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Thursday, May 31, 2018

The threat to our security posed by Brexit

There is no doubt that many people will be focussing on French intransigence as the reason why the UK's membership of a European Union security system that helps to identify foreign criminals and which is designed to keep the public safe is under threat.

The problem though, as with all negotiations, is that when a party puts everything on the table they may not get all that they want.  In other words. we voted to come out of the EU so we have no right to expect we can continue to enjoy all the benefits of membership without being part of the club and paying the fee.

Thus, it is hardly surprising, as the Times reports, that despite Ministers saying that Britain’s participation in the so-called Prüm Convention is “clearly in the national interest”, that is now in doubt. It was something that many of us were predicting during the referendum. I take no pleasure in being proved right.

The government wants a guarantee that it can continue to access and share vital DNA, fingerprint and vehicle information with other European countries after Brexit. The system allowed French and Belgian authorities to identify the terrorists responsible for the Paris attacks in November 2015.

As the paper says, the dispute is the latest sign that Theresa May is struggling to strike a post-Brexit security deal. As with the row over Britain’s participation in the Galileo satellite project, the European Commission insists on upholding rules that limit the sharing of sensitive information with third countries:

Britain’s refusal to subject itself to the oversight of the European Court of Justice presents another hurdle to sharing information. Initially Britain had been confident that its capabilities in law enforcement and intelligence would help to overcome “ideological” objections as other member states prioritised security. The disagreement over Prüm is the latest confrontation to undermine that belief. Although France is backing Britain’s demand for full access to the £14 billion Galileo system after Brexit, it is taking a tougher line on the DNA database than other European states.

Countries including Germany are said to be supporting Britain’s attempt to take part but France is insisting that the decision be referred to the European Commission.

Prüm is one of a number of EU crime-fighting tools, including the European Criminal Records Information Exchange System and the Schengen Information System (SIS), that Britain wants to continue to use.

British police disclosed that they had carried out 539 million checks on SIS last year and warned this month about being frozen out of the “critical” databases. Steve Smart, director of intelligence at the National Crime Agency, told a parliamentary hearing: “The impact of losing access to those datasets is that more bad people will get into the UK and it will be harder for us to find and deal with them.”

This is another fine mess that the Brexiteers have got us into.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Jeremy Thorpe - The Welsh connection redux

Having come back from a long weekend at the Hay Festival I was astonished to find an abnormal number of hits on my blog, all looking for a post I wrote in December 2014 following the death of Jeremy Thorpe at the age of 85.

The post is here and the comments are particularly worth reading, however for ease of reference for those watching the excellent 'A Very English Scandal' and the outstanding performances by Hugh Grant as Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott, amongst many other brilliant performances, I have reproduced that blog below:

The sad death of Jeremy Thorpe at the age of 85 has provoked many people to reflect on their connections with him and already the interweb is full of various anecdotes and stories.

I never met him, though I first got involved with the Liberal Party in 1974 when he was leader. knocking on doors on behalf of the party during the second 1974 General Election. But as befits any leader of the Liberal Party, Thorpe did have Welsh connections, though not necessarily ones we would want to boast about.

As this obituary recounts, Jeremy Thorpe's parents were staunch Conservatives. His father John Thorpe, born in Cork, was a KC and, for a few years after the First World War, MP for Rusholme in Manchester. His mother was the daughter of Sir John Norton-Griffiths, 1st Bt, another Conservative MP, one who gloried in the epithet “Empire Jack” and who owed his baronetcy to David Lloyd George.

Jeremy Thorpe's mother was a great friend of Lady Megan Lloyd George, who subsequently became his godmother. The Norman Scott affair though revealed a more sinister link through what the newspapers of the time termed the 'South Wales Connection.'

This was the allegation that Andrew Newton had been hired to kill Scott by two businessmen from Port Talbot, John Le Mesurier who ran a discount carpet firm and George Deakin, who had made a fortune from one-armed bandits.

The Liberal deputy treasurer, David Holmes, who was a friend of Thorpe contacted a business associate, John Le Mesurier, who then confided in George Deakin.

Deakin approached an old friend, David Miller who ran a printing shop in Cardiff, who subsequently recommended his friend Andrew Newton as somebody who could frighten Scott away.

The rest as they say is history.

Defunct Eurosceptic party linked to UKIP told to repay cash

It is funny how it is always the Eurosceptic parties who like to preach 'do what I say, not what I do'. It is outrageous that those same parties, allegedly dedicated to abolishing the EU and all it stands for, are the same ones who like to milk it for their own ends.

And so we have this Guardian article, which reports that a defunct European political grouping that was dominated by UKIP has been asked to repay €1.1m (£977,000) to the European parliament following an investigation into misspending of EU funds.

The paper reports that The Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe was a Eurosceptic pan-European political party, until it was closed down after a 2016 auditors’ inquiry found misspending of EU funds, including on Nigel Farage’s bid to become an MP in the 2015 UK general election:

On Tuesday it emerged that the defunct party is facing an even higher bill, after European parliament authorities asked the ADDE to repay its entire 2016 grant. A meeting of senior MEPs concluded that the ADDE owed the parliament €1.1m in funds “unduly paid” in 2016, because it had never supplied documents to prove that the grant had been spent in line with EU rules.

“Despite the reminders, ADDE never provided the final statement of eligible expenditure actually incurred to the auditor,” concluded an internal report.

Refusing to sign off the ADDE accounts, the auditors found that €299,270 had been spent in breach of EU rules, while the rest was unclear. The ADDE could also not be described as “a going concern” because it had gone into liquidation, auditors said.

In 2016 the ADDE was asked to repay tens of thousands when it was found to have spent EU funds on the 2015 British general election campaign, breaking rules that bar spending on domestic politics. A sister organisation, the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe, was asked to repay €35,000 and later lost an appeal to have EU funds reinstated.

By way of balance it should be added that although more than 40% of ADDE members were UKIP MEPs, and no other party had more than a handful of members. he former party is separate from UKIP’s group in the European parliament, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, but the two organisations shared many members, including EFDD’s leader, Nigel Farage:

Farage, who is being docked half his MEP salary over a separate dispute, told the Guardian he “wouldn’t know” anything about ADDE finances, noting that he had never been a director. He accused the parliament of singling out Eurosceptic parties: “Ever since Brexit, the whole thing has been vindictive in the most extraordinary way.”

