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Monday, April 30, 2018

Authoritarian Labour reasserts itself over Windrush

Just when we thought that the Liberal Democrats in coalition had killed off the idea of compulsory ID cards, along comes two former Labour Home Secretaries to try and breath some life into the idea.

As The Times reports, Charles Clarke and Alan Johnson claim that if Theresa May had not abandoned plans to introduce ID cards as home secretary in 2010 then thousands of undocumented British citizens would have had their status regularised. That assertion of course depends on when exactly the Home Office destroyed all the documentation relating to these citizens.

However, attractive as the idea may seem, the civil liberties issue associated with the introduction of biometric ID cards linked to service provision are huge. The downside would include increased stop and search incidents amongst the ethnic minority community. And let's face it there are other, less intrusive means of enabling British citizens to document their status.

Labour's proposal for ID cards went much further then just handing people a means of identifying themselves. There was also the huge, expensive and insecure database that would have linked all government information on each individual to the biometric data on the card. It would have enabled an official to instantly download everything the government knew about us just by swiping the card.

And of course, knowing the propensity of government to accumulate information (and to never delete it), in time that swipe could also secure access to medical data, bank accounts, internet history and goodness knows what else. It was Big Brother writ-large.

We should not allow Labour to revive this scheme on the backs of Home Office incompetence about one group of migrants that are legally living here and have citizen status. By all means sort out the documentation, but let's not undermine people's privacy at the same time.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Another fine mess...

Having revealed through the title of this piece that I grew up watching old Laurel and Hardy films, I recommend that you all go over to the Guardian website and read Marina Hyde's latest on the Brexit shambles at the heart of government.

There seems to me to be a rather apt synchronicity between Stan and Ollie's instinctive incompetence and that of the current UK cabinet - do you remember the one where they tried to fix the leaky fishing boat?

Here are a few quotes from Marina Hyde's piece to whet you appetite:

'I recently watched an ITV news dispatch from Norway’s border with Sweden during which I discovered that either Davis did not know what the word “frictionless” meant, or was hoping no one else did. On this basis, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis had a frictionless relationship.'
'A ComRes survey just before the 2016 vote found 61% of voters declaring themselves willing to accept a short-term economic slowdown to tighten immigration controls, but 68% unwilling to see their personal annual income negatively affected at all to achieve the same. What has the economy to do with the public, much of the public wonders.'
'The cabinet is now cobbled together from two sides of the referendum divide, each of whom accused the other of the most despicable lies during the campaign. Ever since, preposterously, they have expected the public to accept they are telling the truth when they act together. How is this supposed to work?'

It really is as bad as we feared.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Is Welsh Labour capable of reforming?

With a leadership contest pending, the move to reform Welsh Labour's voting system to bring it in line with other elements of their UK party has suddenly become more urgent.

As the BBC report, the recent election of a deputy leader for the Welsh Labour Party reinvigorated the debate about the influence of the Trade Unions and the rather bizarre electoral college, a debate that was last live when Rhodri Morgan was defeated by Alun Michael for the leadership back in 1998.

The controversy may have something to do with the fact that the losing candidate won a bigger share of the vote amongst ordinary members than her triumphant rival.  There are now calls for the planned twelve-month review of Welsh Labour's electoral college to be accelerated so that whoever succeeds Carwyn Jones has the clear support of the much-enlarged Welsh Labour membership.

Local Government Secretary, Alun Davies sums up the case on his blog:

'It was immediately clear that the electoral college could not be used to elect our new leader. I hope the Welsh Exec will now move quickly to ensure that we have a democracy where people feel empowered in the debate over the future direction of the party. For anyone with any doubts let me be clear: the argument over OMOV is won. And those who still have objections would be best advised to find a way of coming to terms with this new democracy rather than finding novel, inventive and bureaucratic devices to obstruct the clearly-expressed will of the party.'

But is the Welsh Labour Party capable of reforming itself at this pace? Not if the Trade Unions have any say in the matter. They have put out a statement making it clear that they are not going to give up their influence within the party that easily:

If unions are digging their heels in then it is likely that the One Member One Vote system that elected Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader twice, will not be used to choose a new Welsh First Minister. That leaves open the possibility that whoever wins will not have the backing of a majority of Labour members. What does that say about Welsh democracy?

Friday, April 27, 2018

More mixed messages on single market

Just when you thought that the Prime Minister had ruled out the UK being part of a single market after Brexit when along comes the Home Secretary to contradict her.

To be precise, all Amber Rudd is saying is that the government is yet to arrive at a “final position” on whether the UK will be in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. But that does make us wonder whether her and Theresa May are attending the same cabinet meetings or not?

As the Independent says, the Home Secretary's admission is likely to enrage Conservative Brexiteers, including cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, who see staying out of any sort of customs union as fundamental to their vision of Britain’s future. The problem of course is that nobody is quite sure what that alternative vision is, how we are going to get there nor what it will mean for the UK economy.

Apparently, the pro-Brexit DUP, which props up Ms May’s Commons majority, are pretty upset as well. One of their senior figures, who presumably prefers to remain anonymous, immediately stated that leaving the customs union is a “red line” for the Northern Irish party. Given that would mean ripping up the Good Friday agreement and a decade of peace in Northern Ireland, I am not so sure that the UK Government should really be associated with such people.

Although Amber Rudd has since sought to walk her comments back, what is clear is that the cabinet remains divided on this issue, and as a result we continue to drive towards the Brexit cliff edge, without any idea as to who is steering.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Anti-Semitism row moves back to blame-game mode

I don't know to what extent there is an anti-Semitism problem within the Labour Party. Like others I can only judge on the evidence that is presented to us in the media, by the testimony of MPs who have said they have been subject to racist abuse and the views of Jewish groups who feel that Labour is not taking these issues seriously enough.

I understand that due process can mean delays in dealing with abusers and that sometimes, when people believe that they are being discriminated against, it can be difficult to win back their trust. That can only happen if their concerns are taken seriously and proper processes put in place to deal with them.

It does not help therefore, if a major ally of the Labour leader decides to take the issue by the horns and starts attributing motives to those who are shouting the loudest about the problem. Nevertheless that is what Len McCluskey has done.

As the Independent reports, the Unite General Secretary has accused “Corbyn-hater” Labour MPs of working in cahoots with Tory newspapers to undermine their leader, fuelling the party’s internal wars:

In a blistering attack, the boss of the powerful Unite union said the rebel MPs were “working overtime trying to present the Labour party as a morass of misogyny, anti-Semitism and bullying”.

