interesting take on Farage and not one I believe he will encourage.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Story of the week

Meanwhile the Sun has this:

Animal welfare groups are prosecuting a porn film maker after she used her CAT in a bondage film.

Zorro, five, was trussed up and hoisted in the air with his legs dangling as film-maker Hera Delgado whispers: “Good boy, good boy, you’re enjoying this aren’t you?”

International animal welfare group PETA is now taking legal action against Delgado, 34, of Berlin, who has gone into hiding to escape possible repercussions from cat lovers.

Ms Delgado is convinced that the cat enjoyed it:

Delgado, who has made scores of sado-masochism and bondage films, claimed the decision to use Zorro was “spontaneous”.

She added: “The clip had no sexual component, it was not a perverse thing. It was not animal cruelty. He purred the whole time.”

A prison term is clearly not a sufficient punishment.

Headline of the day

The Western Mail has this:

Jimmy Osmond breathalysed by police on way to McDonald's

This will appeal more to those of us of a certain age. It is all kicking off in Llandudno

Monday, December 15, 2014

Is Wales getting a worse deal than the other nations?

There is an interesting article in this morning's Western Mail reporting on proposals by Alan Trench, one of the country’s leading constitutional experts. He has published a blueprint for how the different nations of the UK can work together at a time when the constitution is in a state of flux.

Mr. Trench believes that Wales get a “worse” deal than any of the other nations from the loose arrangements that determine how governments work together:

Mr Trench is concerned that UK ministers are in charge of resolving disputes – even when the UK Government is involved in the disagreement. He argues that Whitehall departments do not run the risk of sanctions if they fail to respond to grievances.

In his report, he claims this skews politics in favour of the UK Government and results in less accountability and poorer policies.

Key proposals include:

- Having an “independent and impartial” person or group of people resolve disputes;
- Introducing a more “structured” relationship between the Welsh and UK governments, with the Wales Office and the Minister for Government Business in Cardiff playing a more active role in managing relations.
- The creation of a “dedicated secretariat” for Joint Ministerial Council meetings which would be “independent of any government” and;
- Launching a devolution committee at Westminster to ensure greater coherence.

Mr Trench said: “The UK’s system of managing intergovernmental relations is fundamental to making devolution work, but it is simply not fit for purpose. It fails to recognise the way the UK’s territorial constitution works, and leaves the ball very largely in Whitehall’s court.

“This affects all three devolved governments, but hits Wales worse than the others. The UK Government needs to take a much more engaged approach rather than allowing the situation to drift along, or treat devolved governments as nuisances or adversaries.”

He concludes his report: “Is the UK Government willing to make a series of changes, some minor but some major, and some which will involve a measure of political difficulty or even embarrassment, in order to achieve those outcomes?

“Is the UK Government sufficiently committed to the union, not just in a rhetorical way but in substance, to do what is necessary to make that union function better and to help its citizens understand why they have the structure of government that they do, with some things being done differently across the UK and some things being similar or the same?

“An enhanced approach to intergovernmental relations, which improves the substance of governance but also enables the UK Government to provide symbolic answers to those questions, is a keystone of enabling devolution to work as a sustainable, durable and effective form of democratic government.”

These are all important questions and desperately need to be addressed in any discussion on future constitutional arrangements.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Vince Cable says a judge-led inquiry into British torture links may be necessary

Today' Telegraph reports on the comments of Liberal Democrats Cabinet Minister, Vince Cable that there should be a judge-led inquiry into Britain's alleged involvement in US torture if investigations by MPs and police fail to restore public confidence.

The calls come as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Commons' Intelligence and Security Committee, strongly hinted former prime minister Tony Blair and former foreign secretary Jack Straw will be ordered to give evidence on what they knew.

The Tory grandee has requested America hand over redacted sections of a controversial Senate report into CIA's involvement in torture that make mention of British involvement.

Downing Street last week admitted that key passages of the report were censored at the request of British spies.
Appearing on BBC One's Andrew Marr show, Mr Cable was asked if there should be a public judge-led inquiry into whether Britain was complicit in torture.

