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Friday, May 31, 2019

Wales leads the way on student finance with Welsh Lib Dem Minister

On the other side of Offa's Dyke, the outgoing Prime Minister has called on her successor to cut tuition fees and reintroduce student grants to assist young people study for their degree and cut the amount of debt they face on graduation. If only she had concentrated on measures like this when she had the opportunity.

This is especially so as Wales has already led the way with this reform, under a Welsh Liberal Democrats Education Minister. As is made clear here, Wales is now the only country in Europe to introduce equivalent maintenance support across full-time and part-time undergraduates, as well as postgraduates. It includes a means-tested maintenance grant to pay for living costs such as food, books and rent. This has resulted in a huge boost in students applying.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have long argued that living costs are the biggest barrier to people studying at university. That is why, in government, Kirsty Williams has introduced a new package that ensures students receive the equivalent of the National Living Wage in grants and loans while they study.

The impact of this important reform is evidenced by the BBC, who report today that early figures from the Student Loans Company show a 35% rise in the number of students given financial support to study part-time this year. That increase reverses the trend over the last ten years of 45% drop in part-time undergraduates in Wales.

They cite the example of Heledd Campbell from Brynamman, Carmarthenshire has been studying for a psychology degree with the Open University since last autumn.:

"I studied after I left school but I ended up dropping out because I had severe depression and anxiety, and I couldn't manage to study and manage my mental health.

"I ended up just kind of coasting along in minimum wage jobs... paying rent in London which was expensive."

"Then my mental health really did take a turn for the worse, and I was signed off work by my doctor because of my depression for a couple of months, before I eventually had to stop working," she said.

"I ended up homeless. I only ended up rough sleeping for I think three nights total out of six months being homeless. Otherwise I just spent it couch-surfing.

"I had very good friends who let me stay with them so we just organised it that way. But otherwise it was a complete nightmare... it was an awful time"

Heledd got in touch with her parents saying she wanted to come home and they helped her with the move back to Wales in summer 2018.

At the same time she applied to study for a degree with the Open University.

"It meant that I could study and work part-time and I could look after my mental health at the same time, so it means that later on in my life I probably will be able to work full time and do something for myself."

She now works part-time as a support worker for young adults with learning disabilities and says the flexibility of her course suits her.

"I can have a bad day and then pick myself up afterwards so the studying is really great for someone like me."

Heledd says she'd like to take her studies further and end up doing a job supporting young people who've had similar problems with their mental health.

"Instead of me working minimum wage jobs and going on to sickness pay and all that sort of stuff it means that I can work now while studying and later I'll be contributing much more," she said.

This is the Liberal Democrats making a real difference in Government.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Labour's membership crisis

When members are actively encouraging Labour Party HQ to expel them for voting for another party then warning klaxons should be sounding amongst the leadership. There is even an #expelmetoo hashtag on twitter in support of the most high profile expulsion to date, former Blair spin doctor Alistair Campbell.

Instead, the purge continues, with high ranking Labour Party apparatchiks defending the decisions as being in line with party rules. I am in no position to argue with them. If they want to gut their party of Remainers who can no longer stomach Corbyn's backing for Brexit and his tacit support for the Tory position on leaving the EU, then by all means carry on.

Hopefully, some of these people will end up in the Liberal Democrats, the only UK-wide party committed to staying in the EU and the party with the longest-standing and consistent commitment to a further referendum.

The only exception to Labour's kamikaze approach is Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, who, according to the Independent, has called for an “amnesty for members who voted a different way” during the recent European parliament elections.

He is right of course. If a party's leadership cannot convince its own members to back their position then there is something wrong with the way they are doing their job. Labour's real problem is with Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle, not with independently minded members.

I will sign off this piece with one thought: if the Liberal Democrats had expelled all the members who did not vote for the party during the coalition years, we would have ceased to exist sometime ago.

Maybe, Labour need to adopt a similar tolerance to claw their way out of the hole they have dug for themselves.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Labour anti-semitism under formal investigation

The Independent reports that the UK’s equality watchdog has launched a formal investigation into whether Labour has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people” from the Jewish community.

The paper says that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was moved to act after receiving a number of complaints about handling of allegations of antisemitism in Labour ranks, a row which has dogged the party for many months:

Labour said it would cooperate fully with the investigation and it rejected any suggestion that it did not handle complaints “fairly and robustly, or that the party has acted unlawfully”.

However, the news will come as a blow to Jeremy Corbyn, as the watchdog rarely takes action against political parties. The EHRC previously ordered the British National Party to rewrite its constitution in 2010 to scrap rules that only allowed white members.

In a statement, the watchdog said: “The EHRC is today launching a formal investigation to determine whether the Labour Party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.

The paper adds that the EHRC will examine whether “unlawful acts” have been committed by Labour and whether it has responded to complaints in an efficient manner.

Senior party figures could be brought before the EHRC, which will have the power to demand access to correspondence, emails and other documents to determine how Labour handled complaints of discrimination. While the body has no powers to fine or prosecute, it can create a legally enforceable action plan for organisations and make recommendations.

A full statutory investigation into anti-Semitism is a major blow for Corbyn who has signally failed to get to grips with this problem within his party. However, I also agree with the Muslim Council of Britain who has urged the EHRC to open an investigation into alleged Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

What conclusions can we draw from the European elections?

I have just read a letter in the South Wales Evening Post in which the author claims that the 31% of the vote secured by the Brexit Party in Swansea constitutes an 'overwhelming yes for Brexit'. Other than instituting a period of mourning for the science of mathematics, the only realistic response to such claims is to repeatedly bang one's head on a desk.

Over in the Mirror, the paper repeats the assertion elsewhere, that 'Stop Brexit' parties got more votes in the European elections than Nigel Farage's Brexit Party. This rather more reliable mathematical feat is very important, but is based on a number of assumptions, including discounting Labour votes.

In fact, even though last Thursday's elections were as near to a single issue campaign as you can get, the outcome is far more nuanced than either side of the Brexit argument will allow.

Firstly, no one party gained a majority of votes for their position. Any claim to the contrary, and in particular claims that the Brexit Party 'won the election', is therefore obvious nonsense.

Secondly, adding up votes gained by various parties, based on their policy position, or lack of in the case of the Labour Party, does not get us anywhere and, in any case, is a subjective and pointless exercise. Turnout for these elections was low, nobody can be entirely sure as to why anybody voted the way that they did, and such an exercise changes nothing.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from these elections is that the country is as divided on the Brexit issue as it always was. Parliament is deadlocked and Farage and his clowns have a few more months to enjoy the Brussels 'gravy train' they so abhor.

If we really want to know what people think about Theresa May's deal, whether a no deal is better than none, or if things have got so impossible it is in our best interest now to stay in the EU, then we need to have another referendum.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The biggest scandal of yesterday's European elections

The ballots have been cast and verified, all that remains is to count them on Sunday night, but what rankles most about these elections is the fact that so many people were denied their right to vote.

