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Monday, November 30, 2015

It is a Labour civil war as Unite joins the fray

Anybody who thought that collateral damage from a stand-off between Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet could be minimised has been rapidly disabused of that notion this morning with the intervention of Unite's Len McCluskey in the row.

According to the Times, Labour’s biggest union paymaster has warned Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents in the party that they are “writing their political obituaries”. He added that Labour MPs are using Syria as “the thin edge to stage a coup against Corbyn, Labour’s elected leader”.

The paper says that Mr McCluskey has declared that his union is preparing to go on the offensive if relations between Mr Corbyn and his MPs get any worse.

This is the clearest sign yet that allies of Mr. Corbyn are planning a deselection battle against allegedly disloyal MPs. Unlike the 1980s it seems that this time they will have the backing of at least one of the big unions, and that spells big trouble for those MPs who do not like the direction of travel in which Labour is heading.

This morning's news could be an opening shot in a lengthy civil war within the Labour Party.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Will Cameron cull the House of Lords?

The Telegraph reports on proposals emerging from Lord Strathclyde's review of the House of Lords that once more fails to tackle the real problem, but instead seeks to put in place a quick fix to prevent further embarrassment to the Tory Government.

The best way of assessing the validity of these proposals is to consider whether Cameron would have supported them in opposition. I think the answer is almost certainly not.

Lord Strathclyde is apparently going to recommend to the Prime Minister that he should enact a new law stripping the Lords of their ability to veto changes to secondary legislation. He is also proposing a 20 per cent “hair cut” that would force all parties to reduce their number of peers and hold internal elections for the remaining places, as is currently done for hereditary peers.

The paper says that it is understood that Lord Strathclyde will say this radical idea should be considered further rather than being a formal recommendation.

Cameron's problem of course is to convince others that the curtailing of Lords' powers and a 20% cut in the number of peers is not just a gerrymandering exercise. That is because the principles behind it relate entirely (and sensibly) to cost and are motivated by Government defeats, but do not address the fundamental issue of democratising the second chamber.

Ultimately this is Cameron proposing to change the rules to get his own way. That is hardly a moral high ground. What the review does not answer is how Cameron will get these laws of convenience past the House of Lords?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Labour's local council reorganisation lacks consensus, will push up council tax bills and undermine local democracy

The Welsh Minister for Public Services has failed to build a consensus for the reform of local Councils in Wales. His draft Bill will take money away from local services at a time of austerity and fails to address the fundamental changes needed to democratise councils.

The significant cut in the number of Councillors combined with the omission of a reformed voting system means that the new councils will be less transparent, more unaccountable and remoter from voters.

The projected cost of between £97 million and £246 million at a time of austerity, is an underestimate and will mean greater pressure on services such as education and social services.

The Welsh Government has failed from the very start of this process to build any consensus for change. Even after spending £130,000 on the Williams Commission, they have effectively jettisoned the vast majority of their recommendations, including the make-up of new councils.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that Wales has too many councils, many of which are too small and are underperforming. However, if councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they reflect the people that voted for them.

Without introducing a fair voting system and the devolution of powers to local communities, this whole reorganisation process is pointless.

Not once does the Welsh Government’s consultation document make mention of a fairer voting system, which would ensure that the new larger councils better reflected the way people voted and bring about more responsive local government. This is humiliating for Plaid who supported the reorganisation plans, yet have achieved literally nothing in return.

While I recognise the need for local government reorganisation, the lines on the map shouldn’t be drawn by politicians. Rather than Leighton Andrews trying to stitch this process up to benefit Labour, he should instead give the independent Boundary Commission the task of coming up with a fresh map, which would be based on natural communities, take account of Wales three major Cities as administrative entities in their own right and which is less ambitious in taking a knife to the final number of councils. Like the Williams Commission I believe 10 to 12 is the right number of reformed councils for Wales.

I would also like to see a more realistic costing exercise, which takes account of the redundancies needed for the reorganisation of wider service delivery and which better understands the implications for ICT in particular. My view is that the £246 million price tag, the Welsh Government itself has attached to reorganisation is too low, whilst the proposed savings will not materialise in the amounts suggested.

I am also concerned about the proposed initial six year term for Community Councillors. By 2023 many will have given up their voluntary role out of exhaustion.

With more cuts due to be imposed on vital local services as a result of the Tory Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the question has to be asked if the Minister has got his timing right on this reorganisation? The up-front costs of merger will have to be met somehow and my fear is that much of that burden will fall on council tax payers and poorer services.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Labour leadership chaos over Syria

Just when we thought that the Labour Party could not get any more chaotic following the Mao Zedong little red book episode, Jeremy Corbyn throws another spanner in the works.

As the Guardian reports, Jeremy Corbyn is at odds with his shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn after they adopted sharply opposing views on UK military action against Islamic State just hours after David Cameron argued it was time to extend bombing to Syria:

The Labour leader wrote to his MPs saying that the prime minister had failed earlier on Thursday to explain how an aerial campaign would protect UK security, setting up an intense debate in the party ahead of an expected Commons vote next week to broaden RAF airstrikes from Iraq to Syria. “I do not believe the prime minister’s current proposal for airstrikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it,” Corbyn wrote.

That set Corbyn at odds with Benn, who had earlier told a meeting of the shadow cabinet that the arguments in favour of extending the airstrikes were “compelling”. The shadow foreign secretary, who believes that the prime minister has fulfilled the conditions laid down in a motion passed at the Labour conference on Syria, also contradicted Corbyn in public.

Benn told the BBC: “We have heard compelling arguments both because of the threat to the United Kingdom and also because we are right to have been taking the action that we have in Iraq to support the Iraqi government in trying to repel the invasion from Isil/Daesh.”

According to social media, it is not just Benn that the Labour leader has upset. Shadow Cabinet members have apparently been furiously briefing against Corbyn, many accusing him of telling them one thing and then going behind their back and doing another.

Sophy Ridge on Sky News reports on what she describes as an extraordinary shadow cabinet meeting:

The Labour leader started by reading out a pre-prepared statement setting out his opposition to David Cameron’s call to bomb Islamic State targets.

He read it quickly, and some MPs struggled to hear him.

They quickly got the point, though.

Mr Corbyn was unconvinced by Mr Cameron’s case, felt there were unanswered questions and would not support it if a vote was called.

I’m told only four members of the shadow cabinet explicitly backed Mr Corbyn’s stance.

A total of 15 members of the shadow cabinet spoke out against his position, expressing their support for airstrikes in Syria.

How long will it take before something gives and shadow cabinet members start to resign?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How oil is funding the jihadi terrorists

There is a very interesting article in the Financial Times that demonstrates how ISIS is being funded by those opposed to them through their control of Syrian oilfields.

