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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Theresa May suppressed inconvenient facts on immigration

Theresa May's obsession with immigration has long been a problem for both the UK economy, higher education and arguably the Remain campaign during the 2016 referendum.

However, as Vince Cable points out in this Independent article, not only is this obsession wrong-headed and against the country's best interests, but also contrary to evidence, which she allegedly shelved.

Vince has claimed that May suppressed up to nine studies that found immigration does not hit the wages or jobs of UK workers:

The Prime Minister has repeatedly defended plans to impose tough curbs on EU workers after Brexit by arguing they are needed to protect Britons in lower-paid jobs.

But, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “When I was Business Secretary, there were up to nine studies that we looked at that took in all the academic evidence.

“It showed that immigration had very little impact on wages or employment. But this was suppressed by the Home Office under Theresa May, because the results were inconvenient.”

The claims come after the leak of draconian Home Office proposals for post-Brexit curbs on immigration, triggering a major political row.

The plans would strip all newly-arrived EU migrants of their rights to live permanently in Britain, imposing permits of between two and five years.

But, as the paper says, when May told the Conservative party conference: “I know a lot of people don't like to admit this. For someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration, life simply doesn't seem fair,” she was speaking contrary to all the evidence:

The claim was rejected by experts including at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which argued immigrants also create jobs, expanding the opportunities for British workers.

Business leaders, defending the need for immigration, have argued that employment is at record levels, creating shortages in the UK workforce.

Meanwhile, a Bank of England analysis of higher migration found there was some evidence of lower pay, but of less than two per cent over eight years.

This was widely seen as a tiny impact in comparison with the other reasons behind wage stagnation in the decade since the economic crash.

Sir Vince added: “I remember it vividly. Overwhelmingly it has been the case that overseas workers have been complementary rather than competitive to British workers.

Perhaps May will now release all these studies so we can know the real facts. “The exodus of trades people, NHS staff and tech industry workers shows the potential damage of an extreme Brexit.”

Monday, April 29, 2019

Will new rules on mobile phones deter victims from reporting sexual assault?

This is a difficult one. Whereas I fully understand that the police and prosecutors are keen to avoid trials collapsing due to the last minute revelation of mobile phone data, the impact on victims of having to suffer this additional intrusion could potentially prevent them coming forward in the first place.

The Independent reports that in future rape and domestic violence victims will be forced to give police access to their phones and social media accounts or face their cases being dropped. They say that new forms being handed out across England and Wales warn that if a complainant refuses to surrender their digital devices, or tries to prevent any personal information being shared, “it may not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue”.

They add that figures released last week show that only 1.7 per cent of reported rapes were prosecuted in 2018, and 40 per cent of cases were closed with the marker “evidential difficulties – victim does not support action”:

The Victims Commissioner said victims of sexual violence were being re-traumatised by “routinely having their personal lives disproportionately investigated and disclosed in criminal trials”.

“Whilst this form sets out the position from a police perspective, from the victim’s perspective it is both complex and technical,” Baroness Newlove added.

“Many victims will just not be in a position to fully understand the implications of signing over their personal data. It is a huge decision to take at any time, let alone when you are at your most vulnerable.” She called for victims to be offered free access to independent legal advice and for judges, rather than detectives or prosecutors, to decide what must be disclosed in disputes.

“Changing the paperwork might improve the efficiency of the process, but it does not deliver fairness for victims,” Baroness Newlove said.

“This form is unlikely to do anything to help reverse the fall in prosecutions for rape and sexual violence. I am concerned it might have the opposite effect, with even fewer victims willing to pursue their cases through to trial.”

If this change goes ahead then there also needs to be additional support made available to victims, including individual advocates being provided as a matter of course to offer advice and assistance throughout the process.

The official line may well be that this data will not be requested as a matter of course, but it seems to me that it will become a fairly standard request in no time at all.

Anything that prevents a victim bringing a perpetrator to justice cannot be a good thing, so the crown prosecution service and the police must get this right from the very beginning, or else see a further fall in the number of cases being brought to trial.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Change UK stumble over no deal

For those of us still trying to work out what Change UK stands for, yesterday's headlines, reporting on their leader's pronouncement as to what format a people's vote will take, just added to the confusion.

Change UK may have no policy, no discernible ideology and no strategic and tactical sense, but surely we all knew that the ragtag group of MPs who form the core of this new alliance had come together because they rejected their previous party's stance on Brexit, and in particular the way we are drifting towards a no deal scenario.

And yet now we get their interim leader arguing that no deal should be on the ballot paper alongside the deal May has negotiated, and the third option of remaining in the EU.

Personally, I think this is dangerous nonsense. If the one thing MPs can agree on is that a no deal Brexit would be a disaster for the country then why offer it as a choice? And how exactly does the mathematics of a three option referendum work out anyway?

The odds are that no one choice will secure 50%, and then we will be back in the same sinking boat. Even with preferential voting, there will be scope for confusion and challenge if we have to transfer second preferences to secure a result.

Heidi Allen's reasoning on this is as confused and as vacuous as the political vessel she and her colleagues have created. She is offering a hostage to fortune to the Brexiteers and undermining the whole people's vote message.

Labour's climate change dilemma

I note from the Independent that Labour has arranged for MPs to vote this week on whether to declare an environmental and climate emergency following mass protests over political inaction in addressing the crisis.

At the same time, the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay are on the verge of approving a billion pound plus by-pass for the M4 that will infringe on five SSSIs, add millions of tonnes of carbon emissions to our atmosphere and encourage more polluting traffic onto the road.

This is despite the ground-breaking Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015, which charges public bodies to act in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Judge them by their actions, not their words.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

It's all kicking off in the Labour Party

With just a week to the local council elections in England, an extraordinary public row has blown up within Labour ranks over the content of a leaflet produced, under the guidance of the Leader's office, for the European elections.

As the Independent reports, Jeremy Corbyn is facing fury within Labour after campaign leaflets for the European elections suggested the party wanted to press ahead with Brexit, despite a new opinion poll showing Remain with an eight-point lead over Leave.

The flyer, which was drafted by the leader's office, makes no mention of the party's policy for a second referendum on the UK's departure from the EU:

Labour MPs are reportedly writing to the ruling National Executive Committee to demand support for a fresh public vote be outlined in the party's European election manifesto, with some said to be prepared to quit over the issue.

Hilary Benn tweeted: "Labour has twice supported a confirmatory referendum in votes in the House of Commons. It’s our policy. Why isn’t it mentioned in this leaflet?​"

The Labour Party insists that its manifesto for the European Elections won't be finalised until Tuesday's NEC meeting, however the damage has been done. Whatever that meeting decides the leader's position appears to be quite clear, Labour will be entering those polls as a leave party, leaving the Liberal Democrats as the only UK-wide party in favour of remaining and a further people's vote.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Tory candidates suspended over racist and inflammatory posts

With the local council elections less than a week away, the last thing that any party needs is to have to suspend candidates for misbehaving on social media. However, inevitably given the recent history of right wing infiltration into the party, that is what the conservatives have had to do.