"We certainly don't rule that out," said Mr Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary.

"At the moment we've got several inquiries taking place at the same time... Police are looking at direct involvement in I think the Libya case, the allegations there. There is Sir Malcolm's committee. I think they've got to run there course."

"If at the end of it, it doesn't appear that the truth is emerging, that people imagine there's some kind of cover-up, then of course a judge-led inquiry is the right way to proceed."

Vince is absolutely right to call for such an inquiry. We cannot associate ourselves with the sort of abuses perpetrated by American intelligence agencies under George W Bush.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Guardian looks for immigrants on the M4

There was much excitement in my household this morning when, on opening the Guardian newspaper, we found that one of their journalists and a photographer had abandoined their plush London office to  come to South Wales.

The plan is to retrace Nigel Farage's infamous but abortive journey to Margam, which was allegedly disrupted to the point of being irretrievable by hordes of immigrants doing everything they could to stop him reaching God's own country.

For once the Guardian journalist has no excuse, she cannot avoid reaching the promised land. All she has to do is to stick to the M4 and she will be here.

Will her piece carry the usual Guardian misconceptions about South Wales? Will she join many of her colleagues who have repeated clichés about so-called industrial wastelands from ivory metropolitian towers, without once visiting some of the most beautiful and spectaclar scenery in the UK? Will she actually get out of her car and experience the tremendous hospitality and friendliness of South Walians?

Well, it is difficult to say, because out of two dozen paragraphs, only one relates to her experience this side of the Severn Bridge, whilst the photographer didn't even get that far, presumably giving up because he had forgotten his passport or something:

I leave the photographer at Swindon station and continue west, wheeling over the Second Severn Crossing and into Wales. The motorway is black, near-deserted and whipped with heavy rain, and I finally reach Port Talbot seven-and-a-half hours after I set off. At least insurgent populist demagogues don’t have to conduct interviews. Admittedly, it does take me five hours to get back to London, but mostly the lanes are quite clear, the delays due to the nighttime roadworks underway and the 40mph speed restrictions as workers set out traffic cones. I peer at them as I pass: burly men in neon tabards, the air lit up by their breath. They’re holding up the traffic, it’s true, and they may very well be immigrants. On the other hand, Nigel, who else is going to mend the potholes?

Still, I cannot disagree with her coinclusion. Immigrants are vital to the continued functioning of our economy. If Farage has his way, the whole British way of life will collapse into chaos. But then, maybe that is the idea.

Friday, December 12, 2014

UKIP claim spending on constituency offices is lawful

The Western Mail finally catches up with my blogpost of 2nd October, where I queried whether UKIP was using public money to establish a campaigning base to win parliamentary seats.

The question arose because of a comment by their Welsh MEP, Nathan Gill that he had been waiting for UKIP to establish their target seats in Wales before opening an office, stating: "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."

As the paper says, European Union rules relating to publicly funded offices for MEPs state: “The premises must be used solely for the parliamentary activities of the Member.” Another states that “appropriations” [MEPs’ allowances] “may not be used to finance any form of European, national, regional or local electoral campaign”.

Mr Gill claims that it is all above board: “It’s true that my offices at Shotton and the one opening on Saturday in Merthyr are in the same buildings as Ukip campaign offices, but there are clear demarcation lines between the parts of the buildings used by me and the parts used by Ukip. I am renting part of both buildings from the local Ukip parties, and this is entirely in line with European Parliament rules.

“I have visited the Shotton office half a dozen times since it opened. I also use it for surgeries."

This is fair enough and I have no reason to doubt Mr. Gill's word. What I would like to know though is on what basis the rent is being paid? Has an independent survey established the correct proportion of rent Mr. Gill should pay his party for the use of the office for example? And what rent is UKIP itself paying for the use of the rest of the premises?
No doubt it will all come out in time.

P.S. My interest in this does not come about because UKIP worry me in the sense Mr. Gill claims but purely in the interests of properly scrutinising how public money is spent. I am subject to that scrutiny. Mr. Gill should not be an exception.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Labour hypocrisy on privatising the health service exposed

Nick Clegg reportedly told the House of Commons yesterday that the only Health Secretary to privatise a hospital was Labour's Andy Burnham. Despite all the protestations he has been proved correct and suddenly Ed Miliband's strategy for attacking the government over the way they have reformed the English health service is in tatters.

