.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The new divide in British politics

As we leave behind what can only be described as a pretty dreadful 2016, the bad news is that 2017 may not be much better. That is because the decisions that were made this year are going to come back to haunt us over the next 12 months.

In particular, the election of Donald Trump and the rather concerning axis he is forming with Vladamir Putin against China, but also the disastrous vote to leave the EU that threatens to plunge this country into recession, put up the cost of living for millions of people and will see thousands of jobs migrate to the continent.

The fallout from Brexit in particular is already starting to change the nature of British politics. In my view the real divide in the UK has not been between left and right for some time, but between libertarianism and authoritarianism. June's referendum result may have shifted things yet further.

As Andrew Grice writes in the Independent, three recent parliamentary by-elections in Witney, Richmond Park and Sleaford and North Hykeham have shown that Brexit is the new dividing line:

The results confirm a continuing trend spotted by academics working on the British Election Study, who found before and just after the June referendum that voters’ political identity was shaped more by Brexit than their traditional party allegiance. It suggests we might be entering a new era in which voting is influenced more by cultural attitudes (such as those towards immigration) than by class – a shift which also helped Donald Trump reach the White House. Will it prove a temporary effect? I doubt it, since Brexit will dominate UK politics for years, and certainly until the next general election.

Labour looks certain to be the big loser. The party already had an electoral mountain to climb, because of its collapse in Scotland and boundary changes that will give the Tories an estimated 20-seat advantage.

Brexit makes Labour’s climb even steeper. The danger is that the party appears irrelevant on the biggest challenge facing the country. Labour will struggle to win the confidence of both Leavers, because officially it backed Remain, and strong Remainers, angry about Jeremy Corbyn’s half-hearted referendum campaign and with a new champion in the Lib Dems, who unashamedly target “the 48 per cent”.

Strong Remainers will find little comfort and joy in Corbyn’s New Year message. He promises not to “stand by” while the Tories make a mess of Brexit, but equally insists that Labour accepts and respects the referendum result and “won’t be blocking our leaving the EU”.

His words sum up Labour’s acute dilemma. Almost 70 per cent of Labour-held constituencies voted Leave, so the party would provide Ukip with booster rockets by fighting Brexit. The Tories would love it too, accusing Labour of “defying the will of the people”.

But by sitting on the fence, Labour risks being squeezed out by Ukip and the Tories on the one hand and the Lib Dems on the other. Brexit also makes it harder for Labour to forge the coalition it always needs to win power – between its middle-class supporters who largely voted Remain, and its working-class voters who are more likely to be Leavers.

Labour's failure to understand these changes and adjust to them, their determination to have their cake and eat it on the biggest issue to face the UK in decades and their own divisions on Europe could mean that they are the biggest losers from Brexit.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Will the Tories pull us out of the European Court on Human Rights?

Many papers are reporting today that Theresa May is planning to fight the next election on a platform of pulling the UK out of the European Court on Human Rights so as to suppress dissent in her own Parliamentary Party and force the measure through.

Wales on-line report on Welsh reaction to this plan, but opposition is not just confined to this side of the border. Many commentators agree with me that pulling the UK out of the ECHR would undermine our status in the world, provide an excuse for the more dodgy members to also withdraw and consequently see an increase in human rights abuses across the world.

Winston Churchill was instrumental in setting up the ECHR in an effort to prevent the sort of abuses perpetrated by the Nazis ever happening in Europe again. How ironic therefore that a Conservative Prime Minister wishes to withdraw from international action on human rights and open the door for further atrocities.

Those who might argue that all of this is behind us need only look to Bosnia and other examples where unaccountable despots trampled over people's rights and practised genocide, torture and the like on innocent victims. Pulling the UK out of the ECHR would send the wrong signal to these monsters.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty sums it up. She said: “With this deeply regressive and unpopular plan the Prime Minister is on the wrong side of history. The European Convention was written to stop the horrors of World War II from ever happening again.

“Any leader who tries to undermine the values that have given us peace in Europe and protection at home is irresponsible and frighteningly unprincipled. We urge the Prime Minister to spend her time trying to protect our rights, not do away with them."

This is a proposal that needs to be stopped in its tracks.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tories to copy US voter suppression tactics

Measures used in some Republican controlled US states such as Florida of introducing barriers to voting for ethnic minorities and poorer communities have been in place for some considerable time, with decisive effects in close elections. That, together with the disproportionate electoral college, undermines claims by the USA to be a model of good democratic practice.

Now it seems that the Tories want to bring similar restrictions into play in the UK which, when combined with the boundary reviews, could see them entrenched in power for some time to come. As the Guardian reports, plans to trial a requirement for voters to present an ID at the polling station could prevent millions of people from voting.

Putting to one side the almost inevitable nightmare of hundreds of voters turning up at the polling stations without photo IDs, being sent away and not bothering to return, there is the larger problems that a significant proportion of the population do not even own such an ID. In fact many will not even be able to put their hands on a utility bill due to the fact that they live in rented or shared accommodation or are reliant on meters.

The Electoral Commission say that 3.5 million electors or 7.5% of the electorate, would have no acceptable piece of photo ID. Under the government’s proposals, these voters would either be denied a vote entirely, or in other trial areas, required to produce multiple pieces of ID. The vast majority of these voters will be from poorer communities or ethnic communities, not natural Tory voters.

These proposals are all the more suspicious because as the Electoral Reform Society's chief executive, Katie Ghost says: “There is simply no evidence to suggest that electoral fraud is widespread across the UK. Where it has occurred it has been isolated and should be tackled locally." In other words there is no justification for these trials.