The Guardian reports that two Conservative local election candidates and a woman honoured with an MBE are among 40 new self-professed Tory members who have shared or endorsed racist and inflammatory Facebook posts including Islamophobic material:

The torrent of racist posts include references to Muslims as “bin bag wearing individuals”, calls for the “cult” of Islam to be banned and the Qur’an being branded an “evil book”.

One female Tory supporter even called for a boycott of Muslim-owned shops and endorsed another comment labelling the religion’s followers “sub-human” and “cockroaches”.

Both of the council candidates – one of them claimed “Islamophobia was not surprising” in a rant about Muslims and said he would celebrate the death of the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller – have now been suspended.

It comes as the Conservative party faces mounting pressure over its handling of Islamophobia. The Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi has said Theresa May is “burying her head in the sand” over the issue and has led calls for a party inquiry.

Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, is also calling for party chiefs to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia. He told the Guardian: “The serious question the Conservative party has to ask itself is: what is it about the image that it is projecting that causes people with these views to think they belong in the Conservative party?

“At the moment, it’s in complete denial about that question. It believes that tackling people one by one as they are exposed that somehow the problem will go away and I do not believe it will. It needs to hold a serious, independent inquiry both into its processes for dealing with issues like this and whether they are adequately transparent, and the even more fundamental question about the image the party is projecting to the British people, which makes people with racist and bigoted religious views believe that the Conservative party is the party for them. The people posting on Facebook certainly do believe that.”

Once more the charge that the Tories have failed to purge Islamphobia from their ranks, is levelled at
their leadership. As with Labour and anti-Semitism, this is a problem they cannot seem to get to grips with.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Change UK not so different after all

Having launched their new party with a huge fanfare, the Independent Group, or Change UK as they prefer to be called, have come back to earth with a bump.

As the Guardian reports, within 24 hours of announcing their candidates for the European Parliament, the new party has started to lose them.

The paper says that Joseph Russo, who had been due to top the party’s list in Scotland, will no longer stand after posts emerged including one that said “black women scare me”.

The tweet, from 2012, went on to say: “I put this down to being chased through Amsterdam by a crazy black whore.”

Russo is the second Change UK candidate to fall as a result of a gaffe on social media. Within hours of the names being announced, another hopeful, Ali Sadjady, stood down following the emergence of an “inappropriate tweet” posted in 2017.

He had reportedly expressed support for Brexit because, Sadjady said, “70% of the pickpockets caught on the [London Underground] are Romanian”.

Meanwhile, a third ChUK candidate has also been caught out on social media and has had to backtrack on previous illiberal views:
Jan Rostowski's hostile comments about gay peopleChange UK turn out to be not all that different after all.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Is the underfunding of police forces giving a free pass to criminals?

As a community politician I work very closely with the police locally in trying to deal with issues as they arise. Unfortunately, although we have three excellent PCSOs, the warranted PC who manages them is often taken away from the community for other duties. It is a sign of the times.

There are simply not enough police officers to cope with the workload, and the reliance on PCSOs to handle the community level policing is hampered by the failure to give them the powers to do the job as many of them, and others would like.

In South Wales for example, PCSOs do not have the power of arrest, nor are they able to stop vehicles. There are 20 additional powers which are being withheld from PCSOs that could be conferred on them under the relevant Act of Parliament.

Of course, the reliance on PCSOs in this way is far from desirable. As good and as dedicated as they are, they do not have the same training and investment as a warranted police officer. They are being used as a cut-price way to maintain a presence and a profile in local communities in the face of declining budgets.

The impact of those cuts is being felt most keenly in the detection of crime. As the Telegraph reports, at least one senior police officer believes that s ix in ten crimes are no longer fully investigated, warning that thefts are “screened out” if there are no witnesses, CCTV or forensics:

Ian Hopkins, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, one of Britain’s biggest police forces, said about 600 offences a day, primarily thefts, were not being pursued because "we don't have enough officers.”

He said budget cuts meant police had to prioritise more ruthlessly than ever after his force had lost about 2,000 officers in the past decade, taking his numbers down to 6,200.

“We record about a 1,000 crimes-a-day. Around 60 per cent are screened out very early on, so there is a very basic investigation undertaken then about 60 per cent are screened out,” Mr Hopkins told BBC Radio Manchester. The force sought to correct the figure almost 24 hours later to 43.4 per cent."

“You could spend weeks investigating some things and you will never get an outcome because the solvability factors are just not there.

“If your life is in danger, you've been seriously hurt, we will still turn up. If there's an immediate threat we will be there and we will be there in numbers really quickly.

“But if your shed's been broken into, your bike's stolen, your vehicle's broken into and there's no witnesses, there's no CCTV and there's no opportunity for forensics, we'll be screening that out really quickly.

“Your likelihood of a police officer turning up to deal with that is almost non-existent and that's where the public have really started to feel it. That bit worries me.”

“We are having to target our resources to some of the more serious stuff like serious and organised crime, counter-terrorism. You just don't have the capacity to deal with some of these things.

The Telegraph has followed this up with its own analysis of 10 police forces including the Metropolitan Police and Manchester. They have found that almost 500,000 offences were ditched within 24 hours of being reported, which if scaled up would equate to around two million:

Last year, the Metropolitan Police recorded almost 200,000 undetected crimes that were closed on the same day as they were recorded.

Of these, 77,976 were thefts, the most common “screened out” crime, which increased from 12,805 in 2015. The largest increase in “screened out” crimes was in robbery offences. There were just 23 undetected robbery crimes that were completed in under one day in 2015, but this had soared to 6,256 in 2018.

Over the past four years there has also been an increase nationally in violent and sexual crimes closed within 24 hours.

Sex offences recorded and then closed within a day rose from 703 to 1,605 from 2015 to 2018, while offences of violence against the person closed within 24 hours more than quadrupled from 11,927 to 44,548 in the same period.

All of this is very disturbing and requires further detailed scrutiny by Parliament. The Home Office cannot continue to get away with excusing these figures by pointing to an increase in funding, as they do at the end of this article.

Clearly, police do not have the resources they need to do their job, either that or they are misusing those resources. Isn't it MPs' job to find out which,and to put pressure on Ministers to sort it out? Perhaps they need to get their head out of the current Brexit mess and start to deal with these issues.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

UKIP blame game takes aim at feminists

At some point we will have to collectively decide that the views of UKIP candidates are so ludicrous, and their party's chances of winning anything so remote, that we can happily ignore what they have to say and get on with our lives.

Unfortunately, that time has not yet come, not least as UKIP still possess a number of elected officials in the European Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, are rapidly turning into a vehicle for the far right and other extremists, and, despite denials on all sides, form a continuum with other right wing, anti-European Parties such as Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, who are attracting significant support in the polls.