Over at the Times, David Aaronovitch nails the Labour position. He says that the official opposition have no credible plan for funding the NHS and are hiding behind alarmist nonsense about ‘Cameron’s market’:

But there is a problem with the way in which the word “privatisation” is being used. The NHS throughout the UK is — in most people’s eyes — distinctive from private healthcare in that patients are not asked to pay. The state picks up the tab. We call that “socialised medicine” and who then exactly provides the patient with a bed, or a nurse, an X-ray, a syringe or a diagnosis is a secondary question to patients. As long as it is done well.

It seems common sense that contracting a service to a private (or voluntary sector) provider is not per se privatisation any more than the contracting out of street cleaning. A council refuse collection is as much a public service whether carried out by council employees or a French-owned company.

Unsurprisingly the King’s Fund, the independent health think-tank, though highly critical of the government’s reforms, described the claim of privatisation as a “myth”.

Even so, and even under the principle that contracts for NHS England-funded services should be tendered out to “any qualified provider” (ie, not “any old profiteer who can turn a quick buck”), in fact the value of such contracts is low. Ninety four per cent of the value of contracts lies with NHS providers — 94 per cent. That’s practically a North Korean election result.

Back to Mr Burnham and his mission to destroy “Cameron’s market” (suddenly a bucolic image of a Witney street fair being set ablaze by Messrs Burnham, Balls and Miliband runs through my mind). Because it was indeed Labour who brought in the idea of any qualified provider. In 2006-07, 2.8 per cent of the value of NHS contracts went to the private sector. By 2010-11 it was just under 5 per cent. Now it is 6.1 per cent. How can this possibly be imagined as some kind of epistemological break between the days when Mr Burnham was the actual health secretary, and now?

It can’t. He is guilty of doing a reverse Lansley. He is slagging off for political gain the very things he championed in power, just as Andrew Lansley did the very thing in power (one of those dreadful “top-down reorganisations”) that he’d slagged off in opposition.

He continues:

Dr Chand, a Labourparty member, wrote recently that after 1999 Labour “marked the start of a transition of the NHS from a public sector provider to include the private sector under the disguise of choice and competition”. While disagreeing with his doctrinaire belief that the private sector is the devil and with his definitions of privatisation, Dr Chand is surely right about the direction Labour took.

So the obvious truth is that, for whatever reason, Mr Burnham has changed his mind fundamentally about private involvement in public medicine. It’s a full 180-degree turn, and he has done it, I would argue, not out of conviction, but to pacify his activists and scare the voters.

And quite possibly to divert them. As of now Labour, the party of the NHS, has (in common with the other parties) no credible policy for bridging the NHS’s coming estimated £30 billion funding gap.

The party has ruled out an increase in national insurance and the gimmicky mansion tax wouldn’t cover a fifteenth of it.

Oh for heaven’s sake, all of you. With the election due in five months’ time, and with the loonies knocking at the window, we need to do better than this.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Five years of missed targets

It is five years since Carwyn Jones became First Minister and so attention has turned to how his government has performed. It is not a pretty picture, at least according to the Western Mail:

* The key measure of prosperity, GVA, was 74.3% of the UK average per head in 2009, but by 2012 had fallen to 72.3%. Labour abandoned a 2010 target to raise it to 90%.

* In 2009, the latest figures showed Welsh GDP stood at 89% of the EU average (2006), but the most recent figures (2011) show this has fallen to 74%.

* NHS bed numbers have fallen from 13,000 in 2009/10 to just over 11,000 in 2013/14.

* Wales’ performance in PISA rankings between 2009 and 2012 got worse in science and maths and Labour’s target to raise performance by 2015 has been ditched.

* The number of patients waiting more than eight weeks to access diagnostic services has increased by 1,088% from 1,906 in December 2009 to over 22,000 in September 2014.

