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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Will the Lords give Cameron another bloody nose?

Fresh from forcing a rethink on tax credits the Liberal Democrats peers in the House of Lords are preparing to take a stand on another piece of legislation, and a stand that chimes very much with liberal principles.

The Guardian reports that a fresh showdown is being prepared with the Government over plans to allow police to examine people’s online browsing histories. Peers are also concerned that the Government has rejected calls for judges, rather than ministers, to issue eavesdropping warrants.

The paper says that critics from across the political divide believe that the Bill, which will update 15-year-old legislation, could amount to the return of the “Snooper’s Charter” and undermine the privacy of individuals:

The power of the upper house to frustrate Tory legislation was dramatically illustrated on 26 October when peers defeated the Government twice on tax credits. The next day it came within a few votes of blocking moves to delete 1.9 million names from the Electoral Register in December, and peers are likely to defeat the Government next month and support allowing 16- and 17-year -olds to vote in the EU referendum.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, signalled that he would be prepared to muster his 112-strong bloc of peers to oppose measures which undermined individual liberty. “We would use all parliamentary tools available to us to ensure any proposed legislation is properly scrutinised,” he told The Independent.

“Liberal Democrats will always support proportionate measures to increase our security, but we must not allow cornerstone civil liberties to be swept away. We will wait with interest to see the detail of the draft Bill, as the Tories have long argued for powers that are not targeted and not proportionate. We blocked the ‘snooper’s charter’ in government and would strongly resist any attempt to bring it back.

“It would be a dramatic shift in the relationship between the state and the individual and fundamentally strikes the wrong balance between liberty and security.”

This is the House of Lords doing the job it is meant to do, providing a check on the Commons and giving them another chance to consider measures. How Cameron must wish his party had not blocked reform in the previous Parliament.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Will Tories move to restrict Freedom of Information access?

The Leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling spectacularly misses the point once more in today's Independent when he accuses journalists of “misusing” Freedom of Information laws to “generate” stories.

Apparently, Mr. Grayling believes that it is improper to use the Act as a “research tool” but believes that it is most appropriately used by “those who want to understand why and how government is taking decisions”. Personally, I am not sure what the difference is.

The paper says that during the business question in the Commons, Mr Grayling said: “The truth is the Freedom of Information Act is something this Government is committed to but we want to make sure it works well and fairly, it cannot be abused, it cannot be misused.

“It is on occasions misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media. That isn’t acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how the Government is taking decisions and it is not the intention of this Government to change that.”

The point surely is that information is news, however it is obtained. But without access to that information and without the media using it to focus attention on government policies then our democratic process will become poorer. That is because good government is achieved through active scrutiny, irrespective of who is doing the scrutinising.

It just so happens that the UK media is very good at that sort of scrutiny. This is an inconvenient truth the Tories want to bury. As Labour MP, Tom Watson says:  “Without the Act, the death rates of individual cardiac surgeons would not have been published by the NHS, we would not have learned that the police use Tasers on children and the existence of cracks in the nuclear power station at Hinckley would have stayed hidden.”

Does Chris Grayling really want to allow those sort of problems to remain hidden? Is that the Tories' hidden agenda? We await to see what proposals they bring forward.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When is an urgent question not urgent?

There is continuing controversy in the Welsh Assembly over the process for accepting and rejecting urgent questions. Essentially, nobody knows what criteria is applied and reasons are never given by the Presiding Officer for her decision.

All four political parties have concerns about this process and I think I am safe in saying that the vast majority of AMs, as well as most of the media and third sector who inhabit the Cardiff Bay bubble, believe that at the very least the Assembly should publish and keep up to date a list of both accepted and rejected urgent questions with reasons, so that we can have some transparency.

As it happens Your Senedd has compiled a list of all the accepted urgent questions during this Assembly term. It should not be up to an independent website to do this however. It is time for reform from the Presiding Officer.

Usual suspects vote for Tampon Tax

I am not normally somebody who seeks to stereotype people around a particular issue but frankly, the recent vote in the House of Commons seeking to zero rate tampons for VAT just lends itself to such a treatment.

The Western Mail reports that the eleven Welsh MPs who voted against this proposal were male and Conservative.

The lack of empathy is shocking. It cannot be right that condoms do not attract VAT but women's sanitary products do. Surely, zero rating for tampons should be one of David Cameron's key asks when renegotiating the terms of Britain's membership of the EU.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why the Norway option is a non-starter for the UK

One of the key arguments of those wishing to leave the European Union is that Norway manages to exist outside whilst maintaining all the privileges of a full member. In other words, 'a vote to leave is a win-win situation'. Unfortunately, for them that is far from the truth. Now, according to the Guardian, David Cameron is going to tackle this myth head-on.

The paper says that the Prime Minister will use the Northern Future Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland to challenge the Leave campaign’s claim that Britain could negotiate a semi-detached relationship with EU. And the arguments against this option are compelling:

Cameron, who will meet the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, and the Icelandic prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, in Reykjavik, will challenge the Leave campaign to answer five questions if the UK followed the Norwegian option:

  • Would the UK still have to follow EU rules, with no vote over how they are drawn up? A report by the Norwegian government says Oslo accepts about three quarters of EU rules with no votes in the EU institutions that set them.
  • Would the UK still be obliged to follow EU rules on free movement? Norway is a member of the European Economic Area, whose members are bound by free movement.
  • Would the UK still be forced to pay an EU subscription fee? Norway’s Europe minister said the country’s contributions are “more or less on par” with what it would pay if it were an EU member state.
  • What would happen to the UK’s existing trading deals? The UK would have to leave the EU’s common trade policy, which covers 52 states.
  • Would 31 other governments and parliaments agree to the UK’s new relationship with the EU? The deal would have to be agreed by the 27 other member states plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

  • A Guardian article by the former Norwegian foreign minister, Espen Eide, offers help to Cameron. Eide writes: “Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and choose the Norwegian way can hence correctly claim that a country can retain access to the single market from outside the EU.

    “What is normally not said, however, is that this also means retaining all the EU’s product standards, financial regulations, employment regulations, and substantial contributions to the EU budget. A Britain choosing this track would, in other words, keep paying, it would be ‘run by Brussels’, and it would remain committed to the four freedoms, including free movement.”

    In his article, Espen Barth Eide also explains why the Swiss model is not the nirvana some might claim:

    British voters might also hear about the virtues of the “Swiss model”. It so happens that I currently live in Switzerland. My new alpine homeland is in most respects in a similar position to Norway, but instead of the EEA, it has chosen an array of bilateral agreements with the EU on most aspects of integration.