So, it is without apology, that I once again point to the unreconstructed and dangerous remarks of UKIP European candidate, Carl Benjamin, who, according to the Guardian, who has argued that feminism was responsible for a rise in the number of men carrying out mass murders, because the killers felt disenfranchised and “out of options”:

Benjamin, a social media activist who previously tweeted “I wouldn’t even rape you” to the Labour MP Jess Phillips, argued in a now-deleted YouTube video that feminism had caused male mental health to deteriorate, prompting more mass killings.

“This is what feminism has wrought – a generation of men who do not know what to do, who are being demonised for what they are,” said Benjamin, who uses the name Sargon of Akkad on social media.

“Before your stupid social justice feminist bullshit, it didn’t happen on this scale. It’s crazy – this is a disease of the modern age,” Benjamin said in the 2014 video, recorded after the murder of six people in California that year by a 22-year-old man who said the killings were a response to women rejecting him sexually.

“You are responsible for perpetuating it, by disenfranchising these poor fucking guys who don’t have any options left,” Benjamin said.

That any approved candidate of any political party in the UK feels that he can justify such remarks, when one in five women experience sexual violence is appalling. If UKIP does not disavow this candidate and remove him from their lists, then their already tenuous credibility as a political party will be even further diminished.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Another Labour own-goal in fight against anti-Semitism

If Labour are going to put the whole anti-Semitism row behind them then they need to stop scoring own-goals. Unfortunately for those activists who want to go out and campaign on other issues, the party leadership just cannot help themselves.

Thus, as the Independent reports, the author of an open letter that claimed a protest organised by Jewish community groups over antisemitism in the Labour Party was the work of a “very powerful special interest group” has now been selected as a Labour council candidate:

The letter, which was endorsed by thousands of Jeremy Corbyn supporters and reported by The Independent last year, claimed the organisers of the protest used their “immense strength” to “employ the full might of the BBC” and “dictate who the rest of us can vote for or how we vote”.

It was written and publicised by Frances Naggs, a Labour activist in Staffordshire. Ms Naggs has since been selected as a Labour councillor in Staffordshire Moorlands for next month’s local elections and is included in official council documents as a candidate in the Bagnall and Stanley ward.

Her letter was shared widely on social media last year and received thousands of “likes”. It was posted the day after the “Enough is Enough” protest in Parliament Square last March, which was organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, although Ms Naggs later said she had not been referring to Jewish groups.

That though is not how the letter was perceived outside the party. It may have been naïve to have published a letter such as this at the same time as a protest against anti-Semitism, but the Labour Party itself should have known that it would be viewed as referring to groups seeking to change their attitude towards Jews. And let's face it, some Labour MPs are very clear what this candidature signifies as far as their party is concerned:

Commenting on the revelation that Ms Naggs is standing as a council candidate, Stoke-on-Trent North MP Ruth Smeeth, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “This is becoming an all too common story about the Labour Party. We have not got our own house in order, we’re not doing anywhere near enough to ensure that people of all ethnic minorities are comfortable in the Labour Party.

“Instead we’re rewarding people and putting them forward for elected office when they’ve gone out of their way to make other people’s lives miserable.

“If we really have got a zero tolerance policy towards antisemitism then it’s time to start showing it, but at this point I’ve got no faith that is the case.”

Of Ms Naggs’ letter, she said: “The overt conspiracy theory that is being promoted is extraordinary in the 21st century. Anybody who believes in those sort of conspiracies does not have a place in elected office anywhere in the UK, never mind in my home country of Staffordshire.”

Time for Labour's NEC to take note and act accordingly.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

European Elections caught in a counter-factual world

I have just published a counter-factual novel in which a fictional executive mayor of the Cardiff Capital Region (spoiler; there is no such post) is assassinated. It is available on Amazon here if you are interested. However, no credible fiction writer could have conjured up the present political situation.

Having voted to leave the European Union, in a referendum, which, it subsequently transpired, was marred by rule-breaking, illegal expenditure and over-inflated and undeliverable promises, we are still members nearly three years later, and on the verge of electing members of the European Parliament, who may sit for just a matter of weeks, or, more likely a couple of years.

It is bad enough giving up a job to contest an election, pouring thousands of pounds of your own money into the campaign, while placing an intolerable burden on whatever relationship you might be in, and suffering abuse, vilification and pity from voters and opponents alike, knowing that you still might not win.

However, once we throw in extreme job insecurity on top of what was always a fixed term appointment, it makes many of us wonder why anybody will do it in the first place. And then there is the dodgy support network available for candidates of all political hues

Political parties, even the big ones, are largely fuelled by the efforts of volunteers. The bigger the party, then the larger the team a candidate can rely on. In the smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats, a campaign might consist of the candidate, a few friends and a dog.

But disengagement with the political process has become rife in the light of the Brexit fiasco, and only the demagogues can now really call on fanatical supporters to get out and campaign for them. Thank goodness most of those people don't really know what they are doing.

Thus, we face headlines such as this one in the Guardian, reporting that group of Conservative councillors is refusing to campaign for the party in European elections in a protest against the government’s failure to leave the European Union.

It may well be that other parties are suffering from a similar reaction albeit with a lower profile. As a result the poll, when it comes in just under five weeks time, may prove to even more lonely and uncertain for the candidates than they anticipated.

And for that they should be applauded, because without their willingness to be humiliated, to place their own futures on the line, our democracy would be much weaker, possibly terminal. And I can think of a few Brexiteers who would not mourn if that became the case.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Can rough sleeping figures be trusted?

There was an interesting article in Thursday's Guardian, which highlighted an assertion by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, that claims rough sleeping is falling in England should not be trusted until the government has explained how an emergency funding scheme for the worst-affected areas might have skewed the latest figures.

The paper says Sir David Norgrove’s comments are the latest development in a row over the apparent 2% fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018, which ministers said was a sign the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) was tackling the homelessness crisis:

In a significant intervention, Norgrove said the official figures for 2018 should not be used to make claims about rough sleeping in England until the government addresses concerns that some councils that received RSI funding had deliberately underreported the scale of the crisis in their area.

The official rough sleeping statistics for England, based on estimates and spot counts from all local authorities on a single night in autumn, are intended to include everyone about to bed down or already bedded down on the street, in doorways, parks, tents and sheds, but not hostels or shelters.

Estimates, akin to a local census, are typically agreed by agencies who work closely with rough sleepers in the area all year, whereas street counts are one-night snapshots.

After the official figures for 2018 were published at the start of the year, the prime minister, Theresa May, hailed an apparent 85% fall in rough sleeping in Southend from 2017 to 2018.

Southend was among several local authorities that changed its methodology after it received short-term RSI funding, along with Brighton, Southend, Redbridge, Eastbourne, Medway, Worthing, Thanet, Exeter, Basildon, Ipswich and Warwick.

All councils recorded significant falls in rough sleeping from 2017 to 2018 after switching from an estimate to a count, which critics said occurred because of the methodology change and did not reflect the reality on the streets.

