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Friday, September 30, 2016

Hypocritical UKIP AMs apply double standards on double-jobbing

Today's Western Mail exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of the Welsh Assembly's UKIP group's hounding of Nathan Gill for double-jobbing as an AM and MEP, with the revelation that one of their own is working both as an Assembly Member and a researcher for the party's sole MP.

The paper says that Mark Reckless, who represents South Wales East in the Senedd has recorded in his entry in the Assembly’s register of members’ interests that he also works as a “Part-time director (not a company director) and company secretary, Ukip Parliamentary Resource Unit Limited”. The entry goes on to state that Mr Reckless works for between five and 20 hours per week. It says the company is in receipt of House of Commons “Short” money.

As an AM Mr Reckless’ basic salary is £64,000, on top of which he is paid £13,000 as chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.

His entry in the register of members’ interests also shows that he employs his wife Catriona as a senior adviser for 29.6 hours a week. Until earlier this month she sat as a member of Medway council in Kent, where she was deputy leader of the Ukip group.

As the paper says, Neil Hamilton, the Ukip Assembly group leader, has been highly critical of Nathan Gill who doubles as a member of the European Parliament and as an AM. He has at various times called for Gill to resign as an MEP and as an AM over his “double-jobbing”, saying he cannot possibly do both jobs effectively.

Of course the two cases are not exactly the same, and it is a fact that quite a lot of AMs also have other things on the side taking up a similar amount of time. But it would help UKIP's case against Nathan Gill if they at least got their story straight and that if they really are against 'double-jobbing' they should lead by example.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Another cost of Brexit?

The reality of Brexit continues to hit home and we havent even left the EU yet, or started the process of leaving for that matter.

The Independent reports on the views of a senior executive at Jaguar Land Rover, who has warned that post-Brexit trade barriers imposed on the UK car industry if the right deal is not reached would "frankly be disastrous".

Hanno Kirner, executive director at JLR, which is owned by Tata Group, based in India, issued the stark warning at a joint Government-industry “Great Britain” event, ahead of the Paris Motor Show:

Mr Kirner was speaking openly for many in the industry, including component makers, who talk privately about the danger of jobs going abroad if membership or strong access to the single market is curtailed after Brexit.

He added that tariffs would add to the cost and the complication of integrated cross-border supply chains and would "damage business and British jobs".

JLR is Britain's biggest exporter of any kind to China. It employs 42,000 directly, and invests £3.5bn a year in the UK.

If Britain failed to conclude a free trade deal with the rest of the EU and was forced to fall back on basic World Trade Organisation rules, British car exporters could face tariffs of up to 10 per cent. Both the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, have in recent weeks conceded that WTO rules for the UK could be the ultimate outcome.

Some 57 per cent of the 1.6 million cars made in Britain find buyers in the rest of the EU. The next largest market is the US (12 per cent), followed by China (7 per cent).

The British car industry is worth £20bn to our economy and is responsible for thousands of jobs. Any threat to its viability is deeply worrying. Let's hope that the Brexiteers can live up to their promises and get us a deal that will protect this investment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Did Plaid Cymru take money off Libya's Muammar Gaddafi?

Today's Western Mail contains the startling claim that Plaid Cymru received a donation of £25,000 from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1976.

This allegation has emerged from the autobiography of Dr Carl Clowes, a distinguished party activist and a public health consultant who co-founded the UK’s first community co-operative at Llanaelhaearn in Gwynedd, as well as the Nant Gwrtheyrn Welsh language centre near Pwllheli.

The donation allegedly came after a four-man delegation from Plaid Cymru visited Libya.

In his book Super Furries, Prins Seeiso, Miss Siberia – a fi, to be published on October 1, Dr Clowes tells how he went on the trip to Libya in 1976.

He was with Dr Phil Williams, an academic who served as a Plaid AM for South Wales East in the National Assembly’s first term and two other party activists: Brian Morgan Edwards, co-founder of the Welsh language music recording company Sain, and John Lewis. He writes:

"What was unusual was the nature of the conversation towards the end of the trip, when our guide offered to find out how much of a contribution there might be for four pacifists to put towards their dream of independence, something Colonel Gaddafi embraced as a way of disrupting the status quo in the West.

"I understood from Brian that nearly £25,000 had arrived in Plaid Cymru’s coffers.”

A Plaid Cymru spokeswoman told the paper: “The trip to Libya was well documented at the time and since. There is absolutely no record or knowledge of any such donation being made to Plaid Cymru.” 

Of course as the 2000 Act requiring the public disclosure of such donations was not in force at the time, we will never know if the donation was indeed made.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New UKIP leader puts Neil Hamilton in charge of her Welsh branch

The new leader of UKIP came to Wales yesterday determined to unite the seven UKIP AMs and resolve all feuding. By the time she left she had acknowledged that Neil Hamilton was actually the leader of UKIP's Welsh branch rather than their sole MEP and elected leader, Nathan Gill. Oh, and the UKIP group in the Welsh Assembly still stands at six, with Nathan Gill sitting as an independent AM.

The Western Mail reports that Diane James described Mr Hamilton as the leader of Ukip in Wales, apparently accepting Mr Hamilton’s interpretation that Mr Gill had lost the role when he was temporarily stripped of party membership by the national executive committee over the “double jobbing” row.

So that is that. Despite the warm and fuzzy words by Ms. James as she left Wales, Gill has been cast out into the cold and Hamilton is UKIP's main man. So much for unity. I suspect we will not be seeing that much more of Diane James in Wales after this.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Welsh Labour Ministers lose the plot on Brexit

As if it were bad enough having to put up with Theresa May's Government's prevarication over their position after we leave the EU, the Welsh Labour Economy Minister chipped in over the weekend with his own version of Brexit that does not seem too far away from the vision of Nigel Farage and UKIP.

According to the BBC, Ken Skates said that the Welsh Government wanted to maintain access to the single market but regain control over immigration, thus preventing the free movement of labour. He said:

"In the absence of any other indication from the UK Government... we are saying we are filling that void at the moment with a compelling argument for ensuring that Britain retains unfettered access to the single market while also recognising that in the referendum immigration was a major issue so we cannot maintain free movement of people."

How exactly he is going to achieve this feat is unclear given that all the European leaders insist that you cannot have access to the single market without retaining the free movement of people. They are doing so, not because they are being awkward but because the two go together naturally. You simply cannot have free trade if you restrict your labour market.