    Compared to the EEA arrangement it can be seen as an even more cumbersome way of integrating into a EU-led market. Where the EEA is dynamic – which means it trails the developments of EU policy in all relevant areas – the Swiss arrangements are static. Crucially, too, they don’t cover services, which are so central to Britain’s economy.

    The reality is that every single western European country has chosen to take part in the European integration process in some shape or form. Not a single one has felt comfortable with just a classical free trade agreement. Modern economies are about so much more than trade in goods. Rather than a question of yes or no to Europe, it has become a matter of degree. Norway and Switzerland, heavily integrated as we both are in the EU, have simply chosen between the two currently existing options for staying in the outer circle.

    The choice between staying in or leaving the European Union is of course for the British people to decide. But such an important debate should be based on realities. And in European politics, as in the UK, it is still true that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    The time has come to challenge the half-truths and misleading propaganda being put about by the 'Leave EU' campaign and I am pleased that Cameron has now stepped up to the mark on this.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2015

    The World turned upside down - Labour bottle it on tax credit cuts, Tories complain about unelected Lords

    Never say in politics that you have seen it all, because something will come along to disprove that notion. Thus, last night Labour peers walked through the lobbies to oppose a proposal that would have killed George Osborne's tax credit cuts. The vast majority sat on their hands so as to enable the Tories to defeat the Liberal Democrats motion.

    Instead, Labour put forward their own motion that would just delay the cuts, leaving George Osborne the option of going ahead with them anyway.

    Meanwhile, Conservatives are all over the media complaining about an unelected House of Lords flexing its muscles, having previously sabotaged Liberal Democrats attempts to bring in an elected second chamber. They really want to have their cake and eat it.

    In fact the Conservatives are talking nonsense in terms of what the Lords can and cannot do. The House of Lords is a revising chamber. Ministers in governments of all hues have faced setbacks as a result of peers voting against a particular measure and as a result they have had to stop, think and often change their approach. That is the way the constitution as it is presently set up works.

    The claim that the cuts in tax credits were a budget matter is also nonsense. Under the Parliament Act a money bill has to be certified as such by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Osborne's tax credit cuts were in a statutory instrument and not certified as such. The Lords were totally entitled to do what they did.

    Meanwhile, because of Labour's failure to act decisively on this issue, thousands of families still face substantial cuts in their income further down the line. Nobody should be surprised. Labour did it when they were in government with their abolition of the 10p tax rate. Now they have failed to stand up for working families whilst in opposition. It really is the same-old, same-old.

    Monday, October 26, 2015

    Tories squabble over tax credit cuts

    The Telegraph reports that George Osborne is facing a Cabinet backlash over his plan to cut state benefits for millions of families, with particular a anxiety amongst Tory MPs that letters announcing the cuts are due to be sent out before Christmas.

    The Chancellor’s reform to tax credits will see 3.3  million families lose an average of £1,300 next year.

    The paper says that three Cabinet ministers, another senior minister and a number of Conservative advisers have privately expressed grave concerns over the Chancellor’s handling of the reforms.

    They have warned that Osborne’s policy is being seen as “penalising” the working poor and may turn into a Poll Tax-style error, undermining years of effort to dispel the image of the Tories as “the nasty party”.

    The Telegraph adds that three Cabinet ministers have urged Osborne to make concessions that would soften the blow for claimants:

    In particular, they criticised the way the reforms had been handled, singling out the decision to send letters to affected families shortly before Christmas. One Cabinet source said the row was “messy” because the structure of the cuts to tax credits was “creating a lot of cash losers”.

    Another senior minister added: “It’s quite right to tackle the deficit and to reform tax credits. We just need to do it in a way that doesn’t feel like people are being penalised.”

    Despite the controversy about whether or not the House of Lords is able to vote down these tax credit cuts or not, for many that is just a process issue. The real concern for Tory MPs and of course, for the families themselves, is the sheer insensitivity of sending out letters just before Christmas telling people how much less they will be getting in future.

    It is a scenario that even Dickens would not have dared feature in one of his stories.

    Sunday, October 25, 2015

    Corbyn acquires his own stalking horse

    It was Margaret Thatcher who first introduced us to stalking horses. Now Jeremy Corbyn has got one, whether he likes it or nor.

    The Independent reports that Rochdale MP,  Simon Danczuk is preparing to put his name forward in a leadership challenge if Labour performs poorly at May’s Scottish, Welsh and London elections.

    This latest act of defiance comes on top of  the resignation of Lord Warner, who was a Health minister under Tony Blair, arguing that Labour “is no longer a credible government in waiting”. Whilst, Lord Grabiner, Master of Clare College, Cambridge, has also quit the Labour benches, stating that he has “nothing in common whatever with Mr Corbyn”.

    All-in-all, it has been a pretty ropey honeymoon for Jeremy Corbyn, with many seniour members of his own party unwilling to accept the result of the leadership election. How this will play out in the polls is difficult to see but all the signs are that Corbyn's selectorate remains solidly behind him. Whether that is enough, we will have to see.

    Saturday, October 24, 2015

    Labour peers abandon Corbyn

    The Times reports that one of Labour’s most high-profile peers has quit the party’s benches in the House of Lords because of Jeremy Corbyn.

    They say that Lord Grabiner, a barrister and master of Clare College, Cambridge, left at the end of September because “I can’t square [staying] with my conscience”. He is the third member of the Labour benches in the House of Lords to desert since Corbyn was elected as leader. Lord Adonis, the former cabinet minister, left the Labour benches last month and Lord Warner, the former health minister, quit this week:

    Lord Grabiner told The Times: “I have nothing in common whatever with Mr Corbyn — and I don’t believe we are ever going to win an election.”

    He said that he was particularly concerned about Mr Corbyn’s decision to appoint John McDonnell as his shadow chancellor. “I am concerned with the economic stuff; I am really concerned with the shadow chancellor,” he said.

    Mr Corbyn’s proposals and views “are terribly damaging and there is no effective opposition” to the Conservatives, Lord Grabiner said. Labour “is in disarray”, he added, saying: “I was a David Miliband man but we then had five years of Ed Miliband and now Corbyn — that’s my real problem.”

    He had intended to meet Labour officials and whips next week but “that won’t go ahead now — there’s no point”.

    Meanwhile, another Labour peer has made a scathing assessment of his party's new leader:

    Lord Mandelson was more brutal. “I don’t think he’s growing into the job at all,” said the peer, who masterminded Tony Blair’s campaign to win media support for new Labour.

    He picked out Mr Corbyn’s appointment of Seumas Milne, the Guardian columnist as his press chief, for particular scorn.

    “He’s completely unsuited to such a job — he has little connection with mainstream politics or mainstream media in the country and yet he’s in charge of communications for the Labour party,” Lord Mandelson said.