The paper says that oil is the black gold that funds Isis’ black flag. It fuels its war machine, provides electricity and gives the fanatical jihadis critical leverage against their neighbours:

But more than a year after US President Barack Obama launched an international coalition to fight Isis, the bustling trade at al-Omar and at least eight other fields has come to symbolise the dilemma the campaign faces: how to bring down the “caliphate” without destabilising the life of the estimated 10m civilians in areas under Isis control, and punishing the west’s allies?

The resilience of Isis, and the weakness of the US-led campaign, have given Russia a pretext to launch its own, bold intervention in Syria.

Despite all these efforts, dozens of interviews with Syrian traders and oil engineers as well as western intelligence officials and oil experts reveal a sprawling operation almost akin to a state oil company that has grown in size and expertise despite international attempts to destroy it.

They add that estimates by local traders and engineers put crude production in Isis-held territory at about 34,000-40,000 barrels per day. The oil is sold at the wellhead for between $20 and $45 a barrel, earning the militants an average of $1.5m a day:

Isis’ oil strategy has been long in the making. Since the group emerged on the scene in Syria in 2013, long before they reached Mosul in Iraq, the jihadis saw oil as a crutch for their vision for an Islamic state. The group’s shura council identified it as fundamental for the survival of the insurgency and, more importantly, to finance their ambition to create a caliphate.

Most of the oil Isis controls is in Syria’s oil-rich east, where it created a foothold in 2013, shortly after withdrawing from the north-west — an area of strategic importance but with no oil. These bridgeheads were then used to consolidate control over the whole of eastern Syria after the fall of Mosul in 2014.

When it pushed through northern Iraq and took over Mosul, Isis also seized the Ajil and Allas fields in north-eastern Iraq’s Kirkuk province. The very day of its takeover, locals say, militants secured the fields and engineers were sent in to begin operations and ship the oil to market.

“They were ready, they had people there in charge of the financial side, they had technicians that adjusted the filling and storage process,” said a local sheikh from the town of Hawija, near Kirkuk. “They brought hundreds of trucks in from Kirkuk and Mosul and they started to extract the oil and export it.” An average of 150 trucks, he added, were filled daily, with each containing about $10,000-worth of oil. Isis lost the fields to the Iraqi army in April but made an estimated $450m from them in the 10 months it controlled the area.

While al-Qaeda, the global terrorist network, depended on donations from wealthy foreign sponsors, Isis has derived its financial strength from its status as monopoly producer of an essential commodity consumed in vast quantities throughout the area it controls. Even without being able to export, it can thrive because it has a huge captive market in Syria and Iraq.

Indeed, diesel and petrol produced in Isis areas are not only consumed in territory the group controls but in areas that are technically at war with it, such as Syria’s rebel-held north: the region is dependent on the jihadis’ fuel for its survival. Hospitals, shops, tractors and machinery used to pull victims out of rubble run on generators that are powered by Isis oil.

What is clear is that if those allying against ISIS are serious about defeating them then they need to cut off their source of revenue. Once more, it is all about the oil.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

John McDonnell kills political satire

What future is there for political satire after John McDonnell's response to the Comprehensive Spending Review today?

As the Telegraph reports, the Shadow Chancellor stood up in the Commons chamber, pulled Mao Zedong's little red book out of his pocket and quoted it at George Osborne. Apparently, he was complaining about China investing its balance of payments surplus in British infrastructure projects.

Unfortunately, McDonnell just provided ammunition for the Chancellor of Exchequer to fire back at him:

Mr Osborne tore into Mr McDonnell after he pulled off the stunt, declaring: "It is his 'personally signed copy'."

The Chancellor held up the book for MPs to see as Mr McDonnell watched on.

He joked that the problem was Mr McDonnell had sent half of his shadow cabinet colleagues off for "re-education".

Meanwhile political satirists everywhere are busy applying for re-training. None of them are going to be able to beat this stunt. Anybody thinking of helping the Labour Party with their branding problems may also wish to rethink their career choices.

Note: The extract above is from The West Wing

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alone and abandoned - Corbyn isolated on Labour front bench

The picture above is a genuine moment in the debate on the UK Government's defence review and shows the Leader of the Opposition alone and isolated on the front bench. As a symbol of what is happening to the Labour Party it is unassailable.

Over at the Telegraph, Labour Party member and columnist, Dan Hodges thinks it is now only a matter of time before Corbyn is ousted as leader. However, he raises wider concerns about the future of the Labour Party itself, which he says is in danger of turning into a rabble. The tipping point, he says, will the vote on whether to take arms in Syria:

Over the past few days there has been much internal debate about allowing Labour MPs a “free vote” on any Syria motion. It is, some in Labour’s ranks believe, a clever way of getting their party out of a tight spot. Their leader can vote with his conscience, members of the shadow cabinet can vote with theirs, and everyone can then carry on as if nothing has happened.

Something will have happened, though, something serious. The Labour Party will have failed to take a stand on an issue of war and peace. There have been times in our nation’s history when our political parties have adopted the right stance on military intervention. There have been times when they have adopted the wrong stance. But I cannot recall an occasion in my lifetime when one of those parties failed to adopt any stance at all.

What those arguing for a free vote are actually proposing is that the Labour Party should formally say to the British people: “We have no policy on Syria. We know British service personnel are being asked to fight. It is conceivable some of them are being asked to die. But we have no view on that. And we have no view because it is politically inconvenient for us to have a view.”

At that point Labour ceases to be a serious party of opposition. Not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but the Labour Party collectively. Indeed, it ceases to be a political party. It becomes an incoherent, morally and intellectually bankrupt rabble.

Hodges argues that this goes to the heart of what Labour actually is.He says that the front bench have to make a stand:

Members of the shadow cabinet have to go to Mr Corbyn and tell him squarely to his face that unless he joins with them in backing military action against Isil they will resign. No fixes, no fudges, but a simple choice. You back the Government, you back our allies, your back the United Nations, you back the majority view of your senior colleagues, or you can have my portfolio.

We cannot continue with a situation where on vital issues of war, national defence and national security, senior members of the Labour Party appear on our screens night after night and say: “Yeah, I don’t agree with Jeremy Corbyn on that, but what can you do?”

For the last two months the shadow cabinet has effectively been telling the people of Britain: “We don’t trust our leader on the most important issues facing our country, but you should.” This is unsustainable. Either the shadow cabinet has confidence in Mr Corbyn to make the right choices in defence of our nation, in which case they should be out there endorsing those choices. Or they don’t have confidence in him to make those life and death choices. In which case they should no longer, in good conscience, serve under him.

