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Saturday, August 27, 2016

United Nations highlights post-Brexit hate crime spike

I have written already on the racist legacy of the Brexit campaign, now the United Nations has chipped in with a statement by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that it is “seriously concerned” that British politicians whipped up hatred and then “failed to condemn” racist abuse during the campaign.

The Independent points out that immediately following the referendum hate crimes surged by 42 per cent in England and Wales, with a total of 3,076 incidents recorded across the country between 16 and 30 June. They add that police figures show that many areas that voted strongly for Leave posted even higher results.

The UN Committee's report’s says that they are concerned about the “negative portrayal” of ethnic minority communities, immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in the British media.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage was widely criticised for unveiling a poster with pictures of Syrian refugees alongside the caption the “breaking point”. He was also criticised for saying the referendum campaign had been won “without a shot being fired”, despite the shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox.

No doubt the brexiteers' reaction to this report will be to call for a referendum on us leaving the UN. The wider implications of the normalsiation of racist language in UK politics though have still not been fully assessed. All of this has consequences.

It is up to the media and politicians on all sides of the political divide to try and heal the sores they have opened up by once again making it unacceptable to act in this way.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Could Labour's flagship conference be cancelled this year?

There are some who might suggest that a party that cannot even organise its own annual conference are not capable of running the country.

Fortunately, there is a professional civil service who are able to ensure that the wheels of government are able to keep running irrespective of who is in power.

Alas, that does not appear to be the case with the Labour Party, who seem determined to self-destruct at every level.

The Independent reports that the prospect of the Labour Party cancelling its annual conference has become ever more realistic after G4S turned down a last-minute offer to provide security.

G4S has apparently been present at the event for 20 years, but has recently been criticised by party figures, including Jeremy Corbyn, for various prison contracts and links to Israel.

As a result Labour found a replacement security company called Showsec, but they are in the middle of an industrial dispute with the party over union membership for its workers. There have been threats to form a picket line outside the conference entrance, which several Labour members have said they would refuse to cross.

Merseyside police re not willing to allow the event to go ahead without security, and that they are not in a position to provide it.

The prospect of Labour not having a conference at which it can announce the results of its leadership election looms ever larger.

You couldn't make it up.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Is the gaffe-prone Owen Smith leaving Labour members with a hobson's choice for leader?

Considering Labour MPs chose Owen Smith as the best chance they have of unseating Jeremy Corbyn the Pontypridd MP's perfomance so far has been less than inspiring.

Smith's anointment as the favoured 'pretender to the crown' makes one wonder whether the Parliamentary Labour Party were either punishing him for some hidden misdemeanor or just having a laugh at the electorate's expense.

More likely is the possibility that many in the Parliamentary Labour Party had made the judgement that whoever they chose as challenger would not be able to beat Corbyn. Their reasoning may have been that it was better to pitch an untried newcomer with a high, but misplaced regard for his own competence against the Labour leader, rather than spoil the chances of a genuine leadership contender such as Angela Eagle in the future.

Whatever the motive, those MPs who had placed their trust in Smith to put up a good show must be disappointed at his performance so far.

Instead of pitching his challenge as that of a moderate centre left politician with a real chance of winning over Middle England, Smith has chosen instead to paint himself as a slightly more competent mirror image of Corbyn. In doing so he has denied Labour members a real choiice.

Even then he has been weighed down by his own past baggage, his previous pronouncements for the use of the private sector in the health service for example. This has seen him having to square some very difficult circles so as not to undermine his current positions, when it might have been better to have embraced them as a sign that he is the sort of pragmatic and realistic politician who could actually run the country.

These reinventions of his past have in turn led many Labour members and ordinary voters to conclude that Smith is just another politician in the Blairite mould, a stark contrast to the refreshing candour and consistency of Jeremy Corbyn. They have also prevented him from effectively capitalising on Jeremy Corbyn's own gaffes such as the recent traingate (do trains have gates?).

And then there are Owen Smith's gaffes. The Independent reports that at a campaign rally Smith seemingly branded Jeremy Corbyn “some lunatic”:

“What you won’t get from me is some, you know, lunatic at the top of the Labour Party, you’ll have someone who tries to form a coherent narrative about what’s wrong with Britain,” were his exact words – and, as you might imagine, it didn’t go down famously (he has since acknowledged that he “should be less colourful with [his] language.”)

As the Labour Campaign for Mental Health has noted, “lunatic” is an unhelpful, derogatory term that infers some level of mental illness. Such a stigmatising and unnecessary taunt could have been avoided if “unity” candidate Owen Smith had bit his tongue.