What is more worrying is the thought that there is a hidden agenda at work here. The question has to be asked what happens if the trials show a marked fall in turnout as a result of the requirement to present an ID?  Will the idea be abandoned or will the findings be used as an excuse to reintroduce the idea of universal ID cards.

This is not a government which respects human rights or civil liberties. My betting is that universal ID cards will be back on the agenda sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Leave continue their fantasy campaign

In the Guardian Tim Farron quite rightly challenges the latest fantasies from the pro-leave group Change Britain, who have failed to learn lessons from the lies told during the referendum campaign and are claiming that a “clean Brexit”, leaving both the single market and customs union, could save Britain £450m a week.

The paper says that Change Britain, the successor organisation to Vote Leave, which is backed by former cabinet minister Michael Gove, Labour’s Gisela Stuart and the former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson, released research on Tuesday arguing that a clean break with the EU would be more beneficial to the economy than a soft Brexit.

This is despite the much-discredited claim back in June in which the same bunch of numpties said that leaving the EU could save £350m a week for the NHS. That has turned out to be nonsense as will this latest so-called research.

This is not just me saying this. As the paper reports the former chief economist at the Cabinet Office Jonathan Portes has questioned the methodology. He said that the £450m figure was arrived at by adding together supposed savings that could not be compared:

“Adding increased exports and reduced government expenditure is literally meaningless. The results mean nothing. It isn’t research, it’s junk,” he said.

Another problem with the calculation was counting the benefit of trade deals with countries such as South Korea that already have an agreement with the EU, Portes said.

“But to my mind that is second order. Anybody who adds together increased government revenue literally has no idea what they are doing ... It’s no surprise people who backed the fictitious £350m figure also back this number,” he said.

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, also rejected the numbers as “fantasy figures” that no one would believe after Vote Leave’s claims.

“Today’s claims are just the latest in a procession of lies pushed out by the usual suspects who are desperate for a hard Brexit that will rip Britain out of the single market,” he said.

“Leave campaigners spent weeks gallivanting around the UK in a big red bus with a promise of more money for our NHS emblazoned on the side; it was a clear promise to British public who were told that lie over and over again.

“It played on people’s legitimate fears about this government’s underfunding of the NHS. The lie that a leave vote would mean more money for the NHS each week was a disgracefully cynical ploy.

“To now present the public with an even bigger made-up number is shameless and these scaremongers should take a look at themselves in the mirror.”

Surely it is time that we had an idea of what the UK Government is actually going to do in response to the referendum result so we can work out the real cost of Brexit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Plaid Cymru did try and do a deal with UKIP after all

There was a huge amount of controversy in May of this year when Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood was nominated for First MInister against Labour's Carwyn Jones and forced a 29-29 stalemate after she attracted the votes of UKIP and the Tories.

As Politics Home reported at the time, Labour were particularly vehement in their criticism. accusing Leanne Wood of “prancing about wanting to be First Minister” without having a programme for government that could attract majority support and of "unbelievable hypocritical behaviour" for seeking a deal witb UKIP and the Toriee despite claiming to be more anti-austerity than everybody else in the leadership debates only 18 months previously.

The then Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen Smith tweeted: "The new axis in Welsh Politics: #Plaidkip Coming soon to a Billboard near you..." whilst others took Plaid Cymru to task for even talking to UKIP after they had been so scathing about Nigel Farage and his party over such a long period of time.

Plaid Cymru though denied that they had approached UKIP for their votes, whilst one of their MPs. Jonathan Edwards accused Labour on twitter of standard red Tories tactics and of reverting to lies, smear and spin.

However, according to this article by Martin Shipton on Wales on-line, it is Plaid Cymru who have been caught out in a lie.

He reports that Plaid Cymru's Adam Price went in person to see UKIP’s newly elected group leader Neil Hamilton, whom he had got to know during the election campaign when both of them stood for election in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Adam was elected and Hamilton won a regional seat in Mid and West Wales. Adam Price formally requested UKIP support for Leanne's candidacy.

As Martin Shipton reports “He embraced the idea enthusiastically and didn’t need any persuasion,” said Adam. “He quickly offered the support of the rest of the UKIP group too.”

Adam Price also approached the Conservative group to request their support, which they gave reluctantly.  The Welsh Liberal Democrats sole AM, Kirsty Williams eschewed this bizarre coalition and refused to endorse any deal involving UKIP or the Tories. She backed the leader of the largest group for First Minister.

So much for Plaid Cymru's indignant denials of having sort UKIP's endorsement of Leanne as First Minister.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The surveillance state - how local councils are spying on their citizens

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has always been a controversial measure giving local councils powers to snoop on their citizens to enforce various measures, out of all proportion to the nature of the offence. An article in Guardian reveals the extent to which these powers have been used.

The paper says that Councils were given permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and fly-tipping:

A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities – two-thirds of the 283 that responded – used the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives.

Among the detailed examples provided were Midlothian council using the powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council gathering evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons.

Wolverhampton used covert surveillance to check on the sale of dangerous toys and car clocking; Slough to aid an investigation into an illegal puppy farm; and Westminster to crack down on the selling of fireworks to children.

Meanwhile, Lancaster city council used the act, in 2012, for “targeted dog fouling enforcement” in two hotspots over 11 days.

A spokeswoman pointed out that the law had since changed and Ripa could only now be used if criminal activity was suspected. The permissions for tens of thousands of days were revealed in a huge freedom of information exercise, carried out by the Liberal Democrats. It found that councils then launched 2,800 separate surveillance operations lasting up to 90 days each.

