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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kinnock intervention highlights Labour divisions

Today's Times reports on a dramatic intervention in Labour's in-fighting by Neil Kinnock, who has called for an end to the internal sniping at Ed Miliband. He warned that the Labour leader would face even more vicious attacks than he had endured in 1992 and obviously believes it would be helpful if there was no friendly fire to contend with as well.

Kinnock warned that “sniping from behind” was far more damaging than assaults from opponents, but said that whilst he is reluctant to intervene, criticisms of the party’s election strategy by senior Blairites has been “so great that it requires a response”:

His call came after Alan Milburn, the former health secretary and close ally of Tony Blair, launched a stinging attack on Labour’s election message of protecting the NHS.

Unfortunately, Neil Kinnock's intervention, coming in the form of an attack on Alan Milburn, just highlighted the differences once more and put Ed Miliband under even more pressure. C'est la vie.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Welsh Government bill without a cause

The Welsh Public Services Minister launched stage one of the reorganisation of local government in Wales yesterday with the introduction of a bill to facilitate voluntary mergers. He did so having first ruled out the only three proposals for voluntary merger he had received.

This has caused consternation, not least because one of the proposals in front of the Minister fitted in with the proposals of the William's Commission. The Minister obviously has the right to turn down the voluntary merger proposals in front of him on the basis of the criteria that he set out but that poses an important question: having turned down all the voluntary merger proposals why are we now discussing a Bill to enable voluntary mergers to take place; there are no voluntary mergers in front of us for this Bill to enable?

The Minister said in his statement that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-model local government in Wales. This will be the third reorganisation in 40 years of local government. If we don’t get this right now, we will find ourselves back here in 20 years’ time doing it again. So, how is he making sure that we have sustainable models based on compatible communities when he does not have the co-operation of local government, and when the proposals that are put forward on a voluntary basis are not acceptable to him? How can we make sure that the map that he now seems determined to impose on local government is sustainable and that we will not be revisiting this in 20 years’ time?

It seems that the process continues to raise more questions than answers and it is unlikely that the opposition parties will bail the government out on this. The Williams Commission was a Labour Government affair, it had no input from Welsh Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru or Welsh Conservatives. So far I have seen no good reason why, having been excluded from the process at the start, we should join it on Labour's terms.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our creaking democracy

For once this is not a piece about constitutional reform. Instead I am referring to the condition of the mother of Parliaments, the Palace of Westminster, which requires £3 billion spent on it to bring it up to scratch.

A BBC documentary to be broadcast next month is to highlight that the parlous state of the Houses of Parliament, includes leaking roofs, crumbling walls and plagues of mice, rats, moths and pigeons. In addition there are maintenance issues arising from this disrepair. The Times say that overflowing lavatories and blocked pipes in the House of Commons were left for more than two weeks without being cleaned up and became so bad that staff were sent home ill.

The incident conforms with the “warts and all” four-part documentary to be shown on BBC Two. Michael Cockerell, the journalist and broadcaster, was given unprecedented access to the inner workings of the House of Commons. In an interview with Radio Times, he gives an insight into the extent of damage to the Grade I listed World Heritage Site building.

“The place is nearly falling down,” he said. “It is probably the biggest building project in Britain. We saw leaking roofs; we saw paintwork and plasterwork crumbling. We saw buckets to catch the drips.

Even the stonework on Elizabeth Tower [the home of Big Ben] is crumbling.”

An initial, independent report set up to assess whether the Palace of Westminster was fit for purpose in the 21st century considered three options for renovating the building.

The first was to relocate MPs and peers completely, the second posed the option of the two chambers taking it in turns to relocate and a third scenario would involve politicians staying put while construction took place, which would take longer and cost even more.

Parliamentary authorities have decided not to publish the report until the summer to avoid the issue being affected by the election campaign.

Having seen similar issues addressed in the Canadian Parliament, it seems that not the renovation is doable but that the longer it is left the worst it will get. Somebody needs to grasp the nettle soon.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Greeks declare war on the Euro

It was Dick Tuck who declared, on losing a Californian State Senate race, "The people have spoken, the bastards". It  may well be that some European leaders are feeling something similar as the Greek General Election results come in.

Alexis Tspiras, who leads the victorious Syriza party, is pledged to end austerity. That can only mean one choice: he either has to come out of the Euro and go his own way, or he has to renegotiate the bail-out package that was put in place by his predecessors. Either way, it heralds a period of unsettled weather for the Eurozone and that may well have an impact on the UK's economic recovery.