I think the voters may have a view on just why Eurosceptic parties are being singled out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The incoherence of Theresa May

I wanted to blog on this yesterday morning but I was so angry with Theresa May I couldn't trust myself.

As numerous press reports comment, including this one, the Prime Minister is doing everything she can to avoid addressing the huge injustice faced by women in Northern Ireland because of the provinces antiquated abortion laws.

Essentially, she does not want to upset the DUP, who have effectively got her government in their pocket. There has even been a suggestion that she wants to avoid having to make a decision by holding a referendum, presumably on the grounds that this is what happened in the south.

Now, I hate referenda. I may have mentioned it before. We have a representative democracy. We elect politicians to make decisions on important and complex matters once they have all the facts at hand. It is impossible to boil down those issues to a simple yes or no question as Brexit demonstrated.

The only reason Eire held a referendum was because it was a constitutional necessity. It was correcting the decision of a previous plebiscite that amended the Irish constitution to outlaw abortion. People in the Republic voted on a clear proposal including draft legislation, a major contrast with what faced us in June 2016. Brexiteers should take note, it is possible for people to change their mind in another referendum once they have all the facts at their disposal.

That scenario is not applicable in the North or the rest of the UK for instance. Abortion, along with equal marriage and a whole host of other issues are best dealt with through a deliberative, legislative process. That is how Eire will be taking the process forward now. It is how Theresa May should deal with abortion here as well.

The second argument being deployed by the Theresa May is that abortion is devolved to the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and it should be for them to make any decision. It is correct of course that when criminal justice was devolved to Northern Ireland in 2010, they also got the ability to legislate on abortion (and equal marriage). That is not a luxury available to Wales or Scotland.

The obvious flaw with this argument, of course, is that the Legislative Assembly has not sat for 18 months and, because of the DUP's intransigence is unlikely to do so in the near future. That suits the DUP of course. They can continue to rule the North by proxy through the UK Government, without the inconvenience of having to bother working with any of the other political parties in the six counties.

That means that the effective responsibility for sorting out abortion laws in Northern Ireland lies with the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. I suggest they get on with it. At the very least they should apply the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland prior to a more effective overhaul of all UK legislation on the matter.

The present situation in the six counties is a disgrace and needs to be addressed urgently. We cannot countenance any more excuses from the Prime Minister. This issue should be above party political game-playing. Will Theresa May listen? I am not holding my breath.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The search for identity

As I embark on my final day at the Hay literary festival I reflect on the theme of many of the sessions I attended over the last few days - the search for a new identity which may or may not have contributed to the Brexit vote nearly two years ago.

Many speakers talked about the difficulties of living and working as a minority in a multi-cultural society built on the remnants of empire, and how large swathes of white British people are struggling to come to terms with a loss of influence and prestige associated with that imperial past.

Many feel disempowered and confused about their role and their country's role in the world and that is reflected in the people who represent them in Parliament, who are also flailing around to define what the new post-Brexit Britishness should look like.

It is an insecurity which underlines much of the racism those minorities encounter in our society and something that we will pay dearly for as a nation once we leave the EU. I have always defined myself as a European, as that encompasses a unifying, forward-looking role for the UK that includes our economic, cultural and security interests.

The fight to stop Brexit is one that seeks to avoid the UK becoming isolated without any proper purpose. The irony is that in the search for an identity those who voted for us to leave the EU have condemned us to a backward-looking longing for past glories without any clear path to a future role in the world.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

True economic cost of Brexit to business revealed by Eurotunnel

The Guardian reports that Eurotunnel has issued a stark warning that UK businesses and consumers will face serious economic costs if the government adopts either of the post-Brexit customs models being considered by Theresa May’s government.

They say that the intervention by the Channel tunnel operator, coupled with a claim by the company that the necessary technology to prevent delays at the borders may not be ready until several years after Brexit, will add to growing pressure on Theresa May to face down hardline Brexiters by keeping the UK inside the EU customs union. We can but hope:

With just weeks to go until the prime minister faces a series of crucial votes on Brexit in the House of Commons, the head of HM Revenue and Customs, Jon Thompson, sent shockwaves through Whitehall last week when he revealed that British companies would face an additional bill of around £20bn a year in extra bureaucracy if the so-called “max fac” border option, backed by the leading Brexiters Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, was adopted.

Eurotunnel, however, believes that while “max fac” would be the most costly for business and consumers, the other option – the “customs partnership” favoured by May, under which the UK would collect tariffs for Brussels – would also mean extra checks and bureaucracy.

Sources close to the company say they have been making the case to ministers for months that any change that causes hold-ups will seriously disrupt businesses on both sides of the Channel that rely on the assumption that goods can be delivered quickly and on time.

I saw the LBC radio phone-in host, James O'Brien at the Hay Festival yesterday who relayed the story of the van driver who called him to say that every time he takes goods into Switzerland he has to fill in a mountain of paperwork. The van driver argued that frictionless borders outside of a customs union are not possible and that Brexit will bankrupt him. It seems that Eurotunnel agree.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Tories to extend their unnecessary badger cull

Just when we thought that the Tories were so preoccupied with Brexit that the rest of public policy was safe for the time being from their disastrous world-view, the Farming Minister, George Eustace slipped out a written statement on the last day of the Parliamentary term announcing that he is going to extent the inhumane and failing badger cull to low risk areas.

As the Mirror reports, not only is the shooting of badgers by so-called sharp shooters cruel and random, (a large number are not killed cleanly and die an agonising death) but the vast majority of those killed are free of TB.

Furthermore the cull is contrary to scientific evidence, which suggests that driving badgers out of their familiar areas might actually spread bTB. There is evidence that the disease is in the soil and can be passed from cattle to badgers as well as vice versa.

The only logical way to deal with this disease is to properly control it amongst the herds of cattle, whilst targeting those other animals that might reinvest the herd through testing and vaccination. Unfortunately, trigger-happy Tories believe this to be too expensive and instead prefer to spend vast sums of public money on a method that is simply not working just to placate the farming lobby.

Whatever happened to evidence based policy? Or indeed to MIchael Gove's pledge to review the scientific basis for the cull? Presumably Ministers are too busy with Brexit.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Labour need action not words on House of Lords reform

Jeremy Corbyn's decision to require all future Labour nominees to the House of Lords to sign up to abolition of the unelected second chamber is very welcome, but on past evidence the problem lies not in the other place (as MPs describe it) but with MPs themselves.