He named Chris Leslie, Neil Coyle, John Woodcock, Wes Streeting and Ian Austin as being among "a dismal chorus whose every dirge makes winning a Labour government more difficult".

hey were “smearing” a “decent and honourable man who has fought racism and anti-Semitism all his life”, Mr McCluskey claimed, adding: “To see Tory MPs cheer and applaud them was shameful”

The Unite general secretary said their actions made him “understand” the pressure from some on the left of the Labour party to make it easier to sack MPs.

“I look with disgust at the behaviour of the Corbyn-hater MPs who join forces with the most reactionary elements of the media establishment and I understand why there is a growing demand for mandatory reselection,” he said.

The veiled threat to MPs that they should shut up or be deselected will only inflame the situation and underline concerns that the party leadership is not concerned with properly addressing anti-Semitism within Labour. McCluskey may think he is helping Jeremy Corbyn but he is actually making the situation worse.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

'Botched Brexit' undermining the health service

Ah, how we long for the certainty of the Leave campaign that Brexit would see an extra £350m a week for the health service. Why didn't they warn us that the whole process would be such a mess we would actually be exporting nurses leaving health care on the brink of collapse in some areas?

As the Independent reports, government’s handling of our exit strategy has caused 10 per cent of the NHS European nurse workforce to quit last year, meaning attempts to increase the nursing workforce have failed for the second year running.

They say that official figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that in 2018, there were 3,000 fewer nurses from the European Economic Area working in the NHS than a year ago:

The Royal College of Nursing said the decrease in new nurses joining from Europe, and an increase in the number of nurses quitting, was down to the government “botched” attempt to use EU citizens’ future UK residency as a negotiating tool, refusing to confirm whether they would be allowed to remain.

Just 800 EU nurses came to the UK last year, compared to 6,382 in 2016/17 and 9,389 in the year of the Brexit vote. Nearly 4,000 nurses left last year.

Nursing representatives said there was a “faint glimmer of hope” in the increase of UK nurse numbers – but that in the context of an exodus of EU and UK staff, and a drop in UK students, “the future looks bleak”.

There were 690,278 nurses and midwives registered in the UK at March 2018, a decrease of 495 on the previous year. This comes at a time when the NHS is pulling out all the stops to recruit staff for 40,000 vacant posts.

Yet another fine mess that Theresa and her merry band of Brexiteers have got us into.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Is Labour credible on racism whilst the anti-Semitism issue remains unresolved?

There is an important article by Chuka Umunna in the Independent in which he argues that anti-Semitism is a form of racism and that it is endemic within the Labour Party. Despite that, he argues, some continue to deny that it is and that it remains a problem.

Referring to a report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in the 2015-2017 parliament, of which he was a member, he says that one of its principal findings was: “The failure of the Labour Party to deal consistently and effectively with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic".

Despite that, he adds, some continue to deny that it was and remains a problem: 'One supporter of my party posted on my Facebook page commented saying our report was “utter rubbish” and said it was “a disgrace it was signed by a Red Tory and a Jew.” He was referring to me and David Winnick, the other Labour MP who was a co-author of the report and is Jewish.'

But it is not just ordinary members that are preventing Labour dealing with this problem:

Most disappointingly, in his response to the report, not only did our leader make basic factual inaccuracies about its contents but he seemed incapable of acknowledging the Labour movement has a particular problem with antisemitism. He even went so far as to insinuate that we were using the issue as a “weapon” (his words, not mine) for political purposes.

Coming from a family which has had direct experience of racism, I found this to be grossly insulting and offensive – I made my feelings clear about this at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party which followed publication of the report.

It is therefore unsurprising that antisemitism has continued unabated in and around the Labour Party since 2016. Just this month, Peter Kirker – who is a member of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy executive and has been a party officer in London and the Midlands – wrote in the Morning Star under the headline “Enough already with this Zionist frenzy”, in a piece which stated that “the noise around anti-Jewish racism has been engineered from within the murky right-wing world of British Zionism.”

His conclusion is damning:

Nothing currently illustrates just how broken British politics has become than the issue of antisemitism in Labour and the Tories’ appalling treatment of the Windrush generation – each of the main parties attacks the other on the issue, but both lack the credibility to do so in the eyes of many because of their party’s record on addressing prejudice within their own ranks.

A Jewish member of my constituency party – one of our most dedicated and active – emailed me a few weeks ago. She wrote: “What’s a dedicated Labour member such as myself supposed to do now? How many more incidents such as this should I take on the chin and stay in the party? How, when time and time again people I’ve supported and congratulated for winning elections turn out to hold antisemitic views, could I ever campaign and support anyone in the party, outside my immediate circle?

“Why should any Jewish person vote Labour?”

It is a valid question and one that becomes more difficult to answer as Jeremy Corbyn increasingly fails to resolve the issue once and for all.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A referendum on final Brexit deal still possible

With opinion polls starting to show that voters are having second thoughts about Brexit, the Independent reports on an important intervention by one of the Ministers charged with making it happen.

According to the paper, Brexit Minister, Steve Baker has said that MPs will be able to force Theresa May to accept a fresh referendum on Brexit in a showdown vote as early as the autumn. He has conceded that the crucial vote on the exit deal would not, as expected, be a “take-it-or-leave-it” choice, because “parliament can always seek to amend motions”.

He agreed that a possible amendment would be for parliament to only approve the withdrawal agreement struck with the EU “subject to a second referendum”:

Speaking to the Lords constitution committee on Wednesday, Mr Baker suggested parliament had a duty to respect the referendum result and not to “frustrate that process”.

“We will leave, there will not be attempts to stay in by the back door, there will not be an attempt to reverse the result,” he insisted – but he admitted it was “a political point, rather than a constitutional point”.

Ms May has firmly rejected a further referendum, but some pro-EU Tories believe she could yet accept one if it appears the only way to keep her warring party together on Europe.

Similarly, although Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour does not back another referendum, he has left the door open to a change of mind.

There is also evidence that support is growing for a referendum on the Brexit deal, amid continuing confusion about both the planned transition period and the final agreement with the EU.

A recent poll for Best for Britain found that 44 per cent of people want a vote – a clear eight points ahead of the 36 per cent who reject a further referendum.