As the Independent says, government could now face court action after hundreds of EU citizens were turned away from polling stations and denied a vote in the European elections. Reports of people turning up at their local polling station only to find their name had been crossed off the register became a common theme across the UK on Thursday:

The hashtag #DeniedMyVote began trending on Twitter as it was flooded with accounts of EU citizens being prevented from voting after confusion among election officials and administrative errors.

Some eligible voters said they were told to “vote in your own country” despite living in the UK for decades, while others described trips of hundreds of miles to ensure their ballots were counted after apparent mix-ups with postal votes.

Experts have warned the government could be at risk of being sued over the whole debacle, which they say was a “scandal we knew was coming”.

A barrister who specialises in EU law claimed there were multiple breaches of EU treaties, including Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which states that EU nationals have “the right to vote…under the same conditions as nationals of that state [of residence].”

Anneli Howard told The Guardian: “If EU citizens are being asked to fill out additional forms that UK nationals are not, that’s discrimination.”

While Ms Howard said she did not think it was likely any judge would declare council clerical errors had made the election unsafe, she added that the treaty had “direct effect” and meant EU citizens could go straight to court.

This is the sort of fiasco we might expect in a third world country, or parts of the United States where voter suppression is in play. It is a scandal and there should be a full investigation as to how so many European citizens were disenfranchised.

And it is not as if the government were not warned. Theresa May was confronted with this problem at Prime Minister's question time and took no action to try and prevent it. I hope that her government is sued for this negligence.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

An extraordinary time in politics

In the near 40 years I have been in politics I have never seen anything like the mess we are currently in as a democracy and as a nation. As somebody who has studied history, I am struggling to find precedents for the extraordinary chaos that exists in the two main parties, the rise of the far right and the deep divisions that blight our country. The nearest I can come to it is the fall of the Weimar Republic, but we certainly do not want to go down that route.

The unrest in the Tory Party reached unprecedented levels yesterday with Cabinet Ministers staying away from Prime Minister's question time to make their point, the 1922 Committee meeting to consider changing the rules to enable them to get rid of Theresa May, the resignation of the Leader of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister herself allegedly hiding away in 10 Downing Street and refusing to meet with her own ministers in case they told her she has to go.

Apparently, if Theresa May lasts until Wednesday, she will have outlasted Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. If she survives for another fortnight, she will have served longer than the Duke of Wellington. To be frank, she seems more in tune with the Grand Old Duke of York, marching her troops up and down a hill with no purpose and no prospect of a successful resolution to this crisis.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party, who still claim to be the official opposition, are so riven by their own divisions that they appear incapable of taking advantage of the situation, and continue to plummet in the polls. While, the one party which is benefitting the most from the Tory collapse, the Brexit Party is mired in its own controversy over funding.And talking of the Brexit Party, reports from yesterday had Nigel Farage hiding on his bus in case he had more milkshakes thrown at him.

I disapprove of this trend of throwing things at politicians, not least because it fails to advance debate, but also because it undermines the political process. A milkshake today could be a stone tomorrow, or even a bullet. Violence is not the answer, and we should remember that just three years ago we lost an MP after she was shot in the street in her own constituency.

Only the Liberal Democrats appear to have come out of these elections with their reputation enhanced and with more support. Their clear message on Europe has resonated with many voters and I was proud to cast a vote for the Welsh Lib Dem team earlier today.

But what happens next is anybody's guess. I am certainly not going to try and predict events.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Farage under investigation

On the eve of the European elections here in the UK, the European parliament has announced that it is to investigate Nigel Farage for failing to declare lavish expenses funded by Arron Banks:

Last week, Channel 4 revealed Farage was generously funded by Arron Banks in the year of the Brexit referendum. Invoices, emails and documents showed Farage benefited from a £13,000-a-month Chelsea home, a car with a driver, and promotional visits to the US in 2016.

After the documentary, the Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder called on parliamentary authorities to carry out an urgent investigation into Farage’s “apparent contraventions” of the rules. The South East of England MEP is one of five of the parliament’s “quaestors”, meaning she scrutinises funding and administration.

“There seems to be a lot of spending going on, money coming in from third parties that is not showing up on the public record,” she said.

Under the parliament’s code of conduct, MEPs are required to declare whether they receive travel, accommodation or subsistence expenses from external sources to attend events. The declaration should reveal the name and address of the funder, details about the expenses and the type of event.

Farage, who gets a €102,000-a-year MEP salary, earned up to €700,000 from media appearances in 2014-18, putting him in sixth place on a European parliament “rich list” of MEPs’ outside earnings. The precise sum of his extra earnings is not known because MEPs only have to declare other earnings in broad bands.

The Guardian says that the European parliament president, Antonio Tajani, has referred Farage issue to an advisory committee, a committee consisting of five MEPs who act as watchdogs over the parliament’s code of conduct. The rules stipulate that all members must declare expensive gifts and report whether third parties fund attendances at events.

The advisory committee will not meet until 4 June at the earliest, after this week’s European elections. It will appoint one of its members to lead the examination and write a report with a recommendation for a possible sanction. Any punishment, which could range from a reprimand to withholding expenses, will be decided by the European parliament’s president.

The paper reminds us that the Brexit party leader, an MEP for 20 years, was last year docked half his MEP pay after parliament administrators concluded he had misspent EU funds intended to staff his office. A political group dominated by UKIP – Farage’s former party – was asked to repay €173,000, after an official report said EU funds had been misspent on national campaigns.

Isn't it now time that the Electoral Commission found it cojones and carried out an investigation into the funding of the Brexit Party itself?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tories at war

Anybody who wants to know why the Tories are in single figures in the latest polls only need to read this article.

Senior figures within that party have effectively given up talking to the country and instead are manoeuvring for position within the party to become the next leader, and by default Prime Minister.

Whilst the agenda is being dominated by the intractable Brexit stalemate, it is the political equivalent of two bald men fighting over a comb.

The paper says that the expected demise of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has sparked open feuding over what comes next, with the chancellor, Philip Hammond, arguing that proponents of a no-deal Brexit are betraying the referendum result:

In an indication of the turmoil gripping the party, it emerged on Monday night that the former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine has had the whip suspended after saying he would vote Liberal Democrat in Thursday’s European election.

With Conservative MPs near unanimous in saying May will lose the vote on her deal in the week starting 3 June, and Labour not minded to come to her rescue, attention is shifting to what happens when she leaves No 10, as she has promised to do soon afterwards.

Boris Johnson is the current clear favourite to succeed May but he will face intense opposition, especially if he opts to pursue a no-deal departure should negotiations with the EU on a revised Brexit plan founder.

Hammond is due to castigate proponents of leaving the EU with no deal in his most scathing terms yet when he speaks on Tuesday evening to the annual dinner of the CBI, which also vehemently opposes no deal. A no-deal Brexit was being touted by people “on the populist right”, Hammond is due to say, an apparent reference to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party which could also be read as criticism of Tory advocates of the idea.