As the Guardian records, the Labour leader, who is a long-time advocate of replacing the upper house with an elected chamber, has already made the pledge a condition for the appointment of three new peers announced on Friday.

However, when it came to the crunch in 2012 and Nick Clegg needed the support of the Labour Party to put in place a timetable motion that would override the delaying tactics of a sizeable number of Tory MPs, Miliband and his pals bottled it and allowed the reform measure to die a death.

The problem, as Clegg will no doubt testify, is not the determination to reform but the precise nature of any change. There is a clear majority in the House of Commons for the current position to be scrapped, however there is no agreement whatsoever on what should replace it.

Until the reformers, including Corbyn and my own party can agree on a way forward it is unlikely that any of the new peers will ever be asked to vote to abolish themselves.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Has Twitter become an official tool of government?

It is fair to say that Donald Trump has revolutionised the way that Twitter is used by politicians. That has nor always been a good thing. Although he has been able to speak directly to more that 52 million people, his utterances have not always been coherent, whilst the opprobrium he has attracted in return is often unrepeatable in mixed company or indeed any company.

What has surprised many people is how he has managed to avoid plunging the United States into a war through his tweets. After all he is a sitting President who speaks for the nation. He did after all threaten North Korea with nuclear war and shared prejudiced messages from a far-right British party.

Even Theresa May has been forced to gently scold him for his misrepresentations of the UK on twitter. And let's not even get started on his defence of guns in the wake of yet more mass-shootings in the USA. Twitter is not just a means of communication for Trump, it is a fantasy world he inhabits so as to avoid awkward facts.

Now, all of this controversy has come back to bite the United States President with a ruling by a Federal Judge that Donald Trump cannot block critics on Twitter as doing so violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

As the Independent reports, the ruling from Judge Naomi Buchwald said that discussions arising from Mr Trump's tweets should be considered a public forum, as the messages are “governmental in nature":

Judge Buchwald rejected an argument from the Department of Justice that Mr Trump's own rights under the First Amendment allowed him to block people with whom he did not want to interact with.

Blocking users “as a result of the political views they have expressed is impermissible under the First Amendment,” Judge Buchwald wrote in the order, adding the president cannot use Twitter in a way “that infringes on the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him”.

The paper says that the judge stopped short of directly ordering Mr Trump, or those who work for him, to unblock users, saying it was not necessary to enter a “legal thicket” involving the power court can hold over the president. They add that the lawsuit also named Mr Trump's social media director, Dan Scavino, as a defendant:

“Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the president and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional,” she wrote.

So there we have it. Donald Trump's twitter feed is officially an organ of the United States Government. God help us all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Brexit is costing householders £900 a year

I have noticed that whenever a neutral observer or expert produces a verifiable bad news fact about the impact of Brexit the anti-Europeans jump in and try to claim bias or attribute political motives to the source. It is almost as if the Brexiteers themselves are models of sound commonsense, good judgement, integrity and have no record at all of manipulating or inventing data for their own political purposes.

Sure enough, the moment the Governor of the Bank of England puts his head above the parapet to do his job and pass on economic news the Brexiteers are on their high horse again. In this case, it is, as the Times reports, Mark Carney's assertion that households are at least £900 a year worse off and the economy as much as £40 billion smaller as a result of the Brexit vote. His expert view is that the economy is performing worse than its pre-referendum forecasts in May 2016:

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who voted to remain in the European Union and favours a soft Brexit, did not contest the forecast in the Commons.

“Real incomes are about £900 per household lower than we forecast in May 2016, which is a lot of money,” Mr Carney told MPs on the Treasury select committee. “That’s just relative to what we were forecasting in May 2016, not adjusting up, as one might expect given the strength of the global economy, to where the economy might have been.”

On the state of the broader economy, he said: “GDP is more than 1 per cent below that [May 2016] forecast despite a very large stimulus provided by the Bank of England, a fiscal easing by the government, and global and European economies that are much stronger than they were expected to be. So if you adjust for those factors, the economy is up to 2 per cent lower than it would have been. That’s a reasonable difference.” Two percentage points of GDP is equivalent to £40 billion.

Mr Carney, who is due to step down in June next year, said that the economy had been damaged by uncertainty, which had deterred business investment, and inflation, which squeezed real household incomes. His comments came after the Bank downgraded its growth forecast for this year to 1.4 per cent, from 1.8 per cent predicted in February, although forecasts for next year and 2020 remained unchanged at 1.7 per cent.

Mr Carney has compared lost national output to “Brexit buses” in reference to the claim made on Leave campaign buses that exiting the EU would secure £350 million a week for the NHS. His claim that the economy was £40 billion smaller equates to lost tax revenues of about £15 billion, or £300 million a week.

Although Carney is technically independent of government, surely it is unprecedented for a serving Foreign Secretary to directly contradict the Governor of the Bank of England, least of all when speaking from another country. Nevertheless that is what Boris Johnson did. Maybe Theresa May should have a word when Boris returns.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why benefit sanctions don't work

The Guardian reports on a study by the University of York that has concluded that benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime.

The paper says that the five-year exercise tracked hundreds of claimants and concluded that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous:

“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.

Despite claims by ministers in recent years that rigorously enforced conditionality – including mandatory 35-hour job searches – incentivised claimants to move off benefits into work, the study found the positive impact was negligible.

It calls for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work.

In the “rare” cases where claimants did move off benefits into sustained work, researchers found that personalised job support, not sanctions, was the key factor. With few exceptions, however, jobcentres were more focused on enforcing benefit rules rather than helping people get jobs, the study found.

“Although some examples of good practice are evident, much of the mandatory job search, training and employment support offered by Jobcentre Plus and external providers is too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work,” it says.

For those people interviewed for the study who did obtain work, the most common outcome was a series of short-term, insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment, rather than a shift into sustained, well-paid work.

Sanctions generally delivered poor outcomes, including debt, poverty and reliance on charities such as food banks, the study found. Often imposed for trivial and seemingly cruel reasons, they frequently triggered high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The chances of UK Ministers taking any notice of this study is negligible. Like the majority of the population they want to see those on benefits secure meaningful and rewarding employment. However, their approach has been too unfocussed, has penalised those with disabilities disproportionately and led to far too many negative outcomes.

