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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Construction sector heading for Brexit wall

The fate of the economy and that of the construction sector are intractably linked. That is why when recession hit in 2008 onwards, everybody was calling for big capital schemes to be put in place to keep things moving and to drag us out of the mire.

It is very disturbing therefore to read in the Independent today that the massive uncertainty created by the Brexit vote could mean that the UK construction industry will slam into a “brick wall” early next year.

The paper quotes an anonymous source who told them that since the shock referendum result was announced last Friday morning anxious international investors have already pushed the pause button on future UK infrastructure investments:

“Construction projects that are underway are going to continue. It’s six to seven months down the line where a lot of projects are going on to ice,” said the source. “What you’ll find is the construction industry potentially running into a brick wall.”

“There’s a danger of a huge drop off. And if this is the situation for two years [the assumed time for the UK-EU divorce terms to be negotiated] that’s an awful long time for construction companies.”

The person said up to £20bn of planned infrastructure investment was at risk and that foreign sovereign wealth funds were among those pulling in their horns.

A huge question mark hangs over high-profile projects such as a third runway for Heathrow and the Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset.

But the source said there are also growing doubts about the future of less well-known operations such as the London Gateway port in Essex, operated by Dubai’s DP World, which opened in 2013 and is still only half complete.

“We’re hearing grave uncertainty [about it]” said the source. “That was built on the premise of large scale container ships from around the world using that as a point where these giant ships would dock and smaller ships would [transport the goods] straight into Europe. Now it looks like those smaller ships will have to find alternatives. They’re already talking about Hamburg, Amsterdam, etc,” he said.

The source says the new outbreak of uncertainty was likely to engulf many other ambitious planned construction projects in the UK, including the Atlantic Gateway transport hub in Manchester and Liverpool.

The paper says that the infrastructure construction sector was stagnating even before the Brexit vote and that a third of firms have said the forthcoming referendum was already disrupting orders. Construction accounts for around 7 per cent of UK GDP and civil construction companies such as Balfour Beatty and Carillion have seen double digit falls in their share price since last Friday.

They say that another industry fear relates to airports, particularly if the UK ends up dropping out of the Open Skies Agreement, which allows any EU airline to fly between any two points in Europe. This could severely hamper the UK. Their source believes that this could lead to the closure of one of London’s airports.

The absence of a post-Brexit plan on either side of the argument is making business very nervous indeed. Many are waiting to see what emerges before taking any permanent decisions. The paper says that US banks with European headquarters in London, such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, are waiting to see whether they are likely to retain “passporting” rights, post Brexit, which allows them to sell services across mainland Europe from the City of London. If not, they have signalled they would probably have to move offices, and jobs, to mainland Europe:

In another threat to the City, Francois Hollande, the French President, said this week the EU should insist the clearing of euro-denominated trades be done within the bloc. This could compel the London Stock Exchange’s LCH.Clearnet, which clears half of global interest rate swaps, to move out of London.

Analysts in Japan have said there is a 75 per cent chance Toyota and Honda could pull operations out of Britain if the country’s motor exports are hit with new EU tariffs. Ford has confirmed it may now cut jobs in the UK.

Around 80 per cent of UK manufactured cars are exported, with half going to other EU states. There are fears that UK manufactured cars could face a 10 per cent EU tariff.

What can and cannot be negotiated will be crucial in determining the safety of thousands of jobs across the UK. If the government gets it wrong we could see the virtual dismantling of London's financial sector, the loss of large numbers of manufacturing jobs and the stalling of infrastructure projects designed to bring the UK into the 21st Century and to stimulate the economy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hans Blix slams Blair on Iraq's missing chemical weapons

For those of us waiting for the publication of the Chilcott report on the Iraq war, a BBC documentary tonight might prove to be a useful appetizer. In it former weapons inspector Hans Blix claims that Tony Blair “did not represent the reality” in relation to Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 invasion. In other words Mr. Blair misled us all:

Mr Blix did not suggest the former PM acted in bad faith, adding: “Many people bring themselves to believe something that they want to believe."

The Swedish diplomat and politician added: "I think Blair had a feeling that this was an evil regime and that it was a moral thing to do away with it.

"And I don't think that's an evil thought, but I think it was a presumptuous thought that the UK and the US alone should do that."

None of this is news of course but it is good to have it confirmed by an expert who was in the front line of weapons inspection at the time. Will the Chilcott report contain stronger criticism? We will have to see.