He will add: “Let me remind them: the 2016 leave campaign was clear that we would leave with a deal. So to advocate for no deal is to hijack the result of the referendum and, in doing so, knowingly to inflict damage on our economy and our living standards.

“All the preparation in the world [could not avoid the consequences of no deal] so I will continue to fight, in the face of this polarisation, for a negotiated Brexit; an outcome that respects the British people’s decision to leave, while recognising that there is no mandate for a no-deal exit; and that we have an absolute obligation to protect Britain’s jobs, businesses and future prosperity.”

Hammond is absolutely right about what was promised in the referendum of course, but it no longer seems to matter. Senior members of the Tory Party have gone off on their own missions, with their own elevation as the only goal. For now the Conservatives are finished as a serious political party. If only there was a serious opposition party to take their place.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Who funds Farage's Brexit Party?

There is an interesting article in today's Guardian reporting that the Electoral Commission is under mounting pressure to launch an investigation into the funding of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party because of concerns that its donation structure could allow foreign interference in British democracy.

The paper says Gordon Brown has written to the Electoral Commission calling on it to urgently examine whether the party has sufficient safeguards on its website to prevent the contribution of “dirty money”. They add that the former Labour prime minister will use a speech in Glasgow on Monday to say an investigation into the Brexit party’s finances is urgent and essential:

While other parties require personal information from donors, the Brexit party allows donations of less than £500 via a PayPal account, which critics said leaves the way open to abuse by foreign donors wishing to influence British elections.

Richard Tice, the Brexit party’s chair and co-founder, said on Monday he did not know whether the PayPal account allowed the party to receive smaller donations in foreign currencies.

“I don’t sit in front of the PayPal account all day, so I don’t know what currencies people are paying in,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked several times to rule out receipt of such sums from foreign currencies, Tice did not do so. He said: “We’ve got a PayPal account for people who are paying less than £500. Above that we apply the appropriate Electoral Commission rules.”

Any complaints, he said, came from “jealous Westminster people who are just aghast at how we can capture the mood of the country”.

Brown’s intervention comes after Farage boasted that the party was attracting donations of £100,000 a day. He told the Telegraph that about 2,000 individual donors were signing up daily.

It was echoed by Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who said: “It’s absolutely essential that there’s an urgent investigation into this.

“The fact that it’s three years after a referendum that was subverted by dark money, it’s absolutely incredible that nothing has happened. Some at the NCA and at the Electoral Commission have to wake up. We’re facing a real threat to our democracy.”

In his speech, Brown will also support calls for the European parliament to examine whether Farage has received undeclared funding personally in his time as an MEP after a Channel 4 investigation found that he had benefited from £450,000 from the businessman Arron Banks.

Brown will claim Banks’s commercial interests “have never been fully and satisfactorily divulged”, and point to his “long-term contacts with Russia”.

The other questions are over the Brexit party’s links to a disgraced former aide to Farage who was imprisoned in the US after being caught offering money laundering services to undercover federal agents:

George Cottrell was with Farage when he was arrested at Chicago O’Hare airport in July 2016. He had been working in Farage’s office and claimed on his LinkedIn account to have co-directed Ukip’s EU referendum campaign fundraising.

He was charged with 21 counts including money laundering, wire fraud, blackmail and extortion. He would later plead guilty to participating in a scheme to “advertise money laundering services on a Tor network black market website” and served eight months in prison.

After the arrest, Farage called Cottrell a “22-year-old unpaid volunteer and party supporter” and said he knew nothing of the allegations.

The Guardian understands that Cottrell has told friends that he is now overseeing the Brexit party’s fundraising operation. On Sunday the Sunday Times also reported that a senior source in the party said that Cottrell had “reprised his role as one of [Farage’s] top fundraisers”.

A spokesman for the Brexit party said Cottrell had “no official position with the party and is not paid by the party”. He declined to deny Cottrell’s unpaid involvement. Cottrell’s previous fundraising role with Ukip was in “an unpaid role”, according to an interview he gave the Telegraph after his release.

There is certainly a case for a full investigation. Brexit has always been about money, enabling some of its biggest proponents to trade free of European regulations so as to maximise profits. But as LSE professor Damian Tambini says, it has also exposed loopholes in the donation structure set up by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000:

“Our election finance controls are failing,” he said. “UK law has strict bars on foreign finance of election communications, and overall limits on campaign spending … The Electoral Commission should signal that they are looking into this.”

We are now facing an election in which the party leading the polls is actually a limited company with Farage in complete control. It has no manifesto, no members as such, no grassroots activity or branches, links to a convicted money launderer and an opaque funding structure that allows foreign donations under £500, but adding up to £100,000 a day.

Isn't it time the Electoral Commission proved it is not the toothless watchdog we all think it is? And isn't it time the Government allowed a full and empowered investigation of the funding of the Leave campaign in 2016?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Labour panics as remain voters switch to Liberal Democrats

The Observer outlines the consequences for Jeremy Corbyn's three years of fence-sitting and supporting Theresa May over Brexit, as it reports that senior Labour figures were engaged in a desperate battle to shore up the party’s support last night, amid warnings that its stance on Brexit was helping to “detoxify the Lib Dems”.

The panic has been prompted by news that new polling suggests Vince Cable’s party is running in first place in London and could even beat Labour overall:

One senior party figure warned: “If the consequence of Labour’s Brexit position and this European election is to essentially detoxify the Lib Dems, then that’s a real problem.” Clive Lewis, a shadow Treasury minister, said “lifelong Labour voters” would not back the party this week due to its Brexit stance. He added: “It feels like we’ve given [the Lib Dems] the political equivalent of resuscitation.”

The paper adds that an Opinium poll has found that the Liberal Democrats have narrowly overtaken Labour as the favourite party of remain voters, with 29% of the group now backing Cable’s party and 28% backing Labour:

Meanwhile, a wider poll found that the Lib Dems are set to top the poll in London and could even push Labour into third place overall in the European election.

The YouGov/Datapraxis poll of more than 9,000 voters, commissioned by the pro-remain Best for Britain campaign and Hope Not Hate, found the Brexit party leading in all other regions apart from Scotland, where the SNP leads.

It found that the Lib Dems had overtaken Labour, once the pollster had removed voters who said they did not know how they would vote, or would not vote. It put the Lib Dems on 17%, Labour on 15% and the Greens just four points further back, on 11%. The Brexit party was leading on 34% and the Tories were on 9%.

A Tory cabinet minister also told the Observer they were worried about the Lib Dems, as remain supporters abandoned their party. “I’ve been warning for some time that the Lib Dems are not dead and could come back, but have been ignored,” they said. “If you map the local elections on to a general election, there are seats in which big majorities of over 10,000 votes could be wiped out.”

Serious concerns are being expressed among Labour MPs. One senior frontbencher said: “Labour should take the Lib Dem revival seriously.