Opinion appears to be shifting as the negotiations remain bogged down on how to avoid a hard border in Ireland and with the details of a future trade deal unlikely to even be discussed until after departure day.

This is very encouraging. Given the confusion as to what exactly the UK voted for in June 2016, it is crucial in my view and that of others that voters are given an opportunity to pass their verdict on the final deal and what it will mean for them and their families.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Another race row hits the Tories

As if they had not done enough to disrupt good race relations in this country through their mishandling of the Windrush generation and the targeting of long-standing immigrants for deportation, the Tories have jumped feet first into yet another row over race.

As the Observer reports, the equality and human rights watchdog has warned that Government plans that will force people to prove their identities at polling stations in May’s local elections risk disenfranchising members of ethnic minority communities.

They say that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written to the Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, raising its serious concern that the checks will deter immigrants and others from participating in the democratic process:

Under the new government voting rules, being trialled in several local authorities at the 3 May local elections, people will be asked at polling stations to produce documents proving their identity – such as a passport or driving licence – before casting their vote. Currently, no such proof is required.

The Windrush scandal has highlighted how many who came to this country from the Caribbean, mainly in the late 1950s, have struggled to prove their British citizenship because the authorities failed to register them or destroyed their landing cards, or because they have never applied for documents such as passports. Ministers say the pilot projects are being run – with a view to adopting them nationwide if they are successful – in response to concerns about electoral fraud.

But in a letter to Lidington, and leaked to the Observer, the EHRC says evidence of supposed fraud is minimal and warns that there is a real risk that legal residents who might not have a passport or driving licence – or might be reluctant to produce them at polling stations – could be disenfranchised as a result.

In the letter, the EHRC’s legal officer, Claire Collier, tells Lidington: “The Commission is concerned that the requirement to produce identification at the given local elections (Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking) will have a disproportionate impact on voters with protected characteristics, particularly older people, transgender people, people with disabilities and/or those from ethnic minority communities. In essence, there is a concern that some voters will be disenfranchised as a result of restrictive identification requirements.”

Of course the Government were warned about this when they first mooted this idea, but they did not listen. There are a number of voter suppression techniques being practised, mostly by Republicans in the United States, and this is one of them. That the Tories wish to bring them to the UK is a disgrace.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The divorce bill just got bigger

Are there still people out there who believe that the UK will be better off leaving the European Union? I only ask, because if so then clearly they have not been paying attention. Either that or they are Brexiteers filling some of top Cabinet jobs who feel obliged to defend the many lies that were told during the referendum.

The latest blow to the 'better-off' myth comes in the Guardian, which reports that the cost of the Brexit divorce bill for the UK could be billions higher than the £35bn-£39bn figure put forward by Theresa May.

They refer to a National Audit Office (NAO) report which has warned that the UK could pay an extra £3bn more in budget contributions as well as an additional £2.9bn to the European Development Fund. Auditors have concluded that the Treasury’s estimate includes £7.2bn of receipts which will go directly to the private sector and not to the government’s accounts:

May told parliament in December that the bill would be between £35bn and £39bn, a fee jointly agreed in a meeting between the Treasury and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Auditors found that the total amount that the UK would contribute to the EU annual budgets in 2019 and 2020 would be calculated on the basis of the UK’s economic outlook, which would also partly determine Britain’s share of outstanding commitments and liabilities after 2020.

Britain’s exit settlement could not be defined until there was more certainty in areas such as the economy’s performance in 2019 and 2020, auditors said.

Costs still to be worked out include those relating to pension liabilities, the amount British organisations will receive in EU funding after withdrawal and exchange rate fluctuations because the divorce bill will be paid in euros, according to the study.

“Relatively small changes to some assumptions about future events could push the cost outside of HM Treasury’s £35bn to £39bn range,” the report says.

Due to EU financial rules, the UK could have to pay up to £3bn more in budget contributions than Treasury estimates after formal withdrawal in March 2019. The UK might have to pay towards other costs, which are not in the government estimates, such as potential liabilities that could depend on future events.

The UK will also pay £2.9bn to the European Development Fund for overseas aid, which is not featured in the exit settlement estimate because the fund was not established under EU treaties.

Britain’s contribution to the EU pension scheme might last until 2064 unless the government decides to pay off its commitments earlier in a lump sum, which would present “risks and opportunities to the total value the UK may be liable to pay”.

I didn't see any of that on the side of a bus in June 2016.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The bizarre refusal of HMRC to co-operate with a criminal inquiry

I have spent three and a half decades dealing with the authorities, whether it is the local council, a health board, the Welsh Government, the UK Government or one of the many agencies that exist to deliver services to the public. And yet I have never seen anything like this.

It is no wonder that MPs are to investigate an HM Revenue and Customs decision to turn down a French request for help with a criminal inquiry into a major Conservative party donor given the circumstances of the refusal.

As the Guardian reports, the Treasury select committee and the public accounts committee want to explore why tax officials rejected a request from the French authorities to help with an inquiry involving the mobile network operator Lycamobile. It follows the disclosure on Thursday that the tax authority had sent correspondence to its French counterparts which pointed out that the telecoms company was the “biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party”:

Lycamobile had donated more than £2.1m to the Conservative party until French police two years ago launched an inquiry into alleged criminal activity by individuals at the company. No legal proceedings have been taken against Lycamobile itself.

In March 2017, French officials asked HMRC to assist with investigations in the UK, but the request was refused.

The parliamentary investigations have been launched after correspondence between British and French tax officials was leaked to the news website BuzzFeed.

One letter, sent to French officials from the team at HMRC that handles law enforcement requests from foreign governments, said: “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May.”

A spokesman for Lycamobile said: “Lycamobile has not contributed to the Conservative party since July 2016. Lycamobile continues to deny all allegations being implied by BuzzFeed.”

Serious as this is, the U-turn performed by HMRC's spokesperson, as reported by Buzzfeed, defies satire:

When BuzzFeed News first approached HMRC to ask about its response to the French request, the agency’s senior press officer strongly denied that Lycamobile’s donations would ever be cited as a reason not to conduct criminal raids. “No HMRC official would ever write such a letter,” he said. “This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.”

However, after verifying the contents of the email seen by BuzzFeed News, another HMRC spokesman said that it was “regrettable”.