That change in the law is very welcome but as Brian Paddick says, it is absurd that measures primarily intended for combating terrorism are being used to combat issues as trivial as a dog barking or the sale of theatre tickets. Spying on the public should be a last resort not an everyday tool.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Politicians that make a difference

Having been a full-time Parliamentarian for seventeen years I know that the job is not an easy one. It involves long hours, hard work and lots of energy-sapping events. Until I ceased to do the job in May, I had not realised how tired I was all the time.

No one day is the same but the real satisfaction comes from the behind-the-scenes work that they get no recognition for, whether it is lobbying, or carrying out casework on behalf of constituents.

Politicians have a terrible reputation. most of it is undeserved. When you question people about those who they have had direct contact with, they are often much kinder in their opinions.

That is why I was pleased to read this piece in the Guardian on the unsung MPs, quietly making Britain better.

The paper highlights the work of the SNP's Alison Thewliss on behalf of rape victims, the Conservative's Alan Mak for Magic Breakfast, a charity that supplies healthy meals to more than 30,000 children a day, the Liberal Democrats' Norman Lamb on mental health, Labour's Siobhain McDonagh, on behalf of shop workers and the Conservative's Claire Perry campaigning for justice for the families of people killed in road traffic accidents.

These MPs are not exceptions, they are typical of the vast majority of politicians, who have got into politics to make a difference to people's lives and get on with the job quietly and often without the credit they deserve.

The UKIP civil war erupts again

Nigel Farage may no longer be leader of UKIP but that has not stopped him from carrying on his own personal vendettas within it.

The fact is that if Farage there decided to up sticks to go and work for Trump, the oddballs. racists and reactionaries who make up a significant proportion of UKIP's membership would be without a party.

So the fact that Farage is still trying to drum UKIP's only MP out of his gang is significant. As the Guardian says,  Trump's new best friend thinks that Douglas Carswell should not be in his party:

Farage told LBC radio on Friday. “He doesn’t believe in what we stand for, he never has done … Since the general election all he’s done is sought to undermine us and divide us. And I notice even since Paul [Nuttall] has become leader we’ve had some statement from Carswell saying that he thought Theresa May’s doing a fantastic job.”

Carswell, who has remained close to many Conservatives, declined to back Farage’s Grassroots Out movement during the referendum and instead campaigned with its rival, Vote Leave, alongside the Tory Daniel Hannan.

However, Farage said Carswell showed no signs of defecting back to the Conservatives. “Last year at a Christmas cocktail party I bumped into David Cameron … We chatted and he said, ‘Tell me, Nigel,’ he said, ‘How are you getting on with Douglas Carswell?’ I said, ‘About as well as you did.’”

Asked by the presenter Nick Ferrari whether the former prime minister had laughed at his comment, Farage said: “He did. There are some people who just don’t fit in anywhere … I think Douglas is an individual. He’s got his own set of views on things but maybe party politics isn’t really for him.”

Whilst Farage and Carswell argue amongst themselves, the Liberal Democrats are leading the fight against a hard Brexit and for the right to have a vote on the final deal between the UK Government and the EU. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Will Trump take the world to the brink of nuclear war?

The USA has enough nuclear warheads to destroy the world several times over and yet the President-elect, Donald Trump wants to reverse decades of disarmament and add to that arsenal.

As the Independent reports, in a single comment on Twitter, that will raise more questions about both his temperament and foreign policy experience, the Donald Trump said the US must "greatly strengthen and expand" its nuclear arsenal until "the world comes to its senses regarding nukes". Shades of Dr. Strangelove already!

The paper usefully reports on the current state of nuclear armaments across the World:

The Federation of American Scientists has estimated there are currently 15,375 nuclear warheads held by eight countries. Of those, Russia has an estimated 7,300, the US has 6,970, France has 300, China possesses 260, the UK has 215, Pakistan has 130, India has 120 and Israel has 80, though it refuses to confirm or deny its arsenal.

The question is why would we need anymore. More importantly, what sane person would want to expand the number of countries who have nuclear weapons or think that the USA and Russian might combine to use nuclear weapons against a third party?

That appears to be where Trump is going. If 2016 has proved to be a dreadful car-crash of a  year then 2017 is beginning to look like a potential disaster for world peace.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Snoopers' Charter suffers major setback

The ruling by the European Court of Justice yesterday, that “General and indiscriminate retention” of emails and electronic communications by governments is illegal, has thrown the future of the UK Government's 'Snoopers Charter' into serious doubt.

As the Guardian reports, the ECJ determined that only targeted interception of traffic and location data in order to combat serious crime, including terrorism, is justified. It means that the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act may have to be revisited:

The finding came in response to a legal challenge initially brought by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, when he was a backbench MP, and Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, over the legality of GCHQ’s bulk interception of call records and online messages.

Davis and Watson, who were supported by Liberty, the Law Society, the Open Rights Group and Privacy International, had already won a high court victory on the issue, but the government appealed and the case was referred by appeal judges to the ECJ. The case will now return to the court of appeal to be resolved in terms of UK legislation.

The aim of going to Luxembourg was to clarify EU law on surveillance. The two MPs had argued successfully in the domestic courts that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) 2014 was illegal. Dripa has since been replaced by the Investigatory Powers Act, which comes into force at the end of this month.

At issue was whether there are EU standards on data retention that need to be respected by member states in domestic legislation. The result, though immediately significant, could prove academic once the UK has withdrawn from the EU and the ECJ no longer has jurisdiction over the UK.

