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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why are mainstream politicians starting to use terrorist attacks to make political points?

There was predictable and justifiable outrage yesterday when Plaid Cymru's leader tweeted to suggest that the Barcelona attack was "far right" terrorism. Thirteen people died when a van drove into pedestrians in the Spanish city, with so-called Islamic State (IS) saying it was responsible. However, Leanne Wood suggested that far-right ideologies are driving both IS and white supremacists.

Both UKIP and the Tories condemned here remarks with Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, saying it was "unbelievable" Leanne Wood had speculated it might be linked to a far-right group:

His fellow Tory assembly member Janet Finch-Saunders said the comments were "at best poorly timed and ill-judged, at worst cynical and morally depraved".

"Politicising terror so fresh after an attack can never be acceptable, and only adds to the hysteria and toxicity of debate.

Leanne Wood's explanation was tendentious at best. some would say superficial, ill-judged and misconceived:

"I am staggered by the reaction to the point that Isis and white supremacism both have far right ideologies driving them.

"Both see their group as superior to others. Both see people who are not in their group fair targets for abuse, violence and even death. Both hate minorities and consider women to be less than men.

"Both believe in using extreme violence to repress people with different views. This is far right/ fascism ideology. How can it not be?"

But wait, what is this? Another politician seeking to make similar points only this time the target is the 'far left'. According to the Independent, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has been accused of using terrorism for scoring “political points” by sharing a post attempting to link a Barcelona attacker with the left-wing campaign group Momentum:

Less than 24 hours after 14 people were killed in the popular Spanish city by terrorists, Mr Goldsmith’s brother, Ben, commented on a post which suggested one of the men involved in the attack had shared an anti-Semitic video, alleging “a global Jewish conspiracy to take over the world”. 

Responding to the post on Twitter, Ben Goldsmith asked: “Maybe he got it from Labour’s Momentum movement? They make for weird bedfellows, Islamism and hard-leftism, but they’re joined at the hip.”

The Richmond MP, Mr Goldsmith, then shared his brother’s provocative remarks.

Strangely neither the Welsh Tories nor UKIP appear to have responded to these equally inappropriate remarks.

What is wrong with these politicians? People have died, their families are grieving, the authorities are still hunting suspects and all they want to talk about are dubious similarities with other groups (some of whom may have been involved in violence elsewhere) who had nothing to do with these attacks.

They really need to get a grip.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time for Northern Ireland to legalise equal marriage

The ruling by a judge in Northern Ireland yesterday, rejecting a challenge to the province's ban on equal marriage, underlines the need for Stormont to catch up with the rest of the UK on this issue.

The Guardian reports that Mr Justice O’Hara rejected both cases challenging the ban, insisting it did not violate the rights of LGBT couples. He said it was up to the Stormont assembly to decide social policy in Northern Ireland.

The two couples brought the case against the department of finance, which regulates Northern Ireland’s marriage laws, on the grounds that the ban contravenes the right to marriage and respect for family life under the European convention on human rights.

It is possible that they will now seek to take their case to a higher court, but wouldn't it be much easier if Northern Ireland's Legislative Assembly pre-empted them by bringing the province up to speed with other parts of the UK?

It is time Northern Ireland joined the twenty-first century on social policy.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Brexit consequences hidden behind a veil of secrecy

Vince Cable's prediction that there is a 'significant possibility' that Brexit still won't happen is rapidly becoming a reality, in substance if not in name.

The UK Government proposals for visa-free travel from the EU, no hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland and tariff-free trade leads one to the inevitable question - why bother at all? 

However, trying to recreate the rules of a club whilst resigning membership is fraught with problems, not least that the Government needs the consent of the other EU countries to proceed in this direction. And why should they co-operate?

If a country can leave the EU but still maintain the same benefits of membership then what is the point of continuing with the EU? Signing up to the UK Government's proposals would be tantamount to dismantling a political and customs union that has helped to keep the peace in Europe for over 50 years.