Climate change deniers put in charge of Assembly's Climate Change Committee

The news that UKIP have been handed the chair of the Assembly's Climate Change Committee has naturally caused outrage around Wales. After all this is the party which publicly denies the existence of man-made climate change.

Quite how the new chair  is going to reconcile that belief with the evidence that he will be presented with is difficult to see. I do not share the view of some that he may be won over to a different viewpoint.

What exactly was going through the minds of party business managers when they decided on the allocation of chairs will forever remain a mystery.

However, the situation could have been worse, they might have put UKIP in charge of the committee responsible for equalities.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit campaign wipe their website to remove £350m NHS claim

The Independent reports that the official Leave campaign has wiped almost its entire website from the internet. They say that the site, which previously included the suggestion that the EU budget would be sent back to the NHS and included promises about trade deals, now just has a message thanking supporters:

The promises of Leave campaigners have come under scrutiny since the UK voted on Thursday, with leading politicians walking back promises over immigration control, NHS spending and the speed that Brexit will be undertaken.

Now all of those promises have been removed from the official site. The site now just has a message reading “Thank You” at the top.

The paper says that the centrepiece of the old site was a collection of “Facts about the European Union”. Those included messages about NHS funding, immigration and trade deals:

The page also functioned as an archive of important interviews and speeches, and editorials written by people in support of Leave. Those pages are still available since only the homepage has been altered, meaning that they can be found through Google.

The site didn’t actually claim that the money saved from the EU budget would be spent on the NHS.

The UK's official EU budget is about £350 million a week,” the relevant “fact” reads. “That’s about the same as the cost of building a new NHS hospital every week.

“We get less than half of this money back, and we have no control over how it’s spent – that’s decided by politicians and officials in Brussels, not the people we elect here.”

They add that there is there is just one remnant of the pledge to give £350m extra to the NHS each week remaining on the site. The picture of campaigners that is the site’s banner includes a bus that has the promise printed on its side, but the door is open and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are stood in front of the words, meaning that it’s not possible to read it.

How convenient.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bend it like Boris

I am indebted to the writer Jeanette Winterson for the title to this blog. It is worth checking out the link for a few more Brexit phrases. But the reason why I chose the headline is this article on the BBC in which the former Mayor of London proves that he really does live in a fantasy land.

The BBC reference a column written by Mr. Johnson for the Daily Telegraph in which he writes:

"I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be.

"There will still be intense and intensifying European co-operation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment.

"EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU.

"British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down. As the German equivalent of the CBI - the BDI - has very sensibly reminded us, there will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market.

"The only change - and it will not come in any great rush - is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU's extraordinary and opaque system of legislation: the vast and growing corpus of law enacted by a European Court of Justice from which there can be no appeal."

So Boris' vision is that we leave the EU but continue to enjoy all its benefits without any downside. Is that what people voted for? It certainly was not what the Leave campaign told people they should vote for. And there is no way European Leaders would countenance such a deal without extracting a very high price.

Boris is not stupid so that just leaves a choice of him being either very naïve or extremely disingenuous.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Will Labour enter into its own civil war in the wake of half-hearted referendum effort?

I woke up this morning to the news that Hilary Benn has been sacked amid claims he was encouraging ministers to resign should Jeremy Corbyn ignore a vote of no confidence.

The BBC quotes a Labour source that Mr Corbyn had "lost confidence" in Mr Benn after the Shadow Foreign Secretary said there was "widespread concern" about Mr Corbyn's "leadership and his ability to win an election".

We are now hearing that up to half the Labour Shadow Cabinet may resign if Jeremy Corbyn does not accept the verdict of the Parliamentary Labour Party in a no confidence vote tomorrow. As I write the Press Association has announced that Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has also resigned from Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet

The division between Labour's grass roots and the MPs has never been so stark. Corbyn has said he will stand again in any contest forced upon him. The chances are he will win again.

Where does that leave the people whose job it is to represent the Labour Party day-in, day-out in Parliament and in the media?

How can they continue to do that job and hold the government to account for its actions whilst they are estranged from their party's leadership?

The Conservative and Labour Parties are each coalitions in their own right. The way that these coalitions are falling apart highlights the weaknesses of our electoral system.

Under a properly proportional system these divisions would resolve themselves with the various factions forming separate parties and coalescing with like-minded groups to form a government.

Under first past the post that is nigh on impossible.

The referendum result has done more than divide the country, it has also fractured the political establishment, possibly beyond repair.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The big lies that secured a Brexit vote

Day Two of post-Brexit Britain and things are panning out pretty much as predicted. The value of the pound has plunged, falling more than 8% against the dollar and 6% against the euro, possibly leading to higher petrol prices.