This is all serious stuff. How Labour politicians deal with it now could determine the future of their party for some time to come.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Irony is dead as Corbyn hits out at critics

Is it the case that irony is no longer a thing? If it is then it has certainly by-passed the Labour leadership.  For according to the Independent, Jeremy Corbyn, a man who built his career on revolting against the whip and destabilising the Labour leadership, has authorised the publication of a critique of Labour MPs who insist on defying him.

The paper says that Corbyn has accused his internal critics of creating an “atmosphere of chaos” in the Labour Party through “constant sniping” and “bitter attacks”:

In the first public response to the criticisms of his leadership, Mr Corbyn’s team has used his official Facebook page to lambast MPs and “New Labour grandees” for attempting to destabilise his leadership.

And in what will be perceived as a threat it accuses them of “doing the membership of the party that voted for Jeremy a massive disservice”, calling on them to “do your job and represent us”.

The post, which The Independent understands was authorised by the Labour leader, comes after a week in which he has faced public and private criticism for his stance on Trident, Syria and how the British police should respond to a terrorist attack.

Describing Mr Corbyn’s critics as a “vocal” section of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the unnamed author claims their views are not acceptable as part of the debate about Labour’s future.

“What we have seen from a small section of the Parliamentary [Labour] Party and some New Labour ‘grandees’ recently isn’t opinion and it’s not about debate,” the post says.

“It is a constant sniping, undermining and, at times, bitter attack. It’s designed to create an atmosphere of chaos. We are here to tell you that we’re sick of it. Not only is it now boring, but it is entirely destructive.”

The post also accuses some Labour MPs of being in hock to the right-wing media, which is using them to undermine the party.

For those of us who lived through the 1980s this blaming of the media for the Labour Party's ills is on familiar ground. But now it is the left in charge and they are the ones defending their record. They really don't like it when opponents use their own tactics against them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Claim that terrorist threat will increase if we leave the EU

The former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde has made a vital point today when he warns that the UK will find it harder to keep terrorists out of the country and to deport them after arrest if it leaves the European Union.

According to the Observer, Sir Hugh has argued that the country will be at greater risk if it “pulls up the drawbridge” and steps aside from EU intelligence sharing. He says that intelligence plays an increasingly crucial role in fighting international crime and thwarting terrorist plots:

Quitting the EU, he says, “would not quell jihadis’ murderous intent towards the British way of life, but it could make it harder for us to prevent them arriving and then deport suspects when here”.

Last week Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said the Paris attacks strengthened the case for a UK exit. “What’s happened is ghastly but we’ve got to ask ourselves some big questions,” he said.

“We have a problem already and, to my mind, if we allow access to countless millions without any means or ability of checking who they are, we’re adding to a problem that already exists within our countries.”

But Orde, one of the most respected figures in policing, says the anti-EU campaigners have “misused the horrific events in Paris to try to support their failing cause. Their argument is that by standing alone from Europe and pulling up the drawbridge, Britain can secure its borders and better repel the threats we face.

“They are right that the Parisian tragedies must make us reassess and redouble our efforts to tackle terror – at home and abroad – but their prescription is fundamentally wrong. If followed, the Leave campaigns would endanger our country and communities, not protect them.”

Orde maintains that the kind of international cooperation that has developed in the EU, and measures such as the European arrest warrant (EAW), are a vital part of efforts to combat the global threat of terrorism.

“We have the best of both worlds, the security and stability gained from being part of Europe, but the flexibility to opt out of arrangements which aren’t in our national interest,” he says.

It is the most convincing reposte yet to the message of hate and division preached by UKIP and needs to be circulated widely.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Umunna launches strongest attack yet on Corbyn

Just when you thought that the infighting amongst Labour MPs could not get any worse, Chuka Umunna launches into his own coruscating criticism of Jeremy Corbyn.

According to the Telegraph, the former Labour leadership contender believes that Jeremy Corbyn's pacifist views should disqualify him from office because he cannot keep Britain safe:

In a thinly veiled attack at his leader, Mr Umunna said: "If you cannot keep the people safe, in their eyes that is a disqualification from office."

Mr Umunna told the BBC's Today programme this morning that he will vote with his "conscience" on airstrikes in Syria regardless of Jeremy Corbyn and his "nasty troll" supporters.

Mr Umunna adds: "The first duty of any elected representative, not just ministers, is to do all we can to ensure the security of our constituents, particularly in the face of the terrorist threat we are facing.

"This goes above and beyond party politics, and dare I say it internal party politics. Because if you cannot keep the people safe in their eyes that is a disqualification from office.

"The easy thing for many MPs would be to say I go along with every single comment, every single thing I have heard from the leadership."

Mr Umunna added that MPs should be free to express their views without being insulted trolled and threatened with deselection.

Meanwhile, Lord Reid, a former Cabinet minister under Tony Blair, said Labour's response to the terrorist threat did not look "competent or coherent":

"I don't think their best friend would argue that we have been coherent on these issues," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"It is sad not just from the point of the Labour Party, but the country. We need a competent, coherent opposition."

It is less than 100 days and the revolt against Corbyn within his own party is growing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The not-so Presidential Mr. Cameron

So, the Prime Minister has got his way and acquired his own version of Airforce One. C ue, a spate of films starring Harrison Ford and other Hollywood stars based around the new Cabinet transport.

According to the Independent,the Prime Minister and senior members of the Cabinet are to get an aircraft of their own for official trips:

But the news that an Airbus A330 refuelling aircraft will be refitted for the purpose as a money-saving exercise was met with derision by the commercial airline business.

The aircraft itself is an RAF Voyager – an A330 that was expensively converted into a flying fuel tank only four years ago. The jet (list price £150m) is now to be refitted as a passenger aircraft at a cost of about £10m.

The Government claims that the move will save £750,000 a year compared with the existing practice of using Royal Squadron planes or chartering commercial jets. That assertion relies on some accounting that is spectacularly creative even by Downing Street standards, apportioning many of the fixed and direct costs to other budgets (and has gone down badly given that the spending review is looming next week). It also locks in the Government to a single wide-bodied aircraft, seating up to 285 people, with a correspondingly massive carbon footprint.

This is all very well of course, but how does it fit in with the tactics of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Assembly who have been obsessed in recent months with the Labour Government's fleet of chauffeur-driven cars.

It is funny how the Tories can be so selective in identifying government waste and environmentally-unfriendly behaviour.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Welsh Tories stumble over Mid and West Wales candidate selection

It tells us all we need to know that the Welsh Conservatives are able to overlook a conviction for animal offences in choosing their lead candidate for the Mid and West Wales regional Assembly list.