“If the consequence of Labour’s Brexit position and this European election is to essentially detoxify the Lib Dems, then that’s a real problem for a party that is coming from younger voters, students, people who rent – a whole cohort of voters who in previous times may have voted Lib Dem. We can’t afford to lose them.”

As if to underline the strength of the Liberal Democrats revival and the toxicity of the two main parties, the Observer also reports that Michael Heseltine has announced that he will vote for us on Thursday.

The former deputy prime minister and lifelong pro-European said the party has become “infected by the virus of extremism” and he cannot endorse its support for leaving the EU. Bring it on.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The May-Corbyn axis designed to deliver Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn may well have pulled the plug on talks with the Tories over how to deliver Brexit, but just how far they had come in achieving that aim has been revealed by a leaked document highlighted by Evening Standard.

The Standard says that the two parties were discussing a plan to block a second referendum and stage “preferential votes” in the Commons designed to allow Britain to leave the EU on July 31:

The plan involves:
The document infuriated Labour MPs opposed to Brexit who said it seemed that the two leaders had discussed the plans.

Labour MP Alex Sobel called on Mr Corbyn to disown the plan - and to back a referendum immediately.

“This is the battle plan for a desperate Prime Minister to freeze the people out over the biggest decision facing the country in two generations,” said the MP.

It is little wonder that Labour MPs are annoyed, as once more their leadership appear intent on foiling party policy in delivering a confirmatory public vote.

The appearance of this document just six days before European elections, and at a time when support for the party is already plummeting, cannot be helpful either.

It confirms once more that Labour cannot be trusted on Brexit, that whatever they say publicly, they are really working for us to leave the EU.

I hope that Remainers take note when they go to the polls.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Lib Dems leapfrog Labour into second place

The astonishing volatility of the opinion polls was demonstrated again this morning after the Times published the results of a survey showing the Liberal Democrats in second place for Thursday's European poll, behind the Brexit Party and ahead of Labour.

The Tories were trailing in fifth place with the support of just 9% of those asked. In Wales the Conservatives are in even more dire straits. A Welsh poll published yesterday put them in sixth position on 7%, with only Change UK trailing in their wake.

The paper says that the Liberal Democrats appear to be picking up support from Labour and Green voters after Sir Vince Cable argued that opponents of Brexit should vote for his party.

But it is the decline of the Conservatives into single figures that is likely to increase the panic in the party’s high command, with 62 per cent of Tory voters in the 2017 general election now saying that they will vote for the Brexit Party in the European elections. Only one in five who backed the party at the last general election is sticking with the Tories in the European elections.

Labour are facing one of the most disastrous elections in their existence as a party. They are the official opposition, with guaranteed coverage in all media, lined up against a divided, shambolic, incompetent government and yet they have failed to define a clear, understandable position on the main issue of the day (and these elections) and as a result are hemorrhaging support.

The Times says that 21 per cent of people who voted Labour in the 2017 general election now prefer the Lib Dems, in a switch likely to be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn’s fudged position on Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats must now use the last seven days of this campaign to turn their fire on Nigel Farage and his limited company/political party, so as to cement their position as the main recipient for Remainer-votes.

As such, it is quite right that Vince Cable has now taken a more prominent role in criticising Farage. In a campaign visit to Scotland yesterday, he said that the Brexit Party was telling voters “dangerous fallacies” and accused it of spreading a “very dangerous, simplistic doctrine”. Can we have more of that please?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Deadline missed to access EU poverty relief funds

As if it were not bad enough that we are leaving the EU and all the advantages that brings us through trade, employment and funding, it seems that the Home Office is behaving as if we have already left, failing to draw down money intended to help in the fight against poverty.

The Guardian reports that a catalogue of errors by the Home Office has led to a loss of access to £600,000 of EU funds earmarked for the most deprived people in Britain and has put a further £2.9m at risk.

The paper says that the government had tried to claim the money for Theresa May’s flagship policy of helping the victims of modern slavery, but Sajid Javid’s department missed the deadline to recoup the ringfenced cash:

Under the watch of the home secretary, who has ambitions to replace May in Downing Street, the UK has been left as the only EU member state to fail to deliver aid to its citizens through the programme, and it is still yet to make an application for the remainder of the £3.5m that was available.

The €3.4bn European Aid to the Most Deprived fund was established as an attempt to help member states meet a poverty reduction target of “lifting at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion” by the end of 2020.

The British government initially intended to use the money to support breakfast clubs in schools that had particularly high rates of social disadvantage.

Last autumn, the government changed its mind and decided instead to use the cash to back the prime minister’s modern slavery campaign, one of the few policies that has survived her time in Downing Street. The Home Office took over the application for the funds with the aim of aiding vulnerable 16- to 24-year-olds who had entered the UK through a resettlement scheme, been granted refugee status through the in-country asylum process, or identified as potential victims of modern slavery.

But the Home Office did not draw up the necessary paperwork and secure the agreement of the European commission in time. As a result, the UK failed to claim the initial tranche – £600,000 – of its allocation under the fund by the end of 2018.

The Home Office then set a target of having a proposal ready to submit to the commission provisionally by the end of March 2019, with the programme of works scheduled to begin in July 2019, and with the fund becoming operational in the UK by the end of the year.

As of this week, the proposal has neither been completed nor implemented, raising concerns further funds are going to be lost due to the department’s failures.

They add that a commission report on use of the fund said 16 million people had benefited from it in 2016 alone, with most (96%) receiving food support, bringing the total beneficiaries between 2014 and 2016 to about 38 million. None of those beneficiaries were in the UK.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Is the Welsh Government failing Wales?

There are two stories in the news today. which causes one to pause and think about the impact of the Welsh Government and the need to shake things up.

The first relates to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015, which was hailed as landmark legislation at the time, but whose impact is still questionable. Certainly, when it was going through the Assembly and subsequently, there were a number of us questioning whether it had any teeth? Was it just posturing about the environment or would it really change the way the public sector does its business?

The one thing we can say for the Act is that it has generated vast amounts of paperwork, meetings and partnerships, but little as yet in terms of action, or even action plans. It emphasis on the sustainability of communities was viewed as an especially important measure, in that it appears to give local people an additional weapon in their fight against bureaucracy and governmental diktat. Unfortunately, that hope has evaporated as well.

As the BBC report, a landmark attempt to use the Future Generations Act for the first time to challenge a school closure has fallen at the first hurdle:

The Well-being of Future Generations Act, which came into force three years ago, says all public organisations must carry out "sustainable development".

It lists several "well-being goals" for public bodies, including "attractive, viable, safe and well-connected communities".

Lawyers acting for parents unhappy at Neath Port Talbot's decision to close Cymer Afan Comprehensive tried to use the act as a means of getting the decision reviewed, because of the potential impact on the community of losing its school.

But the case was dismissed in March by High Court judge Mrs Justice Lambert, who said the act could not trigger a judicial review.