If Welsh Labour now want to prevent EU nationals coming to Wales, then how are they going to staff the health service, meet their new obligations to achieve better nursing levels, ensure that we have the right mix of labour for the needs of the Welsh economy and what are they going to do with the European nationals already here, many of whom are working in our public services?

This is not a thought-through position, it is a sound-bite designed to win back Labour voters from UKIP. It does Welsh Labour no credit whatsoever to follow the Brexiteers into this sort of identity politics.

Theresa May might want a bespoke solution but even she is going to be faced with the stark reality that if the UK is to remain in the single market then they will need to retain freedom of movement. What makes Welsh Labour think they can achieve a different outcome?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Boris skewered

For those who still question the portrayal of Boris Johnson as a national embarrassment in his role as Foreign Secretary, this article on the Reuters' website should put doubts to rest.

They report that Germany and France have brushed aside comments from Johnson suggesting there is no link between the EU's principle of free movement and access to its single market, saying they could send Johnson a copy of the Lisbon Treaty and even travel to London to explain it to him in English.

Apparently, Boris told Sky News television on Thursday that the EU's position that there was an automatic trade-off between access to the single market and free movement was "complete baloney." This has not gone down well amongst the powers-to-be on he continent:

Asked about the remarks at a news conference in Berlin, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his French counterpart Michel Sapin shot glances at each other before the German host responded.

"We just looked at each other because we're used to respecting foreign ministers a lot," Schaeuble said.

"If we need to do more, we will gladly send her majesty's foreign minister a copy of the Lisbon Treaty. Then he can read that there is a certain link between the single market and the four core principles in Europe," he added.

"I can also say it in English. So if clarification is necessary we can pay a visit and explain this to him in good English," Schaeuble said.

Was Theresa May perpetrating a massive joke on the United Kingdom when she made Boris Foreign Minister? If so, it has ceased to be funny.

Boris needs to learn that he can not get away with the sort of loose talk and dodgy promises he used to such good effect during the EU referendum when representing the UK as a Minister.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How to leave Labour

The Independent reveals that “How to leave the Labour party” is currently the most searched for question about the party on Google on the eve of the leadership election result.

They say that the party faces a potential exodus of its more moderate supporters who have become disillusioned with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who is expected to beat Owen Smith to stay as Labour leader:

The revolt by the PLP has exposed tensions between the majority of Labour MPs, who occupy the centre ground and have dominated the party for the past 20 years, and a small group of hard-left activists surrounding Mr Corbyn which has the overwhelming support of the membership.

MPs, many of whom fear losing their seats if Theresa May calls an early election, said this overwhelming support from the party membership has blinded Mr Corbyn and his team to the reality of their unpopularity with the general public.

A recent poll suggested the Labour party faced its largest poll rating in opposition in its history after it slipped to an average of 11 points behind the Conservatives.

Former leader Lord Neil Kinnock said the party is facing its “greatest crisis” since at least the 1930s.

He told BBC Panorama: “Not just in my lifetime but stretching back to the 1930s, by any examination this is the greatest crisis that the Labour Party has faced.”

Meanwhile, ITV political correspondent, Carl Dinnen has revealed on Twitter that the Liberal Democrats are setting up a stall outside Labour's Conference to recruit new members.

We have become the cheeky party.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Corbyn in more trouble over fresh anti-semitism claims

The Labour leader has plunged his party into more controversy when his campaign released a video showing his supporters dismissing a number of attacks on him. In particular they have once more riled the British Board of Deputies, which represents many UK Jews with the claim that accusations of antisemitism are simply a result of his detractors 'losing the political argument’.

The President of the Board Jonathan Arkush said the Labour Leader must now make clear publically if he agrees with these comments:

He told The Independent: “I want to put over my bewilderment and deep concern at how Jeremy Corbyn’s own leadership campaign could possibly have thought this video appropriate given what has happened.

“It speaks volumes about the dismissive attitudes towards antisemitism in parts of the party.”

He added: “If people are so dismissive of racism in their own midst, how can they deserve the trust of their own members, let alone the electorate?”

It seems that this is an issue that will not go away for Corbyn despite a report by Shami Chakrabarti which was commissioned to explore if there was anti-Semitism in the party after numerous incidents, including those which led to the suspension of MP Naz Shah and ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone.

The Chakrabarti report said Labour was not overrun by antisemitism or other forms of racism, but that there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere" and "too much clear evidence... of ignorant attitudes".

However, this week Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth told how she has received more than 25,000 incidents of abuse, much of it racial.

Ms Smeeth walked out of the launch of the Chakrabarti report after being challenged by an activist at the event.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The need for an effective Welsh anti-poverty programme

There has been some controversy recently over the future of the Welsh Government's flagship Communities First programme after it was omitted from the latest iteration of the Programme for Government and the First Minister refused to deny it was destined to be cut.

More than £300 million has been spent on this programme since 2001 and yet it is difficult to identify what it has achieved. Of course there are individual success stories but Wales has fallen back relative to the rest of the UK in economic terms and the absence of effective measurements means that we have not been able to ascertain if taxpayers are getting value for money or even what the impact of this expenditure is in terms of real outcomes.

When I was on the Assembly we carried out an inquiry into poverty. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could scrutinise programmes like Community First in any detail. I hope that the new Assembly is picking that up.

However, the two things that were most obvious from the scrutiny we did carry out was that firstly, the Welsh Government's programmes are designed to alleviate poverty not to eliminate it.

That is fine providing they are upfront about it, after all the Welsh Government don't have all the tools needed for an effective anti-poverty drive. However, Ministers are operating under the pretence that they are spending money to eliminate poverty without any evidence to back that up or even that the programmes they are funding work.

Secondly, there appears to be a major failure within Welsh Government to align all its programmes into a coherent anti-poverty drive. Individual Ministers are doing important work with policies such as the pupil premium, healthy community initiatives, funding temporary jobs through Jobs Growth Wales and of course programmes like Flying Start and Communities First, but there is no overall strategy with clear objectives and a co-ordinated approach to tackling poverty.

So when the Western Mail reports that politicians and charity workers have warned about the impact of losing Communities First the story is a bit more complex than that.

In fact the majority of those quoted are not saying the Welsh Government should keep Communities First at all. They are arguing for clarity and a coherent anti-poverty programme that does what it says on the the tin.