Holiday makers are struggling to exchange currency abroad, Scotland is considering a second Independence referendum and there are calls for a vote in Northern Ireland on whether they should also leave and merge with the Republic.

Wall Street and the FTSE 100 both fell sharply on Friday in a wild day of trading after the UK voted for Brexit whilst the London blue-chip index fell 7% in early trading to just over 5,800 points ending the day 3.15% lower at 6,138 and Spain has called for joint sovereignty over Gibralter.

The Prime Minister has resigned and there are moves to no confidence Jeremy Corbyn. Oh, and the Mayor of Calais wants changes to the 2003 Touquet deal which allows Britain to carry out immigration checks on the French side of the English Channel.

The most galling moments though have been the rapid u-turns by pro-Brexit campaigners on what were obvious lies they told during the campaign.

As the Telegraph reports, Nigel Farage was very quick to admit that it was a "mistake" to promise that £350million a week would be spent on the NHS if the UK backed a Brexit vote. The pledge was central to the official Vote Leave campaign and was controversially emblazoned on the side of the bus which shuttled Boris Johnson and Michael Gove around the country. It was an out-and-out lie.

The Guardian also reports Farage's comments but adds that the claims by campaigners that leaving the EU would reduce immigration was also a lie. Tory MEP Daniel Hannan  agreed that free movement could result in similar levels of immigration after Brexit. He said: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”

It is funny how they waited until after the vote before fessing up. Meanwhile it is worth reading this from a Financial Times reader:

I think I will just leave it there and let people reflect on those points.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What now?

Whatever side you were on it is clear last week’s referendum result will cause a significant period of economic and political uncertainty.

The outcome was as much an anti-politics vote as a vote against immigration, further austerity and the European project itself.

Unravelling forty years of being tied to Europe culturally, legally and economically will not be easy. There are clear dangers.

Many of the measures to protect workers’ rights and to stop discrimination against the disabled introduced by the EU, for example are not instinctively supported by the Conservatives, least of all by those right wing members of that party likely to succeed Cameron.

And what about the jobs which are dependent on EU membership? This is not just about trade, but how viable will Port Talbot’s steel works be if exports to Europe now have to surmount a tariff barrier?

What about the companies who relocated here because we were in the free trade area? Will they now move onto the continent?

And will the UK Government really replace the structural funds and other support we get from Europe on a like-for-like basis?

In many ways, I am just re-treading arguments that the British people have already rejected. But the transition needs to address them all and we need to ensure that Wales’ politicians are at the table fighting for our best interests.

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an apocryphal Chinese curse. It seems that we are now living in those times. How we take on the challenges now presented to us will determine all our future.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Parliament by any other name

With the country's future hanging in the balance in today's referendum, one really does have to question whether now is the right time to table a motion in the Welsh Assembly seeking to re-classify it as a Parliament?

The Western Mail reports that a motion has been tabled by Labour's Chief Whip and Business Manager for debate on 28th June which reads: “The National Assembly for Wales agrees that: (a) its name should be changed to the ‘Welsh Parliament’ at the earliest opportunity; and that (b) it should be known unofficially by that name until such a name change can be formalised”.

It is very early in the day for the Cardiff Bay bubble to have so comprehensively engulfed politicians there but that is apparently what has happened. Whilst the rest of us worry about the economic prosperity of Wales and whether we will remain within the World's biggest free trade area or commit hari kari and leave it, the Welsh Assembly is debating what to call itself.

And it is not as if this motion has any legal effect. Yes, AMs can call themselves what they like but surely it would be better if they waited for the additional powers being proposed by the new Government of Wales Bill before rushing out of the starting blocks.

Most voters will consider this as no more than a vanity exercise, an attempt to gain prestige. They will want AMs to be taking action to protect their jobs and to bring investment into Wales, to sort out the health service and improve the performance of our schools, not to spend their time deciding whether the occupants of the Senedd will be known in future as AMs or WMPs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lies, damned lies and the European Referendum

With less than 24 hours left before polls open, it has all gone a bit Game of Thrones over here in Referendum UK. It is not quite as gory, but the leading figures of the Remain and Leave campaigns are fighting like a bunch of public schoolboys. Oh, wait a minute....!

The Telegraph's live blog of events records the insults being traded by both sides, summing up the reason why nobody believes a word either side is saying and why most people wish they would just go away and leave them alone. In fact, 10pm on Thursday cannot come quick enough.