    If Corbyn is still struggling to convince his own party that he is the real deal then there is still a lot of work to do.

    Friday, October 23, 2015

    Tories squirm over broken promises on tax credits

    I have blogged previously about the House of Lords holding up Cameron's tax credit cuts. In my region we have estimated that 12,300 families in Swansea, 7,600 families in Neath Port Talbot, and 8,200 families in Bridgend and Ogmore will lose out under these Conservative plans.

    Figures produced by the House of Commons Library show over three million low-income working families currently in receipt of tax credits will see their entitlement reduced UK-wide. The change will mean a total loss of £31.2m to families in the three council areas in South Wales West with the average family losing £750 a year.

    The key issue of course is whether this proposal is a broken promise by David Cameron or not. George Osborne thinks not. According to the Independent he insists that these cuts “signalled” before the general election. The evidence says otherwise:

    During a BBC Question Time event on 30 April David Cameron was asked whether he would cut tax credits.

    He responded: “No, I don't want to do that. This report that's out today is something I rejected at the time as Prime Minister and I reject it again today.”

    Michael Gove, the government chief whip before the election, said of tax credits a week before the election: “We’re going to freeze them for two years, we are not going to cut them.”

    No wonder the Tories are squirming over this.

    Cameron's resistance to sugar tax strikes a sour note

    Pressure on David Cameron to back a tax on sugar is growing following the intervention of Jamie Oliver. He has based his claims on "the evidence of numerous doctors and scientists".

    One of those scientists is  Dr Alison Tedstone, who is the director of diet and obesity for Public Health England. She told MPs this week that evidence suggests that a sugar tax could be effective at curbing childhood obesity.

    The danger is of course that the price of basic foods go up, thus hitting the poorest familes. After all this is not just about fizzy drinks and sweets.  The average person consumes 150 pounds of sugar each year, that is the equivalent of approximately seventy five one kilogram bags or 33 tablespoons each day. The reason for that is the amount of sugar in processed food.

    My view then is that by all means tax sugar, but target that tax at the unhealthiest foods such as fizzy drinks and sweets, whilst looking to regulate the amount of sugar in other processed food.

    This is a key agenda but it is important that we get it right and that in doing so we both reduce obesity and keep the cost of living for poorer families down.

    Thursday, October 22, 2015

    How I came to love EVEL

    There is a lot of fuss today about the UK Government's plans for English Votes for English Laws or EVEL for short.

    As the BBC explain, the plans being brought forward mean that MPs from English seats will get an effective veto on bills that are classed as England-only under the plans. Though in fact the same veto will apply for English and Welsh MPs where the law concerned affects Wales as well.

    Opposition to the proposals from some Welsh MPs concentrate on two issues. Firstly, that changes in the law on some matters may have an impact on Wales where for example we rely on cross-border health services, and secondly that some law changes will lead to a Barnett consequential for Wales when a large item of expenditure is involved on policy that deviates with that on the other side of the border. Tuition fees are a good example of the second issue.

    The big problem with this change of course is that it is being levered into the existing constitutional settlement for England. Thus, there will be an English veto over English laws but no English government per se to propose or administer those laws. It is not even a proper form of devolution.

    As sops go, it is a pretty weak one, and certainly so in the context of the original proposals. However, as a supporter of a Federal UK, should I really worry about it or oppose it? After all, if my party and I had our way there would either be an English Parliament or English Regional Assemblies all passing laws that also had an impact on Wales.

    What is the difference between a law passed by the UK Parliament introducing tuition fees and one passed by an English Parliament, doing the same? If a Midlands Regional Assembly reformed its health service, it would have the same impact on Mid Wales as if that reform had been carried out by a UK Parliament. And in both cases Welsh MPs and the Welsh Assembly would be powerless to stop the changes. Except that is not the case with EVEL, as there would still be a vote by all UK MPs on every bill.

    What is being proposed therefore is actually less impactful on Wales and Welsh representation than a full Federal structure for the UK and on that basis good Liberal Democrats should have no problem with it.

    The argument that EVEL creates two tiers of MPs is nonsense, as we already have that due to the asymmetric devolution which the UK has embraced. And as for SNP MPs arguing that EVEL will make them a second class representative, isn't it about time they accepted the logic of their own support for Scottish Independence?

    All-in-all, I can happily live with EVEL in the form it is being proposed. In the meantime though could the UK Government now give Wales the same respect that it is offering to English MPs and stop trying to claw back powers from the Welsh Assembly.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2015

    Will Tories take their toys home over Lords' defeats?

    The prospect of the Government being defeated in the House of Lords over cuts to tax credits has apparently provoked some angry Conservatives to threaten drastic action against the upper chamber.

    The Independent reports that Government sources have told the Huffington Post that they may suspend the House of Lords or flood the chamber with Tory peers to ensure the cuts, due to come into force next April, are passed.

    An ‘insider’ is reported to have told the website: “If they do this, they will turn this from being a matter about tax credits into a huge constitutional issue of the Lords’ powers.”

    If the Government were to take such a course of action then that really would provoke a constitutional crisis. It is just a shame that they did not support Liberal Democrats plan to reform the second chamber in the last Parliament. If they had done so then they might not have this headache now.

    A failure of opposition

    I have blogged here many times at the way that the minority Welsh Labour Government have been let off the hook over and over again as a result of the failure of the three opposition parties in the Assembly to work together. Yesterday's approval of the Local Government Bill was a classic example of that failure.

    The Welsh Government had earlier withdrawn this pointless Bill because they could not guarantee that it would be passed. The Bill facilitates voluntary mergers of local councils but the likelihood of any coming forward is now zero, following the rejection of three bids earlier this year.

    It does not contain any changes to the voting system for local councils, nor does it progress in any way the whole scale reorganisation that is needed across Wales and which, in any case, cannot take place until after the Assembly elections in May.

    Only a couple of weeks ago, the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas stated that he believed that for these reasons this bill was "taking the p*ss", yet yesterday his party allowed it to pass despite it not being changed. What they got in exchange was a task and finish group on the use of Welsh in local councils, hardly a worthwhile price for such an embarrassing U-turn.

    My point is that the three opposition parties are in a strong position to get major concessions from this government on a wide range of issues. We cannot force things through, but we can block things if need be so as to force changes that are beneficial to our constituents.

    Instead, the three opposition parties have consistently failed to work together and when they have, then in many instances one or more of them have sold out cheaply so as to enable the Welsh Government to get its way.

    I have no problem with a government getting its way of course. If it did not do so then its continuation in office would not be sustainable. However, our failure to act in concert has allowed Labour to treat the Assembly with contempt as they have done over Local Government, and prevented a fully rigorous scrutiny of legislation, in which Ministers have to make concessions to get it through.