There needs to be a much more targeted approach which supports those trying to get into work, incentivises and enables those who have low confidence or self-esteem and takes account of disabilities. That would involve the state no longer looking on claimants as numbers that help them fulfil their targets but as human beings in need of support.

I am not holding my breath.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A 'hostile environment' for renewables?

With future of the Swansea lagoon still in doubt, it is interesting to read in the Independent yesterday that the withdrawal of government support and confusion around future investments have led to a “dramatic and worrying collapse” in green investment.

This is a complete reversal of the very positive investment in renewables and green technology started under the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government. It is yet more evidence of the Tories reverting to type once they cease to be moderated by a more radical party with a real commitment to the environment and to tackling climate change.

The paper says that despite widespread popular support for renewables, running at 85 per cent, according to the latest figures, annual investment in clean energy is now at its lowest point in a decade.

Labour’s shadow minister for energy and climate change says that: “It’s clear there is a substantial downward trend in new investment, which is across the board in terms of investment in clean technology ranging from big wind farms right down to the effective collapse of the solar market.”

It is a view supported by the House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee. In their report MPs warned this decline posed a real threat to the UK’s climate change targets for the next decade:

Committee chair Mary Creagh said this week: “Billions of pounds of investment is needed in clean energy, transport, heating and industry.

“But a dramatic fall in investment is threatening the government’s ability to meet legally binding climate change targets.”

This downward trend can be traced to decisions made by the government in 2015, particularly its withdrawal of support for onshore wind.

Under pressure from a group of MPs calling onshore wind “inefficient and intermittent”, the Conservatives made a manifesto pledge to remove subsidies from new onshore wind projects.

“It’s one of these issues that had a very niche political purpose, which was to assuage the concerns of some marginal consistencies in England, and to give the public more of a say over infrastructure in their neighbourhoods,” says Whitehead.

However, what was not clear at that time was that the cost of onshore wind was set to plummet, making it the cheapest form of electricity generation.

Unfortunately, the withdrawal of support and subsequent policy changes mean onshore wind is now essentially banned in the UK, with planning applications for new developments plummeting by 94 per cent since 2015.

At the same time, a 65 per cent cut to subsidies for households installing solar panels and a budget that declined to provide new support for renewables before 2025 led to new private investments falling off a cliff.

If this continues then the Government's own climate change targets will become unattainable.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The award for most bizarre Royal Wedding promotion goes to....

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tory hypocrisy on House of Lords goes into overdrive

It was only last week that the New Statesman published an article by George Eaton asserting that Tory MPs and the Daily Mail have no right to complain about the House of Lords.

Mr. Eaton started by stating the obvious: 'The House of Lords is a national embarrassment. Britain’s unelected second chamber - the largest in the world after China’s National People’s Congress - is stuffed with party placemen, dodgy donors and failed politicians. The 26 Church of England bishops make the UK the only state other than Iran to reserve seats for clerics in its legislature.'

He points out how, in 2012, the coalition government’s attempt to introduce an 80 per cent elected chamber was defeated by Conservative rebels and titles such as the Daily Mail. And yet, following the Government's 14 defeats in the Lords over Brexit legislation, demands for reform are emanating from the unlikely source of Tory MPs and the Daily Mail. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and Bernard Jenkin were among those denouncing “these traitors in ermine”:

The great irony of Brexit is how its advocates have turned on British institutions one by one: the judiciary, the civil service, the free press, the BBC and, now, the House of Lords.

Jenkin said of the upper house: “They have become drunk with their own prejudices in defiance of how the people voted in the referendum and the last general election.” Rees-Mogg warned: “It is not a loved institution, it is a tolerated institution when it obeys the constitutional norms, if it ignores them it has very little support left. They are completely obsessed by the European Union. They are people who have devoted their whole life to it. Their whole aim is to stop Brexit.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Bernard Jenkin were among the 28 Brexiteer Tories who voted against Lords reform in 2012. Whilst in 2012, the Daily Mail branded Lords reform “irrelevant and dangerous”. As George Eaton points out during the Blair Government, the Mail frequently heralded the defeats endured by Labour on issues such as fox hunting and Section 28:

“The truth is this prime minister [Tony Blair] hates the robustly independent Lords which has proved a more effective check on an over-mighty executive than the Commons,” it declared in an editorial on 19 September 2003. 

Now the shoe is on the other foot. An independent, unelected Lords is not so convenient when it is spoiling the Brexiteer's own pet causes.

And how does Theresa May react? She adds to the problem by appointing nine new Tory peers and one DUP peer in the hope of reversing the tide of common sense washing over her hard Brexit solution. King Canute she is nor. At least he knew the limits of his own power.

Jeremy Corbyn, a live-long opponent of the unelected House of Lords joins in with three peers of his own. I don't blame him for that. Theresa May has the power to replace the Lords with a properly accountable, elected second chamber, Corbyn has to work with the institutions that are there. His choice of peers is another matter of course, but for now we will leave that controversy with the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

As ever in politics, it is what is convenient at the time that matters, not the overarching principle that should lead to proper, meaningful and lasting reform.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Another UKIP leader ousted

As a party UKIP reached their existential crisis some time ago and continued to fall apart. However, there remains a small bridgehead in Wales, where their group of five AMs plus one currently sitting as an Independent must wait until 2021 for a reckoning.

In the meantime they continue to exist in their own personal Idaho, rowing with each other, stomping out of the group in a huff and seeking to play out their petty divisions in personal attacks on each other.

And so it came to pass this week that the formerly disgraced Tory MP, resurrected as a UKIP AM, Neil Hamilton, who himself emerged as Welsh Leader in a coup, has been replaced by one of his colleagues, following a stormy meeting which it is alleged could be heard reverberating around the corridors of Ty Hywel.

The new leader of the UKIP group of AMs is their semi-visible South Wales West member, Caroline Jones. She was on Radio Wales earlier explaining how she wanted to bring a new 'positive edge' to UKIP in the Assembly. So no more mentions of 'Carwyn Jones concubines' then? She also claimed that she was active around her region and that there is photographic evidence for this. So that will be this then:

It is difficult to see what a party whose whole raison d'etre lies behind them can contribute to Welsh politics, even under a new leadership. UKIP's willingness to resort to racist propaganda, their own troubling relationship with many of their members including full time MEPs, some of whom in the past have ended up in court. and their faction-riven nature must surely mark them out for extinction.