In a summary of the ruling, the court said electronic communications allow “very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of persons whose data has been retained”.

It added: “The interference by national legislation that provides for the retention of traffic data and location data with that right must therefore be considered to be particularly serious.

“The fact that the data is retained without the users of electronic communications services being informed of the fact is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance. Consequently, only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference.

“Legislation prescribing a general and indiscriminate retention of data … exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society.” Prior authorisation by a court or independent body to access retained data is required for each official request, the ECJ said.

What is intriguing about this case is that it was brought by Labour's Deputy Leader, despite his party voting for the Snooper's Charter, and it was taken to a European Court by the current Minister for Brexit, albeit before he entered the government. Irony truly is dead.

The Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed this legislation precisely for the reasons set out by the ECJ, because the British government is treating the entire nation as suspects by ignoring safeguards on retaining and accessing personal communications data. Not only is the legislation illiberal but it is not even the most effective way to use data interception to tackle terrorism.

We can only hope that the Court of Appeal now upholds the ruling and forces the Government to rethink their approach.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Farage tries to emulate Trump, falls flat on his face

Nigel Farage's tweet yesterday, about the terrible events in Berlin was straight out of the Trump playbook. He posted: 'Terrible news from Berlin but no surprise. Events like these will be the Merkel legacy.'

Even if scapegoating an entire group of people from one incident was legitimate, the problem is that the assumptions behind that tweet were completely erroneous. Firstly, he assumed that the asylum seeker who had been arrested was the perpetrator. That proved to be incorrect and the person concerned was released without charge.

Secondly, it is clear that the German police do not know who carried out this crime. They certainly cannot say if it was a migrant as Farage claims. In fact a non-German was involved. The Polish truck driver was murdered so that his vehicle could be hijacked.

The vast majority of migrants are law-abiding honest citizens who want to pursue a normal life. It is entirely possible that the perpetrators of this outrage were German citizens in which case Farage will end up with egg on his face, again.

But even it the guilty party does turn out to be a migrant or an asylum seeker, that does not excuse a crass tweet which incorrectly smeared tens of thousands of people.

By the time the truth is established, it will be too late. Farage will once more have used a tragic event for his own political purposes and got away with it.

That is why I am rooting for Hope not Hate who, according to the Guardian, are taking legal advice over remarks made by Trump's number one fan on LBC.

The paper says that Farage suggested on the radio that Jo Cox's widower, Brendan “would know more about extremists than me” because of his connections to Hope Not Hate, a campaigning charity that seeks to combat political militancy, especially from far-right groups.

Farage, who has previously accused Hope Not Hate of disrupting his public events, said the group pursued “violent and undemocratic means”:

Hope Not Hate dismissed Farage’s description of the group, saying it was “a well-respected, civil society organisation whose more than 200,000 supporters come from all political persuasions”.

A statement said: “That Nigel Farage made his remarks in the context of a discussion about Jo Cox, who was so brutally murdered earlier this year, makes them all the more poisonous and hateful.”

The organisation posted an appeal on its website for supporters to help pay for any legal case. “Help us take Nigel Farage to court,” it said, with a link to a donation button.

I hope the dreadful man gets his comeuppance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Treasury concede major principle in funding deal

That the Welsh Government have reached agreement with their UK counterpart on the fiscal framework around tax powers so quickly is a significant achievement. The Scottish took their negotiations right up to the wire.

According to the BBC, the agreement means that the Welsh Government can borrow for capital spending to pay for building and infrastructure work up to £1 billion, twice the current limit.

It means that the devolution of income varying powers can go-ahead, assuming that the Welsh Government is prepared to support a Legislative Consent Order for the Wales Bill. The LocalGov site sets out the details:

The new arrangement includes a new needs-based factor - set at 115% - within the Barnett formula to determine changes in the block grant in relation to devolved spending.

The framework also involves using the comparable model to determine changes in the block grant in relation to tax devolution. This takes into account the relative Welsh tax capacity and ensures population change is treated consistently within Welsh government block grant funding.

Cardiff’s capital borrowing powers have also been increased and a new Wales reserve will be created to enable the Welsh government to better manage its budget, including the new tax revenues.

This is Christmas come early for the Welsh Government.  It builds on the work of Danny Alexander, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury in securing a funding floor.

More importantly, the agreement is ground-breaking because after a decade or more of arguments the Treasury have conceded for the first time that funding for Wales should be based on need as opposed to population.

It is the beginning of the end for the Barnett formula. Treasury officials must be having kittens.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Can things only get better?

In many respects the dispute as to whether Jeremy Corbyn walked out of a Christmas party after rebel politicians sang the New Labour anthem "Things Can Only Get Better" and chanted “We want Tony” is academic.

The Independent repeats a claim by the Daily Mail, which has its own agenda, that Labour MPs also sang The Beatles’ "Back In The USSR" at the seasonal karaoke in a jibe at the Labour leader’s inaction over Aleppo, which has been decimated by Russian bombing. The MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips though, has denied the claims.

The paper says that the report of the party in the Daily Mail included a video purportedly showing the Labour MPs singing the D:Ream song – which is strongly associated with Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory – at the Westminster Kitchen in central London.

They add that one person also shouted “We want Tony,” the newspaper reported, adding that soon after Mr Corbyn and his allies Shami Chakrabarti and Richard Burgon MP left "amid jeers".