    A minority government has been allowed to act as if it had a majority and Welsh democracy is poorer for that.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2015

    The first broken promise - Tories face defeat on tax credits after Lib Dem peers instructed to oppose cuts

    Whilst people's focus has understandably been on the number of Tory MPs whose seats may be at risk if those facing cuts in their tax credits were to change their vote en bloc, there is still a long way to go before we get to that point.

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted how the proposed cuts will hit hard-working families who rely on these credits to top up their earned income. They point out that the chancellor is "hitting rather harder some of those that are in work, thereby reducing work incentives and, of course, hitting what he might call ‘hardworking families’.”

    The IFS have calculated that only around a quarter of money taken from families through tax credit cuts will be returned by the new National Living Wage.

    Tim Farron has instructed Liberal Democrats peers to try to defeat these proposals in the House of Lords. As a result a government defeat has become more likely. Lib Dem peers have been told to support a motion of regret, tabled by Lord Kirkwood which will amount to a request for the government to reconsider its plans. This means that ministers will have to restart the process in the Commons via a new statutory instrument.

    Farron's reason for using the Lords in this way is very sound. The Guardian explains:

    Some opposition peers are anxious they may be over-reaching their constitutional powers by challenging a main part of the government’s financial programme.

    Opposition peers recognise that they can defeat the government repeatedly and almost at will as long as Lib Dem peers unite with Labour and a few crossbenchers to defeat the Tories.

    By custom and practice, the peers do not challenge financial measures, but Farron has been arguing that the specific tax credits measure was not in the Conservative party manifesto and was even specifically denied by David Cameron in a leaders’ TV election debate, after the Guardian revealed a document leaked by the Lib Dems showing that the government had been considering cuts to tax credits.

    Farron also believes that Lib Dem peers are free to throw aside constitutional conventions since the government has set its face against reform of the Lords.

    This is a major U-turn by David Cameron and one for which he has no mandate. It is absolutely right to work to defeat it in the House of Lords.

    Monday, October 19, 2015

    Blair made deal with Bush over Iraq a year before the war

    Just when you thought that Tony Blair's culpability in the illegal war against Iraq could not get any worse, the Independent reveals that as early as March 2002, the former Prime Minister had let it be known to the US Administration that he would support military action against Saddam Hussein if necessary.

    The paper says that a dossier, written on 28 March 2002 by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George W Bush, said: "On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary.

    "He is convinced on two points: the threat is real; and success against Saddam will yield more regional success."

    The document was obtained by The Mail on Sunday as part of a batch of emails on the private server of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which US courts forced her to reveal. It was written a week before Mr Blair's meeting with Mr Bush at his Crawford ranch in Texas.

    The Independent says that a spokesperson for Mr Blair told the Mail on Sunday that the memo's content was consistent with what he had previously said publicly and yet Blair has repeatedly denied rushing to war in Iraq:

    During his appearance before the Chilcot inquiry in January 2010, he denied he had struck a secret deal with Mr Bush at Crawford to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

    Mr Blair said the two men had agreed on the need to confront the Iraqi dictator, but insisted they did not get into "specifics".

    "The position was not a covert position, it was an open position," he said.

    "This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It’s a decision.

    "What I was saying... was 'We are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat'."

    When pressed on what he thought Mr Bush took from the meeting, he said the President had realised Britain would support military action if the diplomatic route had been exhausted.

    At the inquiry, Mr Blair said he "regretted deeply and profoundly the loss of life" during and after the 2003 conflict.

    If only we had the Chilcot report so as to put this memo into context and be able to make a proper judgement on what Blair agreed and when.

    Sunday, October 18, 2015

    Our fragile democracy - who would back a military coup?

    The real issue of course is why YouGov would want to include in its opinion polling a question about supporting a military coup? Do they know something that we don't?

    The rather disturbing news is that one in four voters could envisage supporting such a coup. Is Prime Minister's Question Time really that bad?

    By far the biggest backers for a military takeover of our civilian government were people who vote for UKIP. Apparently, as many as 44 per cent of Ukip voters would swear allegiance to some power-mad General who thinks he knows better than the population at large.

    Goodness knows what the outcome would have been if YouGov had restrictes its polling solely to those attending UKIP Conferences.

    The Independent adds that only 18 per cent of Labour voters and 20 per cent of those who supported the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 elections said they would support a coup, whilst of those who voted Conservative, 26 per cent said they could envisage backing a military takeover of the government.

    The polling company goes further, it poses some scenarios to those it is surveying as to how a coup would come about.  The most popular scenario for the imagined coup was the introduction of government legislation to dismantle the armed forces.

    Other popular suggested scenarios for a coup were the abolition of the monarchy, supported by 41 per cent of those who could imagine backing a coup, and the scrapping of the UK's nuclear deterrent, supported by 39 per cent. Meanwhile, 22 per cent said they would back a coup if Boris Johson became prime minister.

    This of course opens up a whole new line of questioning: which potential replacement for David Cameron would get the most people onto the streets behind an armed takever? Surely Boris would not be the favourite in such a poll. Nominees in the comments please.

    Saturday, October 17, 2015

    Private sector tenants let down by both Tories and Labour

    So much for the new compassionate Conservatism. Today's Independent reports on the views of one Tory MP, who is also a landlord, that a proposed law that would require landlords to make homes fit for human habitation would be an unnecessary regulatory burden.

    Phillip Davies is of course right when he says that the overwhelming majority of landlords want to do the right thing, wouldn’t ever dream of renting out a property that isn’t in a fit state to be rented out and want to comply with every regulation that’s introduced. However the reality is very different:

    Research by the charity Citizens Advice published in May found that tenants in the private sector spend £5.6bn in rent every year to live in homes that can make them sick or kill them.

    An inquiry by the charity found 740,000 privately rented homes across England contain serious risks to health including severe damp, rat infestations, and risks of explosion.

    “Rogue landlords are putting profits before safety,” Gillian Guy, the chief executive of the organisation, warned at the time.

    “With a growing private rental sector, increasing numbers of people – including more than 500,000 children – are falling prey to landlords who fail to meet decent standards.

    Privately rented accommodation was in a significantly worse state to council and housing association property.

    Sixteen per cent of all privately rented homes were found to physically unsafe, compared to just six per cent in the socially rented sector.

    Eight per cent of private homes were found to have serious damp, which can contribute to chronic illnesses such as bronchitis, eczema, and asthma.

    Six per cent were excessively cold and ten per cent risked a risk of dangerous fall; both of these factors present significant hazards for elderly people.