That moment cannot come too soon for the health of devolved politics.

Update: Neil Hamilton has told the BBC that he was informed by text that he had been ousted as leader. He has accused the group of ambushing him. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Did the vote leave campaigns cheat during the referendum?

It is most probably far too late to get anywhere in challenging the validity of the EU referendum result, but nevertheless the extent to which the Vote Leave campaigns were prepared to break the rules to win is well worth noting.

It is already a matter of record that the campaign group Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 for breaches of election law in the 2016 EU referendum. According to the Electoral Commission, this group, which was separate from the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave, failed to report "at least" £77,380 which it spent.

The Electoral Commission said Leave.EU had exceeded the spending limit for "non-party registered campaigners" by at least 10% by failing to include at least £77,380 in its spending return - the fee paid to campaign organiser Better for the Country Ltd - and added the overspend "may well have been considerably higher than that".

Its spending return also did not include services Leave.EU had received from a US campaign strategy firm, Goddard Gunster, and the group "inaccurately reported" three loans totalling £6m from Mr Banks - including who had provided them - and did not provide invoices or receipts for 97 separate payments, totalling £80,224. The Commission has referred Leave.EU chief executive Liz Bilney to the police, saying it had reasonable grounds to suspect she had committed criminal offences over campaign spending.

The Electoral Commission's investigation also looked into whether Leave.EU had received any services from Cambridge Analytica which should have been declared on its spending return, but found no evidence that the group received donations or paid for services from the political consultancy.

Now, the Guardian reports that Vote Leave, the lead campaigner for a Brexit vote, and BeLeave, a campaign group run by an activist named Darren Grimes, used identical data to target audiences, according to a letter from Facebook to the Electoral Commission. This raises new questions about potential coordination between the two groups:

Vote Leave spent millions of pounds buying targeted online advertising through AggregateIQ during the referendum campaign, pushing up against its strict £7m spending limit. However, in the closing days of the campaign, Vote Leave donated £625,000 to Grimes, who then also spent the money with AggregateIQ. At that time Grimes was regularly seen volunteering in the Vote Leave office.

Both Vote Leave and Grimes have insisted that there was no coordination between the campaigns on how the money was spent, which could potentially have broken electoral law.

The new letter was sent from Facebook to the Electoral Commission as part of its ongoing investigation into potential breaches of campaign finance rules and was published by the parliamentary committee investigating fake news. It reveals that Vote Leave and BeLeave appear to have used three identical datasets during the referendum campaign to locate potential recipients of targeted pro-Brexit Facebook adverts.

“They were the exact same audiences,” said Facebook’s Gareth Lambe, who also revealed that $2m (£1.5m) of AggregateIQ’s entire $3.5m Facebook advertising spend over the last four years appeared to be associated with the EU referendum.

In addition to Vote Leave and BeLeave, AggregateIQ ran adverts for the Democratic Unionist party’s pro-Brexit campaign, as well as another campaign group called Veterans for Britain.

If this collusion is proven then it could be another serious breach of electoral law. We will now need to see whether the Electoral Commission is prepared to take its investigation further with this new information.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Labour leader rules out Norway option but what is his alternative?

The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn has told Labour MPs that a Norway-style option cannot be considered by the party, but faces a party split after rebel Lords passed an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would keep membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) as an option.

EEA membership, which is often described as the Norway option gives countries full access to the EU’s internal market, allowing it to trade goods with EU states without customs fees, except food and drinks which are subsidised by the EU. Iceland and Liechtenstein are also members of the EEA, but the terms mean accepting freedom of movement and, as a non-EU state, the UK would have to accept EU regulations with no seat at the table in Brussels.

It is unlikely that option would satisfy either side and yet Corbyn's objective is apparently to unite both leave and remain supporters. At some stage he is going to have to get off the fence.

Labour's present position just offers succour to Theresa May's objective of a hard Brexit. Some of the frontbenchers talk the talk but so far they have been unable to get the leadership to walk the walk.

Whilst Jeremy Corbyn continues to rule out options, we wait for baited breath to see what his alternative is. Will he have one? It is looking more and more unlikely.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Is the Home Office fit for purpose?

The Guardian reports on claims that the Home Office has been accused of being unfit for purpose and guilty of “shambolic incompetence” after letters written by Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, appeared to contradict what she told a parliamentary committee about when she became aware of the problems experienced by highly skilled migrants:

Nokes last week told Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, that she hadn’t had time to investigate revelations in the Guardian that at least 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK were wrongly facing deportation.

Officials were citing a paragraph of the Immigration Rules designed in part to tackle terrorists and individuals judged to be a threat to national security under the controversial 322(5) section of the Immigration Act.

At the committee hearing last week, Cooper asked Nokes: “Why have you not looked into what is happening, to find out how many of these cases are serious fraud cases and how many involve ‘trivial mistakes’?” Nokes replied: “Because there have been only two working days since this issue was flagged up”.

However, letters written by Nokes and obtained by the Guardian appear to show she was aware of the issue in February. They also suggest that concerns about the use of 322(5) were among the first issues she was made aware of when she took up the ministerial role in January. Asked to respond, the Home Office declined to comment.

The claim that the Home Office was not fit for purpose was made by the then Home Secretary, John Reid twelve years ago. The Tony Blair Government, in which he served, was also obsessed with immigration. The question though has to be asked as to whether we should let Ministers off the hook so easily.

What if it is not the civil servants who are at fault at all, but the fact that politicians are asking them to do the impossible in meeting unachievable targets, and that in doing so are damaging our economy and destroying the lives of individuals and their families.

It is a controversial theory I know, but nevertheless it seems to fit all the facts.

Monday, May 14, 2018

UK Government hypocrisy or irony on EU?

The British poet, Elizabeth Bibesco, once said that 'Irony is the hygiene of the mind' but there is nothing cleansing about the hypocritic decision by the UK Government to host a summit encouraging six European countries to join the EU for the sake of their “security, stability and prosperity”, months before it is due to sign its own Brexit withdrawal deal with Brussels.

The Independent reports that in July London will play host to Western Balkans governments including Serbia and Albania, as well as existing EU member states, to discuss reforms to pave the way to future EU enlargement:

The paper says that the summit is part of the so-called Berlin Process, a series of meetings aimed at supporting the region towards joining the bloc and described by the European parliament’s research arm as “bringing a new perspective and impetus to the enlargement process”:

The leaders of EU candidate countries Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia will attend, as well as those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo – two states who have both expressed an interest in joining the bloc but have not yet been accepted as candidates.