The significance of these claims is not whether they are true or not, but that somebody at the party thought it worthwhile to pass them onto the Daily Mail. Jeremy Corbyn still has a long way to go before he wins the hearts and minds of his Parliamentary Party.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Oath proposal is a departure from British values

The suggestion from Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid that civil servants and other holders of public office should swear an oath to British values is the sort of proposal one would expect to hear from a foaming-at-the-mouth, Tory back bencher, not a mainstream cabinet minister.

What makes the idea even more sinister is that Javid wants it to apply to elected politicians as well as civil servants. Given that it is those politicians who would be expected to influence and frame 'British values' through policies that they have put to the electorate and for which they have a mandate, the proposal suddenly starts to resemble an attempt to interfere with the democratic process, to rule out people with particular views from seeking elected office.

Have we really slipped into a world where such autocratic views have become so acceptable that they can be advocated by a senior mainstream politician, who apparently has no understanding of the democratic process which put him where he is and which he has served for so long?

The irony is, of course that these so-called 'values' include democracy, equality and freedom of speech, when the very concept undermines and destroys all three.

And it is not just the application of such an oath to elected officials that is abhorrent. It is an insult to everybody who might be required to take it.

The BBC says that the oath will have to be taken by every new recruit in the public sector, including councillors, school governors and civil servants and that it may have to be read out loud before starting the role. This could extend to those working in the NHS and the BBC.

This is a crude attempt to silence criticism of the government, to restrict basic rights such as the right to strike, to suppress trade unionism, to enable the state to override the neutrality of the BBC by better controlling its own news coverage, and to prevent 'unpatriotic' whistleblowing by public sector employees on government failures.

All of these activities could be deemed to be contrary to 'British values' if a government deemed them to be so, and could lead to dismissal or worse.

The real sting though is what this proposal says about the Tory party's view of public servants. Without fail these people are dedicated, skilled workers, committed to delivering high quality services to the public.

This is no longer enough for the Tory Government. They would rather put 'British values' ahead of those qualities. In doing so they insult every one of those people, who work long hours for inadequate pay because of their dedication to public service.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shocking UK Government cull misguided and ineffective

The Independent reports on the shocking news that the UK Tory Government have killed over 10,000 badgers in the last three months in a dramatic expansion of the their misguided and unnecessary badger cull.

They say that Defra figures show 10,886 badgers were put down in 10 zones across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset, in the three months from September 2016. This is a significant expansion of previous culls, bringing the total death toll since the operation started in 2013 to 14,829.

The latest round of killing took place between 29 August and 18 October and killed animals by a combination of shooting and so-called “cage traps”.

However, as Claire Bass, the Director for Humane Society International/UK says, this cull is entirely unnnecessary:

“There is no evidence that shooting badgers reduces TB in cattle, in fact the vast majority of scientists agree that this approach actually increases the risk of spreading the disease,” she said.

“Shooting thousands of badgers, the majority of whom will not even have TB, is a costly distraction from the real solution to TB in cattle. The truth is, they could wipe out every badger in England, and farmers would still be dealing with TB in cattle: it’s a disease of cattle, primarily spread by cattle, and it’s cattle-focussed control measures that will stop it.

“This enormous cull is completely at odds with public attitudes; across the country as people smile at a Christmas TV commercial with beloved badgers bouncing happily on a trampoline, in reality the government has sanctioned large-scale ‘badgercide’.

“Since dismissing its own independent assessment panel, the government has avoided formal scrutiny and transparency, which is wholly inappropriate for venture costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

“If we’re truly a ‘nation of animal lovers’, and if we want to lay claim to a role as world leaders in animal welfare, this cruel and pointless cull must stop.”

At least in Wales, a more balanced approach is being taken to tackle bovine TB, including vaccination and cattle control measures. Surely the UK Government should learn from our example instead of opting for a quick fix that will make matters worse.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Brexit lies come home to roost

If anybody was still harbouring hopes that the promised £350 million a week for the health service as a result of us leaving the EU was going to materialise then they would surely have had their illusions shattered by today's Telegraph.

The paper says that Brussels' chief negotiator has warned Britain will be presented with a £50 billion “exit bill” by the European Union as soon as Theresa May triggers Article 50:

Michel Barnier has told colleagues that the UK must keep paying “tens of billions” annually into the EU budget until 2020.

The bill would include the UK’s share of outstanding pensions liabilities, loan guarantees and spending on UK-based projects.

The Brexiteers are already rubbishing the suggestion but as Tomas Prouza, the Czech Republic’s Europe minister, says, these are bills that the UK has already agreed to pay:

“We’re talking about payments to the existing budget that the UK already voted for, pensions of British citizens working at the EU. This is only things the UK has already committed itself to paying”.

Those who campaigned for us to leave the EU, including several Tory cabinet ministers, were keen to put across the simplistic notion that if we were to exit the arrangements we currently have, then money which currently goes to Brussels could be repatriated for vital public services.

That was questioned at the time, with many people suggesting that it would not happen. Now it seems that not only will we not get that boost for the health service but we are going to have to pay a substantial exit fee to meet existing treaty obligations.

Further news that it could take ten years to negotiate a satisfactory exit and forge a new trade deal rather than the two years we have after article 50 is invoked, underlines the mess that Brexiteers like Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis have led us into.

There needs to be much more clarity on all these issues before a formal notice is issued to the EU and a further vote by UK electors on the final deal in the light of the information that is now coming to light and was kept from them back in June.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Unused water cannon with inbuilt stereos

The Guardian reports that officials in Boris Johnson’s administration while he was London mayor spent nearly £1,000 fitting stereos to three water cannon that were never approved for use on the capital’s streets:

Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, revealed that nearly £323,000 had been spent to buy, modify and maintain vehicles, which were purchased secondhand from German federal police in 2014 in anticipation of social unrest.