The Welsh Government has had long enough to come up with such an entity so why are we still waiting for them to show that they have a way forward on this issue?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Liberal Democrats end conference with 17th by-election gain of the year

The Liberal Democrats rounded off their Brighton Conference yesterday with a rousing speech from Tim Farron and a by-election gain from Labour in the Plasnewydd ward of Cardiff. It was the party's seventeenth by-election gain of the year and the 60th council seat we have gained in total in 2016.

Cardiff Council, Plasnewydd ward - By election result

Robin Rea, Welsh Lib Dem 1258
Lab 910
Plaid 177
Con 115
Green 93

Welsh Lib Dem GAIN from Labour
23.09% turnout

As I argued yesterday these advances in local government are a sign that the party is starting to overcome its trust issue but that there is still a long way back. Tim Farron told conference that we are going to rebuild support from the grassroots up. That is what we have started to do.

Farron's speech was also significant for other reasons, not least the pledge to introduce a hypothecated tax to fund the health service and his passionate advocacy of our liberalism and internationalism.

The Liberal Democrats leader pitched his appeal at moderate, centre-left Labour supporters both in his praise of Tony Blair's successes (and condemnations of failures such as the Iraq war) and in his championing of key public services.

Although the Plasnewydd by-election was already underway as he spoke, it is a sign that this message is getting through.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bankrupt media still don't get the Liberal Democrats

Before I embark on this rant I should make it clear that I am not deluded enough to ignore the fact that the Liberal Democrats are in trouble.

We have just eight MPs, one MEP, one GLAM, one AM and five MSPs. We are at 8% in the opinion polls and are apparently grounded at that level.

For all their splits, arguments and eccentricities (and they have more than most) UKIP remain ahead of us in the view of the public and are still being touted as a rising force. Whether that is proved right has yet to be seen.

Despite that the green shoots of recovery are evident. We have gained 16 council seats in by-elections this year, more than all the other parties put together. Is that a sign that people are starting to trust us again?

We are at record membership levels, having recruited nearly 20,000 since 23rd June and we are currently in the middle of the biggest conference we have ever staged in terms of member attendance, albeit that the number of outside exhibitors seem to be at a record low number.

There is a long way to go if we are to claw our way back, but we are far from dead and buried. Liberalism has a place in this post-Brexit society, not just because of our solo championing of the European cause, but because of our determination to stand against the erosion of civil liberties, our focus on education and health and because we continue to fight for the most disadvantaged in our society at a time when other politicians find it easier to go with the media flow of prejudice and sensationalism.

Of course we have to convince the British people of that and the media who feed them with their news. Which is why it is so frustrating to find journalists at this conference with the agenda of doing us down and so-called grandees who are keen to throw them morsels.

Thus, this Guardian piece talks about the party's death rattle echoing around an empty conference hall and focuses on Paddy Ashdown's latest obsession with a new on-line cross-party movement which appears to have the sole objective of ousting the Tories. His declaration that “Political parties are finished; the Liberal Democrats are intellectually dead,” and that from now on, all policy could be crowd-sourced and crowd-funded is not just unhelpful it is delusional.

People are always looking for something new, that is why UKIP have done so well. It is why the Alliance soared in the 1980s. It is when those phoenixes seek to add substance to their fire that they burn out. After the disaster of the Liberal Democrats election campaign, which he ran, one would have thought that a period of monastic silence might suit Paddy better.

This week's agenda has not exactly been packed. We are still, digesting the lessons of the 2015 election fiasco. But the debates we have had have been passionate, informed, relevant and substantial, the policy we have passed has been evidenced and radical. And during those key debates the hall has been full.

Despite the media rhetoric and the attention-seeking antics of one or two limelight-starved 'grandees' the Liberal Democrats are far from finished. It is a long way back, but we have identified the road we want to travel and we have taken the first steps on that journey.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The case for a second referendum

It is fair to say that the Liberal Democrats' Autumn Conference has been dominated by discussion of Brexit and in particular the very clear stance of Tim Farron and the party that there should be a second referendum on the final terms of Britain's departure from the EU.

This is by no means seeking a rerun of the referendum that was lost in June, instead it is saying that the British people should have the final say on what emerges from the process they set in chain when they voted to leave.

Tim Farron sets out the case as reported in the Independent: “We trusted the British people on departure, in the referendum in June,” he said. “We should now trust them with destination.

“The deal that will be settled for the future of the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe, freedom of movement, the single market and everything else is utterly unclear.

“You don’t know what it is, I don’t know, the British people don’t know. I doubt even Theresa May knows.

“There needs to be a referendum on that deal. That is the best option for us staying in. It is also the best option for the whole of our society gathering around whatever we do next.”

I totally support that stance. A great many people knew what they were voting against in June but there was nothing on the table as to what they were voting for. It is only right that once there is a final deal in place people are the given the choice of accepting that deal or remaining in the EU.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A conference horror show

I am at Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton. It is our best attended gathering ever and people are upbeat on the back of 15 local council by-election gains this year so far including some significant wins in Labour strongholds.

Later today our only government minister, Kirsty Williams will be answering questions and then giving a speech. It is easy to imagine that we are on a roll. And yet there is still a long way to go to claw our way back to national significance.

Although the media have turned up and are reporting the conference, it feels like those Liberal events of old, the number of outside exhibitors are down and we are an after-thought on the news programmes. More to the point the event all the commentators are itching to report on is not Tim Farron's speech but next week's Labour Conference.

Dan Hodges explains why. He describes a harrow show in which he says for many Labour MPs will be like walking into a nightmarish British version of The Gulag Archipelago.

He quotes on Labour MP as saying that ‘The dogs of war will be unleashed, there will be retribution, punishment beatings and threats of de-selection. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will be walking around preaching the politics of unity. And while they’re doing it the Momentum activists will be roaming around, looking for vengeance.’

He continues: Corbyn, well aware that victory is his, is already planning his response. As his opponents point out, on the surface he will be a model of magnanimity. ‘We must unite to fight the Tories’ will become the unofficial conference slogan.

But behind the scenes he and his commissars have already been plotting their retribution against those they deem guilty of crimes against his leadership.

Two weeks ago, Corbyn, McDonnell and senior aides decamped to the Unite union’s training centre in Esher, where I am told they drew up a political hit list.

First target is party General Secretary Iain McNicol, who dared take a stand against hard-Left infiltration of the leadership contest. Next will be senior national and regional party officials, who are viewed as insufficiently ideologically pure.