    And it is not just the Conservatives who are letting down tenants. Here in Wales a Labour Government has passed one substantial piece of housing legislation and is currently halfway through delivering a second. However, in both cases they have strenuously resisted attempts to introduce a higher standard for what is considered fitness for human habitation.

    Regulations that will raise standards will not impact on the good landlords, they are already doing what is necessary. But they will benefit many thousands of private sector tenants who are living in sub-standard accomodation. This legislation is urgently needed.

    Friday, October 16, 2015

    Accusations of incompetence and loss of control directed at Corbyn

    Even I am getting tired of blogging about the dissatisfaction within the upper reaches of the Labour Party with their newly elected leader, however nobody in the news media seems to be writing about anything much else.

    The latest outburst comes after the shenanigans of Wednesday night when the Labour leader allowed members of his ministerial team to defy him by avoiding a crucial Commons vote just hours after threatening them with the sack if they rebelled.

    The Telegraph reports that senior members of Jeremy Corbyn's own team say he has "lost control" over his own party and it is only a matter of time before he suffers his first resignation from the shadow cabinet:

    In a sign of Mr Corbyn's lack of authority it emerged that senior Labour MPs had been given permission to be absent and abstain from voting against Conservative proposals to run a budget surplus.

    A total of 21 MPs directly defied Mr Corbyn, including former ministers Tristram Hunt, Liz Kendall and Chris Leslie. A further 16 were given permission to be absent, including four shadow ministers.

    One of the shadow ministers given permission to miss said that Mr Corbyn's handling of the party has been "incompetent".

    The shadow minister said: "He has got no control over his party but he doesn't seem to care. It is only a matter of time before there's a resignation, it's inevitable.

    "It will not be a big thing that slips him up, he and his team are not thinking ahead of anything. This isn't just about politics, it's about his competence."

    Mr Corbyn is expected to offer free votes on Trident and extending air strikes to Syria amid concerns that he will face a mass rebellion if he fails to do so.

    The interesting thing about all this of course is that whilst Labour MPs squabble amongst themselves, Corbyn remains as popular as ever amongst his selectorate and is still seen by many young people in particular as a breath of fresh air.

    Attempts within the Labour Party to undermine him just reinforce the impression of him as an anti-politics outsider taking on the establishment, even if that picture is far from the truth.

    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    Labour sacking reveals command and control culture at heart of Welsh Government

    There was a bizarre moment in the Assembly Plenary session yesterday when the First Minister was forced to come to the chamber to defend his decision to sack one of his own backbenchers from the chair of a committee overseeing his European programmes because she had publicly criticised Welsh Government expenditure on the M4.

    The fact that the two are unrelated was irrelevant. As far as the Welsh Government hierarchy is concerned Labour backbenchers should be seen and not heard. If they have something to say then they should do so behind closed doors.

    As the Western Mail reports however, the opposition have a wider concern - the effective scrutiny of government, irrespective of party, and the use of patronage to blunt that scrutiny.

    As Kirsty Williams said in the Plenary session: “In the last month you have removed access to ministerial decision reports, you continually duck out of giving straight answers in First Minister’s Questions, and now you have removed a committee chair whose job it was to scrutinise the performance of your government.”

    The First Minister argues that the programme monitoring group, which Jenny Rathbone chaired is an advisory committee. However, it has not operated like that in the past, often questioning officials on the effectiveness of their decision-making. And of course, advice can be scrutiny too.

    All-in-all it has not been a good week for the First Minister nor for Welsh democracy.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2015

    Ruling allows GCHQ to spy on MPs

    Today's Telegraph contains details of a rather disturbing ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that MPs do not have special protection from having their communications monitored by Britain’s spy agencies.

    A challenge by Green MP Caroline Lucas sought to establish that the so-called Wilson Doctrine, designed to stop intelligence agencies tapping MPs, is enforceable in law. However, the tribunal ruled that it has no legal basis.

    As the Telegraph outlines, the Wilson Doctrine was introduced in 1966 under Harold Wilson, the then Labour prime minister, to ban the tapping of MPs' and peers' phones and was later extended to cover emails.

    The tribunal panel, headed by Mr Justice Burton, also ruled the doctrine only applies to targeted, and not incidental, interception of Parliamentary communications. And it does not apply to members of devolved assemblies or MEPs.

    On this issue I agree with Caroline Lucas. She said: "This judgment is a body blow for parliamentary democracy. My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me aren't subject to blanket surveillance – yet this ruling suggests that they have no such protection.

    "Parliamentarians must be a trusted source for whistle blowers and those wishing to challenge the actions of the Government. That's why forthcoming legislation on surveillance must include a provision to protect the communications of MPs, peers, MSPs, AMs and MEPS from extrajudicial spying."

    Ms Lucas also criticised the Prime Minister for being "deliberately ambiguous" on the Wilson doctrine – noting that his own Government ministers have stated as recently as earlier this week that protection from blanket surveillance does still apply to parliamentarians.

    If the executive is to be properly scrutinised and the rights of constituents protected then Parliamentarians should have a right to be protected from surveillance. The UK Government really needs to look at legislating as soon as possible.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    Labour stagger from farce to fiasco over budget u-turn

    Given the hole that the Labour Party is digging itself into at the moment it is surprising that the latest opinion polls show them still gaining on the Conservatives. Either voters think that the turmoil and internal rows within Labour are irrelevant process issues that have no impact on their concerns over the health service and the economy, or there is a time lag which means that public opinion has not yet caught up with the party's problems.

    The latest U-turn on whether the party will support George Osborne’s "fiscal charter", is a case in point. In fact, the big question here is why John McDonnell signed up to it in the first place? After all permanent budget surpluses hardly fit in with Corbyn's anti-austerity narrative. It just goes to show that even the uncompromising left wing of Labour agonise over how to appear fiscally responsible, whilst at the same time advocating policies that would increase the size of the deficit.

    The Independent though concentrates on Diane Abbott's car-crash interview in which she sought to defend the rather bizarre manoeuvring by the Labour front bench on this issue.

    They say that Ms Abbott’s performance prompted further derision in that she laughed in the face of questioning from John Humphrys and did not explain the U-turn, beyond saying that Mr McDonnell would set out his position in the House of Commons on Wednesday:

    Former deputy leadership candidate Ms Abbott played down the reported unhappiness of Labour MPs, voiced during and after the PLP meeting – which they described variously as a “total f***ing shambles” and a “huge joke”.

    But Ms Abbott said: "At any given time there were will be a group of MPs in Parliament, of whatever party, who are unhappy.

    "I suspect my colleagues, on reflection, will calm down and devote their energies to attacking Osborne and his mismanagement of the economy."

    She said: "Some people in the party are only slowly coming to terms with the fact that Jeremy won. Once they have come to terms with that, they will be happy."