Perhaps we are living in a banana republic after all.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UK will be £615m a week worse off under May's Brexit

Having now finished reading Tim Shipman's excellent 612 page book on the Brexit referendum campaign and see what a shit-show that whole episode in UK history was, I am rather less surprised by this revelation in the Independent that the government’s preferred Brexit scenario would leave the UK public finances £615m per week worse off than staying in the EU.

The paper quotes a study for the think tank Global Future carried out by Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College, London, which looked at each of the three scenarios assessed by the government in its own leaked analysis.

His research calculates that the government’s preferred option of a “bespoke deal” would mean about £40bn more in annual public borrowing than under the status quo by 2033/34 - the same time period over which the government worked out its impact assessments:

That equates to £615m per week, or 22 per cent of the NHS budget, after translating that into today’s prices, the research claims.

It bases this scenario on the Prime Minister’s recent Mansion House speech which outlined the Brexit she hopes to deliver.

This would mean leaving the single market and customs union whilst maintaining access to EU markets with minimal tariff and non-tariff barriers. It would also include the flexibility to diverge from Brussels regulations, negotiate trading relationships with other non-EU countries and implement restrictions on immigration.

The research estimates that this outcome would leave the country better off than a no-deal Brexit but worse off than under the “Norway model” or under an average free-trade agreement such as the one Canada has with the EU.

The Norway model, in which the UK would stay in the single market and adhere to EU rules and regulations but leave the customs union, would have a negative fiscal impact of £262m per week while the Canada option would cost around £877m per week, Mr Portes finds.

The figures are the equivalent of 9 per cent and 31 per cent of the current NHS budget respectively. A no-deal Brexit in which the UK trades with the EU under World Trade Organisation terms is estimated to cost £1.25bn per week. No scenario is more beneficial than staying in the EU.

The analysis takes into account the benefits from lower financial contributions to the EU budget and a new trade deal with the US as well as costs arising from new customs controls, tariffs, and reduced migration.

This is a far cry from the widely debunked claim by Brexiteers that the UK will have an extra £350m a week to spend after Brexit. Somehow though, I doubt the UK Government will be putting the envisaged £615m cut in public services on the side of a bus. His

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Welsh Government loses the plot

For perhaps the first time since I lost the election in May 2016 today, I am grateful that I no longer have to make the long trek down the M4 and take my seat in the Senedd chamber. Not only has the row over the Welsh Government's leak report grown out of control, but it has become embarrassing. It has started to undermine the credibility of Welsh democracy.

A quick recap: following the death of Carl Sargeant a number of reports were commissioned. One of these was conducted by the Permanent Secretary and concluded there had been no "unauthorised" leak of information about Carl's sacking before he had been told. This was despite the fact that social media was reporting the sacking in advance and a number of journalists also knew. The conclusions seemed barely credible and left only one question, if there was no unauthorised leak then who had authorised it?

Naturally the opposition parties wanted the report published, redacted so as to protect the identity of the individuals concerned, but the government refused. So the Tories tabled a motion requiring the government to publish it under Section 37 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. This enables AMs to require any person to produce any Welsh Government document in their possession. However the power has never been used.

And then things really got out of control as the Welsh Government threatened the Assembly with legal action if the debate goes ahead. So much for transparency and accountability.  It was as if they were discovering the existence of the Government of Wales Act for the first time.

The saga led to angry scenes during First Minister's questions in the Senedd yesterday. One journalist says that 'political observers described it as being among the most "heated", "intense" and "angry" scenes witnessed in the 19-year history of devolution'.

And, yes, the debate is going ahead, so we face the unprecedented prospect of a government in the UK taking its own Parliament to court to try and limit the extent of its own accountability.

This is not the devolution that I voted for. Nor is the sort of name-calling on all sides that developed in yesterday's Plenary the democracy that the people of Wales deserve or want. Surely it is time for the Welsh Government to stop digging and to publish the report.

But I will leave the final word to an acquaintance and neighbour, whom I bumped into at the newsagents earlier this morning. 'They all need their heads knocked together', he said. And so say all of us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Welsh UKIP leader denies Enoch Powell was a racist

The one good thing we can say about Radio Four's broadcast of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of blood' speech at the weekend is that it certainly outed some dodgy views. Chief amongst those was the assertion by the Welsh UKIP leader that Enoch Powell was not a racist.

Neil Hamilton, who is himself a disgraced former Tory MP, though for different reasons, told the BBC that the idea Enoch Powell was a "racist villain" is "absolute nonsense":

"The idea that Enoch Powell was some kind of uniquely racist villain is absolute nonsense," Mr Hamilton told the Good Morning Wales programme.

"Powell actually changed politics by articulating the fears and resentments of millions and millions of people who are being ignored by the establishment."

Mr Hamilton said: "I think he's been proved right by events.

"I don't think he was right in one sense, in that we have not seen the kind of racial violence and intolerance generated by this that, at the time, was happening in the United States."

But Mr Hamilton said the "social changes which mass immigration has brought were never desired by the majority of the British people, and indeed they had never been asked 'do you want to transform your country in the way that has happened'."

UKIP just can't help themselves can they?

In response, the Welsh Lib Dem Leader tweeted: 'Utterly despicable comments. Powell was a racist, plain and simple. To hear someone trying to defend and justify his racist views shows how delusional and out of touch UKIP really are. Wales really deserves better.'

Absolutely right!!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jacob Rees Mogg's accused of bizarre 'betrayal'

Just how messed up right wing politics is at the moment is demonstrated by this article on the Breitbart website. They report that Conservative Party backbencher and leadership hopeful Jacob Rees-Mogg has shocked his fans by speaking out against Enoch Powell MP’s famous Birmingham speech.

They say that Rees-Mogg, whose father once wrote a Times of London editorial attacking Powell’s speech as “evil” took to Twitter on Saturday to state: “My father’s view which has stood the test of time about Enoch Powell’s speech”. However, the MP was met with almost universal condemnation by the political right, while being congratulated by left wing academics and members of the establishment media:

The Times column — which ran the day after Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech warning over mass migration and the Race Relations Act — congratulated Tory wet Ted Heath for dismissing Powell from his shadow cabinet, and called the speech “disgraceful”.

A BBC Panorama poll from late 1968 revealed that 74 per cent of the British public agreed with Powell, to the chagrin of establishment types like William Rees-Mogg,

“The more closely one reads the text of Mr. Powell’s speech, the more shameful it seems,” the Times thundered. “Mr. Heath must also have strengthened his own leadership,” it risibly suggested. A few years later Mr. Powell’s endorsement to vote Conservative would be the determining factor in the Tories winning the 1970 election.