* The Welsh unemployment rate has been consistently above the UK average for every month of Carwyn Jones’ premiership.

* Welsh Gross Disposable Household Income (GDHI) remains one of the lowest of all UK regions.

* The Welsh claimant count has never been below the UK average during Carwyn Jones’ leadership.

* Wales has qualified for a third round of EU handouts, despite the spending of £4bn of EU aid since 2000.

* Average Band D council tax has risen by 17.5% since 2009/10 and by 150% since 1997/98 from £495 to £1,276.

* Ambulance response time targets have only been met once in the past two and a half years. In December 2009, 59.4% of ambulances responded to a category A call within eight minutes. In October 2014, the figure was 55.5%.

* Carwyn Jones has admitted that he and his Labour Ministers took their “eye off the ball” on school standards.

* The First Minister pledged to fund education 1% above the block grant until the school funding gap with England is eradicated. The latest data shows it has widened from £496 per pupil in 2009 to £604 in 2011.

* Labour’s target of halving child poverty by 2010 was missed, while child poverty rates have risen every year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Labour need to widen their appeal says Mandelson

Another day, another siren voice for Ed Miliband. The Telegraph reports that Peter Mandelson believes that the Labour Party is heading for “great self-destruction” unless it broadens its appeal by reaching out beyond its core vote:

Speaking at an event in Westminster, the former business secretary, who helped Tony Blair achieve a string of victories with the creation of New Labour in the 1990s, warned that the party currently lacked enough supporters to win a general election.

He warned that the party could not afford to “not bother” with large groups of the electorate.

The Labour peer’s words came after a respected academic study found that Labour had lost many of its working-class supporters during Mr Blair’s years in power, particularly among those who were put off by the then-government’s immigration policies.

Research by the British Election Study found that hundreds of thousands of voters who abandoned the party at the 2005 and 2010 elections, often going to the Conservatives, were now planning to vote Ukip at the 2015 poll.

I am aware of course that the Liberal Democrats could do much better in the polls but we are in government and suffering from taking difficult decisions. The fact that Labour are not further ahead and are struggling to retain their core vote despite all that has happened over the last four years and despite being in opposition, must be a worry. At least Mandelson recognises that even if Miliband does not.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Farage fantasy lost on the M4

The highlight of the weekend has to be Nigel Farage's excuse for missing a reception at the UKIP Wales Conference at the weekend. 

As the Independent reports, the UKIP leader blamed the fact that he missed a paid-for party event in Wales on immigrants:

In an appearance on BBC’s Sunday Politics Wales, Mr Farage was accused of a lack of professionalism after he failed to make it to a “Meet Nigel Farage” evening in Port Talbot for which about 100 people paid £25 each.

But the party leader said that traffic on the M4 was to blame for his lateness – and put that down to “the population going through the roof”.

He said: “It took me six hours and 15 minutes to get here - it should have taken three-and-a-half to four.

“That has nothing to do with professionalism, what it does have to do with is a country in which the population is going through the roof chiefly because of open-door immigration and the fact that the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be.”

This is the political equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework' and it has quite rightly been derided on social media. It underlines how much UKIP are getting caught up in their own fantasies.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Not all in it together after all

I know that Christmas is coming but that is no reason for the UK Parliamentary authorities to be quite so generous in offering the public yet another example of why they and those they serve are so out of touch with ordinary people.

Today's Observer piece on the champagne wars between the House of Commons and the House of Lords really needs no further elaboration. Crass does not do it justice.

The paper says that a proposal to save taxpayers some money by making peers and MPs share a catering department has been rejected “because the Lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service”.

They say that the House of Lords, which has a £1.3m annual catering budget, has bought in more than 17,000 bottles of champagne since 2010. That is enough to give each peer just over five bottles each year, at a cost of £265,770. As of 31 March this year, the House of Lords, which currently has 780 peers, had 380 bottles of champagne in stock, worth £5,713, held in its main cellar and at individual stores on site.