    Ms Abbott hoped that process would take "weeks rather than months".

    That timescale could well prove to be very optimistic, especially if the feared de-selections get underway.

    Monday, October 12, 2015

    Are Corbyn's allies planning a purge of right wing MPs?

    The Times speculates that Jeremy Corbyn may be planning a purge of moderate MPs, following a challenge by senior Labour figures who want him to come clean about the role of a new hard-left organisation aligned to the party:

    Mary Creagh, a shadow cabinet member until last month, and the former home secretary Lord Blunkett, raised questions about Momentum.

    The organisation, which describes itself as a “successor” to Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign this summer, was launched last week with his backing and that of the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.

    It announced its goals to “organise in every town, city and village to create a mass movement for real progressive change” and to “make Labour a more democratic party, with the policies and collective will to implement them in government”.

    When asked yesterday whether she feared a purge after the creation of the organisation, Ms Creagh, who is the MP for Wakefield, said: “I think it’s not impossible and I think it’s important that Jeremy makes clear what the purpose of this new group is . . . because if the Labour party descends into factionalism and infighting it’s our electoral chances that are harmed.”

    She added: “The only grassroots movement that I ever wanted to join was the Labour party . . . I fail to see why we need a new movement.”

    Her fears of a purge are shared by other senior figures in the party. Ms Creagh, who stood for the Labour leadership, told Sunday Politics on BBC One that she would be “concerned if it [Momentum] did have those malign intentions”.

    Lord Blunkett also aired his concerns about the group, which he described on Sky News as a “party within a party”. He said of Mr Corbyn: “We’ve still got to find out, four weeks on, precisely what the cut of his jib actually is, to be honest with you.

    This is particularly pertinent of course because of the row that has broken out amongst Labour MPs over the party’s stance on extended military intervention in Syria. Corbyn has made clear his robust opposition to armed intervention in the region and yet more than 50 MPs are understood to be ready to vote for British military action to protect civilians.

    There are also reports of an early vote, supposedly to be held before Christmas, on whether to renew Trident. This is another controversial issue for Labour, as Jeremy Corbyn is expected to oppose replacing the nuclear-armed submarines, but the renewal of Britain’s deterrent is likely to be supported by many of his shadow cabinet colleagues and backbench MPs.

    The paper says that a government source familiar with the matter has acknowledged that senior Labour figures were pushing for an early vote to end uncertainty on renewal of the deterrent.

    Things really are starting to get interesting now.

    Sunday, October 11, 2015

    Labour MPs to give Corbyn a taste of his own medicine

    One of the more compelling arguments made against Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents in the Labour leadership contest was that a serial rebel such as himself could not expect the Parliamentary Party to fall into line behind him on crucial, but controversial votes.

    Essentially, the discipline expected of an opposition party would dissipate and give Cameron and the Tories a free reign in the House of Commons. And so it is proving.

    Today's Observer reports that at least 50 Labour MPs are prepared to defy Jeremy Corbyn by backing military action to protect civilians in Syria:

    In a clear challenge to the Labour leader’s authority, a group of MPs and peers is ready to work with Conservative colleagues to promote a three-pronged strategy in which military intervention by UK forces would complement fresh humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives.

    In a sign of increasing cross-party cooperation over Syria, Tory MP and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, and Labour MP Jo Cox, a former head of policy at Oxfam, have joined forces in support of the plan in an article for the Observer. Corbyn has consistently made it clear he is opposed to British military involvement in Syria.

    As the paper says, although the shadow chancellor John McDonnell has suggested Labour MPs could be given a free vote in the Commons, it would be a huge blow to the leader’s authority if a vote was passed with the backing of a sizable number of Labour MPs, especially as that number may include members of the shadow cabinet.

    Corbyn is under attack on other fronts too, including challenges over austerity and immigration:

    Senior Labour MPs have privately called on him to support the immigration bill, which includes measures to prevent immigrants undercutting British workers. However, shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has insisted that the party will oppose the “kneejerk” bill.

    Meanwhile, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon is attacking Corbyn’s support for the fiscal charter, which will commit the government to delivering an overall surplus by 2019-20 and to running an overall budget surplus in “normal times”.

    She told the Observer: “This week is a key test of Labour’s credentials under Jeremy Corbyn – and it is a test they dare not fail if they are to be taken remotely seriously as an opposition.

    “If Labour do not vote against the Tories’ spending proposals, all of their anti-austerity rhetoric will be exposed as empty bluster and will confirm the SNP as the only serious party of opposition in the Commons.

    “Jeremy Corbyn has been overruled by his senior colleagues on Trident, and he cannot allow that to happen on austerity too.”

    On these issues as on others it is difficult not to conclude that he is struggling to control a Parliamentary Party who did not want him as leader in the first place.

    Saturday, October 10, 2015

    Welsh Government defying the evidence on e-cigarettes

    The Welsh Labour Government's proposal to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places has been based on the premise that they could act as a gateway to tobacco.

    In the world of evidence-free legislation this is a special case. With cigarettes there is evidenced harm caused by second hand smoke, that does not apply with e-cigarettes. And now newly published research has cast doubt on claims that e-cigarettes attract non-smokers.

    The Western Mail reports that the Welsh Health Survey asked regular users of vaping devices if they had previously been tobacco users, and almost every single respondent said yes:

    Of the 3,565 people aged 16 and older spoken by the Welsh Health Survey, only 1% of adults said they were e-cigarette users who had never smoked before.

    A further 9% said they had tried e-cigarettes and considered themselves “non-smokers” in the survey, which is published by the Welsh Government.

    Of those who currently use e-cigarettes, not one person said they had never smoked before.

    As Kirsty Williams says:  “If Labour’s claims that e-cigarettes were a gateway to tobacco were correct, we should be seeing people who have never smoked a cigarette before using e-cigs now.

    “In fact, the opposite is true: Labour’s survey couldn’t find a single e-cigarette user who’s never smoked a cigarette before.

    “Welsh Labour Ministers must be pretty embarrassed that their own report is undermining their own argument for a vaping ban.

    “It’s about time they listened to the evidence, and the thousands of people who have supported the Welsh Lib Dems’ campaign against their proposed ban, and scrapped these illiberal and illogical proposals.”

    Back to the drawing board for the Welsh Labour Government it seems.

    Friday, October 09, 2015

    Is social media disconnecting politicians from voters?

    There is interesting article in yesterday's Guardian in which they report on the views of Labour's Tristram Hunt. Hunt's views are informative because they are another dig at the Corbynistas from a disaffected former shadow cabinet member, but also because it makes a wider point that is worth further examination.