By late 1974, Powell had had enough with the Conservative Party, resigning and urging people to vote Labour. Mr. Heath was, as a result, unceremoniously turfed out of office.

The reaction by a number of Rees-Mogg's followers underlines the sad reality that the can of worms opened up by Powell received fresh impetus from the Brexit referendum, which saw racist propaganda from the Leave side of the argument and an increased number of racist incidents being reported.

The North East Somerset MP was being held up as a standard bearer for the Brexiteers. However, he remains a man of principle and integrity and it to his credit that he is prepared to stand up to some of the wilder fringes of that movement.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

New UKIP leader announces his resignation in advance

Like many people I suspect, I have lost count of the number of leaders that UKIP have had in the last few years. They sure get through them quickly. However, the latest in a long line of UKIP leaders has introduced a fresh approach - rather than waiting to be ousted he has started his tenure by announcing his resignation date.

As the Mirror reports, Gerard Batten has said he will spend the next year trying to restore the party's fortunes after a tumultuous period that has seen it implode with bitter infighting and stretched by financial struggles, and then he will quit. This is a whole new definition of crisis management:

He said: "As I said at the start of the contest, if the election were to be uncontested, I would hold office for 12 months.

"Therefore, I intend to resign on 13th April 2019 so that a full leadership contest may take place. By then I will have decided if I wish to contest that election or not.

"For the next 12 months, I will concentrate on doing all I can to restore the party's fortunes. A very good start has been made and the party is now on a sound financial footing."

Batten became interim leader after Bolton was kicked out of the job over his relationship with controversial model Jo Marney, who sent offensive messages about Meghan Markle.

After taking the helm, Batten had to appeal to UKIP members for funds after the party faced possible insolvency when it was landed with a £175,000 legal bill from a libel case lost by its MEP Jane Collins.

There is no better indication of a party struggling for relevance than one which elects a leader who does not appear to want the job and who is keen to get out from the role as soon as possible.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Is Radio 4 weaponising racism by broadcasting the 'Rivers of blood' speech?

I have been struggling a bit with the decision of BBC Radio four to broadcast an actor voicing the entirety of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of blood' speech from fifty years ago.

The BBC argues that the broadcast will include "rigorous journalistic analysis", that the speech will be placed in context and the show was not endorsing controversial views:

Delivered to local Conservative Party members in Birmingham, days before the second reading of the 1968 Race Relations Bill, then MP Powell referenced observations made by his Wolverhampton constituents including "in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man".

He ended with a quote from Virgil's Aeneid, when civil war in Italy is predicted with "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".

The anti-immigration speech ended his career in Edward Heath's shadow cabinet.

The Race Relations Act made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

Lord Adonis has called for today's broadcast to be cancelled, and has written to the regulator Ofcom. He believes that the speech was the "worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain".

He is right though I fear that other public figures have made attempts to match it since, not least the Nigel Farage 'Breaking point' poster that was unveiled during the EU referendum. And that is my problem with the broadcast.

It is not just the normalisation of racism by the BBC, it is legitimising the racism that followed it in the subsequent half century. It is impossible to achieve balance on this sort of abusive language both because of what has happened since and because of the ongoing storm over immigration ignited by Cameron's pledge to cut it to the tens of thousands and the current controversy over Brexit.

As one Twitter user says: "We can study racists without platforming and amplifying the racist things they say."

Anybody who has spent any time on social media will know what a cesspit it can be if you stumble onto the wrong sites and pages. People there can be no respecter of copyright.

I can forsee a scenario in which this acted out speech, shorn of all its context, appears on a viral video, perhaps with the 'Breaking point' poster as a back drop, as a means to promote foul and unsavoury views. And the BBC will have enabled that.

This broadcast is a massive misjudgement that undermines the corporation's duty to be balanced and impartial. It is bad enough that they made Farage and UKIP and continue to promote them with unprecedented exposure on Question Time and other current affairs programmes. With this programme they are standing over the abyss, they are opening a Pandora's box they may never be able to close.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Public backing for Lib Dem policy to fund NHS

As far as I aware the Liberal Democrats are the only party who are proposing to ring-fence a tax rise to provide additional funding for the health service. It has been our policy for some time to try and save the NHS by putting a penny in the pound on income tax to give the NHS and social care services the cash they need.

Now it appears that this idea may be gaining some traction with the public, though it does not look as if we are getting credit for it at present. The Guardian reports that a large face-to-face survey carried out before the winter crisis struck the health service in November has recorded the biggest-ever shift of opinion on the issue.

They say that voters are now ready by nearly two to one to pay more tax to bolster the NHS:

The poll, carried out by the respected British Social Attitudes research centre, has recorded a jump from 41% support for higher taxes in 2014 to 61% at the end of last year. An even higher proportion, nearly nine in 10 people, thought there was a funding crisis.

It also found a matching rise in opinions about the quality of NHS care, with nearly three times as many saying healthcare was declining, with most expecting it to get worse still. Only a fifth thought the standard of care would improve.

They add that concern about the NHS ranks with Brexit as one of the two biggest worries for voters. There is widespread consensus that more money must be found, and there has been a growing debate about the best way of doing it – with opinion divided between raising income tax, raising national insurance (as Gordon Brown did to bring NHS spending to the EU average in 2002) or bringing in a dedicated NHS tax.

The Liberal Democrats have been attempting to lead that debate for some time with their own distinctive policy. Once more we are leading the debate with the ideas and policies that are needed. Now we need to persuade people to listen to us.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Could the UK miss out on another EU initiative?

Over on the Independent website they report that new proposals by the European Commission will give EU consumers more powers to challenge big companies in the courts, and a right to clearer information about who they are buying from.

They say that the new package of measures comes on the heels of the Dieselgate scandal, that saw consumers sold cars that emitted up to 40 times more toxic fumes in real-world driving than claimed:

Under the proposals, consumer groups would gain powers to sue large corporations for collective redress on the behalf of those affected by such unfair commercial practices.

Penalties for firms that break the law would also be increased, with a maximum fine of at least 4 per cent of the trader's annual turnover in any given member state – and national governments allowed to go higher if they want.

However, they say that it is possible that British consumers could miss out on the new rights if they are only finalised after the Brexit transition period, though the UK has agreed to implement all new EU rules that come into force before 2021.