And, finally, Corbyn’s assassins plan to plunge an ice pick into the back of the man now regarded as enemy of the people No 1 – deputy leader Tom Watson. ‘A challenge to Tom over the next 12 months is inevitable,’ a Watson ally confirmed to me.

Against this backdrop, the process of purging rebellious MPs will commence. This will be conducted under cover of the boundary review, which will see the number of winnable Labour seats significantly reduced.

Corbyn and McDonnell plan to use their activist base to set MPs against one another, in a sort of Momentum-sponsored Hunger Games.

The first move from the Corbynites will come on Saturday morning, as soon as his victory is confirmed. Labour MPs will be invited to issue loyalty statements, with Corbynite delegates on hand to offer a ‘re-education course’ to those who decline.

‘All those lunatics who used to stand outside conference screaming and trying to shove leaflets into people hands will be on the inside now,’ said one former Labour Minister. ‘In fact, they’re the ones who’ll be running the conference.’

It is little wonder that journalists are wetting their lips at the prospect of reporting on this bloodletting.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Manoeuvring starts to succeed May already

Just when we thought that the Tory party had settled down after its leadership election a face from the past pops up and stakes out his claim to the future.

As the Guardian reports, George Osborne reappeared to give his first interview since Theresa May sacked him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In doing so he warned the new Prime MInister that he plans to be the champion of “the liberal mainstream majority”, questioning her policies on grammar schools and her “wobble” on the “northern powerhouse” initiative:

Osborne said May had made a “strong start” as prime minister but offered her only lukewarm support and signalled that he would fight her from the backbenches on grammar schools and any moves towards a hard Brexit deal.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said he voted for May in the leadership race, but pointedly added: “I think she is the best person for the job of the candidates who put themselves forward.”

In the earlier interview, Osborne said he was not ready to follow David Cameron out of frontline politics. “I don’t want to write my memoirs because I don’t know how the story ends and I want to hang around and find out,” he said.

He suggested he would resist May’s plan for grammar schools from the backbenches. He said: “I have always thought with the debate about grammars that 80% of the political discussion is about where 20% of children go, when in fact we should be focusing on where 80% of the children go in a selective system. I think the real focus of education reform remains the academy programme, transforming the comprehensive schools that most people send their children to.”

He positioned himself as a pro-European centrist rival to May’s government, saying: “I will be championing ... the liberal mainstream majority of this country … who do not want to be governed from the extremes, who want Britain to be internationalists, outward-looking, free-trading, who want a socially just society. That is the cause that I believe in.”

Cameron has gone but Osborne is staying on and looks like he may be trouble. This could be interesting after all.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Does badly split UKIP face an existential crisis?

It is hard to know who has come off worst with the defection of UKIP's fomrer head of media, Alexandra Phillips to the Tories.

Is it UKIP who have lost a key figure and who are characterised by her as having become more “aggressive and testosterone-fuelled” and racked with in-fighting in the latter period of Nigel Farage's leadership?

Or is it the Tories, whose leader and Prime Mininster stands accused of having delivered on all key elements of UKIP’s 2015 election manifesto “within a matter of months” of David Cameron's resignation. So much so in fact that they allegedly leave UKIP with few places to go in policy terms.

The Guardian publishes a warts and all interview on Phillips' seven years in Ukip:  

Speaking before her former party’s annual conference at which a successor for Farage will be elected on Friday, Phillips said that
The characterisation of Neil Hamilton as cross between Machiavelli and Rasputin appeals to me and no doubt will ring true for Nathan Gill too. The question is will Gill follow Phillips into the Tories as UKIP continue to self-destruct?

She says of Hamilton: “There is one particular character – a former Conservative minister – who has the ability to always be circumstantially close to bombs going off. I can’t vouch for the fact that he causes those destructive occurrences ... but whenever there is a crisis happening, something leaked or a disaster here or there he is always lurking around in the shadows like a Machiavellian Rasputin character.”

Phillips believes that a surge in membership for the Tories, with 50,000 people joining over the summer, is coming largely from UKIP deserters. When combined with predictions of a major split once the party's new leader is announced this afternoon and admissions by senior figures of deep splits within UKIP's ranks, it is clear that they are facing an existential crisis from which they may not recover.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Does Corbyn hitlist show Labour as irrevocably divided?

It is a fact that until the revolt by the Parliamentary Labour Party against Jeremy Corbyn's leadership the official opposition were neck and neck with the Conservatives in the polls.

This does not mean that Corbyn was doing particularly well or that the Labour Party were in a position to win a General Election but it did provide some comfort to those who had placed their faith in Corbyn as leader.

The dramatic decline in the Labour Party's standing in public opinion since then is almost certainly down to the perception that the party is split down the middle and fighting amongst itself instead of doing the job it was elected to do of opposing the government.

This perception is far too close to the truth for Labour's comfort, but those who care about these things will no doubt be hoping that once the leadership is sorted then everything will settle down and they can make up lost ground. That though, is not going to happen whilst the likely winner, Jeremy Corbyn persists in picking at open wounds.

Most Labour MPs now face the threat of mandatory reselection for no other reason than the extraordinary rewriting of Parliamentary boundaries which will hit their party hard. Then, on top of that, we have Jeremy Corbyn's own hitlist of Labour MPs who have got under his skin.

The Guardian reports that the leader's campaign team has issued a list singling out 14 Labour MPs, including deputy leader Tom Watson, whom it claims have abused the leader and his allies. This has triggered an entirely new row in the party:

Corbyn’s team said the list was sent out by mistake by a junior staff member, but the leader later appeared to stand by the substance of the allegations, saying all the remarks had been made on the record.

In the release, Owen Smith, the challenger for the Labour leadership, was accused of being the “real disunity candidate”, who has failed to tackle abuse meted out by his own supporters.

The list, obtained by Press Association, highlighted the behaviour of a number of Labour MPs, including Jess Phillips for telling Corbyn’s ally Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, John Woodcock for dismissing the party leader as a “fucking disaster” and Tristram Hunt for describing Labour as “in the shit”.

Watson was highlighted for calling the grassroots Corbyn campaign Momentum a “rabble”.

This is no way to bring the Labour Party back together after a bruising leadership contest and calls into question Corbyn's ability to do so. More to the point it suggests that if Corbyn is re-elected then a bloodletting will ensue which could rip the Labour Party apart permanently.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New Welsh Assembly term, new UKIP gaffe

I am rapidly coming to the view that the disgraced former Tory MP and UKIP Assembly leader, Neil Hamilton should be kept away from microphones for the good of his own party. On the other hand as somebody who abhors everything UKIP stands for, long may he continue embarrassing his colleagues.