The Telegraph reports that Eurozone finance ministers will meet on Monday when they will threaten an end to negotiations on debt relief for Greece unless its new radical Left government promises to honour all existing austerity agreements. They are trying to steady the ship and prevent speculation against the Euro.

The paper says that Eurozone officials are convinced that the EU holds all the trump cards in the coming clash with Greece's leader-in-waiting, Alexis Tsipras, including the nuclear option of letting Greek banks collapse. They believe Mr Tsipras knows his weakness.

But, this hardline approach will be sugared with offers of flexibility on the detail of austerity measures, and a move to allow Greece more time to meet an end of February deadline for renewal of key EU loans that are keeping the country’s economy afloat.

Suddenly, the stakes are very high indeed for the Euro zone countries.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

UKIP show their true colours

Considering that they are an anti-politics party, the cynicism of UKIP is quite breath-taking. According to today's Sunday Times, one of Nigel Farage's senior aides has said that Britain has “hundreds of thousands of bigots” and Ukip is proud to stand up for them.

The paper's political editor says that the outburst by Matthew Richardson, the party’s secretary will lay Ukip open to the charge that senior figures see themselves and their own supporters as bigots, a stance that is liable to alienate more moderate voters:

Richardson was appointed last year to put an end to the party’s series of public- relations gaffes and to prevent “bad stuff” about Ukip from making it into the media.

But last night he was at the centre of new storm after a source revealed comments he made in mid-December.

Asked about the racist outbursts of some Ukip candidates, Richardson replied: “I’ve said before, people talk about Ukip being bigots. There are hundreds of thousands of bigots in the United Kingdom and they too deserve representation.”

The outburst will remind voters of former prime minister Gordon Brown branding pensioner Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” after she raised the issue of immigration with him during the 2010 election.

Richardson also insulted Farage, declaring: “He’s a Kent man. Well, sounds like Kent anyway.” And he said the Ukip leader “would have to be a moron” to put the party’s turnover tax in its manifesto.

Richardson also came under fire on a second front when it emerged that he has compared NHS spending to the activities of Nazi Germany.

Labour released videos of Richardson calling for a “hearts and minds” campaign to back NHS privatisation and branded health spending a waste of money.

In a speech to a Conservative political conference in Washington in 2010 Richardson declared: “The biggest waste of money of course in the United Kingdom is the NHS, the National Health Service.”

At a Young America’s Foundation meeting the same year he denounced “wasteful socialist programmes” and said: “At the heart of this, the Reichstag bunker of socialism is the National Health Service.”

Richardson added: “People as a result of privatisation . . . of the NHS will do better. That’s a battle that we have to win the hearts and minds of people.”

This contempt for the health service apparently matches that of his party leader who has publicly admitted that he believes a health insurance scheme would be better than the current levels of state NHS spending.

So much for UKIP being the people's party.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chocolate wars

America, the supposed land of capitalism and freedom, is once more proving that its image is pure window dressing as the US chocolate giant Hershey has used the courts to block the import of its British rivals.

The Telegraph reports that the company declared legal war on the imports of British-made chocolate such as Cadbury Creme Eggs, Maltesers, Kit Kats and Yorkie bars, claiming that they either infringe the company's US licences or "confuse" customers with similar wrappings and names:

Nicky Perry, the owner of Tea and Sympathy, a Manhattan institution, broke the devastating news to customers in a posting on the cafe's Facebook page.

"Due to legal action by the so called chocolate maker Hershey's, we can no longer import the real Cadbury chocolate from England," she wrote. "They want us to sell their dreadful Cadbury approximation but we can't in good conscience sell you such awful chocolate when we have made our reputation on selling you the yummy real English stuff."

Ms Perry was also scornful that the lawsuit has blocked Yorkie bars because their name might be confused with the totally different York Peppermint Patties – "as if!" she noted – and Toffee Crisp as the orange wrapping was too similar to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

"May we politely suggest that if you think Toffee Crisps look like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups your eyesight is a much bigger problem than your chocolate bar confusion," she added.