For the second time since the 2018 figures were published, Norgrove said they “should not be used to draw firm conclusions about recent trends in rough sleeping and cannot yet support public claims about the success of the Rough Sleeping Initiative” until the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) provided clarity.

The idea that there is a fall in rough sleeping anywhere in the UK is counter-intuitive. Anecdotally, in any city or town, there appears to be an increase in the numbers of people sleeping out and/or begging. It is also notoriously difficult to get an accurate count of rough sleepers, and that applies in whatever part of the UK one is surveying.

Looking at the measures being promoted in the Rough Sleeping Initiative, it appears the UK Government is on the right track. Where it seems to go awry is in its targeting - my view is that the initiative needs more money so that it can be rolled out across the country - and that the Housing First approach is still in pilot stage.

Why the UK Government (and the Welsh Government for that matter) are still only piloting Housing First is a puzzle. The approach has already proven its worth in Scotland, we don't need more pilots to tell us what we already know. Let's roll Housing First out across the whole country now, without delay, so that we can put in place sustainable solutions to homelessness sooner rather than later.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Assassination of Morgan Sheckler

Today I am unashamedly using my blog to promote my first published novel. When Morgan Sheckler is elected Mayor of the Cardiff Capital Region in Wales he finds himself at odds with his own staff, not just because of his policies but also because of his brash, bullying manner. 

Sheckler immediately sets his sights on dismantling plans for a new power plant in the region -- a move that puts him on collision course with some unsavoury American backers who will do anything necessary to have it built. 

Caught in the middle is Dawn Highcliffe, Sheckler’s director of development, who must do as the mayor orders but yet also, somehow, please the Americans, who have blackmailed her into cooperating with them. 

A world of corruption and intimidation is revealed that brings Dawn to breaking point and sees her facing the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence. But there’s hope, because Sheckler’s past is coming back to haunt him and a group of those he wronged are circling, and they’re looking for blood... 

You can buy it here.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why the Lib Dems should look beyond Brexit in the Euro election

The Independent reports that Vince Cable has lashed out at Change UK (CUKoos?) and the Greens for rejecting his pleas to stand joint candidates on 23 May, to boost the number of MEPs demanding a second referendum.

The paper says that the Lib Dem leader has revealed that his party proposed fighting together – a move that one election expert has predicted could have delivered an extra six seats in Brussels. Somehow Vince forgot to ask the membership what they think about such an electoral pact.

There is a myth growing up amongst some Remainers on social media that because the European Elections will be fought on a form of proportional representation, then there is no need for electoral pacts or tactical voting. On the face of it, this is factually incorrect. If you want a Remainer party to win seats then you do need to consider which one is best placed to secure a valued MEP-slot.

That is because the party list system we have adopted does not allow for preferential voting, nor for the transferring of preferences, as say, STV does. For the record, I have campaigned in an STV election in Northern Ireland where much of the Alliance Party literature was asking for a tactical vote, namely a request for a high preference to keep Sinn Fein out. It worked.

However, my view is that Vince Cable's approach to these elections is entirely wrong-headed. Important as an 'exit from Brexit' is, we are in danger of painting the Liberal Democrats as a one-trick pony, who will be left with nothing to say once this matter is resolved. I also think that we have missed the boat on another referendum and should concentrate on a Parliamentary solution, possibly by revoking our notice to quit under Article 50.

If we are to make any progress as a party and win seats, we actually need to differentiate ourselves from the other Remain parties by espousing a Liberal Democrat view of Europe, including reforming European institutions to make them more democratic and accountable. It is no good offering people the chance to vote again on membership if we do not also address some of the criticisms that people have of the EU.

It is also time that we started to talk about some of our other policies apart from Brexit. People are fed up to the teeth of the whole European issue. They want politicians who are going to address their concerns about health, education, social care and the economy. Even if we put it into the context of the impending disaster that faces us if we do leave the EU, at least we would show that we are listening and are in tune with people's own priorities.

In short, we must take the opportunity presented by the European elections to relaunch the Liberal Democrats as the fully-rounded party we really are, complete with policy solutions for the key issues facing voters. If we just focus on Brexit, we will become indistinguishable from the other pro-EU parties, and leave ourselves with nowhere to go afterwards.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

DWP and mushroom management

Those of us who have experienced mushroom management will know that it consists of being kept in the dark, while having manure shovelled over us. The Department of Work and Pensions however, prefer to utilise these methods when dealing with the claimants they have been created to help.

The Independent reports that Ministers have been accused of keeping “alarming” findings about their flagship universal credit scheme under wraps for a year and a half. MPs say it was “deeply irresponsible” to delay the release of a report, which suggests nearly half of claimants were not aware their tax credits would stop when they claimed universal credit, and 56 per cent felt they received too little information from HMRC.

Starving MPs of the information they need for a crucial report into how the system can be improved is bad enough, but the DWP are equally culpable in the way they treat claimants, relying on ignorance and misinformation to keep costs down.

The paper says that the Department for Work and Pensions has repeatedly argued that universal credit is more generous than the old benefit system and provides a “safety net” for those who need it. The report reveals, however, that more than a third were experiencing financial difficulties – of which six in 10 said their difficulties started after they began claiming universal credit. It also found that there was a “lack of awareness and a perceived lack of clear information about the new benefit and the migration process”:

Garry Lemon, director of research and policy at the Trussell Trust, said the fact that the research has not resulted in significant changes to the support provided to people moving onto universal credit was “not only deeply concerning, but deeply irresponsible”.

He added: ”Our benefits system was created to anchor us all from being pushed into poverty, but for too many people moving on to the new service, universal credit has pushed them to a food bank.”

Jess Leigh, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, said: “At a time when government needs to restore trust in the system, sitting on a report for 18 months is counterproductive.

“This report is further evidence that universal credit isn’t working for disabled people. As universal credit becomes a reality for millions of disabled people, many face losing vital welfare support and falling off a financial cliff edge.

“It is critical that the upcoming trial of managed migration takes into account all research in a thorough, timely and transparent way.”

The paper adds that the latest figures show that the DWP is expected to spend close to £1bn on administrative errors in the payment of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to disabled people – far more than initially expected.

They say that the department was forced to admit that even after new guidance had been issued to staff in 2015 in an attempt to correct the problem – which saw around 180,000 people deprived of benefits they were legally entitled to – 30,000 extra cases had been identified where it was possible the same error resulting in underpayment had been made.

This is unacceptable. Ministers need to get to grips with this problem urgently.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How can we secure the future of our historic buildings after Notre Dame fire?

I was in shock last night as I watched video of the magnificent spire of Notre Dame Cathedral plunge to the ground during the terrible fire that has devastated the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece. The spire reportedly took 200 years to build.

From news reports, as well as the spire, a number of the wonderful stained glass windows have been destroyed, although early reports on Twitter suggest that the north rose window may have survived. The others (including the earliest one from 1225) are reportedly gone. These windows were created by skilled artisans who coloured the glass with minute amounts of cobalt (for blue), gold (red or violet) and copper oxides (greens).