According to the BBC Powys opposition group leader Aled Davies was fined more than £2,500 in October after admitting six offences. Animal health officers found nine sheep carcasses on his farm said to have been dead for two weeks. He also admitted failing to register the death of a cow.

The BBC quote a a Conservative spokeswoman who said: "Aled has the backing of the membership of Mid and West Wales as shown by today's results. The offences were not related to animal health or animal welfare."

Whichever way you look at it this is not a good choice for the Tories, nor do their protestations that Councillor Davies' conviction should be overlooked so that he can represent the region have much credibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Corbyn scores double whammy over Livingstone appointment

As if provoking his defence spokesperson by appointing Ken Livingstone as co-chair of Labour's Trident review team was not bad enough, Jeremy Corbyn achieved a double whammy for his party today, through the way his chosen appointee subsequently conducted himself.

According to the Telegraph, Mr. Livingstone responded to criticism by Kevan Jones MP, who has won plaudits for the way he spoke out about his experience of depression, by saying that Mr. Jones “might need some psychiatric help”:

Mr Corbyn is under mounting pressure from leading Labour MPs to sack Mr Livingstone just hours after it emerged he had got the new role overseeing the defence review.

Mr Jones himself and Chris Leslie, the former shadow chancellor, called on Mr Livingstone to go while a string of other senior figures expressed outrage at the comments.

The row erupted amid anger that Mr Livingstone, who opposes renewing Trident, had been given an influential role in the review into Labour’s defence policy.

Friends close to Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary who was heading up the review, told The Telegraph that she heard about the news on Twitter and is considering resigning.

The civil war erupted after Mr Jones criticised the appointment.

Mr Livingstone told The Mirror: “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He's obviously very depressed and disturbed.

“He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

Mr Jones said in response: "I find these comments gravely offensive not just personally but also to the many thousands who suffer from mental illness.

"This is why Ken Livingstone can't be taken seriously in defence or any other policy issues.

"I and a lot of people will be very angry about such insensitive and stupid comments.

"Offensive statements like this just reinforce the stigma about mental illness."

Ken Livingstone has since apologised, having been told to do so by Jeremy Corbyn, but the former London Mayor's remarks do not bode well for a leader who broke the mould not so long ago by appointing a spokesperson specifically on mental health.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Labour MPs now in open revolt against Corbyn

The age of anonymous briefings after Labour Party meetings has apparently returned if this article in the Independent is any measure.

The paper reports that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow ministers has branded their leader a “f***ing disgrace” after an acrimonious meeting between his new Leader and Labour MPs. They say that some politicians at the private Monday evening meeting were reportedly angry that Mr Corbyn had questioned police having a “shoot to kill” policy for terror suspects on British soil.

They add that there was also said to be dissent over the Labour leader’s statement earlier in the day effectively ruling out support for military action in Syria:

“He doesn’t answer anything. He got roasted, he’s a f****** disgrace,” the MP said, according to both the Daily Mirror and The Sun newspapers.

The BBC reports another anonymous MP as saying the Labour leader was “aggressively heckled” during the meeting.

A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn said that those who express critical views “volubly” were in the minority and that the shadow cabinet was united on blocking military action in Syria.

Mr Corbyn said he was “not happy” with a police policy of shoot-to-kill of the kind that had killed Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.

“I'm not happy with the shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive,” he said.

“I think you have to have security that prevents people firing off weapons where you can,” he had said earlier in the day.”

Mr Corbyn also warned on Monday that bombing Syria might simply cause “yet more conflict, more mayhem and more loss”.

Some Labour MPs are pro bombing the country and want to be able to vote differently to their leader on the issue.

Whatever the merits of Mr. Corbyn's position it is clear that he has shown poor judgement in choosing to make these particular comments as his response to the terrible tragedy in Paris. Labour are now deeply divided on this issue and are further burdened by the naivety and lack of empathy shown by their leadership team.

I do not think that Corbyn will win any friends amongst those who voted him into the leadership by the way that he has responded either.

Contrast his position with that of Paddy Ashdown, a man who has seen action in three conflicts and helped to end the bloody civil war in the former Yugoslavia through the Dayton agreement.

Paddy has called for diplomacy, not as an alternative to conflict, but to shape our military response:

Instead of being provoked into ­mindless bombing in Syria we should, these past three years, have been putting together an international agreement – like Dayton – involving Iran, Turkey, moderate Arab states and Moscow.

Then we could have surrounded IS the better to strangle them. We would have had a diplomatic framework in which military force made sense.

The opportunity is there to pull together so as to fight the IS threat decisively. It is little wonder that Labour MPs are so frustrated when their leader is failing to show any understanding of what needs to be done.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Corbynistas make their move

Has the long awaited purge of anti-Corbyn MPs started? I only ask because of this article in yesterday's Observer, which suggests supporters of the new leader's grassroots movement Momentum are calling on Labour’s national executive committee to discipline two MPs for disloyalty in an attempt to tighten the left’s grip on the party.

They say thatMomentum members are urging Corbyn loyalists to sign up to demands for action against Frank Field and Simon Danczuk, as well as against a former parliamentary candidate, Emily Benn. The move is apparently part of a counterattack against efforts to expel Corbyn’s leftwing policy adviser Andrew Fisher:

The NEC is already scheduled to discuss further action against Fisher, who has been suspended by general secretary Iain McNicol.

Momentum supporters are circulating documents urging Corbyn loyalists to contact McNicol before the NEC meeting to demand action against the three. A document from Momentum supporters in Southampton, posted on Facebook, has similar wording to documents being circulated among constituency parties across the country.

Its says that Field, a highly respected former minister and now chair of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee, should be disciplined for saying that any Labour MP deselected as a result of leftwing purge should stand again as an independent. It argues that Danczuk is guilty of “serial disloyalty” against Corbyn and says Benn, granddaughter of Tony Benn, has previously showed support for the Women’s Equality party.

Senior Labour sources said it was clear Momentum supporters wanted to protect Fisher in his job by highlighting what they saw as comparable offences by others. Benn, the Labour candidate for Croydon south in May’s general election, made a formal complaint against Fisher last month, saying he had supported Class War rather than her campaign before the May election. Danczuk has said he might be prepared to stand as a stalking horse challenger next year. The NEC may also debate whether to change rules on potential leadership challenges, which would make it more difficult to remove Corbyn from the job.

Although this is an obvious tactic to protect one of their own, it is possible that it could quickly move into the constituencies with attempts to deselect those MPs who are considered disloyal to Corbyn. It is almost as if we are reliving the 1980s/

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Is Vince Cable right that another economic storm is brewing?