It all started to go a bit crazy when Michael Gove invoked Godwin's Law and compared economic experts warning about Brexit to Nazis who smeared Albert Einstein’s scientific findings during the 1930s. I am not a big fan of economists myself but of course the big difference is that Einstein had a tenable thesis, whereas the Brexiteers just have speculation, and of course the economists in question are not in the pay of the government as the German scientists were.

This enabled David Cameron to have a pop at his erstwhile friend and colleague. He told LBC:

"Let me tell you what I think is the most extraordinary thing in the news today, and that is the Leave campaign, comparing these independent experts, businesses, economists, Nobel Prize winners to sort of Nazi propagandists.

"I think I’m afraid the Leave campaign here are making a massive mistake. If in our country, you know look at these people, some of them won Nobel Prizes, many of them are working for independent institutions we set up after the war. These businesses don’t normally come off the fence on an issue like this and speak so clearly. And I think when you’ve got that weight of opinion saying there’s a real risk to the British economy, to jobs, to families’ finances then it really is worth listening.

"And if we’re going to go to a world where we say, I’m not going to listen to experts, that’s an extraordinary thing to do."

And then Boris Johnson pitched in saying that the Michael Gove analogy comparing Remain-supporting economists to Nazi propagandists was okay. Cameron responded by suggesting that Gove had lost the plot only for the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to change the subject by accusing Cameron of lying about Turkey's prospects of joining the EU.

Talking of Nazis, Nigel Farage was asked if he had apologised for his controversial "breaking point" immigration poster based on Nazi propaganda, only to deny that he had done so, despite suggestions by his party that he had.

And then Michael Gove apologised for his remarks about the war: "Yesterday I was asked a question by Iain Dale about the predictions of doom for the economy.

"I answered as I often do with a historical analogy. It was clumsy and inappropriate.

"Obviously I did not mean to imply anything about the motives of those who have spoken out in favour of staying in the EU.

"Throughout the campaign I’ve avoided making personal attacks, I'm sorry for speaking so clumsily, and apologise for giving offence.

"I think Britain will be more prosperous if we end our connection to the euro project and I should have answered this question directly."

Will Boris now apologise for defending Michael Gove's misplaced analogy?

I don't think I can take the suspense any longer. I am off to watch the football where at least England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are still in Europe. For now, at least.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Taking the guns off the streets

I am still not sure whether this article on Sarah Palin's reaction to the murder of Jo Cox MP, is a parody or some sort of sick joke. Whatever it is, the piece sums up the 'shoot first ask questions later' attitude of far too many right wing American politicians.

In 2015, the US suffered 371 mass shootings, where four or more people are murdered in one event. That is over one a day. According to this website, so far in 2016, 49 mass shootings in the United States have left 73 people dead and 178 wounded. That makes the Orlando atrocity even more of a tragedy as America's lawmakers seem unable to take the necessary action to deal with this phenomena.

Yesterday's Guardian underlines the point. They report that on Monday the US Senate failed to advance new restrictions aimed at curtailing gun violence. Lawmakers voted down four separate measures just one week after the terrorist attack in Orlando marked the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history.

They say that Democrats and Republicans had put forth competing amendments to both strengthen background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms. But all four bills fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate, in a near replica of a vote held in December when a pair of shooters killed 14 people and wounded 22 more in San Bernardino, California.

Taking guns off the streets is the only way to stop halt the increase in mass-killings in America. It is difficult to understand why their law-makers can not see that.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Is the UKIP racist poster a turning point?

Anybody who seeks to predict how Thursday's vote on European Union membership will go is a fool. It is far too close to call. However, there was a feeling over the weekend that some people are pulling back from the leave option for a number of reasons.

Whether this is enough to give Remain a clear win is an unknown factor but the emergence of what Dan Hodges calls 'Project Hate' has a clear role to play in that trend. He writes:

Three weeks ago we all woke to the following quote from a pro-Brexit MP: 'I don't want to stab the Prime Minister in the back – I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face.'

One week later Nigel Farage said that British women risked being raped if we didn't vote for Brexit. At the same time posters began to circulate from the Vote Leave campaign – replete with shadowy footsteps – warning of 55 million migrants entering the UK from Turkey. Last week, as immigration began to slip down the agenda, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove again demanded Cameron 'veto' Turkish accession.

A day after the Orlando terrorist attack, a poster was published by Leave.EU urging people to 'act now' before a similar attack occurred here in the UK.