Notre Dame is just the latest historic building to suffer a disastrous fire. Others include York Minister, Windsor Castle, the National Library of Wales and, closer to home, Gwyn Hall in Neath. I am sure that there are other examples as well.

These fires raise the question as to what precautions we are taking to protect our heritage, and how effective are they?

One building we do need assurances on is the Houses of Parliament. These premises are due for an extensive renovation, just to stop them falling down, but MPs are so far refusing to bite the bullet and get on with the work.

Rhondda MP, Chris Bryant is clearly frustrated by the delay. As the Telegraph reports, he believes that it has taken “far too long” to put improved fire safety measures in place at the Palace of Westminster. He told the paper that “every fire precaution” must now be taken when a major programme of restoration is started on the Houses of Parliament in order to avoid similar scenes to the French cathedral:

The devastation at the Paris landmark came after David Lidington warned that the risk of a “catastrophic fire” decimating Parliament was growing and it was only down to chance nobody has been badly hurt by falling masonry.

Theresa May’s deputy said it was “very lucky no one has been seriously injured” by the crumbling Palace of Westminster as he stressed the importance of urgently restoring the Unesco World Heritage Site.

The paper adds that Parliament’s Restoration and Renewal Programme is due to get under way in the mid-2020s at the very earliest. But falling masonry, leaking plumbing and exposed wiring have prompted growing concerns about how long it will take to start and finish the work:

Mr Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said a recent burst water pipe which forced the House of Commons to close early for the day “highlighted the need for Parliament to press ahead with plans for a fundamental overhaul”.

Writing in a letter to his local paper earlier this week, the Bucks Free Press, Mr Lidington said: “Several times in the last year, chunks of masonry have fallen off buildings.

“We’ve been very lucky no one has been seriously injured.

“Worse, the electrical, plumbing, heating and sewerage systems are well beyond their expected working life span and in a dilapidated state.

“With each year that passes, the risk of a catastrophic fire grows.”

It is time that MPs vacated the Palace of Westminster so that this work can get underway sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 15, 2019

UKIP leader loses the plot over 'rape tweet'

Rape is not a matter anybody should be making jokes about. It is a vile and indefensible crime that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So when Carl Benjamin tweeted to the Labour MP. Jess Phillips, “I wouldn’t even rape you” after she spoke of being sent rape threats, one would expect any political party to condemn the statement in strong and unequivocal terms.

Mr. Benjamin is now a UKIP European Parliament candidate for the South West England constituency. He was selected, according to his party leader, after an exhaustive process. However, when that same leader was challenged on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Gerard Batten told the interviewer: “I think this was satire.”

As the Independent says, he described Benjamin as a classical liberal and a proponent of free speech:

Mr Benjamin – a vlogger who posts online under the name Sargon of Akkad – has close to 1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, on which he posts videos criticising feminism, left-wing politics and the EU.

He sent the tweet to Ms Phillips after the Labour politician wrote on Twitter: “People talking about raping me isn’t fun, but has become somewhat par for the course.”

Following Mr Benjamin’s tweet, Ms Phillips said she was bombarded with “600-odd notifications talking about my rape” in one night.

UKIP is a right wing, extremist party that has no place in the mainstream of UK politics, and yet in recent polls, it has hit double figures. It is little wonder that so many of us despair about the future of our country.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Learning to love the tiny Tower Hamlets jumping spider

One article we didn't have time to get to on this morning's Radio Wales paper review was this one in the Observer, about a project aiming to record and catalogue creepy-crawlies indigenous to London.

We are used to the occasional announcement of new species discovered in remote and exotic parts of the world, but it seems that we are harbouring rare species closer to home as well.

They say that London’s eight royal parks are home to a spectacular range of creepy-crawlies, and over the next few weeks these creatures will be the focus of a major campaign:

A project named Mission: Invertebrate will highlight the importance of worms, gnats, spiders, slugs and grasshoppers in maintaining the health of Britain’s wildlife and natural habitats.

The event is part of an international initiative, City Nature Challenge, held at the end of April and involving the inhabitants of more than 160 cities around the world – including Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leicester, Manchester and Newcastle.

The aim of the challenge is to record as much wildlife as possible on city streets and in parks. The main effort in London will be on the insects of the royal open spaces: Hyde, Green, Richmond, Greenwich, St James’s, Bushy and Regent’s parks and Kensington Gardens.

The claim that London is a hotbed of invertebrate activity is supported by the number of species to which the city has put its name. These include the Tower Hamlets spider (Macaroeris nidicolens), a jumping spider identified in Mile End Park in 2002; the Bushy gnat (Grzegorzekia bushyae), a species of fungus gnat discovered in Bushy Park in 2016; and the London Underground mosquito (Culex Pipiens Molestus), a genetically distinct subspecies of mosquito that has evolved in the deep tunnels of the tube over the past 100 years.

The paper says that more than 4,720 species of invertebrates have been recorded in London’s royal parks – which cover 5,000 acres, most of them former royal hunting grounds. These include more than 1,000 species of fly in Bushy Park, including the Bushy gnat; more than 100 types of spider in Brompton Cemetery (also run by the royal parks), including the Tower Hamlets spider; while it is estimated that Richmond Park has more than 400,000 ant hills that are home to some 3 billion ants:

Invertebrates are crucial to the capital’s wildlife. They provide food for other insects as well as for birds and fish; they help pollinate London’s flowers and plants; and they break down organic waste. Examples of the latter, the detritivore insects, include the dung beetle, of which there are 14 species – including the spectacular minotaur beetle – in Richmond Park alone. 

This has to be a future project for Richard Attenborough.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Boris caught out again

The best thing about this piece in the Independent, is not that reported finding of the press regulator that Boris Johnson inaccurately claimed that a no-deal Brexit was the most popular scenario among voters, though that helps, but the response of the Telegraph.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) ruled that the former foreign secretary breached accuracy rules in his Telegraph column when he said polls showed no deal was more popular “by some margin” than remaining in the EU or Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

A reader complained to Ipso over the weekly column, saying Mr Johnson, who is tipped as a future Tory leader, had failed to cite any evidence for his claim.

The Telegraph's argument that Boris' article was:

“clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”.

is the best description of the leave campaign I have seen for some time.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Another day, another Home Office data breach

Considering the data protection rules which the UK Government quite rightly expects the rest of us to follow, one would think that they could set an example by following those rules themselves. Unfortunately, one government department has now committed its second data breach in a week.

As the Independent reports, the Home Office has apologised for committing its second potential data breach of UK residents in a week after accidentally sharing the details of hundreds of EU nationals seeking settled status.

The department has informed 240 applicants it “inadvertently” shared their email addresses with others who had applied under the scheme, in its attempt to establish the reasons behind “technical difficulties” they had been experiencing.

The admission comes just days after the Home Office apologised to members of the Windrush generation again after admitting it wrongly shared 500 private email addresses while launching the compensation scheme.