In the Independent, Vince Cable is promoting his new book and is arguing that we are still living with the consequences of the banking crisis of 2008. He says that the damage to banks, government budgets, production and living standards has been enormous and we are far from a return to normality. He warns that there are some ugly black clouds gathering which could portend worse to come:

My current sense of unease is sharpened by the big disparity between backward and forward-looking indicators. This week’s employment figures continued the remarkable run of positive data which has had economic ministers, including me when in government, scrambling to be the first in front of the TV cameras. The UK recovery is a really good story and surprisingly job-rich (even if productivity poor). But employment is a lagging indicator. Recent, forward- looking, surveys of business confidence suggest a deteriorating outlook, with the worst figures since the 2008 crisis.

Policy-makers in the UK clearly believe that the recovery story is set to last. The Autumn Statement due on the 25th of this month is very likely to be based on an optimistic view that the economy will continue to grow strongly and can absorb a period of fiscal contraction – of 5 per cent of GDP in four years – considerably more severe than actually achieved in the Coalition years. And monetary policy, we are told by the Bank of England, is to be tightened, if not immediately. Yet the context is a world in which growth is falling and worse is to come, creating weak export demand. Even if Britain were in great shape the global slowdown would be a serious matter. But, actually, the recovery is precarious and unbalanced.

Like other major developed economies, the UK has a large overhang of debt: overleveraged households, corporates and government. Total debt to GDP (excluding financial institutions like banks) rose in the pre-crisis boom from under 200 per cent in 2001 to 260 per cent at the time of the crisis, the increase coming almost entirely from mortgage borrowing on the back of the surge in house prices. Other developed economies had a similar rise but the UK’s was more extreme than most. Since the crisis, aggregate debt has risen further – to around 280 per cent – with a sharp rise in public debt (roughly from 40 per cent to 80 per cent of GDP) and a modest fall in household and corporate debt, though household debt is now rising back to the previous peak as mortgage borrowers chase a rising housing market. The current obsession with public debt, under a third of the total, obscures this bigger picture.

Cable argues that debt matters because it can have a depressive effect on the willingness to invest, by companies and governments, and on the willingness of consumers to spend. He talks about the idea of “debt deflation”, which he says is one of the ingredients contributing to weak demand in the post-crisis world and the current pessimism about growth.

He adds that many of our economies remain on the life-support system of ultra-cheap money. Official short-term rates are close to zero (or sub-zero as in Switzerland) and there is a reluctance to raise them and snuff out recovery (as happened in Sweden in 2012) and add to the problems of indebted households and companies:

One side-effect of keeping economies growing through cheap money and credit creation through quantitative easing has been the generation of asset bubbles, especially in property markets. Britain demonstrates the problem in an extreme way, magnifying underlying imbalances between housing demand and supply. Double-digit housing inflation is not merely creating appalling social problems and division between classes and generations but grossly distorting investment from productive activities to property holding. The Bank of England has tools of macro-prudential management to curb this inflation but the extreme timidity in using them reveals the high level of dependence on this precarious and dangerous form of growth.

There is another problem too. Governments and central banks have limited room for manoeuvre. Having pushed monetary policy to the limits of what currently passes for acceptable and public debt to what is regarded as sustainable levels, there is no obvious place to go if we hit another recession. Unfortunately the risks of that happening are rising.

Vince says that an over-reliance on China and a weak Eurozone is a recipe for economic grief. In addition, economic stress and the refugee crisis is fuelling the politics of identity, which is in turn leading to the risk of political disintegration and the weakening of the collective disciplines on which the Union depends.

He believes that these threats and worrying trends could lead to a reality check that counters the cheery self-confidence of the UK Treasury. He concludes that the UK economy is in for an uncomfortable period in which severe economic storms are all too plausible.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Trying not to think about Christmas

Really busy today as the Welsh Liberal Democrats autumn conference is in Swansea, so here is the best Christmas advert so far.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Will we pay the bill for the government's surveillance agenda?

As if it were not bad enough that our privacy is to be invaded by the Tory Government's Snoopers' charter, the Internet Service Providers have told a House of Commons Committee that the money put aside by Ministers to pay for the measure is insufficient and that they will have to put up the cost of our broadband.

A cynic might argue that these big communications companies will use any excuse to make us pay more for their services, but that does not mean that the Government has to give them that excuse via a flawed and intrusive piece of legislation.

The Internet service providers (ISP) told a Commons select committee that the snooper’s charter, does not properly acknowledge the “sheer quantity” of data generated by a typical internet user, nor the basic difficulty of distinguishing between content and metadata:

As a result, the cost of implementing plans to make ISPs store communications data for up to 12 months are likely to be far in excess of the £175m the government has budgeted for the task, said Matthew Hare, the chief executive of ISP Gigaclear.

Hare and James Blessing, the chair of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), also warned the science and technology committee on Tuesday of the technical challenges the government would face in implementing the bill.

Hare said: “On a typical 1 gigabit connection we see over 15TB of data per year passing over that connection … If you say that a proportion of that is going to be the communications data, it’s going to be the most massive amount of data that you’d be expected to keep in the future.

“The indiscriminate collection of mass data is going to have a massive cost,” he added.

When asked by Labour’s Jim Dowd MP whether it would be feasible to comply with the collection regime, Blessing said that ISPs would “find it very feasible – with an infinite budget”.

“The bill appears to be limiting the amount of funds available to a figure that we don’t recognise would be suitable for the entire industry to do it,” he said, adding that “the ongoing costs of looking after the data … will have to come out of price-rises”. The government’s proposal to pay for the up-front equipment costs would not cover ongoing expenses such as power or cooling, Blessing told MPs.

For Hare, the other major problem is that separating “metadata” from “content”, as the law mandates for the purposes of mass surveillance, is a very difficult technical challenge.

For a simple connection like a phone call, the difference is easy: information like the number dialled and length of the call is clearly metadata, while the audio transmitted over the line is clearly content. But for a typical internet user, a number of different services are being used at any one time, and they all blur the lines between the two categories.

“The web isn’t a single application, that’s the fundamental problem I’ve got,” Hare said. He outlined a common scenario: “A teenager is currently playing a game using Steam, that’s not a web application … and then they’re broadcasting the game they’re playing using something called Twitch. They may well also be doing a voice call where they’re shouting at their friends, and those are all running simultaneously. At any one time any of those services could drop in, drop out, be replaced.”

So the whole basis of the government's agenda, that they will just be recording connections and not looking at content, is a false one. In practice it is almost impossible to separate the two. The Snoopers' Charter and its policy intent is unravelling in front of our very eyes.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Welsh pensioners left in limbo by delay on care costs

The decision by the Tory UK Government to delay imposing a cap on care costs, which was secured by former Liberal Democrats Care Minister Norman Lamb, has also hit pensioners this side of Offa's dyke.