They will be joined by representatives of the governments of EU countries with an interest in the region such as Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

Asked about the summit and the UK’s position on the Western Balkans’ membership of the EU, a Foreign Office spokesperson told The Independent: “We remain of the view that the EU accession process is important to delivering security, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans.

It is a shame that the UK Government does not take the same view about UK membership of the EU.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tua culpa maxima

How many pro-Europeans woke up today and stared incredulously at their computer screen as they sought to digest arch-Brexiteer, Dan Hannan's mea culpa, that our departure from the EU is 'not working out' the way it was planned? Who knew there was ever a plan? I thought they were winging it, at least that is how it comes across.

As the UK Business Insider website reports, the Conservative MEP whose speeches against Brussels went viral on YouTube, is now saying that Britain should seek an "Efta-type arrangement, à la Suisse" to protect trade with the EU. This is a clear rift in Brexiteer ranks, with the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg still holding a firm position against any such free trade area.

Mr Hannan expressed surprise that an uncompromising Brexit was being pursued despite the closeness of the 52-48 referendum result which backed Leave. Maybe he should have a quiet word in Theresa May's ear:

Writing on Conservative Home, he said he was often asked, "not working out the way you thought, is it?" He said: "To be fair, they've got a point." He went on: "I had assumed that, by now, we'd have reached a broad national consensus around a moderate form of withdrawal that recognised the narrowness of the result."

He backed being in the European Free Trade Association (Efta) — participation in the single market of 500 million people, but without the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

And even there he has ventured back into the land of fantasy negotiations: if we are in a free trade area then there are rules and if there are rules somebody needs to adjudicate disputes. Isn't it about time these Brexiteers acknowledged that the UK cannot have its cake and eat it?

Once we enter a free trade area or agreement with anybody then we have to be subject to an international arbitration system of some sort, and there has to be free movement. The denial of these basic facts was the lie on which the Leave referendum victory was based. It is time they were called out on it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Open revolt in Labour over Brexit

It has not been a good week for the Labour leadership and their determination to back Theresa May and the Tories in securing a no compromise exit from the European Community.

Two days ago 83 Labour peers defied an order to abstain and instead walked into the lobbies with the Liberal Democrats to help pass an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill saying that remaining in the EEA (the European Economic Area) should be a government Brexit negotiating objective.

And today, the Independent reports that five MPs from the Labour party’s northern heartlands have broken ranks and openly demanded a new referendum on the UK’s withdrawal deal:

The MPs from the Northeast – which heavily backed Leave in the 2016 referendum – said a new vote is essential because the true nature of Brexit is only just emerging.

Writing exclusively for The Independent, they warn plans to leave the single market will devastate family living standards as the future of major manufacturers and employers in their region is thrown into doubt.

Their intervention comes amid rising anger over Mr Corbyn’s failure to seize a chance to force Theresa May into keeping Britain in the single market – despite it also potentially collapsing her government and creating an opportunity to win power.

Labour’s current position is that it “respects” the 2016 referendum, that Britain’s EU membership must end and that the country should leave the single market and customs union to negotiate new relationships to replace them.

But with most projections showing the UK worse off outside the EU’s existing structures, the five northeast MPs have decided to publicly contradict their leader’s position and call for a “people’s vote” on the eventual deal.

Surely, it is time that Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership team abandoned their unthinking support of the Tory position on Brexit and got behind the Liberal Democrats as well, in their call for a confirmatory referendum.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Desperate UKIP drag out the old smears in search for relevance

I don't often listen to First Minister's question time in the Welsh Assembly these days, but I had it on in the background yesterday whilst I worked on other things. I was just in time to catch the astonishing contribution from the Welsh UKIP leader, disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton smear the Welsh teaching profession.

His allegation was that Wales' education system is being used as a tool of propaganda. He believes that parts of the Welsh Baccalaureate on topics like inequality are being taught from a "centre-left disposition" and that there is a "potential danger" that teachers may be biased, suggesting they may favour the Labour party:

The UKIP Wales leader said the qualification included a "global citizen challenge which deals with issues such as cultural diversity, fair trade, future energy, inequality and poverty".

"These are all highly political topics which need to be taught in a balanced way if education is not to degrade itself into mere propaganda," Mr Hamilton told First Minister's Questions in the Senedd.

He said he had seen the materials being used in teaching the courses which are all, he claimed, "from a centre-left disposition".

"The false indignation coming from the other side proves the point I'm trying to make here," Mr Hamilton replied, "that because they control the education system it is being used as a tool of propaganda."

Mr Hamilton said the "mindset of a teacher is very important" and, quoting polling figures suggesting many secondary school teachers vote Labour, he said: "Even if bias is subconscious it must be regarded as a potential danger".

I have not seen such a pisspoor attempt to grab headlines for some time, even going to the lengths of seeking to revive the 'loony-left' headlines so prevalent in the tabloids in the 1980s about certain Labour-run councils.

Carwyn Jones was quite right in his response, stating that "anything is centre-left" from Mr Hamilton's perspective. The First Minister alleged that the Welsh UKIP Leader had supported the now-repealed Section 28 law that had banned local authorities from intentionally promoting the acceptability of homosexuality.

As a school governor and a Councillor, I come across teachers on a daily basis and, without exception, they are committed, dedicated individuals whose sole motivation is to give their pupils the best possible start in life. I think Hamilton owes the profession an apology.

It just shows how out-of-touch

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Healthcare for travellers under threat from Brexit

I some wonder what those MPs, MEPs and newspapers, who supported us leaving the European Union thought we were signing up for. Did some of them really think we could have our cake and eat it, that we could leave the single market and all the European institutions we have been a part of for 43 years and still enjoy the benefits? If so then they have wilfully mislead voters.

The latest panic is a case in point as the Independent reports that Jeremy Hunt has been urged to intervene in Brexit talks to stop British people from losing their right to free healthcare on the continent. Naturally, and quite rightly, there are warnings that changes could prevent those with long-term conditions from leaving the country at all.

The paper says that medical charities have warned that 29,000 kidney dialysis patients who need to attend hospital every other day would face insurmountable costs of more than £800 a week if the European Health Insurance Card, a perk of EU membership that entitles UK residents to the same subsidised care as local patients, goes, effectively putting holidays and rest breaks out of reach for people on ordinary incomes.