Greater London Authority officials said they hoped to sell on the water cannon for between £35,000 and £43,000 – more than they cost to purchase, but far less than the funds spent on them to date. However, no deal has yet been agreed.

A minimal reserve price will be set to ensure the machines, which were built in 1990, are sold for more than their scrap value, the GLA said. Any funds recouped will go towards communities and youth projects.

“It beggars belief that such a huge amount of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on paying to store these redundant machines,” Khan said. “We’ve been left in this position by the previous mayor, who rashly purchased them before he even had permission to use them, and now it’s my job to claw back as much of London taxpayers’ money as I can.

“I have spent a significant amount of time looking into how I can do this and have been left with no choice but to sell these machines through a process that charges a fee.”

A GLA source said she understood that the stereos, which included radios and CD players, had been installed to the water cannon so police officers operating the vehicles were able to listen to the news while out on the streets.

But a second official stressed that while the money for the machines’ modifications came from the GLA, it was the Metropolitan police that had decided how it was spent. The Guardian has contacted the Met for an explanation of why it decided that they required stereos with CD players.

To be honest this entire story boggles my mind. As if it were not bad enough spending so much money on water cannon that are not needed, splashing out £1,000 on stereos for them really takes the biscuit. So much for the Tories being guardians of the public purse.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

EU puts UKIP under the cosh on funding

I wrote a few months ago about how much UKIP is dependent on European funding for its survival and how that is being threatened by Brexit. I have also alluded to the alleged breach of rules that has seen the EU seek to claw money back from the party.

Now, as a result of that breach the Guardian reports that Ukip and its allies will be asked to provide bank guarantees in order to unlock a lucrative tranche of EU funds.

The paper says that a UKIP-dominated group, the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, will have to give the European parliament a guarantee from a bank with a top-notch credit rating in order to gain €1.1m (£920,000) of EU funds. The ADDE, which has 16 Ukip MEPs, including Nuttall, would also see a sharp reduction in advance payments, as EU authorities want proof the money will not be misspent:

The European parliament is tightening controls on political party funding, after several Eurosceptic groups were found to have misused EU grants. In one of the biggest cases of its kind, the UKIP-led ADDE was found to have misspent more than €500,000 of EU funds. Almost 85% of the money had been channelled into Ukip’s 2015 general election campaign, in breach of EU rules banning spending on national politics.

The ADDE has been ordered to repay €172,655 before the end of the year and has lost €248,345 in grants it had been counting on.

To avoid a repeat of this scenario, European parliament officials are demanding unprecedented “risk-mitigation measures” on ADDE’s 2017 grants, according to an internal report seen by the Guardian. The president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, and other senior MEPs are expected to endorse the plan at a meeting in Strasbourg on Monday night.

The ADDE is eligible for €1.1m of EU funds in 2017, but must have an “unconditional” guarantee, valid for at least two years, from a bank with an A1 credit rating, according to the report. Instead of the usual 80% upfront payment on 1 January, the UKIP-dominated group would only be entitled to a 40% advance. The bank would be released from its obligation once the European parliament’s auditors had checked the party had spent the funds in line with EU rules.

In practice, the clause could choke off this source of funds for Ukip and its allies.

Meanwhile a Eurosceptic think tank allied to UKIP will see its EU grant frozen, as the parliament investigates alleged fake donations.

The Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe is suspected of having accepted donations linked to contracts it subsequently awarded. The contracts could be seen as a payback for the donation, which the group needed to secure EU funding.

Pan-European parties and think tanks need to raise at least 15% of their money from outside donors in order to receive EU funds.

Parliament officials have raised “serious concerns as to the qualifications of these donations” and think it is doubtful that money paid to the donors or companies linked to them can be treated as eligible expenditure, the report says. An EU grant worth €268,000 has been suspended pending further investigation.

So when UKIP politicians make accusations about the abuse of public money within the EU, they are actually talking about themselves.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Welsh Government take their eye off the ball on homelessness

The BBC report on the shocking news that homeless children with the most complex problems are having to stay in bed and breakfasts due to a lack of suitable accommodation in Wales.

They quote Solas Cymru, who are a charity who run a special homeless accommodation in Newport housing eight children all of whom have complex needs such as mental health issues or a drug dependency:

Official figures show there are 5,660 looked-after children in Wales and Solas believes about 5% - some 280 children - will have complex needs.

The eight beds at the centre serve seven councils, but the charity said it has to turn away about 90% of young people referred to them, meaning some of those children will then be housed in inappropriate accommodation, including bed and breakfasts, even though they could exhibit "risky or dangerous behaviour".

The most recent official figures - based on data from only six of the 22 Welsh councils - also show there are 45 young people aged 16-17 and 66 care leavers aged 18-21 living in bed and breakfast..

The Welsh Government declared that it was seeking to end the use of bed and breakfast accomodation some time ago, but have failed to put in place alternatives.

It is all very well saying that it is working towards that objective but that does not help the vulnerable children who are being housed in unsuitable accommodation. It is time for action, not words.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Labour's UKIP light politicians

For some time during the coalition government, Ken Clarke was known as the sixth Liberal Democrat cabinet minister. That was most probably a tad unfair on him, but when reading his comments on Labour's Andy Burnham today, I can understand how he acquired the tag.