One consequence of that announcement has been a statement of the Welsh Government that no decision can now be made about reform of arrangements for paying for social care and support in Wales.

The cap on liability for care costs, to be set at £72,000 for those in England of state pension age or over, was led by Norman Lamb MP and scheduled to be introduced next April under the Care Act 2014. However, straight after the election the Conservatives effectively abandoned these plans, delaying implementation until 2020.

The English care cap was to be met largely by freezing the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000, which George Osborne has now announced he will raise to £500,000.

Liberal Democrats in government in Westminster were pivotal in ensuring that people could have certainty over their care costs. At present, elderly people can only get free care if they have less than £23,250 worth of assets, which forces around 40,000 people a year to sell their home to pay for care.

In government we led the way to introduce a £72,000 cap on care costs, so that people no longer live in fear of losing nearly everything they own to pay for care, which causes huge stress and worry and puts a heavy burden on families and carers.

Unfortunately, the decision of the Conservative party to delay these plans puts pensioners in Wales in limbo, as the Welsh Government refuses to make a decision until there is progress over the border. The current care cap in Wales was introduced in 2010 as a stop-gap measure, but five years on we are no clearer on the long-term vision of this Welsh Labour Government.

With the number of people in Wales aged 65 and over projected to double by 2035, there is no time to waste on this important issue. Crippling care costs need addressing urgently and the Tories’ u-turn is a betrayal of people at their most weak and most frail. The distress and heartbreak that people feel when a loved one is in care, is being exacerbated by the fear of how to pay for it. We must not allow this to continue.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Out-of-touch Prime Minister hoisted by his own petard

Irrespective of the argument for and against austerity cuts to public services, I believe that it is reasonable that those taking decisions on these issues are aware of their implications.

According to the Independent, David Cameron appears to have fallen down at the first hurdle on this particular test. They say that Ian Hudspeth, the Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council, came to blows with the Prime Minister over cuts in a letter exchange leaked to local newspaper the Oxford Mail:

The sometime political ally of Mr Cameron accused the Prime Minister of “inaccurate” comments about cuts after receiving a complaint about plans to slash vital services.

The PM, who represents a local constituency in Oxfordshire as an MP, had written to the council leader to complain about proposed cuts to frontline services in his own area – including elderly day centres, museums, and libraries.

He claimed that the council should be making “back-office savings” and protecting frontline services, that spending had increased in the authority in recent years, and that he was “disappointed” in cuts.

Mr Hudspeth wrote back to explain the council’s budget situation to the PM, who appeared unaware that cuts to local authorities would mean significant reductions to frontline local services.

“Excluding schools, our total government grants have fallen from £194m in 2009/10 to £122m a year in 2015/16, and are projected to keep falling at a similar rate,” the council leader said.

“I cannot accept your description of a drop in funding of £72m or 37% as a ‘slight fall’.”

The Conservative councillor also explained that an assertion by the PM that only £204m in cuts had been made in the local area was in fact wrong and that £626m had in fact been cut.

He said a suggestion by the PM that excess council property be sold off to fund services as a “creative” solution “neither legal, nor sustainable in the long-term since they are one-off receipts”.

This is all very embarrassing for the Prime Minister of course. Perhaps he should get out more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Does the Surveillance Bill pose a threat to our internet security?

The Guardian has an interesting postscript to this piece by Simon Jenkins, which I blogged about a few days ago in which they quote Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook and his warning that allowing spies a backdoor route into citizens’ communications could have “very dire consequences”.

Mr. Cook has questioning a key element of the draft investigatory powers bill, which places a new legal obligation on companies to assist in these operations to bypass encryption. He says that companies have to be able to encrypt in order to protect people and that halting or weakening encryption will hurt “the good people” rather than those who want to do bad things, and who “know where to go”:

“You can just look around and see all the data breaches that are going on. These things are becoming more frequent,” Cook told the Daily Telegraph. “They can not only result in privacy breaches but also security issues. We believe very strongly in end-to-end encryption and no back doors. We don’t think people want us to read their messages. We don’t feel we have the right to read their emails.

“Any back door is a back door for everyone. Everybody wants to crack down on terrorists. Everybody wants to be secure. The question is how. Opening a back door can have very dire consequences.”

The Bill allows the police and security authorities to access records tracking every UK citizen’s use of the internet without any judicial check. It includes new powers requiring internet and phone companies to keep “internet connection records” – which track every website visited but not every page – for a maximum of 12 months but will not require a warrant for the police, security services or other bodies to access the data.

However, Cook's warning that you cannot weaken cryptography but need to strengthen it to stay ahead of those that want to break it is well worth listening to.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Corbyn's Labour- an abrogation of leadership?

This article over on the Times website by Isabel Hardman is aimed at analysing the freedoms that backbenchers have taken for themselves under Jeremy Corbyn's chaotic and ultra-relaxed leadership style. What it also does is demonstrate how the Corbynistas have virtually given up trying to run the Parliamentary Labour Party and are seeking to exercise their influence in the constituencies instead.

Isabel Hardman starts by pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t really use the formal parliamentary office allocated to the leader of the opposition. It iss now a friendly meeting area, while he works in a smaller room near by. She says that the Labour leader often tells party colleagues, whom he bumps into as he ambles alone like a normal backbencher through the parliamentary cafeterias, that they can use it for constituency meetings:

Offering up his empty official office is a typically amiable gesture from the new party leader. But the absence of anyone sitting in what Corbyn describes as the “gilded cage” is also the symbol of a problem. There are now two Labour parties: one that operates from Mr Corbyn’s little office, and a second that is trying to take control of the official functions of the opposition.

Just look at the number of policies on which the leader has one position and his frontbench spokespeople have another. Every time a Corbynite advocates dropping the party’s support for Trident renewal, shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle has to point out that the policy will only change if the UK-wide party formally votes for it. Ms Eagle and Mr Corbyn haven’t even met to discuss Trident, though I understand a meeting is in the diary. The leader also questioned the need for British strikes against Islamic State in Iraq, leaving Hilary Benn to point out, rather icily, that Labour MPs had already voted in favour of it.

Last week the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, stunned Theresa May by saying that Labour would support the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. But Mr Corbyn’s aides made it known he was more sceptical about plans to hand further surveillance powers to spies. It looks as if he is happy to have a different position from his frontbenchers on every issue under the sun. It’s almost as if the “huge mandate” that Mr Corbyn and his supporters boast of is keeping him in place but not having much effect on party policy.