And so, 16 MEPs, from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Green, and Plaid Cymru parties, have called on the health secretary to “stand up for dialysis patients, who on top of struggling to comprehend their diagnosis, now risk losing the freedom that the EHIC card permits them”:

“Private travel insurance does not provide a viable alternative to EHIC card for dialysis patients,” they wrote.

“Insurance companies will not cover the treatment, as a pre-existing condition. The cost of paying privately for dialysis sessions in the EU is up to €1,000 (£880) a week depending on the circumstances and procedures used.”

This is just one of many joint arrangements that will disappear once we leave the EU, and yet what did we expect? It is impossible to negotiate an exemption for everything. The only way we can safeguard these benefits is to abandon Brexit and stay in the EU. When will politicians wake up to that reality?

Monday, May 07, 2018

How our economy is being undermined by the Tory obsession with immigration

In many ways nobody should be surprised at claims reported in the Guardian that at least 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK are wrongly facing deportation under a section of the Immigration Act designed in part to tackle terrorists and individuals judged to be a threat to national security.

The Tories' obsession with unachievable net migration figures has always been blind to the best interests of the country as is evident from this story last month, that hundreds of doctors recruited by the NHS from overseas have been denied visas by the Home Office, leading to increased pressures in the health service.

However, the use of the controversial section 322(5) of the Immigration Act to deny indefinite leave to remain to highly skilled and economically desirable workers is a new low. Those refused include teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and IT professionals. Many are being accused of lying in their applications either for making minor and legal amendments to their tax records, or having discrepancies in declared income.

The paper says that in one case, the applicant’s tax returns were scrutinised by three different appeal courts who had found no evidence of any irregularities. The same figures are nevertheless used as the basis for a 322(5) refusal because of basic tax errors allegedly made by the Home Office itself:

Highly Skilled Migrants is a support group that represents over 600 workers and says it is in contact with over 400 more, most of whom are facing deportation under section 322(5), with the rest still waiting for a decision by the Home Office. Aditi Bhardwaj, one of the organisers, said the group has raised about £40,000 to challenge the Home Office in the courts.

“Ten members of our group have taken the Home Office to the first tier tribunal over their use of 322(5) in the past six months. Nine of these won their cases, with the appeal judges ruling the government’s use of section 322(5) was wrong,” said Bhardwaj.

“At best, this suggests that the Home Office is recklessly incompetent in its use of 322(5). At worst, however, the section is being applied by the Home Office so often and being overturned so frequently when challenged at the highest level, that I question whether there is a blanket policy which the Home Office is using internally, which no one is aware about.”

The paper says that cases include a former Ministry of Defence mechanical engineer who is now destitute, a former NHS manager currently £30,000 in debt, thanks to Home Office costs and legal fees, who spends her nights fully dressed, sitting in her front room with a suitcase in case enforcement teams arrive to deport her, and a scientist working on the development of anti-cancer drugs who is now unable to work, rent or access the NHS.

Not only is this an inhuman way to treat people, but it flies directly against the UK's national interest in developing our economy and delivering high quality public services. No party that presides over such a regime can claim to be patriotic, compassionate or competent.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Computers don't make errors, human do

As health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, stood up in the House of Commons to make a statement apologising for what he termed a “computer algorithm failure dating back to 2009”, as a result of which an estimated 450,000 women between the ages of 68 and 71 had not been invited to their final screening for breast cancer, my first thought was that computers don't make errors of this nature.

This is not to pigeon-hole me as a new technology geek who believes in a fully-automated future. I refuse to use internet banking for example, as I don't trust it. In my local bank I prefer to deal with human beings as opposed to the cash and paying-in machines, and I am a late adopter of advancements in technology, preferring to wait until software and hardware is tested before acquiring. You would never catch me wearing smart glasses or a smart watch.

But I do use technology. I just prefer to keep it in perspective. And perspective is what we need when seeking to attach blame or finding explanations for disastrous failures such as that surrounding breast screening.

The fact is that, by-and-large, computers do what they are programmed to do. If a mistake has been made that put nearly half a million women at risk then that was a human error relating to wrong inputs or poor programming. People do make mistakes. We learn from them and from being honest with ourselves and others as to what they are. To stand up in Parliament and blame the computers is not just disingenuous therefore, it is also dangerous, because it might mean that the failure could be repeated.

My sympathies are with Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times. He agrees that the breast screening error was down to humans, not the machine. But he also draws a distinction between holding the Secretary of State personally responsible for coding errors in computer programs somewhere in the entrails of the NHS behemoth, and on the other hand, the chief executive of TSB being personally responsible for pushing through a rushed switch to an off-the-peg computer system of uncertain compatibility, which he claimed would bring in “the humanisation of digital” and “unheard-of” speed and flexibility. leading to human misery and delay.

Computerisation is not an end in itself. It is a change-management process and should be treated as such. That means that managers need to look at how computers can improve and reform processes rather than seeking to put machines in for the sake of it.

Lawson gives an example of the flipside of this debate, the much greater speed and efficiency of the computer-based model:

A friend of mine who runs a data firm that has hospitals among its clients observed: “I used to work for the NHS, and we sent out letters individually, licking the stamps one by one. But now it’s hundreds of thousands of emails at the push of a button. And what took 10 days now takes half an hour.”

Lawson gives other examples of how new technology has speeded up and improved health treatments and diagnosis, giving doctors some breathing space to properly evaluate patients and prioritise their work.

Computerisation and new technology is a force for good. We are not yet at the stage where we are having to invoke Asimov's three laws, nor do I expect us to reach that zenith for some time. But let's not forget that at the end of the day these advancements are dependent on humans to work, and we are fallible.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Lib Dems - not such a 'mini fight-back'

Labour may be claiming their best result in London in 1971, but elections are all about expectation management and the media this morning is full of talk about possible hung Parliaments, predicated on what was actually a very poor performance by the official opposition and a tenacious Conservative Party that cannot quite bring itself to self-destruct properly.

The real story of Thursday's local elections was the performance of the Liberal Democrats. Vote share is up 5%, we have 75 more Councillors than we did before and, not only did we hold all the councils we were defending but we gained four more, in some cases through some audacious swings from the Tories.