Politics Home reports that Mr. Clarke has labelled Andy Burnham’s recent stance on immigration as sounding like a "paler version" of Nigel Farage.

Andy Burnham has attacked Labour's support for free movement in the Commons last week, saying it is “inherently discriminatory” and “undermining the cohesion” of the UK.

The former Labour leadership contender argued free movement puts downward pressure on wages and causes a strain on schools and public services. Of course it also relieves pressure in certain labour markets, and facilitates free trade, which creates jobs and keeps prices down:

Ken Clarke said: “Unlike Andy, going on about free movement of labour, sounding a bit like a paler version of Nigel Farage, Boris (Johnson) has never been anti-immigrant, Boris does realise that the economic interests of Britain are helped if we have free access to the biggest open market in the world."

Of course Andy Burnham is not the only high-profile Labour figure who has jumped on the anti-immigration bandwagon recently, adding to the confusion over what Labour's policy actually is. As the BBC report, a few days ago Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones criticised his UK leader for having a 'London-centric' position on free movement.

Mr. Jones prefers to take a UKIP-light position on immigration to try and prevent his party's voters defecting to the real thing, putting electoral advantage above principle. However, if people are deserting Labour in working class areas it is because they have been neglected by the party over many issues, not just a single matter like freedom of movement.

Concerns about immigration often go hand-in-hand with an economic downturn, when people feel that their jobs are under-pressure, and see the impact on public services of austerity measures and spending cuts. The best way to deal with those concerns is to tackle the issues that are causing them, not jump on a popularist bandwagon.

The danger of Carwyn Jones' and Andy Burnham's stance is that they will actually drive people to UKIP by trying to create a pale imitation of Farage's party for their own electoral purposes.

People can see through insincerity and electoral opportunism. They tend to judge politicians on their record and on their principles. There is nothing principled about this sudden conversion to immigration controls by these senior Labour figures.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Farage confirms that UKIP was his vanity project

The Guardian reports on a remarkable interview with former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage in which he tells the paper that he is relieved to no longer be Ukip leader because it had meant “having to deal with low-grade people every day”. He further confirms his status as a man-of-the-people and champion of the working class by claiming that his £85,000-a-year salary had left him “poor” compared with his City banker friends:

Farage said he now has global ambitions beyond the Eurosceptic party, including negotiating trade deals with the US president-elect, Donald Trump, and finding a solution to the Middle East conflict.

The MEP, who also hinted he will attempt to make his eighth bid for a seat in parliament despite seven unsuccessful runs, said he was happy to continue to be a public face while Ukip’s new leader, Paul Nuttall, ran the party.

“I am having a great time,” he said. “I am not having to deal with low-grade people every day. I am not responsible for what our branch secretary in Lower Slaughter said half-cut on Twitter last night – that isn’t my fault any more. I don’t have to go to eight-hour party executive meetings.

“I don’t have to spend my life dealing with people I would never have a drink with, who I would never employ and who use me as a vehicle for their own self-promotion. There are a lot of great people in Ukip. The problem is that Ukip has become a bit like the other parties: people view it as a means to get elected.”

Farage said his years as Ukip leader had meant he had sacrificed much of his earning potential. “I have no regrets about being poor,” he said of his MEP’s salary. “I don’t drive smart cars, I don’t go on fancy holidays. All my money has gone on my kids’ education.”

Has there ever been a greater example of hubris on the part of a former party leader? The man appears to think he is some kind of political messiah.

There is no doubt of course that without Farage, UKIP is a busted flush, but that does not qualify him for a wider role on the world stage, where he has no experience whatsoever and where he would prove an even bigger embarrassment than Boris Johnson.

Farage obviously considers UKIP to have been his own personal vanity project. There is an element of truth in that view. That he thinks he can remain the public face of a party, which has elected a successor-Leader is going to be a source of conflict (and entertainment for us) for some time to come.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Downing Street cats to decide Brexit srategy?

The Telegraph reports that the number of cats residing in Downing Street has now risen to five with the addition of a black-and-white cat called Evie and another called Ossie to deal with the mouse problem in the Government offices.

They join Gladstone, the Treasury's cat, Palmerston the Foreign Office mouser and Larry the Number 10 cat on the street.

The cats are not having it their own way of course as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond has moved his dogs into Number 10, where he lives with his wife. However, he has had to lock the dogs away to protect them from ferocious Larry:

“The dogs are not free to roam around the house. The cat is all over the place,” said one friend. “Larry fights, he is pretty feisty. The dachshund is pretty small and I am not at all sure if it really came to a punch up who would come off best.”

At this rate we will soon have enough cats at the heart of government to form a cabinet. Perhaps they could advise the clueless UK Government on their Brexit strategy.

It is possible that the collective wisdom of all five cats might make a better fist of it than Boris, Liam Fox and David Davis.

And if they fight, as they are inclined to do, then it will feel just like any other cabinet meeting.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Labour's crisis continues after by-election

It was always going to be an uphill struggle to repeat the heroics of the Richmond Park by-election in deepest, darkest Lincolnshire, but the Liberal Democrats nevertheless emerged from the contest with credit, being the only party to increase its share of the vote and pushing Labour into fourth place.

Labour's performance in Sleaford and North Hykeham also confimred a trend, as they continue to struggle to make any sort of impact in areas where they need to improve significantly if they are to win he next General Election.

As the Guardian says, the party’s candidate, Jim Clarke, a refuse collector, put in a valiant effort but Labour slipped embarrassingly from second place at the general election to fourth place in Sleaford.