The latest gaffe came at the first UKIP press briefing of the new Assembly term. According to the Western Mail, Hamilton once more inserted his foot in his mouth and pronounced:

"With the boundary changes that are going to take place before 2020, Labour are going to suffer a holocaust, particularly in Wales, and I’m looking forward to the blood-letting which the current leadership contest has been the precursor to.”

This provoked an immediate reaction from Labour AM, Joyce Watson who said: “Even by Neil Hamilton’s standards, this use of language is absolutely unforgivable. He should withdraw these remarks, apologise and spend some time thinking about what the word holocaust really means, in particular to Jewish families in Wales.”

Hamilton is no stranger to gaffes and actions that cause embarrassment to his own party of course, as these blogposts show. His latest blunder is not just a misjudgement on his part but offensive to a significant number of people and he should apologise. It shows a complete lack of historical and cultural awareness as well as a reckless disregard for the responsibilities associated with his position.

Oh, and UKIP are hardly free from the sort of infighting currently crippling Labour, some of it focussing on Hamilton himself.

On a secondary note Hamilton also illustrated once more his party's ineptitude by suggesting that the £150m a year needed to fund a Commonwealth Games bid could be found "if the Welsh Government scrapped the funding of wind turbines in the Welsh countryside."

Nice try, but any subsidy for alternative power generation comes from the UK Government, not the Welsh Assembly budget.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How is Brexit impacting on the jobs market?

Today's news is dominated by the David Cameron's resignation as an MP, the Parliamentary boundary changes and of course the defection of the Great British Bake Off to Channel Four. However, the real news remains with the Government's plans to put the referendum vote into effect by leaving the EU and its impact on the UK economy.

The Guardian says that a new report by recruitment agency Manpower has concluded that Britain’s employers have refused to panic following the referendum vote, but new jobs are likely to become increasingly scarce as concerns over Brexit talks undermine business confidence.

Official figures show employment is steady and the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance is falling but Manpower say the UK jobs market is “skating on thin ice”, with cracks starting to appear in many areas of the economy:

A survey of more than 2,100 employers showed that companies in business and financial services, construction and utilities were less optimistic than before the referendum, while prospects also fell in manufacturing.

Employers in several sectors said they were concerned that key staff would be affected by a block on EU workers staying in the UK.

The survey chimes with a raft of similar reports showing that employers are nervous about Brexit negotiations that could see the UK leave the single market and impose strict limits on EU workers coming to Britain.

The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said signs of a post-referendum recovery should be treated with caution because a rebound in August only made up for ground lost in July.

“While the news is encouraging, we believe it has no bearing on the cloudy longer-term outlook for the UK economy,” said Sophie Tahiri, an economist at S and P Global Ratings.

An expansion over the next few months could be viewed as the economy returning to “business as usual”, but this may prove to be premature or even a mirage, she said.

“The uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future outside of the EU – and the associated economic risks, which we think are pronounced and predominantly skewed to the downside – will gradually take its toll, particularly on investment, as businesses start dealing with the new Brexit reality,” Tahiri said.

The UK Managing Director of Manpower, Mark Cahill says that employers are reliant on European talent to help fill skills shortages, especially in IT and the City. He believes that financial centres in the EU are circling financial institutions in the City to steal work and skilled staff. There has been an 800% increase in applications for finance positions in Dublin since the EU referendum.

In addition many employers in the health service and care sector also rely on foreign workers from the EU and were concerned about filling skills gaps.

None of this looks very promising. Perhaps we are going to need the Great British Bake Off to cheer us all up.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Independence is another name for expensive isolation

Be careful what you wish for may well be the phrase that becomes most associated with the Brexiteers as yet another consequence of the leave vote becomes apparent.

The Independent reports that families have been warned of a possible £40 ‘holiday tax’ to travel to the EU as the price of Brexit. The paper describes this as a bombshell Government admission but really, what did they expect?

Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed that a Brussels scheme that would require permission to be granted - and a fee paid - before departure could be adopted, saying “We don’t rule it out.”

The scheme is likely to be modelled on the visa waiver system introduced by the United States, which imposes a $14 charge (about £10.50) on every adult and child.

Condemning the ‘holiday tax’, Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary said: “Tory ministers might think nothing of that, but it would make it even harder for ordinary families to afford a holiday.”

The warning came after Ms Rudd was asked about a Brussels plan for a US-style visa waiver system and its impact on the UK after it leaves the European Union.

Ms Rudd admitted British people would be “surprised” to learn the free-and-easy travel to the EU they have enjoyed for decades is now in peril.

What this demonstrates is how little was understood about the decision to leave the EU. We cannot be part of a free market zone without freedom of movement and if we insist on border controls then it will mean that those wishing to holiday abroad will find it more expensive and more bureaucratic to do so.

Those who said that we needed to reassert our independence as a country forgot to mention that the consequent splendid isolation has a price.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stereotypes and opinion polling

In the USA Hillary Clinton has got into trouble for characterising the supporters of Donald Trump as 'deplorables'. NBC reports that she told an LGBT gala fundraiser that many of the GOP candidate's voters were "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it."

This sort of lazy (and offensive) labelling of one's opponents plays to the voraciousness of the 24/7 media coverage of politics. The media want soundbites rather than analysis and where they offer analysis it is often superficial.

Constant opinion polls play into this agenda, they feed the media beast, reduce everything to slogans and turn snapshots of opinion into unsupportable concrete predictions. The recent trend to use polls to profile particular groups of people is equally superficial as is evidenced by this article in the Independent.

They report that new YouGov 'research' has concluded that the typical Corbyn supporter is prone to depression and not eating meat. They say that the most representative member of Labour's swelling ranks of new members is a middle-class Welsh man in his early twenties who works for a charity. It would be laughable if it were not taken so seriously by the media and by politicians themselves. It is politics reduced to marketing.

The YouGov poll continues that Corbyn supporters are keen on the Internet, where they like to watch YouTube and frequent Jeremy Corbyn's Facebook page:

Their keenest political interests include the NHS, homelessness and climate change – as well as the fear that we are being controlled by a secret elite.

When they're not on the Internet, Corbyn supporters tend to like writing and politics, and are keen on Stephen Fry, David Attenborough and Eddie Izzard, according YouGov.