Naturally, Labour MPs on the committee (as are other MPs of course) are outraged. If only they had voted to abolish the Lords and replace it with an elected chamber when they had the chance.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Jeremy Thorpe - the Welsh connection

The sad death of Jeremy Thorpe at the age of 85 has provoked many people to reflect on their connections with him and already the interweb is full of various anecdotes and stories.

I never met him, though I first got involved with the Liberal Party in 1974 when he was leader. knocking on doors on behalf of the party during the second 1974 General Election. But as befits any leader of the Liberal Party did have Welsh connections, though not necessarily ones we would want to boast about.

As this obituary recounts, Jeremy Thorpe's parents were staunch Conservatives. His father John Thorpe, born in Cork, was a KC and, for a few years after the First World War, MP for Rusholme in Manchester. His mother was the daughter of Sir John Norton-Griffiths, 1st Bt, another Conservative MP, one who gloried in the epithet “Empire Jack” and who owed his baronetcy to David Lloyd George.

Jeremy Thorpe's mother was a great friend of Lady Megan Lloyd George, who subsequently became his godmother. The Norman Scott affair though revealed a more sinister link through what the newspapers of the time termed the 'South Wales Connection.'

This was the allegation that Andrew Newton had been hired to kill Scott by two businessmen from Port Talbot, John Le Mesurier who ran a discount carpet firm and George Deakin, who had made a fortune from one-armed bandits.

The Liberal deputy treasurer, David Holmes, who was a friend of Thorpe contacted a business associate, John Le Mesurier, who then confided in George Deakin.

Deakin approached an old friend, David Miller who ran a printing shop in Cardiff, who subsequently recommended his friend Andrew Newton as somebody who could frighten Scott away.

The rest as they say is history.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Pornography, banned websites and useful technology

If that headline does not attract readers then nothing will.

This blogpost is of course centred around the UK Government's clampdown on certain on-line pornographic acts if they are delivered to computer's from servers based here. However, as Myles Jackman argues here, it may be possible to expand this ban off-shore.

He quotes Peter Johnson, the Director of The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), who he says has explicitly stated that he believes pornographic websites with editorial control outside the UK may be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 if their content is downloaded in this country:

His basis for this proposition seems to be contained within the Crown Prosecution Service’s recently updated guidelines, which state that: “There are very difficult jurisdictional issues about whether material hosted overseas is within reach of the English criminal law… [However] if a web site is hosted abroad and is downloaded in the UK [...] there is publication both when images are uploaded and when they are downloaded.”

If this logic is followed, all foreign pornographic websites selling content within the UK would need to register with ATVOD. Apparently Johnson agrees with this rationale. According to the journalist Thomas Newton, he has argued that blocking credit card payments from the UK could put the free streaming sites operating outside of the UK out of business

“Our view is that cutting off the funds to premium services, which use the free sites as a marketing platform would disrupt and undermine the free and unrestricted provision of hardcore porn. Without the underlying payments, the free sites would wither on the vine”.

Put simply, what he is proposing are financial sanctions. It looks like an unelected quango is gearing up to impose foreign financial sanctions, by utilising unelected bankers to decline payments to foreign jurisdictions, based on a selective interpretation of the unelected CPS’ Guidelines on the OPA, drafted in collaboration with unelected film censors at the BBFC.

I am not aware that this is being proposed by the Government, but now it has been suggested....

Elsewhere in the Independent they very usefully list other things that have been banned in the UK. This apparently includes open debate, where protests effectively close down discussions; greater restrictions on free speech in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK due to the way that the Defamation Act 2013 was framed; the constabulary policing the content of tweets; atheism; and 93 websites.

Their point appears to be that people are far too sensitive, and that rather than arguing their point of view they resort to the kneejerk action of banning controversial viewpoints.

For those despairing that new technology is a malign influence on modern life though the Independent publishes its list of the 100 pieces of technology that made the world a better place in 2014. My favourite is the Casserole Club, which enables you to share home-cooked food with others in the community.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The poor impoverished Nigel Farage

Today's Telegraph has an astonishing piece on man-of-the people, Nigel Farage who apparently is having difficulty surviving on his £109,000 per year salary:

The Ukip leader told a Channel 4 programme that he made significant financial sacrifices to pursue a political career and has had to live on “about half what the local headmaster or GP earns”.