Presumably, these new rights count as part of those pesky, inconvenient regulations the Brexiteers are so keen for us to leave behind when we exit the EU.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Old habits die hard in Wales

I read Rhodri Morgan's autobiography not so long ago and in particular the way that the Welsh Labour establishment lined up to stop him leading them into the first Assembly elections.

The union block vote was ruthlessly manipulated to get Alun Michael past the finishing line, effectively disenfranchising ordinary members, and the irony is that it was all within the rules.

Of course, they paid the price at the elections, as Labour voters refused to support a man they considered to be Tony Blair's puppet, and the resulting controversy nearly torpedoed the devolution project this side of Offa's Dyke for good.

Now it seems that they are up to their old tricks. The BBC report that the Unite union is investigating members who appeared in a video supporting Julie Morgan's campaign to become Welsh Labour deputy leader. They say that three members have had their credentials suspended, meaning they can no longer represent the union as officials:

In a social media video for Mrs Morgan's campaign, Unite members explain their support for her.

Three of the people featured have received letters from Unite's Welsh secretary, Andy Richards, telling them the union is investigating "alleged breaches of conduct".

The complaints against them say the video used the Unite logo without authorisation and included an attack on Unite's "balanced energy policy" - an apparent reference to them opposing nuclear power.

They are also accused of allowing themselves to appear in a video used by an "outside organisation which publicly voiced support for a candidate in an election who is opposing a Unite supported candidate".

It is precisely because of control-freakery like this that so many people are put off backing the Labour Party. This is not democracy, it is a travesty and, whoever wins this election, their legitimacy will be under question because of it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Is Labour prepared to jettison peace in Northern Ireland to help the Tories secure a hard Brexit?

Remarks by Barry Gardiner, the shadow trade secretary, that the Good Friday agreement is a shibboleth that is being “played up” in the Brexit negotiations for economic rather than political reasons are quite shocking. It is almost as if Labour have decided that peace in Northern Ireland is expendable as long as they achieve their objective in supporting the Tories in securing a hard Brexit.

As the Guardian reports, Gardiner was answering questions at a think-tank session in Brussels last month, when he suggested there was no reason to fear that a border with customs controls would lead to a return of paramilitary activity:

He also said: “I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday agreement. And that is because it is hugely in the Republic of Ireland’s economic interest to make sure that there is no tariff and no external border there.”

The paper comments that these remarks, from one of Labour’s inner group of Brexit decision-makers, strike a markedly different tone to the party’s existing policy. Jeremy Corbyn restated Labour’s opposition to the re-emergence of a hard border as a principle of the future relationship in a keynote speech in February. Do Gardiner's comments mark a shift in tone and substance since that speech?

Once more I find myself agreeing with the sacked Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Smith:

On Monday, Smith, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said Gardiner’s remarks were reckless and plain wrong. “I worked in Northern Ireland with Barry and it is remarkable that he can display so little understanding of the vital and continuing importance of the Good Friday agreement, or of the essential need to avoid any hardening of the border in Ireland,” he said.

He accused Gardiner of being an “ideological Brexiter” who was putting leaving the EU before everything else. “Labour members will be particularly shocked, but it should concern people in every party and none that there now seems to be a substantial group of senior politicians – from [the Tory MEP] Daniel Hannan to Barry Gardiner – who are prepared to sacrifice the Good Friday agreement in order to deliver Brexit.”

Having just read in Tim Shipman's book on the Brexit referendum how Jeremy Corbyn's office effectively sabotaged the Remain Campaign, I am not surprised at the way that Labour are backing the Tories in securing a hard Brexit. What does astonish me however is the way key spokespeople now seem prepared to jettison hard won peace initiatives in pursuit of that aim.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Warning that Labour in danger of disintegration

Having survived the 1980s and the growth of the SDP, I am very aware of how close Labour came to self-destruction in that decade.

At that time I lived in Swansea West, which was a major target for a Militant take-over. Tony Benn came to speak to party members during the Labour deputy leadership contest and, as a young, politically aware person I went along to see what he had to say for myself.

His rival in that contest, and the eventual narrow victor, Roy Hattersley, was backing the local Labour MP, Alan Williams, who somehow survived a particularly vigorous deselection contest.

Now, Lord Hattersley has reignited the party’s feuding by claiming it is “in danger of disintegration” as extremists take over. As the Independent reports, he believes that Labour is in “a much more dangerous situation” than during the Militant Tendency insurgency of the 1980s because left-wing activists are “increasingly in control”:

Lord Hattersley said the public was suspicious that “the people behind Jeremy will take over the party and run it in a way which we find unacceptable” – putting hopes of an election win “in difficult trouble”.

Moderate party figures with “sense” had to speak out, he argued, describing it as a “tragedy for the Labour Party” that they remained silent about what was going on.

The peer, deputy to Neil Kinnock in the 1980s, also attacked Mr Corbyn for failing his “democratic duty” to fight Brexit, calling for a referendum on the final withdrawal terms.

On the Corbynista takeover, Lord Hattersley said: “I think the Labour party is in a much more dangerous situation than it was in the 1980s.

“In the 1980s there was entryism, there was the Militant Tendency, but they only operated in one or two small constituencies. They didn’t control the machine, they certainly didn’t control the leader, there were trade unions who were prepared to stand out against them and we always knew that the battle in the 1980s would eventually be won.

“Now things are much more serious because people who are not ‘real Labour’ as I define it are increasingly in control of the machine, they’re increasingly taking over constituencies, they’re increasingly bullying moderate MPs. And if it goes on like this the Labour party is in danger of disintegration.”

On Brexit, Hattersley has wise words that need to be listened to by those in charge of the Labour Party's policy-making process: “There’s no doubt at all that a majority of Labour Party members, the majority of Labour supporters, want to remain in the European Union.

“The only barrier to the Labour Party coming out formally for staying in – or getting the best terms possible – is Jeremy’s historic association with the anti-common marketeers of the 1960s and 70s, and he has a democratic duty to swallow that view, realise he’s in a tiny minority and do what the party wants.”

If Labour continue to back the Tories on this issue then they will be equally culpable in creating the disaster that follows. The Liberal Democrats are the only UK wide party offering a way out with their campaign for a confirmatory referendum. Can Jeremy Corbyn come around to that position? I have my doubts.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Wildcats to be reintroduced in the UK

This is going to be interesting. As the Telegraph reports, tens of thousands of wildcats once roamed Britain before they were hunted and killed from the 1700s onwards, due to fears they would target lambs, rabbits and poultry. The last English wildcat population was wiped out on Exmoor near the River Exe just over a century ago. Only a small population now survives in the north of Scotland.