And while they might be vegetarian, it doesn't mean that their diets are boring. They like a wide range of foods – everything from dal and thali to bangers and mash, though all of them vegetarian.

According to YouGov's statistics, Mr Corbyn's supporters appear to be as expected, given media reports. People who like him tend to be young and left-wing – indeed, they are at the left extreme of YouGov's spectrum.

But they also tend strongly to be female – as much as they do for being young and being left-wing.

The more I read of this stuff, the less I believe it. It is almost as if the polling company are seeking to clone us to fit into specific groups. To do so would certainly make it easier to identiify who we should be targeting in our policy-making, but it hardly reflects the individuality that characterises us and informs all our choices.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

HM Treasury hires contract killer

Working on the principle that a good blog needs sensational headlines and good pictures of cats, this story was a natural for a quiet Saturday morning.

The media is full of stories about Gladstone, number 11's new cat who, in between baiting Larry next door, has proved to be an extremely effective mouser.

We are told that since Gladstone was brought in from an animal shelter in July, he has already killed six mice. This rodent bloodbath is in sharp contrast to the dire mousing record of his famously lazy neighbour Larry, who only killed his first mouse after six months in Number 10.

The Treasury claim that they only employ the 'sharpest in the business', my suspicion though is that they have a time and motion expert in and that Gladstone is working to strict performance measures. These accountants are unscrupulous.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Lib Dem victory in Sheffield shows up Corbyn's alternative reality

Claims by the Corbynista that massive turnouts at the Labour leader's rallies prove that he can win a General Election were shown up as a fantasy last night, when the Liberal Democrats stormed from fourth place to take a seat off Labour on Sheffield Council.

As the Daily Mirror points out this by-election victory occurred in a City where just three weeks previously a Jeremy Corbyn rally attracted thousands of supporters:

The election was to replace Councillor Isobel Bowler, a longstanding and popular Labour councillor in the Sheffield Ward of Mosborough, who died in June.

In May, Labour won all three seats in the Ward, with the Lib Dems languishing in fourth place behind Ukip and the Conservation Party.

But in tonight's by-election, Both Labour and Ukip's votes collapsed, and Lib Dem candidate Gail Smith won on an 11 point lead.

It represents a huge swing to the Lib Dems in just four months, as they increased their vote share by 31.8%, beating Labour into second place.

Just three weeks ago, some 2,500 people crowded into Sheffield's Barkers Pool square to see Jeremy Corbyn deliver a speech.

Despite drawing a huge crowd, none of Sheffield's five Labour MPs attended the event.

The paper adds that the Sheffield branch of Momentum, the campaign group backing Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, held a phone banking event in the city whilst voting was going on. This event attracted 40 volunteers but they were phoning party members not Mosborough voters.

The Liberal Democrats have been steadily racking up local council by-election gains all year, some quite spectacular like this one. It is a far cry from a resurgence in the party's fortunes, but it is a start.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

TUC boss questions Labour's competence as an opposition

With Labour facing inwards, divided and quarrelsome, another senior figure in the party is publicly questioning their competence as an opposition and the way that they are letting the Tories off the hook.

The Guardian reports that the head of the Trades Union Congress has questioned whether Labour is ready to mount an effective opposition capable of winning a general election.

They say that Frances O’Grady has voiced her concern that the party has been too focused on internal rows at a time when workers’ rights are under threat as ministers decide the terms for Brexit:

Her words come as unions, which are bitterly divided over the future of the party, prepare for the annual congress in Brighton on Sunday. Most affiliated unions are backing Jeremy Corbyn, the overwhelming favourite, as he moves towards an expected victory over Owen Smith in the current leadership contest.

But O’Grady indicated that the party has been too focused on issues of party membership and whether MPs should be deselected, instead of holding Theresa May to account.

“It is important that Labour does not just focus on members and MPs but actually unites and gets on with being an effective opposition and map out a route to victory.

“When there is a leadership contest on, people are inward-looking. But my strong advice would be that many working people are looking to Labour to become an effective opposition which is united and focused on the concerns of working people. Labour needs to be in a position to win these people’s votes,” she said.

This is of course yet another example of how weak leadership from Jeremy Corbyn, massive splits between the Parliamentary Party and the membership and an obsession with process is letting the Tory government off the hook again and again.

The losers in all of this are not the Labour Party but voters and democracy itself. Without effective scrutiny, democracy cannot operate effectively. Labour have long abandoned any pretence at providing that scrutiny.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

UK Government in disarray on Brexit

Theresa May's assertion that 'Brexit means Brexit' may well have sufficed as a soundbite on the steps of 10 Downing Street as she assumed the premiership, but it clearly is not good enough to enable the UK  to navigate the uncertain future imposed on us by a very close referendum result.

A recent cabinet away day has left us no wiser as to how the government wants to conduct negotiations, what their red lines are and what May's vision is for a post-European Union Britain. So thank goodness we have had the Secretary of State for exiting the EU answering questions in the House of Commons. Perhaps he can enlighten us.

Alas, no. It seems that David Davis' view is no more representative of that held by the UK Government than mine or indeed, that of my cat.

The Guardian reports that when the member for Haltemprice and Howden told MPs that it would be unlikely for Britain to stay in the single market after Brexit negotiations, he was expressing a personal view.

He may have said that the government’s priority was securing restrictions to European migration, and he may have conceded that there could be an economic price to pay for that but that is not the opinion of the Prime Minister.

The paper says that a senior Downing Street official sought to distance Theresa May from the statement. “He is setting out his view that [single market membership] is improbable,” the spokeswoman told journalists, adding that the work on the negotiations was ongoing. “The prime minister recognises that people have differing views and … all of this has to be negotiated with European partners. The prime minister’s view is that we should be ambitious and go after the best deal we can. The secretary of state said we want the best deal for trades and services: that is what the prime minister is doing.”

However, asked again if Davis was expressing a government policy, she said: “He is setting out his opinion. A policy tends to be a direction of travel: saying something is probable or improbable is not policy.”

The spokeswoman also addressed reports that the government is planning to demand a system under which EU citizens coming to the UK must have a job offer. “I’d point you to what the prime minister has said,” she said, highlighting May’s view that the referendum result was a “clear message” that British people wanted to be able to control EU migration. “But there are various ways you can do that and it is something the government is looking at and will come forward with proposals.”