The company says that the lawsuit was necessary to defend its commercial interests though it transpires that their legal action only came about after they failed to take-over Cadbury's, losing out to Kraft. No wonder ex-pats in the USA are outraged.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Most ambitious town council of the week

Nobody can accuse Bridgend Town Council of lacking ambition. According to a LinkedIn contact I have just received they have just appointed a Military Advisor whose job is to advise their newly constituted Military Advisory Committee.

Rumours that the First Minister is about to face a military coup in his own constituency are most probably greatly exaggerated.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Zeus is missing


Disturbing news from Ammanford  (I did not think I would ever type those words) as the Western Mail reports that Zeus the cat has gone missing.

The paper says that Zeus, who is a well-known in the town for wandering around the shops stealing food and sleeping in inconvenient places has not been seen by his owner since Monday night:

Now his owner Jessica Morris is praying for his safe return.

“It’s not the first time Zeus has gone missing, on previous occasions he has been gone a day or two but soon comes home for food,” she told the South Wales Guardian.

“We’ve left food out the back door in case he comes home at night, but he hasn’t touched it.

“I hope no-one has taken him.”

A distraught Jessica is asking everyone to check their garden sheds and lock-ups.

Zeus has become famous for napping in the local card shop, stealing from the pound shop and getting thrown out of the butchers.

Such is his brazen attitude that traders in the Carmarthenshire town don’t bat an eyelid when he pops in for something to eat or to find a quiet aisle to sleep in.

Jessica said she often receives phone calls to fetch Zeus from various shops.

Staff at Tesco in Ammanford even keep him in the back room until Jessica arrives to pick him up.


In the past he has even been locked in a local shop overnight. Hopefully, that is all that has happened to him this time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Labour try to hide their Mansion Tax plans from public scrutiny

If there is one thing that is worse than going to the electorate with a half-worked out policy, it is then trying to avoid being held to account on the details of that policy during the election campaign. Such an approach never works out well. And yet it looks like Ed Balls is going to attempt this trick over Labour's plans for a mansion tax.

The Times reports that the Shadow Chancellor has now stated that he will not reveal full details of the Mansion Tax plan until after the election amidst considerable disquiet within the Labour Party about the policy and the way it is being presented:

As voices from the left and right of Labour raised concerns about the plan, a former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown suggested that it had been a mistake to call the policy a “mansion tax”.

Patrick Diamond said the name “has been seen as provocative — as deliberately hitting the rich”. He added: “Some in Labour fear the party will suffer electorally if it is perceived as deliberately attacking the wealthier sections of society.”

The discord came as new analysis from estate agents Knight Frank showed the degree to which the levy would be skewed towards London. Under the plans, the top 2.5 per cent of homes in the capital will be hit. If the same proportion of homes were affected in each region, the threshold would be £343,558 in the northeast, £376,487 in Wales and £406,139 in Scotland.

One Labour frontbencher has already suggested that the tax is unfair. At an event in November, Steve Reed, the shadow home office minister, said there were “extraordinarily wealthy people” outside London who would not pay the tax. His office said last night that he was “fully supportive” of the nationwide mansion tax as set out by Mr Balls.

Questions re-emerged over the plan after Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary, warned the policy was “crude” and “short-termist”. Diane Abbott, a leading figure on the left of the party, said that Lord Mandelson was “on to something”. Her fellow potential Labour mayoral candidates David Lammy, Margaret Hodge and Tessa Jowell have also criticised the policy.

Could the Labour manifesto be unravelling even before the election campaign has properly started.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

UKIP hit a policy vacuum

One of the worst jobs in politics has to writing the UKIP manifesto. After all, no sooner do you get the document signed off than the party leader is disowning it, whilst other activists and candidates go off and make up their own policies.

It is little wonder that The Times reports today that the party has sacked its policy chief for failing to deliver the document on time. The paper understands that Ukip had set the beginning of January as the deadline to agree policies before sending off the manifesto to be checked and costed by an independent think-tank but a significant part of the document is still to be written:

A senior Ukip insider said: “There was growing disquiet that none of us had seen hide nor hair on the policy front. It was especially annoying for candidates, who are banned from making any specific pledges before the manifesto is published.

“They don’t know what to tell voters on the doorstep.”

I suppose they can always fall back on the 2010 manifesto with its pledges to introduce compulsory uniforms for taxi drivers, making the London Underground’s Circle Line circular again and restricting the number of foreign players in football teams.

Update: Right on cue Nigel Farage contradicts both himself and his party by renewing his call for the effective privatisation of the NHS

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