This followed a warning from Gove that if Turkey were granted access, 'extremists everywhere will believe that the West is opening its borders to appease an Islamist government'. They know what they are doing. Farage. Gove. Johnson. They have always known. That they were opening a Pandora's Box. But it glistened before them so brightly.

The defection of Baroness Warsi, the former communities minister who co-chaired the Tory party, from the Leave side to instead support us remaining in the EU is the most prominent consequence of this approach.

Warsi accused Michael Gove, the justice secretary and Brexit campaigner, of peddling “complete lies" but said that the final straw for her was hearing Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, defend a poster with the slogan “breaking point” depicting refugees trudging across Europe:

Lady Warsi told The Times: “That ‘breaking point’ poster really was — for me — the breaking point to say, ‘I can’t go on supporting this’. Are we prepared to tell lies, to spread hate and xenophobia just to win a campaign? For me that’s a step too far.”

Dan Hodges sums it up well: Project Hate has brought us to the brink. Britain – the country we live in this morning – stands on the edge. This time next week it could all be gone. Our economic security. Our national security. Our international security. Imagine if it works. The overt racism. The overt demonisation of refugees. The graphic threats to stab the Prime Minister in the chest. Imagine if that is what constitutes a successful British political campaign in 2016.

We have seen campaigns like that before, but they have always been defeated. Defeated because moderate voices on the Left and the Right united to oppose them. Today there is no such unity.

The voices of moderation have fallen silent. Actually, it's worse than that. They have not fallen silent, but actively joined the chorus of anger and hate.

My hope is that decency will prevail and that those people who, like Dan Hodges and me have been appalled by this descent into barbarism will stand up and be counted on Thursday.

If Remain wins on Thursday then it may well be that the racism of UKIP and 'that' poster in particular could prove to have been the turning point.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Protecting our democracy

I was in a bar in Croatia when I saw the news on social media that Jo Cox had died. I was surrounded by English fans and Wales had just lost to England as the result of a last minute goal. I was too shocked by the senseless and tragic killing of an MP to fully take in the football result.

Instinctively and almost as if I was seeking validation of my sense of loss I turned to the man next to me, with whom I had passed what until then had been a pleasant afternoon, and suggested that the game had been put into harsh perspective by the horrific murder of a public representative carrying out her public duties.

"Well, that is one less politician," he said.

The cynicism and hatred that sums up many people's attitude to politicians and politics has not been broken by the murder of Jo Cox. It will take some considerable time before we can put that behind us, if we can at all.

It is almost as if the outpouring of grief and sympathy that followed her death has been compartmentalised. Our hope must be that a turning point has been reached and that attitudes will eventually change.

From what I have read of her, Jo Cox was an extraordinary person, compassionate, dedicated, principled, hard-working and utterly devoted to representing the people who elected her. She was exceptional but those qualities are also found to varying degrees in the vast majority of politicians at all levels.

It is sad that the public do not recognise this, that their view of politics and politicians has been soured by a few bad apples, and that when they do have direct contact with an elected representative and find that it is a good experience, they consider it to be an exception rather than the norm.

One thing that does need to change is the way that MPs' safety is secured. As an AM, I always ignored police advice to take staff with me to advice surgeries. I considered that the fact I held them in a public place, normally libraries, made me more secure.

My office though had CCTV at the entrances and in the meeting room, with prominent notices telling people that was the case. I also provided a personal alarm for staff. and reinforced the entrances to the building. Other AMs went further.

In 17 years I only really felt threatened once during a surgery. I know that my staff were concerned about safety on more than one occasion.

The BBC report that MPs are now reviewing the way that they work and that the House authorities are working with the police to see how they can assist with that. Nick Clegg is right though when he says that the attack on Jo Cox was:

".....a vile affront to our democracy. One of the great things about our democracy is that anybody can just wander in and see their MP in their weekly surgeries.

"That violence against Jo, although that is the most important thing ... is also violence against our democratic values and very proud democratic traditions."

The one thing we must hold onto is the proud tradition in this country of easy access to our elected representatives. If possible we must not let security considerations get in the way of such access.

The best way to achieve that in the long term is to change the way that politicians are viewed by the public, to win back the respect we once had for this most vital profession.

Friday, June 10, 2016

UKIP Welsh Assembly Group in disarray again

The UKIP group in the Welsh Assembly has once more descended into open conflict as Neil Hamilton and Nathan Gill argue in public.