She would not confirm the reports, saying the government had yet to set out any of the options it was looking at, and insisting that it was “not always the right approach to put all your cards on the table at the start”.

She said: “There are range of ways in which you might seek to bring in controls. I didn’t see or hear the prime minister pointing to one particular system, what you’ve seen is her talking about a [points-based immigration] system that she doesn’t think will work.”

What this adds up to of course is that the UK Cabinet is deeply divided as to what Brexit means and are in some disarray as to how to take it forward. None of this instils any confidence that we have a way forward that will protect the UK's interests.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

"1960s-style employment practices" accusation levelled at company set up by Labour-run council

The BBC report that a company owned by Labour-controlled Rhondda Cynon Taf council has been criticised by a union which has accused it of using "1960s-style employment practices".

They say that the GMB union said agency staff at Amgen Cymru, an arm's-length waste management company, were sent home at short notice without a full day's pay. It added that the agency, Smart Solutions Ltd, paid employees via a third party:

Amgen Cymru's waste and recycling plant at Bryn Pica, near Aberdare, provides services for Rhondda Cynon Taf council and other authorities.

It operates as a separate legal entity to the council, but does have two council employees as its board of directors.

BBC Wales has seen payslips showing that some workers were not paid by Smart Solutions Ltd, but by another company until recently.

The GMB union said some workers were confused about who they were working for and claimed some were told they would have to pay for a paper payslip, and any replacement personal protection equipment.

Gareth Morgans, regional organiser for the GMB, claimed some workers were paid around £7,000 per year, before expenses were added to "make up" their pay, meaning the employer was not liable for national insurance contributions.

"The implications to the individual as I see it is that this could affect their pension in years to come if no national insurance contributions are being paid for the employee," he said.

"Amgen is an arm's-length company with directors from Rhondda Cynon Taf on the board... RCT introduced an ethical procurement policy earlier this year.

"I'm hearing of employees turning up for work in this organisation, working for an hour and then being tapped on the shoulder and sent home with no pay...that's 1960s-type employment practices - it shouldn't happen in the 21st Century."

Smart Solutions Ltd said it had changed the way it paid staff, but it had always complied with statutory requirements.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Poor timing and poor policy hits domestic abuse charities

The poor timing of the Tory Government's proposals to cap housing benefits for people living in social housing is not as important as its adverse consequence. Nevertheless timing is important in politics and some Tory MPs may well feel be feeling a bit nervous as a consequence.

As middle England sits riveted to the trial of Helen Titchener for the attempted murder of her husband, Rob the debate that it has engendered about domestic abuse has been passionate and wide-ranging.

As the Guardian reports, a Helen Titchener Fund, set up by Archers listener, Paul Trueman has already raised more than £135,000 for the Refuge charity. It is well on its way to meeting the target of 150,000. That would be the equivalent of almost 2,900 nights in a refuge for a woman and her children at a time when domestic violence services are experiencing huge cuts.

As the storyline intensified in February, there was a 17% increase in calls to the national domestic violence helpline, run by Refuge and Women’s Aid.

However, at the same time, Women's Aid is highlighting that two-thirds of women’s refuges in England are facing closure due to a change in the way housing benefit is paid to supported and sheltered housing.

The Guardian says that Government plans to cap housing benefit in the social sector at the same levels paid to private landlords risks destroying the finances of the refuges, which take in women and their children who have been victims of violence at the hands of their partners.

A survey of Women’s Aid-affiliated refuges shows that 67% of those operating in England would be forced to close if they are not exempted from the reform, while 87% would be forced to scale down the support they give to families.

Inevitably there will be an impact in Wales as well, but what that impact will be is not clear as the way shelters are funded here is slightly different and the Welsh Government's Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 imposes duties that will still need to be met.

I suspect that shelters may well struggle to remain open here but some clarity will be needed from the Minister on the extent of the threat posed by the housing benefit cap and whether it can be mitigated.

The Department for Work and Pensions have deferred the reforms until 2018 and they believe that this will give women’s refuges a period of grace while officials conduct a review into funding for the supported housing sector.

However, the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the review is already affecting providers. It means that they are not able to plan for the future as they have no idea about future income.

The National Housing Federation says that building work on an estimated 2,400 new specialist homes has already been cancelled as a result and an additional 9,270 homes would not be able to be built if the housing benefit cap goes ahead.

This is not a fringe issue. As the Helen Titchener trial continues it is becoming clear to many Tory voters, if they did not know already, that domestic abuse is not just about physical violence but also involves psychological abuse as well.  They will be puzzled as to why their government is cutting back support for women affected by it.

Let us hope that Tory MPs take up their concerns and put pressure on the government to reconsider the way this cap impacts on supported accomodatoin for victims.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Brexit bites

There were a lot of promises made by the Leave campaign during the referendum and a great many rebuttals of the case being put to stay in the EU, not least Leave said that the claims Brexit would result in a mass exodus of jobs away from Britain were nonsense.

Inevitably, as with their promise of £350m a week extra for the NHS, Leave EU have been found out as fantasists of the highest order.

Of course we have not left yet, nor have we started the formal process that will leave to our leaving but the portents are not good, particularly in the statements coming from other governments recently. The Independent for example reports today on President Obama's comments at the G20 summit in which he stands by his comment before the vote that the UK is now at the "back of the queue"  for trade talks. So much for the confidence of the likes of Boris Johnson that we can easily forge a new path in world trade.

Equally as worrying is this piece on Sky News that the Japanese government has taken the unprecedented step of warning of a series of corporate exits, "great turmoil" and harmful effects if Brexit leads to the loss of single market privileges.

Surely the Brexiteers said that would not happen.

The Japanese government has produced a 15-page list titled "Japan's message to the UK and the EU", which detail the requirements from Brexit negotiations and lists the consequences if the requirements are not delivered. As Sky points out half of Japanese investment in the EU comes to the UK including companies such as Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nomura and Daiwa. It is worth quoting extensively from the article:

"Japanese businesses with their European headquarters in the UK may decide to transfer their head-office function to Continental Europe if EU laws cease to be applicable in the UK after its withdrawal," the report concludes.

It says: "In light of the fact that a number of Japanese businesses, invited by the Government in some cases, have invested actively to the UK, which was seen to be a gateway to Europe, and have established value-chains across Europe, we strongly request that the UK will consider this fact seriously and respond in a responsible manner to minimise any harmful effects on these businesses."