If you think that is a bit too politically correct then it is worth noting, as the Independent has done, that it was only a few days ago that Owen Smith criticised Jeremy Corbyn for “abolishing” the Shadow Minister for Mental Health role, despite the fact that it was the refusal from many in the Parliamentary Labour Party to serve under the elected leader that resulted in the vacancy. In the same breath he spoke of how mental health would be a priority under his leadership, and that he would be a “champion for disabled people”.

This is not the first clanger Smith has dropped or his first apology. He accused Jeremy Corbyn of being partially responsible for misogyny in the Labour Party and attacked him for not cracking down on it, but then talked about the need to “smash Theresa May back on her heels”. These remarks echoed his sentiments when he told Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood that she was invited onto Question Time because of her “gender”.

He also undermined the main criticism of Corbyn’s foreign policy and the Labour leader's attitude towards national security when he put forward the absurd proposal that we should be getting “round the table” with Isis.

If Owen Smith is the answer to Labour's problems then they need to rephrase the question.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Was Farage the victim of internal dirty tricks in South Thanet?

Just how toxic is the on-going civil war within UKIP? Well, if the Guardian is to be believed it extends to senior members actively sabotaging the election campaigns of their colleagues.

The paper says senior members of UKIP have accused the party’s only MP of helping the Conservatives defeat Nigel Farage in South Thanet in last year's general election. UKIP’s main donor, Arron Banks, has written to Kent police with the allegation that Douglas Carswell, the Ukip MP for Clacton, helped the Tory campaign retain the seat. his letter details allegations that Carswell downloaded Ukip data for South Thanet and passed it to the Conservatives, enabling them to do “push polling” of key voters.

Push polling is when an apparently unbiased telephone survey spreads negative rumours about a candidate.

The Guardian says that Carswell defected to Ukip from the Tories in 2014 but has had a fraught relationship with both Banks and Farage:

According to the letter, Carswell was granted access to the Ukip database but then only accessed the South Thanet data.

A letter sent to the police by Precision Risk & Intelligence, where Banks is chief executive, claims that “we have evidence of excessive spending by the Conservatives and secretive dealings between them and a senior Ukip representative to collude against Mr Farage”.

Responding to the accusations, Carswell said: “There is no basis in these claims whatsoever. We should just be relieved that those responsible for the disastrous campaign in South Thanet were not responsible for the successful referendum campaign.”

It may be that any unauthorised use of the Ukip database would be a breach of data protection laws.

The letter also claims that the information was passed to a call centre in New Malden, Surrey, and was then used to target voters in South Thanet. The call centre in Surrey has close links to the Conservative party.

Kent police are investigating allegations of improper election spending by the Tories in South Thanet, a highly marginal seat at last year’s election. They were recently granted a further 12 months to investigate electoral spending in the constituency after a judge concluded that the inquiry could lead to the result “being declared void”.

It is not just Wales where respective members of UKIP cannot stand the sight on one another.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The empire strikes back

There is no better sign of how a backswood Tory MP thinks than this tweet:

Clearly riled by equally irrelevant tweets showing how countries within the European Community had topped the Olympics medal table, the MP for South Derbyshire hit back, and in doing so sought to resurrect the British Empire. At least the EU is a current institution.

Heather Wheeler has taken a lot of stick on social media for this tweet, some of it worth repeating. As the Independent reports, one pointed out that “Given that Empire day became Commonwealth Day in 1958 your use of Empire in this context is erroneous. And offensive.” Others pointed out that the Empire was nothing to boast about:

Chris Tacy said: “You have no empire anymore. And soon you won’t even have Great Britain. Well done.”

Aakash Jayaprakash wrote: “This is very offensive to invoke this alleged ‘empire’. Maybe look at all the facets including the killing and theft of millions.”

And Jan Smith said: “What an offensive, insensitive and ignorant comment. There's no empire; when there was we behaved appallingly. Shame on you!”

Another tweeter asked her to do a similar chart so as to feature the Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire. I suspect both of those would have trailed behind the EU.

If I were to be pedantic about this, I would also point out that Brexit has not happened yet and that the EU currently includes the UK. Thus the medal total for that particular institution should be 325, not 258.

This not just a failure to be self-aware on the part of the Tory MP, but also a misunderstanding of history and an affront to Britain's many friends throughout the world. Alas, it is all too typical in a world where the unthinking right wing are in the ascendant.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Labour MPs back away from open rebellion if Corbyn wins

It was less than a month ago that some Labour MPs were briefing that if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership contest in September that they would elect their own leader and launch a legal challenge for the party's name. Alas cold reality, not least through speaking to their own constituency members appears to have modified that stance.