Now, Ben Goldsmith, a City financier and Tory donor who was appointed to the board of Mr Gove’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last month, and who has already spent £200,000 on supporting the ­reintroduction of beavers to southern England, has told Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, that he is willing to bankroll the reintroduction of wildcats to help cull the grey squirrel population:

Derek Gow, the UK’s leading expert on mammal re-introductions, has ­already drawn up a briefing for ministers ahead of a meeting with nature conservation organisations next month.

Mr Goldsmith continued: “Some of the smaller mammal species and bird species that have been missing could pretty easily be brought back without impacting much on people’s way of life.”

Any reintroduction of wildcats to England would be done in conjunction with farmers and local people, to try to ensure there would be no impact on crops or livestock.

Mr Gow said forestry organisations were very keen on the idea, and that wildcats were “absolutely not a species that presents anyone with a problem. They are a small mammal specialist hunter, hunting rabbits, field voles and grey squirrels.

“Grey squirrels exist at very high density quite commonly. These cats would certainly kill them.”

He added: “One of the reasons why grey squirrels do such damage in forest environments is that we have taken out the predators.”

I don't have a huge problem with this plan. Grey Squirrels, as this article explains are not native to the UK. As with other non-indigenous species they have had a huge impact on other wildlife, particularly the red squirrel.

Being larger than red squirrels and capable of storing up to four times more fat, grey squirrels necessarily stand a greater chance of surviving tough winter conditions. On top of this, competition is increased by their ability to produce more young and live at higher densities.

But the main threat is that Grey squirrels are carriers of the Squirrel pox virus, which the reds have no immunity to. It needs only one grey squirrel to introduce the virus to a local population of red squirrels for the virus to take a hold and spread throughout the entire group, with devastating effects. Where a grey squirrel has introduced Squirrel pox, population decline amongst red squirrels is 17-25 times more rapid than through competition alone.

It seems to me that reintroduce balance amongst species in the wild is a much more humane solution than a cull and that this will give the red squirrel a fighting chance to re-establish itself.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Labour's divisions on anti-semitism laid bare

Over on the Guardian website, the full extent of the divisions within Labour over allegations of anti-Semitism and racism has been laid bare. They say that leaked minutes show fierce disagreements on the party's ruling body over disciplinary action against those accused of such transgressions.

The paper reports that key supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have attempted to block action against Labour members facing complaints:

The minutes of the meeting in early March show how fractured the disciplinary body has become and sources said cases involving Corbyn supporters were regularly automatically viewed as being politically motivated.

Among the cases which Corbyn allies pushed to rule out the possibility of expulsion were:
Almost all members of the national executive committee (NEC) elected on the leftwing slate acted as a block vote to try and minimise disciplinary action against several members at the committee’s disputes panel meeting in March, according to the minutes and sources at the meeting.

Multiple sources have alleged that suspended members who were perceived as being sympathetic to Corbyn were defended, even when the evidence against them was overwhelming.

“People were generally outraged at the scale of the defence of just anything. It’s all about control: control of the party and control of the processes,” one source close to the NEC said.

It is not surprising that some members are losing faith in the disciplinary process and are questioning Labour's commitment to tackling anti-Semitism and racism in the party.

This behaviour also helps to explain why Jeremy Corbyn's leadership continues to be so tainted by this controversy. It is this failure of leadership that continues to drag the Labour Party down in the polls.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The continuing saga of failing assessments for Personal Independence Payments

Those of us who have been involved in helping people with appeals for PiP and ESA are well aware of the flaws in the process, particularly around the assessments. It is not surprising therefore to read in The Mirror that almost a third of assessments for the PIP disability benefit are not fully up to scratch.

The paper says that Atos and Capita have a target for 3% or fewer of their reports to be ranked “unacceptable” and currently it is around 5%:

But figures handed to MPs show thousands more “acceptable” reports still had to be amended or prompted staff feedback.

Atos, for example, said 5% of its reports were "unacceptable" between March and December 2017. But a further 10% were "acceptable with amendments", and 15% were “acceptable with feedback" – meaning there was "learning required" for the assessor.

That left just 70% of Atos reports that were graded acceptable without any changes or feedback.

In the same period, Capita said just 6% of its reports were unacceptable. But a further 15% were acceptable with amendments and 13% had learning required.

That meant 66% of Capita reports were graded acceptable without any amendments or feedback.

An Atos spokesman stressed that “acceptable with amendments” still meant a report was acceptable.

However, these figures are spun it is clear that neither Atos or Capita are meeting their targets. The wider question though has to be what is meant by 'acceptable' in the first place. The volume of successful appeals indicate a much wider problem that needs to be addressed.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

What's in a name?

Having checked that it is the fifth of April and not the first, it is difficult to know where to start with the decision to rename the second Severn Crossing the Prince of Wales bridge. At least with the original designation it did what it said on the tin. And of course this expanse of motorway, an engineering triumph if ever there was one, is so much more than just a bridge.

There are many, myself included, that will resent the implication that Wales is still thought of by the Wales Office as a Principality with all the implications of subservience that entails. Others will baulk at the Secretary of State's deference to the crown, whilst some will point to a failure of imagination in the naming choice.

We are told that the Secretary of State for Wales believes that the name is a fitting tribute to Prince Charles' dedication and commitment to our country, but it is not as if there is a scarcity of objects and places named after the Prince of Wales on this side of Offa's Dyke.

There was no consultation with the public over this choice of name. Did the Secretary of State even ask the Welsh Government if they agreed?  And why has no name been allocated to the old bridge. I am astonished in the circumstances that the bridge that no carries the M48 was not rechristened 'The Camilla Crossing'.

But the biggest objection has to be in the missed opportunity. Stadiums and other commercial ventures can make millions from naming rights. Given the strain on public finances, would it not have been appropriate to have put the name out to tender so as to defray the cost of running the Secretary of State's office?

Personally, I would be far more comfortable driving over the Cadbury's Fruit and Nut Bridge than one named after the Prince of Wales.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Racist, inaccurate tweet by Leave.EU - time for police intervention

When Nigel Farage unveiled his 'Breaking Point' poster during the Brexit referendum suggesting that if we were to stay in the EU then the UK will be swamped with immigrants, he hit a new low. appealing to his supporters racist instincts to harvest their votes.