    Hunt argues that the left’s use of social media is emboldening group mentalities and disconnecting activists from the views of the wider electorate:

    Warning against “algorithm politics” where activists gravitate only to views that confirm their own, he will say: “If social media were politicising the many as well as radicalising the few; were it significantly growing the number of people engaged in politics in the first place, rather than confirming pre-held bias, then Ed Miliband might now be sitting in 10 Downing Street.”

    “What people say to each other on the internet – and social media in particular – rewards strong, polarising opinions and primary coloured politics.

    “Far from broadening the mind through access to the greatest library human beings have ever created, people’s experience of the internet is increasingly a narrow online world where anyone who puts their heads above the parapet can be the target of an anonymised digital mob.”

    Although I spend a lot of time using social media, I would endorse these views. You need to keep perspective and as politicians we need to get out more and talk to ordinary people.

    Thursday, October 08, 2015

    Canadian Tories put a dead cat on the table

    Canadian general elections don't tend to feature that much in the British media but, with just 12 days to go the latest contest is starting to develop into an epic fight in which the left wing New Democrats Party has started to flounder leaving the Liberal Party to carry the opposition cudget.

    The real news though is that Stephen Harper's Tories have dumped a metaphorical dead cat on the dining room table and have recovered their lead in the polls.The contest though remains within the margin of error and is neck and neck.

    If any of that sounds familiar, then that is because there is a direct link between Stephen Harper's tactics and the UK Tory Party. It is Lynton Crosbie, one time advisor and guru to David Cameron.

    As this article reports, the dead cat on the table is a speciality of Mr Crosbie has made his mark on the contest:

    In 2013,[Boris] Johnson wrote a piece in the Telegraph about campaign tactics he learned from his “Australian friend”—Crosby. It’s worth reading the entire excerpt here: “Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and, the more people focus on the reality, the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate.’

    That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table—and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words, they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

    So there it is. The dead cat.

    In the case of Canada the dead cat is the niqab issue: It’s all anyone can talk about. It fits perfectly into his agenda of security and fear of change. The NDP, which was once riding high on polls that showed Quebecers were ready to turf Harper, have whiplash. It has lost control of the agenda. It’s all niqab, all the time.

    If Harper holds onto power in a three cornered contest he will have Lynton Crosbie to thank. But it ain't over yet and from my reading of the polls still too close to call.

    Wednesday, October 07, 2015

    Taxpayers' Alliance director does not pay UK tax

    The Guardian reports that the Taxpayers' Alliance, a campaign group that calls for tax and spending cuts and claims to represent the interests of taxpayers, has admitted one of its directors does not pay British tax.

    They say that Alexander Heath, a director of the increasingly influential free market, rightwing lobby group, lives in a farmhouse in the Loire and has not paid British tax for years.

    The Conservative party of course, has close links to this group, who claim to be "the guardian of taxpayers' money, the voice of taxpayers in the media and their representative at Westminster".

    The paper highlights that at the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, the Taxpayers' Alliance's influence was underlined when David Cameron and George Osborne followed its recommendations for freezing public sector pay and capping civil servants' salaries at the level of the prime minister, unless approved by the chancellor.

    Being lectured on value for money by a non-UK taxpayer is bad enough, but to have that person and his organisation influencing the UK Government in this way is positively undemocratic.

    Tuesday, October 06, 2015

    Have Labour given up on the democratic process?

    There is an interesting article by Dan Hodges in yesterday's Telegraph in which he questions the direction of travel of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in light of the protests outside the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

    He says that over the past 48 hours, delegates, MPs, journalists and exhibitors who are attending the annual gathering of the nation’s governing party have been punched, spat at, kicked, subjected to racist abuse, sexist abuse and other general threats of violence. He believes that fascist street-craft is being deployed in the name of the progressive majority.

    And although Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn have both condemned the violence and intimidation, Mr. Hodges believes that is not enough. He says: 'It is not the Conservative Party that is under assault here in Manchester – it is democracy.'

    He continues: Five months ago we had a general election, and David Cameron won it. His party secured 11 million votes. That is an inconvenient fact for some. But it is a fact all the same. That is how we resolve our political differences in Britain. Not with fists or boots or saliva. But via the ballot box.

    Last week, at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, I was worried that the Labour movement was in danger of drifting to the political margins.

    But at the Tory conference, I realise the real danger is that it is on the brink of removing itself from the democratic process altogether. It is not only losing touch with the British people, but also absenting itself completely from the basic electoral and parliamentary and political protocols which ensure a mature democracy can function and flourish.

    The Left seems to be busily locking itself into a death spiral. It is a dance of the macabre that goes something like this: the Labour Party – which if you recall was established solely for the purpose of securing the Labour movement parliamentary representation – is saddled by the Left with a series of leaders and policies that make it utterly unelectable. So an election is held, and the Labour Party duly loses it.

    At this point, the Left says “See, we told you. The ballot box is not the answer. We must take to the streets”. So the Labour movement takes to the streets. Whereupon it effectively reinforces the view that that Labour movement and its representatives are not a government in waiting, they are simply an unelectable rabble. And so the dance continues.

    Just look at Len McCluskey. This man is not the villainous industrial brigand of media caricature. Many of his criticisms of the Trade Union bill are valid. It is indeed a vindictive piece of legislation. But last week he compared the Conservative Party to the Nazis.

    Then, on Sunday morning, he claimed that it was the “duty” of trade unionists to break the law in defiance of the bill.

    Then he marched his members up to the gates of the Conservative Party conference.

    It didn’t take a genius to guess what was going to happen next. Nor does it take a genius to predict what will happen while Labour leaders such as shadow chancellor John McDonnell continue to say things such as “There’s three ways in which we change society. One is through the ballot box, the democratic process and into Parliament. The second is trade union action, industrial action. The third is basically insurrection, but we now call it direct action.”

    Nothing the Labour Party has done over the past five years – not the deficit denial nor the welfare denial nor the immigration denial nor the Ed Stone nor the bacon sandwiches nor the self-affirming walks on Hampstead Heath – has done it more damage than the embrace of the direct action movement.

    If you call for insurrection, insurrection is what you will get. If you call for law breaking, law breaking is what you will get.

    Like Dan Hodges I support the right of people to protest. It is a fundamental democratic right. But violence and intimidation should not form part of that act, and if it does then the perpetrators should be prosecuted.

    It is not the role of democratic political parties to call for law-breaking and insurrection, nor that of elected politicians to effectively encourage the sort of activity that has been witnessed outside the Tory Party Conference this week.

    We live in a democracy, under the rule of law and we need to ensure that we abide by the conventions expected of us by those two institutions in expressing our views, no matter how frustrated or angry we get.