Despite the motives being attributed to this leak, it does appear that it comes from incompetence, rather than a desire to treat the recipients as 'second class citizens'. Nevertheless, the rest of us have tightened up our procedures and adopted very stringent measures to try and ensure we remain on the right side of law over GDPR, the Home Office has no excuse not to do the same.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Deadline is halloween for the Brexit Zombie state

Related image

The New Statesman wins the prize for the most prescient cover picture, when it featured the Prime Minister and her colleagues as zombies, dragging us all towards oblivion. 

Yesterday's agreement by the other 27 European Union countries, that the UK should have an extension of time until the end of October, to finally leave with a deal (or not), means that we have now been given an extra period stretching from April Fool's Day to Halloween.

By the time the 31st October has come around, and the House of Commons has rejected Theresa May's deal for the nineteenth time, we will all be so numb from the process that we might as well be zombies ourselves.

The period of unrest, voter outrage and apathy, and democratic chaos, which has so characterised this unfortunate and humiliating chapter in UK political history, looks like it will go on for some time. 

My sympathy is with the European candidates on 23rd May, who will be seeking to garner votes for some very short-lived political careers. Goodness knows how the electorate will react, all that seems certain is that it won't be pretty.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Tory Islamphobics target the Home Secretary

Just how deeply ingrained Islamphobia is in the Tories is revealed today by a story in the Guardian, alleging that the party have been dragged into fresh controversy after it emerged self-professed party members have been discussing how they could prevent Sajid Javid becoming prime minister.

They say that Tory supporters who claim to be members of the party have attacked the home secretary online for his Muslim background and pledged to back another candidate to prevent any potential leadership bid he might make:

The social media posts, reported by Buzzfeed News, prompted the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum to call on the party to do more to promote inclusivity.

One man wrote on Facebook that he had joined the party to help install a Brexiter leader, adding of Javid: “Britain is not ready for a Muslim PM, that would be taking the absolute piss out of the country.”

A woman wrote that she was staying on as a Tory member “so that we can elect the right leader”, commenting that Javid “will protect his own. He was sworn in on the Koran.”

The comments made on Facebook by 20 the self-professed Tory party members are part of a batch unearthed by the anonymous @matesjacob Twitter account, which has been exposing Islamophobia.

Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, branded the comments “outrageous”. He said: “The comments from these individuals are deplorable. There are people with bigoted views in all political parties. But a serious question that our party’s leadership needs to ask itself is, what is it about the Conservative party and the way that it’s projecting itself that leads people like these bigots to believe that they have a home within the Conservative party?

“Unfortunately, at the moment I don’t think it’s projecting as inclusive an image of Britain as we did, for example, under David Cameron. It needs to do much more.

These latest revelations come amid increasing warnings that the Conservative party is in the grips of a crisis over Islamophobia, with the former party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi accusing Theresa May of “burying her head in the sand” over the issue.

This problem is as toxic for the Tory Party as anti-Semitism is for Labour. Both parties need to get a grip.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Through the glass cat flap

The Guardian tells us that there has been another cabinet reshuffle – a promotion born of strong performance and quiet diligence. Evie the cat has moved up in the Cabinet Office to be the new face of the Equalities Unit. They say she has broken through the glass cat-flap, and stolen some of the limelight from her male colleague Larry – who, despite multiple reports of his aggressive nature, will not give up his prime position at No 10.

They are right when they say that these sort of feline distractions are absolutely necessary when faced with the incompetence and chaos of Parliament and government ministers. In fact, even the allegedly lazy Larry is most probably performing better than his ministerial colleagues:

Cats have long cosied up to the powerful – not because they are the devil’s emissaries on earth (although they definitely are, just look at their eyes), because of their peerless killer instinct. That is why they were deified in ancient Egypt. The corridors of Whitehall might hold nothing more menacing for Evie than a large mouse or Chris Grayling, but in the time of the Pharoahs, cats could be relied upon to protect their humans from poisonous serpents. How Theresa May must wish they could do the same for her with the snakes in her own cabinet.

As a reward, they were worshipped as gods. Bastet is perhaps the most famous example; the defender of the sun god Ra, she is usually sculpted in black alabaster. The aloof expression and innate sense of superiority that radiates from the domestic cat is a perfect fit for a goddess, looking down her nose at humanity for all of time. Not only did she protect, Bastet was also a symbol of fertility – I’m sure Andrea Leadsom would approve – although it probably had more to do with cats’ reputation as floozies rather than any “tangible stake” they have in the future as a result of their kittens.

Of course, this status wasn’t all good news – thousands of mummified cats have been found in tombs, where they continue to serve their masters in the afterlife. No such fate awaits Evie and Larry. They will outlast their political contemporaries: Larry is already on his second prime minister, and given the mess we are in, it won’t be long before a third moves in. At a time when the country is going to the dogs, it should be no surprise to see cats stealing the limelight.

Of course, in the modern world cats such as Larry, Gladstone and Palmerstone have amassed their own following through Twitter, and other social media. It is no exaggeration to say that in many cases these feline workers are more famous than the politicians who serve them, sorry...work with them.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Government considers forcing social media companies to protect users

The Independent reports on a new government white paper, which proposes that social media companies including Facebook and Twitter will be legally required to protect their users, including plans to introduce a regulator.

They say that the long-awaited government proposal, which would also see bosses of companies personally liable for harmful content on their platform, will ensure internet firms meet their responsibilities, which will be outlined by a mandatory duty of care.

They propose that the regulator will have the power to issue “substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially impose liability on individual members of senior management”.

These proposed measures come amid concerns about the growth of violent content, disinformation and inappropriate material online.

In March, the father of Molly Russell urged the government to introduce regulation on social media platforms in response to the suicide of his 14-year-old daughter, who was found to have viewed content related to depression and suicide on Instagram before her death:

The proposed new laws will apply to any company that allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online, the government said.

The regulation will be applicable to companies of all sizes – from social media platforms to file hosting sites, forum, messaging services and search engines.

The proposal also calls for powers to force internet firms to publish annual transparency reports about the harmful content on their platforms and how they are addressing it.

Companies including Facebook and Twitter already publish reports of this nature.

Getting the balance right here is going to be particularly important. The former culture secretary, John Whittingdale fears that the plans would send the wrong message to other countries, such as China, Russia and North Korea which censor their people. He does not want a UK regulator to give the despots an excuse to claim that they are simply following an example set by Britain.

Daniel Dyball, UK executive director at the Internet Association, has criticised the current scope of the proposals for being “extremely wide”, which could hinder their implementation. He wants to ensure that any laws do not restrict freedom of speech.

No doubt all these issues will be aired and decided upon as any legislation progresses through Parliament. If MPs can manage to protect vulnerable people while protecting people's freedom of speech then they will have nailed it.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Labour's shocking failure to act on anti-Semitism

Labour's toxic disciplinary problem hit a new low this morning with revelations in the Sunday Times that they have failed to take action against hundreds of members accused of anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The paper says that a hard drive of emails and a confidential database last updated on March 8 reveal how the party’s system for dealing with such complaints is bedevilled by delays, inaction and interference from the leader’s office. These documents reveal members investigated for posting such online comments as “Heil Hitler”, “F*** the Jews” and “Jews are the problem” have not been expelled, even though the party received the complaints a year ago.