Furthermore, backbenchers, who have just taken over the parliamentary party's committees are actually relishing the freedoms that this leadership style is giving them:

While describing this confusion as “chaotic” and “embarrassing professionally”, shadow cabinet members are pleased they’re so influential. They’ve impressed colleagues by being forthright in meetings, and they feel they’re given far more of a say than under Ed Miliband. “It’s a forum where discussion actually takes place,” says one frontbencher. “Opinions are put forward without fear or favour and people do say what they think even if it’s not thought to be what the leadership wants.” Their backbench colleagues are digging in, too. Many MPs who refused to serve under Corbyn have just taken the leadership of internal party policy committees, which sounds deathly dull, but is a clever way of advancing a more moderate — and electorally palatable — set of policies.

A number of former frontbenchers had already started an informal version of this shadow shadow frontbench, asking tough questions in the Commons so that the Tories don’t glide seamlessly through the autumn without much uncomfortable scrutiny. Those shadow shadow ministers included Chris Leslie, Caroline Flint and Emma Reynolds, all of whom are chairing policy committees and can help their shadow cabinet colleagues by rounding up sympathetic colleagues and being even more outspoken. “We can probably say a lot more than the frontbenchers,” explains one former shadow minister. It would be pleasingly dramatic but sadly inaccurate to say that this is part of the cunning plot from Labour moderates to unseat Mr Corbyn. In truth, they are still disorganised and bewildered after his election, and the increased activity is only because they’ve started working out what to do with all their new free time. “None of us have any idea what’s going to happen,” admits one anti-Corbynite MP. They’re not exactly the Labour SAS, more Dad’s Army.

The key question of course is how long this can go on for before something breaks and, more importantly how effective an opposition Labour can be whilst their key spokesperson are publicly undermining the positions of their leader day in, day out? That is something that only time can tell.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

HMRC need to shape up if they are to collect Welsh taxes

With the Welsh Government due to take control of landfill tax and stamp duty after the Assembly elections, it is right that the Minister has decided that for the first few years at least, continuity is the right way forward in collecting those taxes. However, her decision to allow HMRC to maintain their current role must be subject to review and must be contingent on an improved performance from that agency.

In this respect, revelations in the Telegraph that millions of letters sent to HMRC by Britons concerned about their tax affairs are going unanswered for more than three weeks, does not instil confidence that they will be able to provide the bespoke Welsh service that we all expect.

The paper says that last year almost a third of post sent to the taxman was not responded to within 15 working days. That is a worse success rate than at any time in the last three years:

The problems have surfaced after a group of MPs criticised the taxman's "worse" than "abysmal" telephone customer service and demanded a series of improvements.

A report by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee [PAC] published this week said it was “unacceptable” that during the first half of 2015 just half of all calls to the taxman were answered.

However The Telegraph has found that HMRC is also increasingly failing to reply to millions of letters on time in further signs of its struggling customer service.

Some 30 per cent of letters sent to HMRC in 2014/15 failed to get a response within 15 working days – the taxman’s target – in what was the worst performance in three years.

With around 15 million pieces of mail being sent to HMRC every year, it means more than 4 million letters went unanswered for three weeks – and possibly much longer.

The two taxes due to be devolved to Wales are administered from Birmingham. Apart from a small office in North Wales there is no bespoke Welsh service, nor one available through the Welsh language. The Minister needs to insist that this is corrected and that as far as the Welsh Government is concerned, strict service standards are adhered to.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Is Labour practising 'nodding dog' radicalism?

Tim Farron is absolutely right to accuse Corbyn's Labour Party of acting like a “nodding Conservative dog” for giving qualified support to Theresa May’s controversial plans to shake up Britain’s surveillance laws.

In the Independent, he promises to lead the fight against the Draft Investigatory Powers Bil, saying that the Liberal Democrats will table amendments to the legislation in an attempt to give judges, rather than ministers, the power to authorise warrants to intercept the contents of people’s communications and hack computers:

Mr Farron told The Independent:  "The Home Secretary has created a sham of judicial authorisation that doesn't fool me, the public or the experts. It is an utter disgrace.”

He added: “The Labour Party is even worse though. It is acting like Conservatives on this Bill and just acquiescing. It is about as useful as a nodding dog.  The Liberal Democrats will make sure the public's concerns are heard.  You can't rely on Labour or the Tories to stand up for our hard won civil liberties."

The Lib Dems will also seek “redress” for individuals who are no longer under suspicion, under which people would be told they had been under surveillance unless there were a specific reason to maintain secrecy.  The United States, Germany and Belgium have such a provision, the Lib Dems say. “You can’t seek justice if you never know you’ve been spied on,” said a party source.

This is the sort of robust Liberalism that we need from the party leader and shows that there is still a place for the Liberal Democrats in British politics.

Friday, November 06, 2015

More pressure on Corbyn?

I suppose Jeremy Corbyn will quickly get used to the continuous speculation about his future but, for journalists at least it never gets old.

Today's Independent reports that the new Labour leader could be hit by a wave of resignations by moderate frontbenchers in an attempt to destabilise his leadership and pave the way for a coup aimed at ousting him.

They say that some Labour frontbenchers who agreed to serve under Corbyn are determined to topple him well before the 2020 general election and have begun private talks about their tactics.  One option is an orchestrated series of resignations if Labour does badly in Mr Corbyn’s first major electoral test, the contests next May for London Mayor; the Scottish Parliament; Welsh Assembly and local authorities.

This latest speculation has been prompted by the results of internal elections within the Parliamentary Labour Party in which so-called moderates seized control of the PLP’s 17 committees which shadow government departments. Eleven of the Chairs of these committees went to MPs who nominated the Blairite candidate Liz Kendall in this summer’s Labour leadership election.

In truth though it is the same-old, same-old. Whether these moderates have the guts to do more than brief journalists will have to be seenm, especially if Corbyn retains his popularity within his selectorate.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Does the surveillance bill poses a threat to the state?

Over at the Guardian website Simon Jenkins has an interesting perspective on the Tory Government's surveillance bill. He says that the fact that the bill seeks to “widen the access of police and security services” to personal electronic data is odd since, as Snowden revealed, they have enjoyed such access for years.

However, as he says the issue, which the security lobby never addresses, is where should be the boundaries of such intrusion and who should “monitor the monitors”:

Individuals in a free society have a right to assume their privacy means something, and that government and the law will protect them against “unwarranted surveillance” by third parties, including the state. Confidentiality in human relations is integral to personal freedom.

The job of ministers is to guard that integrity against the always incremental demands of the police and security services. One reason is that in the past those services have simply disregarded oversight, whether in letter or in spirit. Ministers have become lobbyists for this disregard. I am not aware of any recent minister standing up to the bullying of Big Security, as ministers (such as William Whitelaw) certainly did in the past.