She said: "I do not find it arguable that the 2015 act does more than prescribe a high-level target duty which is deliberately vague, general and aspirational and which applies to a class rather than individuals.

"As such, judicial review is not the appropriate means of enforcing such duties."

So is the Act worth the paper it is written on? So far the signs are not good.

The second news story is also on the BBC and illustrates the impotence of the Welsh Government in delivering any of its economic objectives. They quote research by Loughborough University, which was commissioned for the End Child Poverty Network, a coalition of organisations which includes Children in Wales, Oxfam Cymru, Barnardo's Cymru and Save The Children.

They say that Wales was the only UK nation to see a rise in child poverty last year, with nearly three in 10 children in poverty in 2017-18, a rise of 1%. It showed 29.3% of Welsh children were living in poverty in 2017/18.

The Welsh Government, which has a now unreachable (and some would say an initially impossible) target of eliminating child poverty by 2020, blame the UK Government, and in particular their welfare reforms.

There is no doubt that these policies had a negative impact, but why is it that other parts of the UK, including areas as equally deprived s Wales, did not see the same increase in child poverty?

The report does not mention the other failed policies of the Welsh Government, namely that of using European funds to raise Welsh GDP, when in fact GDP has stagnated. Clearly, something is awry in Cathays Park and an urgent root and branch review is needed to address these failings.

Devolution was meant to put us in control of our own destiny. So far the Welsh Government has not made a very good job of exercising that responsibility.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How Brexit will tie up government for decades - and that is if we get a deal

The current chaos that is the UK Government could deteriorate further if a Brexit deal is ever agreed, according to the former national security adviser and head of Britain’s diplomatic service, Peter Ricketts.

According to the Guardian, Mr Ricketts believes that next stage of the Brexit negotiations are going to make the current mess look like a simple affair and will tie up the civil service for years:

A gathering of experts on Brexit and trade negotiations concluded that the bumpiest ride is yet to come, with Britain’s negotiating hand already weakened and EU unity to be tested in trade talks as member states jostle for position.

At an Institute for Government seminar, Lord Ricketts said the next phase of Brexit would be so complex and time consuming that it would make Theresa May’s current crisis look like “a relatively simple, straightforward affair”.

Ricketts is a former Downing Street national security adviser, former ambassador to France and a member of the House of Lords EU select committee, which has just published a report called Beyond Brexit: How to win friends and influence people.

He predicted negotiations are likely to go on for years and “encompass pretty much the entire of Whitehall”, with detailed negotiations expected in everything from trade and financial services to data transfer, transport, fisheries and nuclear and gas supply.

Tim Durrant, co-author of the IfG’s report Negotiating Brexit, preparing for talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, says the forthcoming negotiations will be of a scale and complexity unseen in the UK since the country joined the common market in the 1970s. And those negotiations will look like a walk in the park compared to what is to come, he said.

“Converting the 24 pages of the political declaration into thousands of pages of legally binding text will require detailed work from a huge number of departments and organisations across government,” the IfG said in its report.

At 585 pages, the withdrawal agreement is a tome, but if it is ratified and a free trade deal is to follow the final document is likely to be tens of thousands of pages long with agreement on the tiniest of details.

Stephen Adams, executive director at Global Counsel, says the departure from the EU is the most significant economic demerger since the second world war.

He also warned that any attempt in government to proscribe a type of Brexit, whether Norwayplus or a Canada-style deal, would be a gift to the EU if combined with a parliamentary ban on a no-deal exit.

It is bad enough at the moment with the whole government paralysed, important issues overlooked and key decisions postponed, if we have to put up this chaos for years to come then it could wreck the country. This needs to end now.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Farage calls for private health firms to take over NHS services

The Brexit Party may be fighting the European elections without a manifesto but that didn't stop Nigel Farage setting out some of the policies he supports on the BBC yesterday.

As the Guardian points out, Farage has complete policy control over his party, which has paid “supporters” rather than members, describing it in a newspaper interview on Sunday as “a company, not a political party”. His agenda is also that of the Brexit Party. and it may shock many.

Far from pouring an extra £350m a week into the NHS, Farage has said private health companies should “relieve the burden” on the NHS; whilst other worry about the environment, he say tat the UK ought to limit efforts to curb global warming; and he continues to defend the racist anti-immigrant posters he launched during the referendum campaign:

This is the reality of the party currently leading the polls for the European elections. No wonder he is not publishing a manifesto.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Labour nails its colours to the Brexit mast

As if we were not already clear enough about the Labour Party's commitment to help Theresa May and the Tories deliver Brexit, the Independent reports on remarks by shadow cabinet minister and Cornyn ally, Richard Burgon, that Labour "doesn't exist to stop Brexit".

Burgon made the remarks after the Labour leader launched the party's manifesto for the European elections in two weeks' time and come after Jeremy Corbyn insisted Labour is neither a Remain or Leave party. The Labour leader also reiterated his party's policy of supporting the "option" of a second referendum, if the party is unable to obtain a "sensible" Brexit deal, or a general election:

While admitting it was a "difficult road" Labour had chose, Mr Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, defended the stance as "the right thing to do".

Asked whether Labour is the party to stop Brexit on BBC2's Newsnight, he replied: "The Labour Party doesn't exist to stop Brexit."

"Other parties have been formed that think that is their only purpose politically," he added in reference to the breakaway group of Labour and Conservative MPs, who formed Change UK.

Mr Burgon added: "The Labour Party exists to bring people together - we know the real divide in this country isn't between whether people voted Leave or whether they voted Remain."

He insisted the "real divide" across the UK was between the 99 per cent and the one per cent of people who were "getting a rotten deal under this rotten system" either inside, or outside the EU.

"I think that Labour is well-placed to showcase our values to the country in these elections which nobody really expected having to take place," he said.

As much as I would like Labour to come out against Brexit, this confirmation that the party continues to sit on the fence is very welcome. It means that at the European elections on 23 May, people have a clear choice between Nigel Farage's Brexit Party and the sole UK-wide Remain party, the Liberal Democrats. For all intents and purpose the others are irrelevant in these elections.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The inconsistency of the BBC

The BBC are their own worst enemy. They don't appear to understand the concept of balanced reporting, often allowing people to get away with challenging incontrovertible facts in the interests of airing an alternative opinion to their main guest.

They have consistently promoted Nigel Farage above any other politician, most recently allowing him to dominate a Question Time debate without the chair reining him in, and hosting him on that programme over 30 times.

And on Radio Four's Today programme, presenters consistently take a pro-Brexit line in their questioning, whilst on other radio stations some of the most outrageously inaccurate statements by Brexiteers are not challenged.

Now they have cancelled an edition of 'Have I Got News for You' because it featured Heidi Allen, the leader of Change UK, on the grounds that it is an election period. Not only is Heidi Allen not a candidate in the European elections, but she was assured before going on the programme that its timing would not be a problem.