Examples given by the Sunday Times include a sitting councillor in Lancashire, who was let back into the party after fuming about “Jewish” media attacks and the Rothschild family. She told party investigators she meant “Jewish” as a “blanket term of description without any racist connotations”. While in Manchester, a trade union official was readmitted despite sharing material saying “Jewish Israelis” were behind 9/11:

Corbyn’s office has been involved in approving, delaying or blocking at least 101 complaints.

The party claims the disciplinary process has been free from political interference since March last year. A month later, however, in an email seen by The Sunday Times, Corbyn’s chief of staff, Karie Murphy, said that “going forward” his office needed an “overview” of politically sensitive cases.

Leaked emails also reveal:

• Thomas Gardiner, a Corbyn ally and the powerful chief of Labour’s governance and legal unit, last month frustrated efforts by a member of his staff to fast-track the investigation of a member who condemned two Jewish MPs for being “shit-stirring c** buckets” in the pay of Israel”

• In one case, an MP reported a member for saying the Board of Deputies, Britain’s representative Jewish body, were “c****” and that saying so was “not anti-semitic, it’s anti-c***. See Israel.” The member was let off with a warning.

• A Labour official said a council candidate who accused Jewish MPs of being “Zionist infiltrators” met the threshold for suspension. She then ruled that because he “is a candidate” he should not be suspended; he faced no action.

Labour's Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, is quoted as saying the Labour Party needs to get to grips with this problem, but there is little sign of them doing so, especially when the Leader's office is failing to offer leadership and continues to interfere in the disciplinary process.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Information Commissioner intervenes on 'no deal' Brexit adverts

The Guardian reports that the information commissioner’s office will use its legal powers to obtain information from Facebook about a secretive network of pro-Brexit advertising campaigns on the social network. The intervention follows revelations about the involvement of Sir Lynton Crosby’s company in campaigns pushing for a hard no-deal Brexit.

They say that the ICO will look at how any data, potentially including email addresses collected in the process of encouraging people to email their MP, is being handled. The Guardian revealed on Wednesday how a series of apparently grassroots advertising campaigns for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of the Tory election guru’s lobbying company:

The network of supposedly independently pro-Brexit campaign groups with names such as Mainstream Network and Britain’s Future have collectively spent as much as £1m urging voters to contact their local MP and demand a hard no-deal Brexit, creating the impression of a large-scale grassroots rejection of Theresa May’s deal.

In reality they are overseen by a group of individuals including employees of Crosby’s CTF Partners, and a former political adviser to Boris Johnson.

An ICO Spokesperson is quoted as saying: “We are aware of these, and other similar concerns, and have included them as part of our ongoing investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes.”

“We have used our statutory powers to require the social media platforms and campaign groups involved to provide information to our investigators. This will allow us to identify if there has been any misuse of personal data. Our work is ongoing. As we have set out before, the use of personal information for political campaigning purposes must comply with data protection law and, as we have shown, we will take all necessary action to protect UK citizens and uphold the law.”

The paper adds that Facebook is also considering whether the activities of Crosby’s employees meet the definition of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, a term that has been used by the social networking company to justify the removal of Russian and Iranian disinformation campaigns from their site.

Friday, April 05, 2019

The BBC are failing us all on political balance

Like many people, I read the latest missive from the BBC to their employees with incredulity. As the Independent reports the head of news in the British Brexit Corporation has told his staff that they will face “appropriate” disciplinary action if they share personal views on politics – or other controversial subjects – on social media.

This threat is believed to follow the outcry over a decision by Question Time to debate whether it was “morally right” for five-year-old children to learn about LGBT+ issues in school – sparking an angry reaction from several senior BBC employees on Twitter:

BBC Breakfast presenter Ben Thompson tweeted: “LGBT “issues”? Like what? That we exist? One of them, RIGHT HERE, is on your TV every morning … Would you ask if it’s “morally right” to learn about gender/race/religion/disability “issues”?"

Sue Perkins, who continues to front BBC television and radio programmes, also tweeted about the issue.

She wrote: “The framing of this question is deeply worrying. Are we really here again, nearly two decades after Section 28 was repealed...?”

The paper says that Fran Unsworth, director of news, has since emailed employees to tell them: “We all have our personal views, but it is part of our role with the BBC to keep those views private. Our Editorial Guidelines say BBC staff must not “advocate any particular position on a matter of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or any other ‘controversial subject’”.

If this is the case how does she explain the many news and current affair programmes in which broadcasters demonstrate a clear and obvious bias over Brexit, fail to challenge interviewees properly and don't seem to understand that the role of BBC journalism is to challenge and inform, not allow lies and misinformation to be broadcast without appropriate scrutiny.

I have no problem with the likes of Rees Mogg coming on the airwaves to put across his point of view, no matter how much I might disagree with it, but I do expect the producers, journalists and researchers to ensure that there is a balancing viewpoint, that clear inaccuracies are exposed for what they are, and the simplistic view of balance, that as long as there are two opposing arguments then everything is okay, should be abandoned if it means giving somebody an airing who has nothing to contribute to the debate.

I have two recent examples of obviously inaccurate assertions being allowed to go unchallenged. They are both from Radio Wales, though I suspect that Radio Four's morning news show is a far more frequent offender.

On April 1st, David TCC Davies, the MP for Monmouth came onto Good Morning Wales and made the ludicrous claim that Treasury figures show we will be richer under a no deal Brexit. In fact the Treasury say we will take an £80bn hit. This statement was not challenged, nor was my text pointing out that the claim was bogus, read out on air.

And then yesterday, the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, Nigel Evans, who claimed (unchallenged) that we voted to leave the EU without a deal in June 2016. Putting aside the many reassurances given by the Leave campaign that we would remain in the single market, that a deal with the EU would be a piece of cake and that money from unknown sources would flood into the NHS, this is blatantly untrue. The words 'no deal' did not appear on the ballot paper.

More to the point, as this tweeter makes clear, the Referendum Act 2015 was passed so we could decide whether or not the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union. It was only possible to vote to remain a member, or to stop being a member. The Act included a duty to publish information about membership. Section 7(1)(b) required the government to provide examples of countries that were not members.

The report “Alternatives to membership: possible models for the United Kingdom outside the European Union” made it clear the government would review the different models and seek an agreement to achieve the best possible advantage for the country.

The treasury documents highlighting the short term and long term impact of a vote to leave referred to the ‘Alternatives to membership’ highlighting the multiple different relationships the government may pursue in the event of a vote to leave. Then, in a leaflet sent to every house in the country, the government stated that if there was a vote to leave they would need renegotiate new arrangements with the EU.