Many people voted to leave the European Union because of fears about immigration which Farage and UKIP exploited. It was little wonder that following that plebiscite, the number of racially motivated attacks increased.

Key figures in the official Leave campaign condemned that poster, saying it was entirely inappropriate. That did not stop their cause from benefitting from anti-immigrant sentiment of course, nor has Leave.EU apparently learnt from the experience,

As the Mirror reports, Leave.EU posted an offensive and racist tweet yesterday morning, targeting Muslims and making three claims that are factually incorrect.

The tweet was accompanied by a large picture of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a mosque and a group of Muslims at prayer. It claimed “British multiculturalists feed Islamic fundamentalism. Londonistan, built on the sad ruins of English Christianity. And the image included a list of statistics: “423 new mosques. 500 closed churches. 100 sharia courts”. As the Mirror illustrated not one of these statistics is true. The post is 100% fake news.

This is abhorrent behaviour by Leave.EU. In my view it seeks to stir up hatred against Muslims in an effort to keep their anti-EU crusade on track. As Labour MP, Wes Streeting, says: “It’s time to see Leave.EU for what it is: an alt-right front for nasty, racist politics designed to whip up division and prejudice, particularly towards Britain’s Muslims.”

Surely the police should be investigating this tweet.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Sale of Ivory in UK to be banned at last

The UK Environment Secretary has announced that the sale of ivory in Britain will be banned in a bid to stop the “abhorrent” slaughter of elephants. The Telegraph reports that the ban will cover ivory items of all ages and anyone who breaches it could face an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

This is a major step forward in attempts to stop this abhorrent trade which has seen elephant numbers decline by almost a third in the last decade with approximately 20,000 a year still slaughtered for their ivory. There were once 26 million elephants roaming the African continent, now only 415,000 remain. At this rate, elephants could disappear from the wild altogether within 20 years.

The ban will contain exemptions to allow the sale of certain items which contain ivory but have been deemed not to contribute to the poaching of elephants. But wildlife campaigners say the strict exemptions are “pragmatic” and they welcome the move to prohibit sales. However, they also warned coordinated global action would be needed to dismantle the ivory trade and put a stop to poaching.

The Mirror adds that charities hope the ban will now stop ivory being exported from the UK to Asia, where it is a status symbol used in ornaments and jewellery, and encourage a similar crackdown elsewhere:

Matthew Hatchwell, of the Zoological Society of London, said: “No one in the UK today would dream of wearing a tiger-skin coat. Thanks to this move, in a few years’ time we believe the same will be true for the trade in ivory.”

Until now, “antique” ivory objects made before 1947 were exempt from the international ban in the UK.

But unscrupulous traders passed off illegal ivory as legitimate antiques to sell them openly here. Much of that ivory ended up in Asia. Since 2005, more than 54,000 pieces have been exported from the UK, more than anywhere else in the world.

But now only items destined for museums, objects of historical importance, and items over 70 years old containing small amounts of ivory are exempt.

It will stop old ivory from the UK being re-carved and sold in Asia and will make it harder for poachers to smuggle illegal ivory through this country.

This is one UK Government policy I can happily endorse.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Australia show there are no easy post-Brexit free trade deals

Did we really think that the claims of Brexiteers, that countries would be lining up to do advantageous trade deals with us once we leave the EU, was ever going to happen? As unevidenced wishful thinking goes, it was one of the more starry-eyed promises made by the Leave campaign last year.

The Trade Secretary and arch-Brexiteer, Liam Fox, should know, as he has accumulated thousands of air miles in the last year knocking fruitlessly on closed doors. The promised land of free, unadulterated trade enriching our economy once we turn our back on the biggest free trade bloc in the world, is proving yet another fantasy.

As if to underline that point, the Times reports that Australia is preparing to demand that Britain accepts hormone-treated beef as the price of a symbolic early Brexit trade deal.

They say that Liam Fox has identified a deal with Australia as an early “win” and informal discussions have been taking place for the past 18 months. But in return, Britain will be told to scrap a European Union ban on the sale of meat from cattle treated with growth hormones:

The practice can increase their weight gain by more than 10 per cent a day, cutting the time it takes to fatten the animals for market. The EU claims that at least one of the hormones used is carcinogenic and their use has been banned since 1981. The Australians have long disputed this scientific analysis. They see the ban as a form of protectionism to shelter European farmers from competition alongside tariffs of 12.8 per cent.

Sources close to the talks say lifting the ban is a key issue for the Australian side. Mr Fox, the international trade secretary, is understood to be sympathetic, arguing that it would reduce meat prices for consumers. Significantly, while the government has ruled out allowing the import of chlorine-washed chicken on animal welfare grounds, it has made no public comment on hormone-treated beef.

It is little wonder that the Farmers' unions are concerned. John Royle, chief livestock adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Future trade negotiations should ensure a level playing field for British farmers in order for them to be competitive, profitable and productive in the future. We do not believe the British public would want our own farmers to be put at a competitive disadvantage by allowing the import of food produced to different standards and using methods which are not allowed in Britain.”

Without the clout of the European Union behind us we are isolated and having to swallow the unacceptable to do the deals that are needed if we are not to remain that way. This is another fine mess you have got us into Dr Fox.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Are some restaurants still short-changing staff on tips?

I have posted a number of times since 2008 about the way that restaurant staff are treated and in particular that if we tip them after a meal, they may not always receive all or any of the money.

Just under two years ago, the government announced plans to end unfair tipping practices and ensure additional payments for service are voluntary to the consumer, and received by workers in full. However, as this Observer article says, some restaurants are still using a variety of methods to withhold tips from staff.

These include: requiring waiters to pay a percentage of the sales they have generated back to pay other staff; persuading all staff to cut their wage rate to the legal minimum and make up the difference using tips; and asking waiters to hand over some of their tips to kitchen staff in lieu of the latter receiving a wage rise.

These requirements appear to be still prevalent nearly two years after the completion of a government consultation on proposals to tackle such practices, partly prompted by revelations in the Observer and other media.

The article provides a number of talking points:
Of course these are difficult times, and a number of restaurants have recently gone to the wall, but that should not undermine the case for a fair deal for all restaurant staff. In the absence of government action it must fall to the customer to insist that any tip they give goes to the person(s) for whom it is intended.

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