The Western Mail reports that Mr. Gill has been criticised by steel dumping campaigners and his own group leader in the Assembly for missing key meetings.

They say that Gill is still sitting as an MEP and has missed meetings in both Strasbourg and Cardiff Bay.

He has been criticised for missing:

  • A vote in Strasbourg on whether to grant China market economy status - which could have opened up the EU to more steel dumping
  • Part of an Assembly Ukip group meeting at which the group agreed to support the controversial Black route for an M4 relief road.

    Despite missing the Ukip group meeting, Gill publicly accused group leader Neil Hamilton of going against Ukip policy by telling First Minister Carwyn Jones he could count on the Ukip group’s support for the M4 Black route around Newport if the cheaper Blue route could not proceed.

    In return Hamilton called Mr Gill a part-time AM and pointedly failed to hand out a spokespersonship to him. In a statement, he said: “Ukip members expect all Ukip AMs to be fully committed to their role in the Senedd and to be team players. If Nathan cannot accept this, he should fulfil his commitment to the Ukip NEC and Nigel Farage last January that he would not ‘double job’.”

    And so it went on: A spokesman for Mr Gill responded: “Nathan was simply pointing out that Ukip’s policy is to back the Blue route and oppose the Black route.

    "Neil Hamilton does not have the constitutional right to change policy. That is a matter for the NEC.

    “It is ludicrous for Mr Hamilton to suggest that Nathan should resign his seat in the European Parliament in the middle of the referendum campaign. That must be the priority for now.”

    In other news Hamilton's allocation of responsibilities to his group was not as astute as he might have hoped. It seems that Gareth Bennett, the Ukip AM who blamed ethnic minorities for waste problems in Cardiff, has been made his party’s spokemsan on... bins.

    You couldn't make it up.
  • Thursday, June 09, 2016

    Illiberal Labour capitulate on the snoopers' charter

    With the news agenda dominated by the European Referendum it is a good time for the two main parties to collaborate and pass illiberal laws in the hope that people do not notice. Alas that is what appears to have happened with regards to the draft Investigatory Powers Bill or snoopers' charter as it is more popularly known.

    As the Telegraph reports on Tuesday evening, 444 MPs voted in favour of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which would ostensibly give the government bulk powers to collect citizens’ web records, as well remote hacking and monitoring of smartphones, and to potentially read unencrypted communications.

    Just 69 members of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party opposed the proposed law, which will now proceed to the House of Lords for debate. Labour MPs capitulated in their opposition to this bill and voted with the Government. Their poor record on civil liberties continuing into opposition. The Telegraph sets out what the draft bill seeks to do:

    The Bill’s most significant provisions include obliging internet and phone companies to store records of websites visited for 12 months; enabling the security services and police to intercept and track electronic communications and mount IT attacks (known as equipment interference) under a warrant authorised by the Home Secretary and an independent judge; and empowering our services to access and analyse bulk data.

    In other words, records of your internet history (what websites you've visited, when and how often) as well as metadata about your phone calls such as who you call, can all be collected. Your computer or phone could also be hacked in special circumstances to eavesdrop on conversations.

    The bill allows bulk collection and retention of phone calls, messages and emails and internet browsing history, you don't have to be a suspect to be monitored.

    This broad range of powers has been one of the main objections to the Bill, because it means every citizen, whether you are having legally privileged conversations, or are part of special groups like journalists or Members of Parliament are subject to being monitored and having your data stored.

    Dozens of public organisations and departments will be able to access communication information, some without a warrant. These range from police forces, HMRC, customs officials and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to an assortment of unrelated government departments such as the NHS, Food Standards Agency and local councils. At one point, the Milk Marketing Board was on this list, although it has since been removed.

    The main objections to the Bill in its current form are to do with the "bulk" powers of data collection and retention. This means the government can look at your internet history (all the websites you've visited in the last year, for instance) or look at your phone metadata - whom you've called, when and how many times - indiscriminately. The MPs who objected believe surveillance should be targeted rather than indiscriminate.

    Those opposed to the bill argue that in order to protect civil liberties, surveillance should be targeted, with warrants from courts that ensure they are focused, specific and based on reasonable suspicion.

    This was the bill that was blocked by the Liberal Democrats when we were in coalition government. Now that they are unfettered the Tories have brought it back with a vengeance and have done so with the assistance of the Labour Party.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2016

    Making History

    I recall watching the film Lincoln in 2012, together with its portrayal of the fight against slavery. In the film various politicians were arguing that the abolition of slavery was the top of a very slippery slope that could lead to black men getting the vote. Less that 150 years later the USA had its first black President.