The list is the most tangible account anywhere of what businesses are asking for from the Brexit negotiations.

It suggests Japanese car companies fear that they will be hit by a double whammy of trade tariffs.

There were fears of levies being imposed twice "once for auto parts imported from the EU and again for final products assembled in the UK to be exported to the EU - which would have a significant impact on their businesses.".

The report also states that the UK leaving the EU would damage exports from Britain to third countries because of trade privileges within the EU single market around so-called "rules of origin".

"Brexit would make such products unable to meet the rules of origin as EU products, which means that Japanese companies operating in the EU would not be able to enjoy the benefit of the Free Trade Areas concluded by the EU," the report said.

It also calls on the UK to "maintain access to workers who are nationals of the UK or the EU", saying the European labour market could suffer "great turmoil" if EU nationals could not freely travel between and stay in the UK and continental Europe.

The Japanese government warns its banks will move their European HQs out of London if the Brexit negotiations fail to secure the financial services passport to operate in the EU.

"If Japanese financial institutions are unable to maintain the single passport obtained in the UK, they would face difficulties in their business operations in the EU and might have to acquire corporate status within the EU anew and obtain the passport again, or to relocate their operations from the UK to existing establishments in the EU," said the report.

This concern has already been noted by the Bank of England, but this is the strongest indication yet of other nations spelling out the implications of some types of Brexit.

Those impacts also will be felt in the pharmaceutical industry, says the report, which sees the location of the EU's European Medicines Agency in London as crucial to the UK's high tech research appeal.

"Many Japanese pharmaceutical companies are operating in London, due to the EMA's location in London.

"If the EMA were to transfer to other EU Member States, the appeal of London as an environment for the development of pharmaceuticals would be lost, which could possibly lead to a shift in the flow of R&D funds and personnel to Continental Europe.

"This could force Japanese companies to reconsider their business activities," says the report.

The warning in this document is stark. If we don't get it right in negotiations with the EU then we will lose a substantial number of jobs and a significant amount of investment. And that does not just include remaining within the free trade area but also sustaining the free movement of labour we currently enjoy.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

No fear of flying

A freedom of information request on the Welsh Government's website reveals that the cost to the taxpayer of the Cardiff to Anglesey air service has risen from £838,000 in 2014-15 to £1,094,216 in 2015-16.

That is how much we are subsidising a polluting internal air service designed to save politicians and civil servants a few hours on the train. And it isn't as if the service is that well used. Less than 10,000 people flew on this route in 2015-16.

The cost to the taxpayer for each passenger is even more revealing, rising from £86.07 in 2014-15 to £109.53 last year. That is more than the cost of a return ticket on the service.

The Tories, who submitted the FOI request, argue that we need to market the service better so as to increase passenger numbers. The problem with that of course is that the infrastructure at the Angelsey end is not up to it and let's face it, passengers are hardly being delivered to the most convenient air field.

If we are really going to do something about this air service then the obvious solution is the one that has been proposed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats since the day Labour and Plaid Cymru established it, that is we abolish it altogether and use the money to improve north-south rail links.

At least then more people will benefit from the expenditure.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Should we renationalise the railways?

The privatisation of the railways was always a contrived attempt to prove that a particular brand of capitalist ideology could work in any circumstances. As an economic and social experiment it failed spectacularly.

One reason for this failure was that the operating and capital costs meant our railways were always going to need a public subsidy and that as such operators were actually competing to see who could operate at the lowest cost to the exchequer rather than against each other.

Another reason was that it is impossible to actually deliver straight competition in service delivery. The trains operate on a fixed infrastructure and there is no room for more than one operating company to compete on identical routes. Thus the franchises were effectively private monopolies based on geographic entities.

Despite the many tweaks to the model, including the effective renationalisation of the infrastructure company as National Rail, privatisation has continued to serve us badly. The much needed investment in the lines also known as electrification has been government-led and not, as the model would suggest, brought about in response to customer demand.

More disturbingly, the cost of subsidies remains high whilst the profits of rail companies soar. Effectively taxpayers are pouring money into shareholder dividends.

All of this has come to a head with the controversy over the allegedly appalling service offered by Southern Rail leading to 'travel chaos' (I say allegedly as I have never personally experienced it), and now the scandal that they have actually been delivering this 'chaos' as a massive profit, in excess of a recent bailout from the UK Government.

The Independent reports that company which jointly operates the troubled Southern rail franchise, has seen full-year profits soar 27 per cent to almost £100 million, just one day after the Government handed Southern a £20 million "bailout" package.

They add that the Go-Ahead Group, which owns 65 per cent of Southern operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) alongside Keolis, also saw revenues rise 4.5 per cent to £3.4 billion. The man in charge of this company saw his pay rise to £2.16 million this year, from £1.96 million in 2015, despite GTR having the worst punctuality record of any franchise in the country, with almost one in five trains late.

GTR also runs the "Gatwick Express" - the least punctual line in the country, which notched up 8,100 late services in the first six months of 2016.

Irrespective of whether a publicly-owned company could deliver a better service or not (it could hardly be worse), the economics of this particular franchise are crying out for it to be re-nationalised. We should not be pouring public money which has been set aside to deliver effective transport options into the pockets of private shareholders.

And while we are at it, isn't it time that the whole experiment with a privatised railway is put out of its misery?

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Brexit unbridled

In many ways the decision by the UK Cabinet to press ahead with Brexit negotiations without a vote in Parliament was predictable. May has been adamant that 'Brexit means Brexit' though we are still none the wiser what exactly that phrase means, enigmatic as it may be.

This decision of course relates to the start of talks, an event that could be said to have legitimacy by virtue of the referendum result, though that vote was only advisory and the final decision rests with Parliament. It cannot and must not apply to the final deal, which in my view has to be debated and endorsed by Parliament and should be put to an affirming vote of the UK electorate.

Interestingly, the UK Cabinet seem to believe that the European Commission is going to agree to a deal not available to any of their other affiliates such as Norway. The Independent reports that Ministers have brushed aside statements from EU leaders that no access to the single market would be granted if free movement of European citizens is not allowed across EU borders.

Instead, they issued a bullish statement that the Government will pursue a “unique” deal granting both immigration control and some access to the single market.

Good luck with that one.

It is interesting nevertheless that any decision to go to war or use UK armed forces in a conflict situation requires a vote of the House of Commons, but negotiations that will settle the future of the UK economy for the next 50 years or so do not even merit a debate.

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