All of this is clear. Even without this source material a broadcaster and journalist could surely recall what we were actually promised by the Leave campaign and challenge the incorrect assertion. That did not happen.

Management cannot apply different standards to their staff than they apply to the programmes they oversee.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Following the money on pro-Brexit Facebook adverts

The Guardian reveals that a series of hugely influential Facebook advertising campaigns that appear to be separate grassroots movements for a no-deal Brexit are being secretly overseen by employees of Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying company and a former adviser to Boris Johnson.

The paper says that the mysterious groups, which have names such as Mainstream Network and Britain’s Future, appear to be run independently by members of the public and give no hint that they are connected. But in reality they share an administrator who works for Crosby’s CTF Partners and have spent as much as £1m promoting sophisticated targeted adverts aimed at heaping pressure on individual MPs to vote for a hard Brexit:

Repeated questions have been raised about who is backing at least a dozen high-spending groups that have flooded MPs’ inboxes with calls to reject Theresa May’s deal. Until now they were thought to be independent entities.

But according to the documents, almost all the major pro-Brexit Facebook “grassroots” advertising campaigns in the UK share the same page admins or advertisers. These individuals include employees of CTF Partners and the political director of Boris Johnson’s campaigns to be mayor of London, who has worked closely with Crosby in the past.

Their collective Facebook expenditure swamps the amount spent in the last six months by all the UK’s major political parties and the UK government combined. They have paid for thousands of different targeted Facebook ads encouraging members of the public to write to their local MPs and call for the toughest possible exit from the EU, creating the impression of organic public opposition to Theresa May’s deal.

Improved regulation by Facebook does not appear to have had any impact on these tactics. The Guardian says that although the internet giant has substantially increased the level of transparency around political advertising in recent months, all that is required to run such a campaign is a publicly named individual who is registered to a UK postal address or contact details for a public organisation. There is no true disclosure around a campaign’s financial backers and no UK law requiring financial transparency outside an election period.

Surely, it is time for the law to be reformed.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Is a no deal Brexit inevitable?

As Parliament and the cabinet remain deadlocked on how best to deliver the so-called 'will of the people' and take us out of the EU, it is becoming apparent that the threat of us leaving without a deal, is no longer a negotiating tactic by Theresa May, but a real possibility.

Unfortunately for May, nobody took her threat seriously, reckoning that if faced with the possibility of us crashing over the cliff, deal-less and friendless, she would bottle it and seek an extension to the deadline she herself set down in legislation. Events have proved those doubters correct, as May did indeed ask for extra time, and is now about to do so again.

Our problem is that public opinion is hardening. Whereas a clear majority have become so fed up with the whole affair that they would rather forget we were even asked our opinion, and prefer to stay in the EU, those who continue to agitate for us to leave are now becoming convinced that no deal is the only way to achieve this. They may be right.

It is worth noting the words of Britain's most senior civil servant, therefore. He has privately warned cabinet ministers of the dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit. As the Independent reports, Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, has told ministers that leaving the EU without an agreement will result in food prices rising by ten per cent, the police being unable to protect people and the economy suffering the worst recession in a decade.

He told ministers that direct rule would have to be restored in Northern Ireland for the first time since 2007 and the government would come under pressure to bail out companies that had gone bust:

He said the consequences of no deal would be "more severe" in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, adding: "The current powers granted to the Northern Irish secretary would not be adequate for the pace, breadth or controversy of the decisions needed to be taken through a no-deal exit. Therefore we would have to introduce direct rule."

And raising the prospect of law and order breaking down, Sir Mark said none of government's "mitigation measures would give the UK the same security capabilities as our current ones...the UK would be less safe as a result."

He continued: "Our national security would be disrupted....The stability of the union would be dislocated."

The cabinet secretary said the economy would suffer the worst recession since 2008, with the subsequent fall in the value of the pound likely to be "more harmful" than in 2008 because it would affect only the UK and not other countries.

Those advocating a no deal Brexit as a way out of this mess really need to be careful what they wish for.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Welsh UKIP Leader to become second of his party's AMs to be excluded from Assembly

The BBC reports that UKIP's assembly leader is facing exclusion from the Senedd for a week after he superimposed a female Labour AM's head on to a woman in a low cut top.

The ban is being recommended to the Assembly's Plenary session on Wednesday after South Wales Central AM Gareth Bennett used photoshop to mock Labour's Joyce Watson in the YouTube clip. The assembly's standards committee said Mr Bennett's video fell below the standards expected of AMs. He will not receive pay during the exclusion:

Mr Bennett published the clip on YouTube last May in response to Ms Watson referring to UKIP AMs as "rabid dogs" in a debate.In the since deleted video, he made derogatory comments about her, saying Ms Watson used to run a pub but "you wouldn't guess that from looking at her".

Following an investigation, the former standards commissioner for the Northern Ireland Assembly, Douglas Bain, found material in the video was demeaning.

He described it as "gratuitous personal abuse".

Ms Watson told Mr Bain that part of the video - which featured her head on the body of a barmaid in Bavarian-style dress - had caused considerable distress to her and her family.

A report revealed Mr Bennett walked out of an interview with Mr Bain, with the AM warned that failing to attend a newly-scheduled date would constitute a criminal offence.

That repeat visit Mr Bain had to make cost the investigation an additional £500, which the standards committee wants Mr Bennett to repay.

The AM is also set to be stripped of his position on the standards committee.

Mr Bennett will be the second UKIP AM to be excluded, after now-former party AM Michelle Brown was sanctioned last year. Mr. Bennett has not apologised for the video and possibly exacerbated the situation in the way he treated the investigation.

The BBC journalist, David Deans has tweeted extracts from the acting Standards Commissioner's report underlining how Mr. Bennett failed to take the investigation seriously, and led to him being threatened with criminal sanctions if he failed to cooperate.

It is little wonder that AMs on the Standards Committee seem determined to impose such a harsh punishment on the Welsh UKIP leader.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Former chair of Vote Leave refuses to apologise for breaching electoral law

In the midst of an unnatural silence from those Tory Ministers and possible Tory leadership contenders who were involved in running the law-breaking Vote Leave campaign, the BBC turned to its former chair for comment on the £61,000 fine for electoral offences committed during the Brexit referendum.

As the Independent reports, Gisela Stuart, a former Labour MP, refused to apologise when challenged to do so on the BBC’s Andrew Marr. Instead she fell back on a number of lame excuses, claiming that her campaign had been outspent by Remain, that they no longer had the data to sustain an appeal, and that the legal advice received at the time indicated that the campaign's actions were within the law.

In fact the Electoral Commission found that they had acted outside of the law and it would be reassuring if these high-profile and leading politicians could at least acknowledge that.

The law needs to be clarified and revised to ensure that the sort of abuses perpetrated by Leave campaigners during the referendum campaign can be stamped out. Importantly, the Electoral Commission need to be able to act immediately any abuse comes to light and not months after the fact, so as to ensure that any unfairness in the process caused by cheating is stamped out.

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