However, the question that needs to be asked is how secure is the information that the state harvests on us? Is our privacy at threat not just from the spooks, but from those within government who might allow others to have access to it?

Not a week passes without news of some supposedly secure data store breaking down. NHS patient data leaked, police crime data leaked, TalkTalk, British Gas and Marks & Spencer customer details all leaked. Adultery agencies are hacked. Communications between lawyers and clients are hacked. In 2009, defence ministry vetting details of RAF officers were leaked. The police have reportedly hacked into journalists’ sources 600 times. If the government can hack citizens' records, citizens can hack them too, and hack what is hacked. E-government is not security but anarchy.

The real damage revealed by WikiLeaks and Snowden lay not so much in their content as in the fact that it could so easily be revealed by disloyal staff. When thousands of people become privy to other people’s secrets, those secrets become assets. In Snowden’s case it was moral outrage, not treachery or profit, which led him to blow his whistle. The two million people privy to the WikiLeaks material might not all be so high-minded.

The only secure conclusion is that nothing digital is secure, certainly nothing in the realm of government. That is why any state override of encryption could ultimately prove as dangerous to the state as to individual liberty. Do we really want the police, not just spies, to amass information on every citizen’s browser record? The fell cry of the dictator, that “the innocent have nothing to fear”, is already being heard by government apologists. It has no place in a liberal democracy.

All in all this Bill could open up a huge can of worms.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Tories block publication of report on badger cull

The controversial English badger cull has come under the spotlight again with the Daily Mirror claiming that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has blocked publication of a major analysis into the slaughter, despite a freedom of information request by animal rights campaigners.

The paper says that the Badger Trust requested details of a cost benefit analysis of two pilot schemes in Somerset and Gloucestershire from 2013 and 2014:

But Defra refused to release the documents, saying: “We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of information concerning the badger culls in order to enable the public to assess the quality of policy formulation, advice and guidance, to enhance transparency of decision making and increase Government accountability.

“However, Defra has concluded that the public interest in withholding the information sought outweighs the public interest in its disclosure.

“The assessment of value for money is still in draft form. Defra took a measured approach by extending culling to one additional area this year (Dorset) in order to test lessons learned in a new area and to expand the evidence base that will be used to inform analysis of badger cull cost assumptions and value for money.

“Information from this year’s culls will be used to refine Defra’s cost assumptions in the coming months and releasing an interim assessment before it has been finalised could mislead the public, distract from the discussion of effective disease control and impinge on the safe space officials require to develop the policy.”

In other words they do not know themselves whether the cull has been effective or not. And yet they have extended it to other areas.

The paper adds that the cull saw 588 badgers shot dead at a total cost of £4,459,000, a staggering £7,583 per animal:

The programme began in 2013 and has cost a total of £16.7m so far - including a one-off £2.5m cost for delaying the planned start in 2012 - with 2,449 animals killed.

No wonder Defra do not want to release the official report.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Big Brother moves into local government

The provisions of the so-called 'snoopers charter' have been much debated, with Tory Ministers arguing that it is necessary to combat terrorism. That is open to debate and, indeed I have challenged it on a number of occasions on this blog. However, as the Independent points out the upcoming investigatory powers bill goes much further than that.

They say that the bill could give wide-ranging new powers 38 different authorities in the UK, including normal public bodies, as well as the police and spy agencies. These authorities will be able to request information about what websites people have visited and what apps they have used. This means that Council and tax authorities could be given the power to look at people’s internet browsing.

This of course takes the debate beyond one of national security. Should local councils have the ability to search our phone and internet records? I do not think so.

It is bad enough having big brother sitting in 10 Downing Street, without allowing him to stretch his tentacles into other aspects of government and our day-to-day lives.

Monday, November 02, 2015

UK's climate change agenda undermined by its own overseas aid activity

The commitment of the UK Tory Government to tackling climate change is already being questioned following a number of changes in policy, particularly with regards to the feed-in tariffs for renewable energy schemes. However, a report in the Independent indicates that their failure to take the agenda seriously does not just apply in the domestic market.

The paper says that Britain’s overseas aid for energy projects has given twice as much to fossil fuel ventures as renewables, undermining attempts to tackle climate change. They say that the UK has invested £5bn for energy in developing countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan, ranging from loans to grants, between 2009 and 2013.

However, more than £2bn went to fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, 43 per cent of the total. Only around £1bn went on renewable forms of energy such as wind or solar power, 19 per cent of the total:

The carbon-intensive projects supported included £200m to a major coal plant in South Africa. More than half a billion was spent on an oil and gas operation run by Brazilian company Petrobras.

The findings indicate conflict within the Government. While positive action to protect the climate is being taken by the Department for International Development and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, much of Britain’s support for fossil fuels, in recent years has come from the Department of Business through UK export finance, say campaigners.

“Continuing to back the development of fossil fuels doesn’t make sense in light of the UK’s goals on climate change and poverty. Export finance seems like the elephant in the room,” said Neil Thorns of Cafod. “We need consistency across government, so all departments work towards the same goals.”

We are used to all governments operating in silos, with one department not understanding the priorities of another, but this appears to go deeper. A lack of commitment to the climate change agenda by the Tories is starting to show in all aspects of government and needs to be reversed urgently.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Millions of jobs at risk if Britain leaves Europe

The Sunday Times reports that 13 former ambassadors have warned that billions of pounds in trade deals and millions of jobs are at risk if Britain leaves the EU.

The paper says that in a letter to The Sunday Times, the ambassadors claim that those who want to leave have “no credibility” and are “naive” if they think Britain will be able to quickly strike a better free trade deal with the EU or new ones with countries such as America and China.  “Neither argument holds water,” they say:

The letter was arranged by Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN, and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the UK’s former ambassador to America and the EU.

It is also signed by Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Sir Stephen Wall and Sir John Grant, all of whom served as Britain’s representative in Brussels, the former cabinet secretary Lord Butler, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, a former UN ambassador, and Lord Jay, a former ambassador to France. The letter says: “We would need to negotiate up to 50 new separate agreements to replace those we now have through the EU. As a nation of 65m people and 2% of world GDP, rather than a bloc of 500m and 16%, our leverage would be much reduced.

“It would be a long, complicated, uncertain process. To suggest otherwise is naive at best and insincere at worst.

Whatever the motivation of the 13 Ambassadors it is clear from the scenario they outline that leaving the EU is far from a simple process and that claims by anti-EU campaigners that it will benefit the UK are nonsense.

In fact it will bring us years of uncertainty, and almost certainly lead to job losses and have a disastrous impact on trade relations with other countries.

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