The Guardian quotes the BBC as saying: “The BBC has specific editorial guidelines that apply during election periods. Because of this it would be inappropriate to feature political party leaders on entertainment programmes during this short election period, which does not allow for equal representation to be achieved."

And yet Nigel Farage on Question Time for the 34th time, on a panel that was not balanced or contained representatives of all the political parties, is apparently okay.

We can add inconsistency to the BBC's failures in living up to its charter.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tories to opt out of European election campaign

I suppose if you are a member of the Conservative Party it is bad enough that we are even holding elections to the European Parliament on 23 May, never mind that the Tories are actually fielding candidates. Presumably that is why the party hierarchy have declared that any Tories elected in two weeks time will not take their seats.

So what is the incentive for voters to actually put a cross against a Conservative Party list?  It certainly won't be because the party asked for their vote. As the Guardian reports, the party plans to spend no money on candidate campaigning, will not publish a manifesto and is refusing to hold a launch. As a result, Conservative officials fear the party could come sixth in the European elections, with their support plummeting to single digits.

The paper adds that candidates running in the election say the party was “almost in denial” that the poll was happening and continue to insist they would not need to take up their seats in the European parliament, despite fading prospects for a cross-party deal with Labour that would enable Brexit to happen before 2 July:

One MEP said candidates were funding their campaigns out of their own pockets, unlike previous years when there was a central pot of funding available. They have been told they are allowed to have their own regional manifestos, but many are not bothering, and there will be no central party manifesto.

“The thinking is that if we make no effort then we will have an excuse for having done so badly. But it is seriously embarrassing,” said one MEP.

Another Conservative source said internal data showed the party could do worse than the Brexit party, Labour, the Lib Dems, Change UK and even potentially the Greens, with support at less than 10%. That would translate to only a handful of seats, down from the current 22.

A second CCHQ source said the outlook was “absolutely dire” and worse even than the public pollsters were predicting because the party was planning to put in no effort whatsoever, apart from a free mailshot.

Part of the problem is the party’s activist base, as they are not motivated to campaign for the Conservatives when Brexit has not been delivered as previously promised. Surveys suggest around three in five members are planning to vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

After a meeting with Brandon Lewis, the Conservative party chairman, earlier this week, MEP candidates were left with the impression that Theresa May would give a speech next week setting out the party’s European election message. However, a No 10 source said there were “no plans” for such an intervention.

It isn't as if Labour is any better. They are trying to avoid talking about Brexit altogether on the basis that they don't actually have a policy other than to assist the Tories in getting a deal through without appearing to do so, and refusing to pander to the views of the majority of their party membership in holding another referendum.

It is no wonder that voters are turning to the Liberal Democrats, who have a clear and unequivocal policy on Brexit, which they have bee advocating since the referendum result in June 2016.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

How air pollution is poisoning our children

There is a disturbing article in The Times today, which reveals that millions of children attend schools in Britain with dangerous levels of air pollution. They say that about 6,500 schools educating 2.6 million children are in areas where fine particles in the air exceed the World Health Organisation recommended limit of 10mcg per cubic metre:

Fine particles, known as PM2.5, are the most dangerous form of air pollution because their microscopic size allows them to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

Every school in London is over the WHO limit. Some 234 schools in Birmingham exceed it, as well as more than 100 in large cities like Leicester and Nottingham.

The total includes 3,900 nursery and primary schools, where the younger children are most vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are developing and their relative size means they are closer to vehicle exhaust emissions.

The Times is launching a campaign for a new Clean Air Act, which would give everyone the right to be protected from toxic air that contributes to 40,000 deaths a year and particularly threatens the young, the elderly and people with lung conditions:

The government claimed to be tackling air pollution under a clean air strategy published in January, but analysis of official projections reveals that almost 4,700 schools with 1.9 million pupils will still be over the limit by 2030.

The strategy included a target of halving the number of people living in areas above the WHO limit by 2025 but did not give the baseline for the target and did not set a clear plan for achieving it. Close inspection of government projections on air quality by The Times shows that, despite gradual improvements in recent years, more than nine million people will still be living in areas above the limit in six years from now.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, also promised in January to set “a new, ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to PM2.5” and to “publish evidence early in 2019 to examine what action would be needed” to meet the WHO limit. He has yet to publish either the target or the evidence.

The impact of this pollution on children's health is underlined when one realises that there are 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK, including 1.1 million children. The UK has one of the highest asthma death rates in Europe. Something needs to be done to tackle this problem urgently.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Now Farage is caught up in anti-Semitism row

As if we hadn't had enough of anti-Semitism from Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, the Guardian reports that another UK party leader has also been caught up in a similar controversy.

The paper says that Nigel Farage is facing strong criticism from Jewish organisations and a series of other groups after it emerged he repeatedly took part in interviews with a far-right US talk-show host, during which the Brexit party leader openly discussed conspiracy theories, some of which have been linked to antisemitism.

They add that Farage appeared at least six times on the show of Alex Jones, who was sued by bereaved parents after claiming a US school shooting was faked, and was banned permanently from Facebook last week:

Farage, who led UKIP for many years, quit the party last year because he said he disliked its hard-right, anti-Islam stance under Gerard Batten. However, the website that Jones fronts, Infowars, regularly features anti-Islam stories.

In his various appearances on Jones’s show, Farage discussed themes commonly associated with an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish financiers are behind a plot to replace nation states with a global government.

In the six identified interviews, which date from 2009 to last year, Farage, whose Brexit party is leading polls for the upcoming European elections, repeatedly uses words and phrases such as “globalists” and “new world order”, which regularly feature in anti-Semitic ideas.

In the interviews, Farage also says:
In the most recent interview, filmed in April last year, Farage said the EU is “the prototype for the new world order”, and “globalists have wanted to have some form of conflict with Russia as an argument for us all to surrender our national sovereignty and give it up to a higher global level”.

In an earlier interview with Jones, who is also banned from Twitter, Farage mentions Bilderberg, saying: “These lunatics genuinely believe that they know what’s best for us, genuinely believe in this concept of global government, and it will be a disaster.”

Later in the same interview, from June 2010, Farage argues Bilderberg members, along with other supposed plotters, could soon start “censoring and maybe ultimately even imprisoning those who challenge them and fight them”.

In many ways we should not be surprised that Farage night embrace conspiracy theories such as these. He has flirted with some very dodgy characters indeed during his political career. Nevertheless, it is shocking to see a UK Party Leader openly embrace these ideas. People should be under no illusions what they are voting for if they put their cross against a Brexit party list on 23 May.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Back room Brexit stitch-up faces Tory (and Labour?) revolt

As speculation grows about talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to secure a Brexit deal that can get through the UK Parliament, it is becoming increasingly clear that both leaders face significant opposition within their own parliamentary parties to such an attempt.