According to the Independent the plan now is one of non-cooperation and a work-to-rule. The paper says that Labour MPs might try and use the Co-Operative Party,  a political group affiliated with Labour, as a means to oppose Mr Corbyn.

One Labour MP is quoted as saying: “People are not going to suddenly change their view of Jeremy just because September the 24th occurs. People still have that view, and all the problems still exist.

“Things are going to come up where the divisions are insurmountable. People are not going to suddenly just take a lead from Emily Thornberry on Brexit.

“They are not going to suddenly just take a lead from Clive Lewis on defending the country, or the situation in Syria.”

“It’s really not clear cut what’s going to happen. There are still tensions between different groups.

“A lot will depend on how Jeremy would act after a victory. There is talk of him trying to push out [Labour chief whip] Rosie Winterton.

“For a lot of people that would mean mandatory reselections are getting closer and at that point the PLP could be more galvanised.”

So business as usual then? The so-called Labour rebellion will fizzle out and, apart from a few grumbles here and there, the Parliamentary Labour Party will sullenly go about their business, trying to ignore Jeremy Corbyn as he consolidates his position and that of his successor. Of course, once the reselections start all bets will be off.

Meanwhile, the Western Mail speculates that the general secretary of Welsh Labour and the head of its press office are on a “hit list” of party staff members whose jobs will be at risk if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected.

They quote party sources as claiming that David Hagendyk and Huw Price could be “purged” as part of an initiative aimed at bringing the party more under the control of Mr Corbyn’s left wing supporters.

Has the civil war within Labour only just begun?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Is Britain's post-Brexit future threatened by the ignorance of Brexiteer ministers?

Today's Observer contains a serious feature which suggests that the UK is making little progress towards leaving the EU because of the complexities of leaving the single market, the failure of either the Leave or Remain sides in the referendum to prepare for the eventual outcome and divisions within the cabinet as to what sort of final settlement we should aim for.

In particular, they say that senior UK diplomats have been shocked by how little leading Tories in government, including Boris Johnson, understand about the workings of the EU and its single market. That will explain a lot of the lies and isinformation which won them the referendum in the first place.

The paper says that issue of the UK and the EU single market in goods and services is critical:

Before the referendum, May strongly suggested the UK should remain a member in the event of Brexit. Now, whether and how it can do so is the multibillion-euro question at the heart of the Brexit dilemma.

The single market serves 500 million EU citizens, allowing the free movement of goods, people, services and capital between member countries. If the UK quits the single market, it will lose full access and many large UK businesses warn of devastating economic results. But if it remains a member, after quitting the EU as a whole, it must play by its rules, continue to pay into the EU budget and accept the right of EU citizens to live and work in the UK. For hardline Brexiters – who promised that Brexit would save £350m a week in EU budget contributions that could then go to the NHS, and the restoration of UK control over its own borders – that would be unacceptable. It would render Brexit meaningless, they say.

Thus far, however, the May government has been unable to give clear and consistent answers on the single-market question, because the Tory party and the cabinet is split and the complexities are only now being grasped.

They quote Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform in London, who says some “very senior” people in the UK government are deeply ignorant about the single market, and adds that only now are the Brexit-backers beginning to grasp the difficulty of what faces them:

"I think that two months down the line the senior Brexiters are beginning to realise that the whole process is going to be a lot more complicated, time-consuming and boring than they had imagined before, when they had presented it all as black and white. They are beginning to realise that this will occupy most of the energies of government for the next five to 10 years."

This is all complicated of course by the referendum, which confirmed what the British public are against but left us with no idea what they wanted government to replace it with.

Not only has the UK voted to leave the EU based on a campaign of lies and misinformation but it transpires those misleading us didn't have a clue about the realities either and are not up to the job of delivering what they promised.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fraud allegations blight UKIP's Welsh branch

I have no intention of commenting or passing judgement on allegations that have surfaced against UKIP's 'Welsh leader', Nathan Gill, that he misused European money. Gill robustly denies these allegations and they are now in the hands of the EU counter-fraud body Olaf, who are looking into them.

What is more interesting though is where these allegations came from. The Western Mail say that they originated from former employees of Gill, an indication of how toxic things have become within UKIP's Welsh branch.