“I don’t think I know anyone in politics who is as poor as we are,” Mr Farage claimed in a spin-off of Gogglebox, the Channel 4 reality show about families watching television. “We live in a small semi-detached cottage in the country, and I can barely afford to live there,” he said. “We don’t drive flash cars. We don’t have expensive holidays. We haven’t done for ten years.”

Mr Farage, who has been an MEP for 15 years, receives a salary of around £75,000 as well as travel expenses, a subsistence allowance of €304 (£238) a day when he is in Brussels or Strasbourg, and medical insurance.

In addition to his income from the European Parliament, Mr Farage channels fees for media appearances and lectures through a personal service company called Thorn in the Side Limited which made a profit of £45,488 in 2012/2013, bringing his total annual earnings to more than £100,000.

He has previously held shares in a city trading firm, Farage Limited, which paid out £969,000 in dividends to his brother and he has apologised for “an error” in setting up a trust in the Isle of Man in 2003 in a bid to reduce his family’s inheritance tax bills. He has said he did not avoid or evade any tax.

Mr Farage is driven around the country in a luxury 4x4 paid for out of a £60,000-a-year chauffeur allowance provided by the party since September last year, as revealed by The Times this week. Ukip

This is not the sort of lifestyle enjoyed by my constituents who, I think will be hard-pressed to find any sympathy for his dilemma.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The confused Nigel Farage

It seems that for UKIP policy is very much a moveable feast. They adopt a policy such as the one they fought the last General Election on of privatising the NHS and then summarily drop it when it starts to get embarrassing. There does not appear to be any democratic context to this process.

This is especially so as their custom and practice appears to involve giving the leader a veto over all and any policy measure he feels might prove to be inconvenient at any one time. The question is how they can sustain that position now they have two MPs and are seeking to position themselves as possible coalition partners in a UK Government?

This article in today's Independent is no surprise therefore.

The paper reports that during a Leaders Live event broadcast on Youtube and ITV, Nigel Farage told an audience of young people that he supports sex and relationship education for children younger than 11. In doing so he argued against the policy of Ukip deputy leader and education spokesman Paul Nuttall that sex education should be scrapped for under 11s:

Farage said: "I've never advocated that policy. If somebody in Ukip in the past did, well, so be it, but I think that people need to have a rounded education and sex education is part of that."

When it was pointed out that Nuttall's policy is written on Ukip's website, Farage said: "I know there was a debate about sex education for four-year-olds, and whether that was appropriate but I don't think the age 11 was ever mentioned."

On the party's website, the policy reads: "Scrap sex and relationship education for children under the age of 11."

Farage later admitted that Nuttall had laid out the policy at this autumn's party conference.
He tweeted: "Sorry, I missed the beginning of Mr Nuttall's conference speech. He did indeed lay out policy on sex education".

So there wasn't an actual vote then.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Lagoon announcement shows the benefit of having Liberal Democrats in government

Today's announcement that the Swansea Bay lagoon will be included in the National Infrastructure Plan,is great news and shows the effect of having a Liberal Democrat Energy Minister.

The proposed lagoon will bring a massive economic boost for Swansea and surrounding areas. It is hoped that the project will produce a huge amount of local jobs and could well generate millions of pounds in the region.

It has been said that the lagoon could potentially provide power for 120,000 homes for 120 years. That is incredibly exciting and why I hope that this project gets the go-ahead.

With its huge coastline, there is potential for a number of lagoons in Wales. Hopefully this major announcement will be stepping stone for further projects like it.”

Monday, December 01, 2014

A target culture

The Western Mail reports today on demands by WWF Cymru that the the Welsh Government to legislate for statutory climate targets for Wales.

As useful as this may prove to be I am not sure how it will help, especially as many of the powers needed to cut emissions are not devolved to the Assembly.

The Welsh Government can actually do quite a lot to meet the target of a 40% cut in emissions, but without UK-wide and international action the impact of their efforts will be limited.

Still, it would be nice to give the Future of Generations Bill some real teeth.

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