The Independent reports on warnings that more than 100 Tory MPs could block a compromise agreement with Labour:

Nigel Evans, executive secretary of the influential committee, said: “If there is a compromise that turns out to be a kind of ‘Brexit in name only’ involving anything close to a customs union, there would be more than 100 Tory MPs who would never support it.”

A string of Commons defeats on Brexit proved the prime minister “did not have room to move here”, he told the BBC.

Tory MP Lee Rowley tweeted: “My message to Theresa May (checked with thousands of residents on the doorsteps in the only place where we gained a council directly from Lab on Thurs): stop this madness.

“People didn’t vote for you to do a deal with a Marxist. Fix the backstop and stop wasting time.”

The prime minister also faced a backlash from Labour when details appeared in the newspapers from the talks, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell claiming she had “blown the confidentiality” of the discussions.

He said he no longer trusts Ms May, following reports she was prepared to give ground in three areas: customs, goods alignment and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, Labour sources said they believe two thirds of Labour MPs, including several frontbenchers, would refuse to support a deal unless there was another vote attached. MPs close to the People’s Vote campaign believe 150 to 180 out of 246 Labour MPs could block a deal. At the same time there is clearly no majority in the House of Commons for a confirmatory recommendation.

There is a term in chess known as Zugzwang, where one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not move at all. Unfortunately, that appears to be the situation we now find ourselves in. Roll on the European elections.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Same-old, same-old for Farage's Brexit Party

Having listed a litany of offences and misdeeds on this blogs for leading UKIP members over the years, it is time to turn my attention to the Brexit Party, which aspires to take UKIP's place as the go-to party for anti-Europeans and the far right, and which has already inherited a number of miscreants and rejects from Farage's former party.

Yesterday's Observer reports that two senior members of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party who left their roles after the Guardian uncovered offensive social media messages they had sent are still directors of the organisation weeks after they had supposedly cut all ties.

The paper says that Catherine Blaiklock, the first leader of the party, who resigned over a series of anti-Islam messages, and the former treasurer Michael McGough, who was ousted because of anti-Semitic and other offensive Facebook posts, are still listed as directors:

Blaiklock, who also retweeted far-right messages, including one from a former British National party activist referring to “white genocide”, also resigned as company secretary of the party soon after the posts emerged, six weeks ago. But despite that change being made to the Companies House register, she remains listed as a director.

McGough is also still a director. He was removed as treasurer a month ago after posting what the party called “unacceptable statements”. A party statement at the time said he would no longer have any role in the organisation.

The only other two directors are Farage and the new treasurer, Phillip Basey, a former Ukip activist. In some messages, McGough referred to Ed and David Miliband and Peter Mandelson as having “shallow UK roots” or being “devoid of UK roots” – seen as a common antisemitic trope about Jewish people.

One post from 2017 called David Miliband the “son of an east European communist now milking it from a charity in New York and devoid of UK roots”.

Another message said: “The Miliband dudes and Mandelson have the shortest of roots. Transient folk they have no loyalty to the UK.” One reply by another user tells McGough he is on “slightly dangerous ground”. McGough replies: “True, but there is a valid point to be made even if it seems offensive. It is not dissimilar to Lord Tebbit’s cricket test.”

A post about Mandelson reads: “I resent being called racist by an old queen with shallow UK roots.” Blaiklock sent offensive tweets that she later deleted, including one saying: “Islam = submission – mostly to raping men it seems.”

She also retweeted seven messages from the far-right activist Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. Farage left Ukip after its current leader, Gerard Batten, made Robinson an adviser. Other tweets sent by Blaiklock included one that referred to Islam as “a non-democracy ideology that is incompatible with liberal democracy”. Another said of Islam that it was “perfectly rational to be phobic about people who want to kill you”.

Both Blaiklock and McGough were longtime former Ukip members, and moved to the Brexit party with Farage. Their departures marked a tricky launch for the party, which has since rebounded spectacularly, and is leading in the polls for the European elections.

That old adage that in politics everything changes and yet nothing changes, still seems to run true on the far right.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

EU recovers £200,000 from Ukip MEPs accused of misusing funds

This headline could prove to be a fitting epitaph for UKIP as polls indicate they will lose most of their seats in the European Parliament and be supplanted by the Brexit Party.

Nevertheless it illustrates quite neatly how those most vehemently opposed to the European Parliament are prepared to exploit it to finance their political activities.

If it hadn't been going on so long and if the label was not so familiar by now, we might want to accuse them of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, the perpetrators have too thick a hide for such accusations to have any traction.

As the Guardian reports, the European parliament has recovered more than £200,000 from UKIP MEPs accused of misusing public funds through payments to party workers. But with three weeks to go until European elections, time is running out to recoup money from others alleged to have broken EU rules.

They add that the parliament has suspended the pay of two staff attached to UKIP’s former leader Paul Nuttall and his fellow North West England MEP Louise Bours. Neither MEP is standing for re-election on 23 May, which could make it harder for officials to recover money:

Since the Guardian revealed the parliament’s investigation into UKIP misspending in 2017, £202,667 has been recovered from two current MEPs and one former one.

Nigel Farage was docked half his MEP’s salary for 10 months in 2018, and he is judged to have repaid a £39,653 debt to the EU. European parliament financial controllers said Farage broke the rules by paying a UKIP party worker with EU funds meant to pay for staffing of his MEP office. Farage, who left UKIP in December and now leads the Brexit party, has always denied the charge.

Raymond Finch was docked £61,650 of his MEP’s salary over the employment of two assistants, including Farage’s estranged wife, Kirsten.

Roger Helmer, who stood down as an MEP in 2017 when allegations against him emerged, lost £101,364 of a transition allowance for former MEPs.

While Nuttall and Bours could lose their transitional allowances, it is not clear whether this would be enough to cover the alleged losses from the EU budget.

Elected in 2014, Bours would be entitled to a €40,949 (£35,025) after-tax transition payment, while Nuttall’s stint as an MEP since 2009 could entitle him to €68,428. The payments are based on the length of time served as an MEP, but are not meant to be claimed by ex-politicians with another job or pension. Earlier calculations put repayment demands on then UKIP MEPs at around £500,000, but cases against two were later closed without any action.

All MEPs have strenuously rejected claims that the rules were broken. Their bloc in the European parliament, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, has previously described the investigation as “a vindictive campaign” against Eurosceptic MEPs.

All of this is worth bearing in mind when voting on 23rd May. Questions should be asked of anti-EU candidates as to their attitude to receiving money from a body they want to abolish.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

What does the #LibDemFightback really mean?

With a total of 703 Council seats gained and 10 new councils, nobody could argue that yesterday was not an exceptional result for the Liberal Democrats. Everybody who worked so hard for this result should be congratulated, but before we get carried away in thinking that our results, combined with those achieved by the Greens, means that the country has swung massively behind us remaining in the EU, we should reflect on where we really stand with voters.