    In many ways the now inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for President this autumn is just as significant. The only question is why it took so long to put a women at the head of one of America's two major political parties with a good chance of becoming US President?

    Hillary Clinton may have cracked one glass ceiling, Obama another, but there appear to be many other such ceilings to be shattered ahead of them.

    Tuesday, June 07, 2016

    Brexiteers scrape the barrel for votes

    Some people have accused the Remain campaign of being negative but whatever the outcome of the vote on 23 June, the worse tactics have surely come from those wanting us to quit the EU.

    Nigel Farage has taken his campaign to new depths over the last few days when he resorted to the “age-old racist” claim that migrants put British women at risk of sexual assaults:

    In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Farage - who is campaigning for Brexit with the unofficial, immigration focused Leave.EU campaign - said the “nuclear bomb” of the referendum campaign was the mass sex attacks which happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

    In January, reports emerged that over 1,000 women had been sexually assaulted and robbed during the German city’s New Year’s celebrations.

    As the details began to emerge it was discovered that the majority of the perpetrators were of North African or Middle Eastern descent - though only three had recently arrived as refugees from Iraq and Syria contrary to earlier reports.

    Asked whether he believed such attacks could happen in the EU, Mr Farage said: "It depends if they get EU passports. It depends if we vote for Brexit or not. It is an issue."

    Quite rightly, Conservative peer and former foreign office minister Baroness Sayeda Warsi, Shami Chakrabarti, the chair of the Labour anti-semitism inquiry and former director of Liberty and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, a Labour peer and anti-racism campaigner have all signed a letter to the Guardian calling on Farage to apologise for his comments.

    This sort of racism has no place in British politics. It is a mark of where UKIP place themselves on the political spectrum that they are willing to tolerate this sort of inaccurate and objectionable rhetoric from their leader.

    Monday, June 06, 2016

    Will Neil Hamilton be at the centre of more UKIP infighting after the referendum

    Today's Western Mail speculates that UKIP AM Neil Hamilton is planning to back a post-referendum leadership challenge to Nigel Farage.

    They say that the UKIP Assembly group leader is believed to be backing his party's deputy leader, Paul Nuttall to replace Farage.

    Hamilton and Farage have been at loggerheads for a number of years, with the UKIP leader previously blocking attempts by his nemesis to become and MP and an MEP.

    Hamilton used his influence on the UKIP National Executive to force a one member one vote selection process for the National Assembly elections and successfully convinced the party's membership in Mid and West Wales to place him at the top of their list.

    With yet more infighting on the horizon for UKIP after 23 June, the party is once more living up to its reputation as a coalition of giant egos, obsessed with advancing their own interests.

    Sunday, June 05, 2016

    The gender gap at the top of the Remain campaign

    At the Remain rally in Swansea's Brangwyn Hall last night a number of committed supporters of us staying in the EU raised the way that the Remain campaign is being dominated by white middle class males. That concern is also reflected in this article.

    The fact that the two most prominent of those white middle class males happen to be the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer exacerbates the problem, especially as the debate appears to be now turning to the government's record and specifically its record on immigration.

    The Leave campaign believe that by focussing on peoples' fears about immigration they can get people to vote to quit the EU. The problem is that because Farage and Johnson et al are attacking the Tory Government's failure to achieve its own impossible and frankly insane pledge to cut immigration, Cameron and Osborne are not in the best place to respond to this attack.

    We need prominent campaigners on the Remain side to stand up to this quasi-racist rhetoric and to defend the status quo. Putting aside that more than half of the 330,000 immigrants the UK received last year, over and above those who moved abroad, come from outside the EU and would not be affected by a Leave vote, immigrants help to build prosperity in this country.

    Without those immigrants, our health service would collapse. There are over 120,000 immigrants working in this sector. Our indigenous population is aging and are dependent on younger tax payers to fund public services, including the NHS. Many of those taxpayers are immigrants, a large number are professional people.

    We are near to full employment in this country, we do not have enough people to fill all the jobs that are available. Immigrants are helping to full that gap. They are NOT taking OUR jobs as Leave campaigners allege, rather they are filling vacancies that we cannot.

    And of course we have the absurd argument that despite leaving the EU we can remain in the single market as Norway does but without any of the consequences. If we did that we would still have freedom of movement, we would still have more than half of our immigrants coming from outside the EU and we would still have to pay into the EU.