    Monday, October 05, 2015

    Nigel Farage faces investigation over use of EU money

    The Daily Mail reports that Nigel Farage faces a European Parliament investigation for using taxpayer funds to pay for a roadshow around Britain campaigning against the European Union.

    They say that the Ukip leader has been reported to Brussels authorities for financing his ‘Say No To EU’ speaking tour using EU money allocated to his group of MEPs.

    Mr Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD), which is made up of Ukip MEPs and Eurosceptics from other countries, has received 6.4million euros (£4.7million) from the Parliament in the past three years to pay for its activities.

    However, Labour MP Wes Streeting has written to the president, Martin Schulz, after he discovered some of the money is being used to sponsor Mr Farage’s anti-EU tour, which he is using to launch his anti-EU campaign:

    Mr. Farage is currently visiting theatres and hotels across Britain trying to persuade people to vote to end Britain’s membership of the EU in the referendum.

    Mr Streeting, who is a member of the Commons Treasury select committee, has asked Mr Schulz to investigate whether the spending is a breach of EU rules, which state groups must ‘carry out their duties as part of the activities of the Union’.

    He has also accused Mr Farage of having double standards for using the money while vehemently arguing the government should not be able to use public money to campaign to stay in the EU.

    Despite being anti-European UKIP have unashamedly been taking EU money for their campaigns for too long. Clearly this investigation will decide whether they are working within the rules, but morally their hypocrisy on this issue is shameless.

    Sunday, October 04, 2015

    Now Tory cabinet revolts over Osborne coronation

    It is not just Jeremy Corbyn who faces an on-going revolt from his front-benchers, the Tories are up in arms as well. According to the Times, there is fury that the Tory conference will be arranged to further Osborne’s interests, so much so that at least 18 ministers and former ministers are now actively discussing standing against the chancellor:

    Senior Tories claimed last week that the prime minister would announce he is standing down in the spring of 2019, with the plan to install Osborne as leader at the party conference in October that year.

    One cabinet minister, however, told The Sunday Times they would not stand for a “cosy stitch-up” and another condemned the briefing as an example of “George’s ambition getting the better of him”.

    Cameron’s decision to pre-announce his departure has turned this week’s conference into a leadership beauty contest. Theresa May, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Grayling, Graham Brady, Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom, Justine Greening, Dominic Raab, Stephen Crabb, Anna Soubry, Penny Mordaunt and Priti Patel have all discussed with friends the prospect of running.

    Former cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and Liam Fox are also considering whether to anoint a new right-wing standard bearer — with Grayling expected to resign from the cabinet over Europe and lead the charge — or run themselves.

    The Tories are so confident of re-election following Jeremy Corbyn became Leader of the Opposition that they can afford to indulge themselves in scrapping over who will be the next Prime Minister. Anybody would think that they didn't have a country to run.

    Saturday, October 03, 2015

    In defence of Charlotte Church

    Now there is a headline I did not think I would be typing. However, in fairness to the singer and reborn political activist her appearance on Question Time on Thursday demonstrated just how unsuited television is to complex and unfashionable arguments.

    First, a refresher: according to today's Western Mail Charlotte Church is sticking to her guns:

    Church drew what a number of commentators described as “stunned silence” at All Nations Church in Cardiff after claiming that drought in Syria had contributed to social unrest in the war-torn country.

    She told the audience: “There is evidence to suggest that climate change was a big factor in how the Syrian conflict came about.

    “From 2006 to 2011, they experienced one of the worst droughts in its history which meant that there were water shortages and there was a mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres which put more strain on resources which apparently did contribute to the conflict there today.”

    She concluded: “No issue is an island, so we also need to look at what we’re doing to the planet and how that might cause more conflict.”

    Protests on Twitter by people like Sunday Telegraph Westminister commentator Will Heaven who wrote: “Turn over to Question Time. Hear Charlotte Church blaming the Syria war on climate change. Jump out of the window.” deliberately misrepresented what she said.

    Clearly, the Syrian conflict was not started by climate change. There are a whole series of unsavoury and evil people there who have started this war for entirely selfish reasons. However, history does teach us that civil war and conflict flourishes where there is poverty and hardship, no matter what the cause. And it is often easier for insurgents to get a hold on the general population in such circumstances.

    If we do not understand these lessons then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that have led to suffering time after time all across the world. That is why overseas aid budgets are so important. Stepping into a crisis and alleviating suffering can stop conflict in its tracks and leave extremists isolated and friendless.

    We should give Charlotte Church credit for reminding us of that lesson.

    Friday, October 02, 2015

    Threat to Swansea tidal lagoon by UK Government foot-dragging

    The one year delay in building the Swansea tidal lagoon that was covered in today's South Wales Evening Post is worrying on a number of levels. Chiefly, it will raise doubts as to whether the lagoon will ever be built.

    The fact that the company has announced that work will not now start on site until spring 2017, a year later than hoped, is worrying enough, but. the chief concern is that the UK Government are dragging their heels on making a decision over how much they will pay for the electricity.

    I am a big supporter of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon but it is quite clear that the failure of the UK Government to agree the price for the electricity it will generate within the original timetable has led to this delay. The danger now is that the project will lose momentum and that investors will take their money elsewhere.

    The question is whether this dragging of heels means that UK Government may not be prepared to pay the price the company needs to make the project viable. I am concerned that the government’s lack of commitment to the lagoon and to renewable energy generally could kill it off completely.

    The Conservative Secretary of State for Energy needs to give some assurances that this will not be the case and accelerate the decision-making process so that Swansea, and those who want to invest in this project can have some certainty about the lagoon’s future.

    Thursday, October 01, 2015

    It isnt just Labour frontbenchers who disagree with Corbyn

    Just in case we thought it was only the shadow cabinet who had fundamental policy differences with the Jeremy Corbyn, up pops newly elected MP Stephen Kinnock to register his own protest.

    Kinnock is of course the son of the last Labour leader to be excoriated by the tabloid press and no stranger to controversy himself, having scraped through the selection process for Aberavon by one vote amid accusations of him parachuting in from Denmark or some other far-flung realm. Having said that he is a perfectly pleasant and likeable bloke.

    According to the BBC, Stephen Kinnock does not agree with Corbyn's proposal for a maximum wage. He has said that although it sounds like a good idea it could be counterproductive: "I don't think we should be floating ideas like that unless we are clear about whether they would work in practice," he said.

    He told a fringe meeting at the Labour Conference: "I have very little problem with outstanding executives receiving proportionate bonuses but when eye-watering bonuses are extended to people simply for doing their jobs, or worse in the case of RBS in the wake of the crash, doing their jobs badly."

    He said the party had to be careful about the "mood music" it was playing towards the business community.

    It is getting to the stage that we will only be commenting when a spokesperson agrees with Corbyn.

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