The first thing to say is that Thursday's results were very much a 'plague on both your houses' surge. Both the Tories and Labour were deservedly hammered, so much so that any credibility Labour had as the official opposition must surely have poured away over night. You cannot claim to be a government in waiting when you suffer a net loss of 82 seats in the face of the worst Tory Government in history.

But for the Liberal Democrats at least this was not just a protest vote. It is true that we benefitted in many areas from voters looking to give the two big parties a bloody nose, but gains in places like Chelmsford, where the Liberal Democrats took an additional 26 seats were no fluke.

The assault on this Tory heartland had been planned, executed and worked for over a significant period of time. In Liberal Democrats social media forums, we had been anticipating this result for some months. The same is true elsewhere.

The Liberal Democrats made themselves the credible alternative through sheer hard work, grit and determination, and on Thursday we reaped the reward.

And so to Brexit. The fact that remain parties chalked up nearly 900 gains between them does not make this an anti-Brexit election. As I have said above many other factors were in play.

What it does do however, is to put the Liberal Democrats in pole position to take remain votes in the European Elections on 23 May. At last, we have a focus for those who want to send a message to Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn about the need for a confirmatory referendum before we leave the EU.

What is absurd is the claim by Theresa May and others, including Labour politicians, that these results send a message that we need to get on with Brexit - far from it. Those parties like Labour, the Tories and UKIP, who want us to leave the EU had a kicking on Thursday, and even in leave areas like Sunderland, the Liberal Democrats gained seats.

The real battle is on 23rd May. The battle lines are drawn. It is now clear that those elections are going to be between the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party, with the others still struggling to articulate a message.

One last shout-out to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, who also made their mark on Thursday and stand to make more gains as the counts continue today. It wasn't just the Liberal Democrats who did well.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Plaid Cymru - not the remain party they claim to be?

I have speculated previously on this blog as to whether Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price's advocacy of an independence referendum in the event of us leaving the EU without a confirmatory plebiscite means that he is actually more comfortable with Brexit than he lets on.

He was at it again only last week, telling the BBC that a Welsh independence referendum should happen if Brexit goes ahead without a second EU referendum.

What is certain is that Plaid Cymru want to stay in the single market, recognising that this is in Wales' best interests. I think we can also confirm that they believe that a no deal Brexit would be disastrous and that this should be avoided at all cost. Finally, I am sure that if we ever got an independent Wales then they would want us to apply to join the EU.

However, all of these positions fall far short of saying the UK should remain in the EU, or that they would campaign for such an outcome in a further referendum. Furthermore, Plaid Cymru's actual policy position as specified on their website is as obtuse as that of the UK Labour Party.

They state: 'Whether people voted to Remain or to Leave, they now expect politicians to get on with securing the best possible deal for them.' In fact that is pretty much the same position as Labour and the Tories.

So when you hear a Plaid Cymru politician claim that they are a remain party, then challenge them with this statement. When you see Plaid Cymru social media claiming they are the only remain party in Wales, you will be able to demonstrate that not only is that untrue, but that their actual policy is more ambivalent than they let on.

If you want to remain in the EU then the only choice available on 23 May is to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Corbyn caught out by past actions

As voters in England go to the polls, Labour supporters must be wondering what exactly they have to do to rid themselves of the anti-Semitism controversy that has engulfed their party. Many of them will be asking why it is that the Labour leadership keep shooting themselves in the foot on this issue.

The Guardian reports that jewish leaders have written to Jeremy Corbyn to express “grave concern” and demand an explanation after it emerged he wrote a glowing foreword for a century-old political tract that includes anti-Semitic tropes:

The book, Imperialism: A Study, written by John Atkinson Hobson in 1902, claimed European finance was controlled by “men of a single and peculiar race”. Corbyn described the book as “brilliant” and “very controversial”, the Times first reported.

He wrote the foreword when the book was reissued in 2011, four years before becoming Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn is either blind to antisemitism – or he just doesn’t care

Hobson describes the financial system as controlled by people “united by the strongest bonds of organisation, always in closest and quickest touch with one another, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every state, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience, they are in a unique position to control the policy of nations”.

In a strongly worded letter, the Board of Deputies of British Jews expressed “grave concerns” about the emergence of the foreword.

It said an argument expounded in Hobson’s book, that journalism and banking were dominated by Jews, was “pure and unequivocal racism and there can be no apology for it”.

The letter, signed by the board’s president, Marie van der Zyl, went on to cite a series of other recent allegations of antisemitism against Corbyn and demanded a full explanation.

It is little wonder that Labour cannot shake off the charges of anti-Semitism when their leader is so equivocal on the matter and even endorses a book that promotes these ideas.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Opaque universal credit is Orwellian claims judge

It has been some time since I have heard George Orwell's 1984 cited, and even longer since I have used the author's name used in the context of the language he invented for the book of doublespeak. It is noteworthy therefore to see a report this morning in which a former high court judge reference the novel when commenting on universal credit.

As the Guardian reports, Sir Stephen Sedley has described universal credit as “Orwellian” because of its tendency to create and exacerbate misery for claimants even while it professes to be rescuing them from hardship.

His comments about the troubled digital benefits system accompanied a report that revealed hundreds of claimants risked falling into debt because the system had miscalculated their monthly benefit payments:

Claimants who were underpaid, or overpaid, sums amounting in some cases to hundreds of pounds a month were routinely unable to work out the correct payment, or how they could challenge the decision, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) report said.

The charity criticised the “opaque” way in which individuals’ monthly benefits payments were calculated, and said the lack of information provided to claimants who wished to challenge the calculation was in some cases unlawful.

It cited the case of a working mother who was left £400 a month worse off after universal credit neglected to include a child element for her daughter or a work allowance, an error only spotted when she went to a welfare rights adviser.

Universal credit rolls six different working-age benefits into one and CPAG said this means it is difficult for claimants to unpick the different components of the payment or work out whether it is correct.

One in five of 1,110 cases gathered by the charity as part of a universal credit monitoring project involved administrative errors by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which were likely to result in the claimant being paid the wrong amount.

Sedley, a former lord justice of appeal and now a visiting professor at Oxford University, said universal credit was repeatedly failing to meet its legal obligations to make it clear why a particular decision had been made, or how claimants could appeal if they thought it was wrong.

“People in need are left to guess at and grope for things which should be clear and tangible. The consequences are not limited to over- or underpayment. They feed into the stress and worry that so many people managing on low incomes experience, which in turn can affect family life for children growing up in these environments,” he said.

“There is something Orwellian about a system which is intended to alleviate hardship yet is administered in ways which generate and aggravate human misery. Whether this is happening by accident or by design is an argument for another time and place.”

The fact that spotting errors is difficult for claimants just exacerbates the weaknesses of this new system. It does not help either that universal credit helpline staff are often unable to help because they do not have access to the calculations, which had been made automatically by the digital system.

Clearly there is a need for payments to be made more transparent and easier to understand as well as to change the other issues associated with universal credit such as the waiting period before any money is paid over.

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