    But back to the female issue. I note from this article that the Remain campaign are fielding an all-female team to debate Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Gisela Stuart. That is a start. But if we are going to win this we need to sideline Cameron and Osborne permanently and put up a more convincing and representative team against the mavericks on the Leave side.

    Saturday, June 04, 2016

    What is the case for banning energy drink sales to children?

    If there is one mind set I find difficult to understand it is that of politicians and others who, faced with a supposed problem, propose a solution that limits people's freedoms.

    We saw this phenomenon in action over e-cigarettes when Welsh Government Ministers proposed banning their use in public places purely as a precautionary approach. Not only did they not have a shred of evidence to back up this proposal but what evidence was available directly contradicted their assumptions.

    Now, we have calls to ban the sales of energy drinks to under-16s on the basis that these drinks may e harmful. There is no evidence to support such a ban at all and whilst a surfeit of sugar may cause some harm, it is in plentiful supply in other foods, with no proposal to take action on these at all.

    Those politicians who are proposing this ban, are not proper democrats. They want to run our lives for us because they think they know best.

    If they really want to be taken seriously they need to find proper evidence to back up their pronouncements instead of just chasing headlines.

    Friday, June 03, 2016

    Why Labour MPs who want to leave the EU are playing with fire?

    Although the debate around whether we should leave the European Union or not has often resembled a family argument within the Tory party, I have been intrigued recently by those Labour MPs who have lined up behind Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in calling for us to quit the biggest free trade area in the World.

    Yesterday, we had South African-born Peter Hain claiming that the German-born Gisela Stuart had "no right to claim to speak for voters in Wales".  She came to Cardiff to argue that working people in Wales" would be better off outside the EU. That is despite the very clear evidence that leaving the EU would cost jobs and lead to severe cuts in public services.

    I was particularly exercised by the argument being advanced by Vauxhall Labour MP Kate Hoey, though. She has urged Welsh voters to cut the link with Brussels and end the careers of David Cameron and George Osborne.

    The first question that arises from this curious argument is who does she think will succeed them? Is Hoey really saying that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would be better? More importantly though, if this choice is really a partisan one isn't the natural choice to vote 'Remain' so as to ensure that we have a chance of ousting the Tories in the future?

    What Kate Hoey does not appear to have factored in is that if we vote to leave the EU then the odds of Scotland voting for independence are massively increased. Welsh voters would then be as part of a UK rump which would be dominated by the Tories for many years to come. It would be very difficult to secure a non-Tory Government.

    Is that what the Labour Leavers really want?

    Thursday, June 02, 2016

    An old European currency

    I have been carrying out some research recently with regards to a potential and much needed European holiday. Croatia is the favoured destination for a week of sun, relaxation and Game of Thrones tours. As ever though, the currency is a bit tricky, especially as Croatia is outside the Euro zone.

    Croatia's currency is the Kuna. The word "kuna" means "marten" in Croatian since it is based on the use of marten pelts as units of value in medieval trading.

    In other news I notice that work to reintroduce the pine marten to Wales is having some effect. The BBC report that pine martens relocated from Scotland in a bid to save the mammals from extinction in Wales have given birth to their first offspring. Hidden cameras have confirmed three of the 10 females have had at least five kits.

    A further 10 pairs are due to be relocated to Wales later this year.

    Thank goodness that we have evolved to using plastic bank notes for currency rather than the pelts of these beautiful animals.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2016

    Paranoia in the Corbyn camp?

    Today's Telegraph carries a fascinating insight into the workings of the Corbyn leadership in which they report on a 30 minute fly-on-the-wall documentary, including preparations for Prime Minister's Question Time.

    The piece includes the startling claim by Seumas Milne, the Labour party’s executive director of strategy that there is a mole in the Labour leader’s inner circle who regularly leaks his attack lines at Prime Minister’s Questions:

    During the 30 minute long fly-on-the-wall documentary, Mr Corbyn’s team was filmed preparing him for the weekly clash at Prime Minister’s Questions with a group of aides, including one who played the part of David Cameron.

    After the meeting had finished Mr Milne was filmed telling the presenter Ben Ferguson of his frustration that Mr Corbyn’s questions were leaked to the media before PMQs.

    He said: “It leaked from that meeting. It is very annoying because it only happens about a third of the time but it obviously gives them a little bit of extra time.

    “Whenever there is a leak it gives them [the Tories[ that advantage. It gives them the advantage on TV as well.”

    This begs the question as to why the Corbyn team have not taken steps to plug this leak? Or is this unfounded paranoia within the team?

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