The party's Assembly leader, Neil Hamilton has issued a statement in which he asks whether this 'shocking news' was the reason Gill resigned from the UKIP Assembly group. I think it is a fair bet that he knows this was not the reason.

Hamilton also says that the easiest way to put this matter to rest is for Gill to 'publish all details of his MEP's emoulments and expenses claims since May 2014, together with full supporting documentation'. Hamilton goes on to imply some form of conspiracy by adding that 'for some reason' Gill refuses to publish this information.

I am currently reading a book about Bill Clinton's presidency and this is precisely the sort of innuendo that was used to go after the Clintons over the Whitewater controversy. A scandal in which both were cleared of any wrongdoing several times over.

Although Neil Hamilton is right to draw attention to the excellent practise of the Welsh Assembly of publishing details of all Assembly Members expense claims within three months of them being settled, even that exemplary scheme does not make available the sort of documentation Hamilton wants Gill to put into the public domain.

As it happens I agree that MEP's expenses should be published in the same way as those of Welsh Assembly Members and Gill and the other Welsh MEPs should set an example by doing so voluntarily. However, to pretend that such a publication will make this investigation go away as Hamilton does, is misleading and he knows it.

Allegations have been made and the investigation will have to follow its own course irrespective of the public bitching between two of Welsh UKIP's most prominent members.

Meanwhile, Guido Fawkes has published an interesting e-mail from Neil Hamilton, sent to members of UKIP's NEC on Sunday, days before details of the allegations against GIll became publicly known.

The e-mail linked to articles about Hamilton's rivals and contained the pointed question: 'I wonder if the authorities are investigating anyone else named in the articles above? Somehow, I don't think this is going to end well.'

Hamilton is no stranger to allegations of impropiety himself, but he has never been accused of possessing a crystal ball before.

Is it any wonder that UKIP are ripping themselves apart?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Is the traditional motor car heading for the scrap heap?

Interesting news in the Independent that the Dutch government has set a date for parliament to host a roundtable discussion that could see the sale of petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars banned by 2025.

The paper says that if the measures are finally passed, then the Netherlands would join Norway and Denmark in making a concerted move to develop its electric car industry. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany managed to have all of its power supplied by renewable energies such as solar and wind power on one day in May as they continues to phase out reliance on nuclear energy and fossil fuels:

Richard Smokers, principle adviser in sustainable transport at the Dutch renewable technology company TNO, said the Dutch government was committed to meeting the Paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions to 80 per cent less than the 1990 level. The plan requires the majority of passenger cars to be run on CO2-free energy by 2050.

"Dutch cities still have some problems to meet existing EU air quality standards and have formulated ambitions to improve air quality beyond these standards," he told The Independent, adding that the government had at the same time been reluctant to implement strict policies on the environment.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the way forward, however we still have some way to go before we can achieve a fume-free transport network. There still needs to be improvements in the storage capacity of batteries, though there have been major strides in recent years.

And there also needs to be a massive investment in charging points by the UK Government if we are to follow suit. We also need to improve our use of renewables and accelerate the electrification of our railway network.

Not for the first time the UK is way behind continental Europe in this area. We need to ensure that Brexit does not push us further behind. We cannot afford to be Europe's most polluting country.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

UKIP Welsh branch in disarray again

If recent events with the Welsh branch of UKIP Wales were related in a political novel then they would be dismissed as too far-fetched. However, where UKIP is concerned nothing is considered too bizarre

As the Western Mail reports, the stand-off in the UKIP Assembly group appears to have come to a head with the decision of Nathan Gill to leave and sit as an independent AM. Despite this, Gill insists that he remains leader of UKIP in Wales and that he will continue to sit as a UKIP MEP in the European Parliament.

Even by UKIP standards this piece of political contortionism defies credibility. Neil Hamilton, who leads the UKIP Assembly group argues that Gill has forfeited the role of Welsh leader. He has just been on Radio Wales denying that he bullied the North Wales AM.

The fallout from Gill's decision has already become bitchy. Hamilton told BBC Wales he did not think Mr Gill's decision would make "much difference", claiming: "We don't see him much in the assembly."

In the meantime UKIP leadership candidates at lats night's Newport hustings were lining up to distance themselves from Gill.

Nobody has really explained how this decision by Gill impacts on the current ballot of members to decide if he should be forced to give up one of his two full-time roles.

UKIP may be searching for a new leader and a new role within UK politics, its former leader may or may not be emigrating to Germany, but here in Wales they are intent on accelerating their decline through their dysfunctional behaviour and public bickering.

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