This net gain of course does not compensate for the 300 plus seats we lost in 2014, but the media narrative that we have just done well in remain areas does not stand up to scrutiny. We also gained seats off Labour in places such as Sunderland, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. This was the Liberal Democrats regaining old ground, breaking into new areas, but also making solid progress back to relevance.

And that is why the Guardian's claim of a mini-fightback does not do justice to what the party achieved. This is sustained progress not a short-lived rally. UKIP are effectively dead and buried, their only safe seat now is Nigel Farage's place on Question Time. The Liberal Democrats are once more established as the third party in British politics and from here-on-in we will be building on the success of Thursday night to relive past glories.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Voter ID turns into voter suppression as people turned away from polling stations

When the UK Government first proposed piloting a requirement for voters to present an ID at the polling station I compared it to the voter suppression techniques used by Republicans in the United States. Republican controlled US states such as Florida have introduced barriers to voting for ethnic minorities and poorer communities with decisive effects in close elections.

As the Mirror reports, indications from yesterday's local council elections appear to support that conclusion. They say that a one volunteer group estimates that more than one in five polling stations turned away voters for not having ID in trial areas.

Five areas, Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking, piloted the anti-fraud scheme in yesterday's local elections.

Voters were told to show their polling card or full photo ID, depending on which area they lived in. But the paper says that reports swiftly emerged of people being turned away. That was also evident on social media as people tweeted their experiences or the experiences of others that they had observed.

The Mirror says that just minutes after polls closed, the Democracy Volunteers group published a shocking snap report on just how many people it claims were turned away. They had observers on 56% of the polling stations within the trial areas:

The report claims voters were refused a ballot paper because they did not have the correct ID in 21% of polling stations.

This was equal to about 1.7% of all voters across the five pilot areas being turned away, the group claimed. The Democracy Volunteers study does NOT count whether any or all of those voters came back with the correct ID, so it may overstate the problem.

It comes after campaigners repeatedly warned voter ID checks would disenfranchise the poor and ethnic minorities, raising fears over people like the Windrush generation.

The Government's rationale for the trial was to deter fraud. However, the Electoral Commission says there were only 21 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud in 2014, 44 in 2016, and 28 in 2017 - just 0.000063% per vote cast.

Surely, this idea should now be consigned to the dustbin.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Government closes ranks on Windrush

The Independent reports that the Conservatives have blocked attempts to force the government to release internal documents relating to the Windrush scandal. They say that the House of Commons voted down the proposal after the Tories ordered their MPs to oppose it.

Labour had tried to use an archaic parliamentary procedure to force the government to hand over the files, which they said would reveal how much ministers knew about the problems facing Windrush generation immigrants:

The party had hoped to use a technique known as a "motion to return" to compel the government to release the Windrush papers to MPs on the Home Affairs Committee.

The procedure involves asking the Queen to order ministers to hand over the relevant papers. The same technique was used earlier this year to force the release of 58 Brexit economic assessments.

The government had attempted to pre-empt the issue earlier in the day by announcing a full review into the Home Office's treatment of Windrush generation immigrants.

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May confirmed the probe will be given "full access to all relevant information in the Home Office". It will have "independent oversight" and will report to Parliament before MPs go on their summer break in July, she added. ​

Labour said a fully independent inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee was needed and accused ministers of attempting a cover-up.

Openness and accountability are key parts of an effective Parliamentary democracy. It is worrying therefore when the Government uses what little majority it has to prevent proper scrutiny.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Is the Prime Minister sacrificing the NHS in pursuit of pointless immigration quotas

The Independent carries the astonishing news that Theresa May is said to have overruled other cabinet ministers who argued that more foreign doctors are desperately needed to help meet staff shortages in the NHS.

They say that despite pressure from the home secretary, health secretary and business secretary, May is said to have refused to budge on rules that restrict the number of visas given to specialist workers from overseas.

They say that the prime minister has been widely criticised for the “hostile environment” she presided over as home secretary between 2010 and 2016. However, as this passage from former Liberal Democrat Minister, David Laws' book on Coalition, part of the problem on illegal immigration she is seeking to address today can be traced back to her lack of action at the Home Office on border checks.

The paper adds that as well as Amber Rudd, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, and Greg Clark, the business secretary, are reported to have urged the prime minister to soften her stance:

They are said to have been lobbying Downing Street for several months amid growing concern among NHS executives and business leaders about the impact visa restrictions, coupled with Brexit, are having on the availability of skilled workers in the UK.

Last week, NHS executives warned the tough visa restrictions, designed to help the Conservatives meet their promise to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”, have led to more than 400 overseas doctors being turned away since December and are depriving hospitals of desperately needed staff.

Even by Tory standards this inflexibility over visas is unbelieveable. It seems that the Tories are prepared to sacrifice the health services (and the economy) over an inflexible and unevidenced approach to immigration.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Was Amber Rudd targeted for defenstration by her officials?

With Sajid Javid now settling into the Home Office, talk amongst some Tory MPs has turned to who was responsible for leaking the documents that led to his predecessors downfall.

As the Telegraph reports, some cabinet ministers are demanding an inquiry into how Whitehall leaks resulted in what they consider to be the “targeted killing” of Amber Rudd's leadership of the Home Office.

They say that friends of Amber Rudd are furious about the way civil servants were able to undermine her by apparently leaking documents about immigration policy, forcing the Home Secretary to quit on Sunday evening.

A leak on Friday said Ms Rudd was made aware of targets for deportations last June, days after the former Home secretary told MPs on the Home Affairs committee that the targets did not exist:

One Cabinet minister described Ms Rudd's forced resignation as a “targeted killing” by the civil service, saying: “Definitely there should be a leak inquiry.”

Tim Loughton, a Tory member of the Home Affairs select committee said he would raise it with his colleagues on the committee saying: “This needs to be looked into.”

Nigel Evans MP, the former deputy speaker and a senior member of the backbench 1922 committee, added: “There needs to be an inquiry. They need to work out where these leaks are coming from.”

Friends of Ms Rudd said: "Everything she has done in the past six to nine months that was important - there were pre-leaks to spoil it."

It is worrying of course if supposedly impartial civil servants have resorted to leaks of this nature to undermine their political boss. Are there not whistle-blower processes that would have done the job more formally? Perhaps though, if Amber Rudd had been on top of her brief and not tried to brazen it out she would still be Home Secretary today.

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