His big argument was protection of the NHS and a campaign against the closure of a local A&E unit, but the minds of voters appeared firmly still fixed on the EU referendum, the dominant issue in politics affecting the direction of the country for decades to come:

Clarke had been a remain voter on account of jobs and the economy but spent much of the campaign stressing his commitment to triggering article 50, in tune with the frustrations of the local electorate anxious for May to get on with Brexit.

But why would a leave supporter opt for the remain-voting Labour candidate and his party’s nuanced position on the EU over his full-throated Brexit-loving rivals? Caroline Johnson, a children’s doctor who won for the Tories, reminded everyone how she had always wanted to leave the EU and that her prime minister was in a position to carry it out. Likewise, diehard Brexiters will have plumped for Ukip, which accused Theresa May of being a “Brexit backslider”, although the party -like others - actually lost votes compared with 2015 amid a very low turnout.

It was certainly nowhere near a Ukip surge, with voters seemingly still willing to offer May a chance to carry out her Brexit plan instead of giving Nigel Farage’s party credit for forcing the referendum in the first place.

It left little room for Labour as it scrabbled around for votes along with the Tories and Ukip among the 60% of the constituency who voted to leave the EU. That was good news for the Lib Dems, who had the pick of the 40% of remain voters and almost doubled their share to come third.

Looking at the numbers, it is clear many people who voted Labour at the general election, putting the party in second position, simply stayed home. Labour has acknowledged that this was not the result the party was seeking. But together with its loss of its deposit in the Richmond byelection, this should be a warning klaxon about extreme electoral danger for the party in England if May decides to call a snap election.

The failure of Labour to adopt a clear position on Brexit is costing them dear, leaving the door open for the Liberal Democrats to make a come-back on the basis of their strong and principled pro-Europeanism.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Threatened species

Appeals to save the growing list of threatened species are becoming quite common. According to this list, these include the Amur Leopard, the Javan Rhino, the Sumatran Tiger, the Indian Elephant and the Snow Leopard.

The appearance of the giraffe on that list though is a shock. The Independent says that giraffes are being pushed towards a “silent” extinction due to illegal hunting and habitat loss. They add that numbers of the world’s tallest animal have plummeted 40 per cent in the past 30 years.

A growing human population, increased farming and civil unrest have also contributed to a decline of 66,000 since 1985. There were estimated to be just 97,000 left in the wild as of 2015.

Human activity has a lot to answer for. We need to be a lot more careful as to how our actions impact on nature before all the wonders that we value in this world have been lost to us.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pressure mounts on Theresa May over Brexit

Irrespective of the outcome of the ongoing Supreme Court hearing and whatever the phrase 'red, white and blue Brexit' means, it seems that Theresa May will be forced to offer up more than enigmatic but meaningless sound-bites before she can invoke Article 50 and take us out of the EU.

The Guardian reports that Tory backbenchers have now joined in demands for more meat on the Brexit bone before being asked to vote for us to start negotiations.

They say that May's backbench MPs will demand today that the plan produced by the government before it triggers article 50 is a detailed policy document that fully outlines the type of relationship Britain will seek with the EU. These MPs, want a so-called “soft Brexit” in which close economic ties are maintained, and are arguing that ministers ought to publish no less than an official pre-legislative white paper:

Among those who are likely to call for a more detailed white paper are Neil Carmichael and Anna Soubry, who both said they would now back the government amendment, but wanted it to be taken seriously. “It is a victory for us because the government is now committed to producing a plan,” said Carmichael, the MP for Stroud. “The question is what it looks like.”

He argued that support for “soft Brexit is gaining ground” among Tory MPs, but also in the language being heard from the secretary of state for exiting the EU, David Davis. Carmichael said he had always supported the principle of article 50, but wanted a serious pre-legislative document to understand the government’s direction.

Soubry agreed, suggesting that the “vast majority” of Tory remain voters had accepted the referendum outcome but wanted a serious conversation about what came next and how to unite the country. “If there is any messing around, or silly politics, that will backfire,” she said of the suggestion that the government would produce the absolute minimum. “When the crunch comes, and the hardline Brexiteers put the needs of their ideology in front of the needs of constituents and the country, [May] will need us.”

She called on the prime minister to take this seriously. “It is bigger than egos, ideology and playing silly games. This is serious, grown-up stuff. That would mean a white paper for me, or at least a serious document.”

Another pro-remain Tory suggested there would be “hell to pay” if the government failed to make good on its promise of publishing a serious plan.

This is an encouraging sign that the Government are starting to take concerns about Brexit seriously. It falls far short of what is really needed however, a vote by the British people on whether to accept the final agreed terms of Brexit or not.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Can we start to put 2016 behind us?

Sometimes a holiday is all that is needed to put things into persepective. Alas it may take more than a week in the sun to put right the travails of 2016. You will forgive me therefore if I ease myself back into blogging.

Nevertheless, in the week I was away, there were two victories for the forces of progress. The Liberal Democrats stormed from behind to take Richmond Park off pro-Brexiteer and erstwhile Tory, Zac Goldsmith and a far-right candidate was soundly beaten in the re-run race for the Austrian Presidency.

Meanwhile, it is business as usual for UKIP. Within days of being elected leader, Paul Nuttall appoints Leicestershire's David Sprason as the party's national spokesman on welfare and social policy.

As Jonathan Calder reports, Mr. Sprason, while still a Conservative, stepped down as deputy leader of Leicestshire county council after a DVD entitled She Likes It Rough was found in his council-issued PC.

Maybe we can start to put 2016 behind us after all.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?