Furthermore, it is unclear whether the UK Government's plans fit in with World Trade Organisation rules. As I understand it you cannot apply different rules to different countries. Being in the EU created a single customs entity which was allowable. Once we have left we in a whole different ball game.

Although the weaker pound, leading to higher food prices is a direct consequence of the vote to leave, the actual ramifications of leaving the single market will not start to become apparent until the deed is done. It is bizarre therefore that UK Government studies examining the impact of Brexit are being hidden from the public. What are they trying to hide?

The Independent reports that more than 50 studies into the impact of Brexit are being kept secret for fear they could cause embarrassment to ministers. They say that Brexit minister David Jones has confirmed in a letter that the Department for Exiting the European Union had “conducted analysis of over 50 sectors of the economy”.

But ministers are so far resisting calls to publish the findings of the investigations in full, arguing that some findings “would undermine the Government’s ability to negotiate the best deal for Britain” were they made public.

A hint at how disastrous the predictions contained in these documents could be was contained in one leaked piece of research by the Department of Health, which found that Brexit could cause a shortage of more than 40,000 nurses by 2026.

It seems that the Government is trying to hide the true consequences of their hard Brexit policy from the public for fear that they will be forced to change tack.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bring on the fat cats

A change from Brexit, Brexit. Brexit today, to my favourite subject of cats. The Evening Standard reports that Parliament has racked up a £130,000 pest control bill in a bid to rid the Palace of Westminster of mice and moths disturbed by building work.

The paper says that payments to control the infestation soared to almost a third higher than last year’s bill, with the majority of the costs covering the employment of a full time pest controller and setting more than 1,700 traps. Some believe that the Parliamentary estate is overrun with vermin, and they don't mean the politicians.

The newspaper adds that some 411 mouse sightings were reported between January and June compared to just 313 the previous year. £8,900 was spent on catching moths and £16,000 spent on a hawk to control pigeons.

Apparently, all the maintenance work on the estate has been disturbing the pests and sending them scurrying for new refuges.

Some MPs have brought in their own cats to help deal with the problem. Many believe that the Parliamentary authorities should follow suit and introduce an army of cat mercenaries to sort out the unwanted intruders once and for all.

Larry, Palmerston and Gladstone would approve.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How badly will a hard Brexit split the Tories?

Dissension is starting to stir about Theresa May's approach to Brexit in the Tory Party but it is not yet clear to what extent it will divide the Tory Party as it has done in the past. At least one former Minister has indicated her willingness to quit if the final deal is not to her liking or in the Country's best interests.

As the Guardian reports, former business minister Anna Soubry believes that her party may split if the present course is persisted with. She has also said she would be willing to resign from the Tories and join up with “like-minded people” equally opposed to this outcome if the government opted for a Brexit outcome that would “destroy the lives and livelihoods” of her constituents:

Soubry, who has become the most vocal pro-European among Tory MPs, has never before been quite this explicit about how Brexit could lead to her quitting the party. However, in her article in the Mail on Sunday, she was careful to avoid saying what would constitute the “hard Brexit” that she says she cannot accept.

The term “soft Brexit” was used to describe Britain staying in the single market or the customs unions, options that the government has now very firmly rejected. The government wants the UK to instead have a free trade deal with the EU, an outcome that many would describe as a “hard Brexit”, although not the hardest Brexit of all, which would involve leaving with no deal at all.

In her article, Soubry urged May to side with “sensible, moderate wise owls in the cabinet”, like Philip Hammond, the chancellor, “who appreciate that we need a sensible Brexit transition period to avoid plunging this country headlong into an economic nightmare.”

Soubry went on: “But if the prime minister or her successor (in the event of Theresa standing down) is not prepared to confront the ideologues, I gravely fear that the party could split – and that would change Britain’s political landscape completely.

“Many remainers like me have been true to our promise to respect the result of last year’s referendum.

“However, we must face up to the Brexit reality: it is fantasy to think we are going to get a good deal from the EU based on our current negotiating strategy. People will soon see how they have been conned by the Brexiteers. All options must go back on the table.”

The dissenters are certainly starting to speak out.

Monday, August 14, 2017

UKIP MEP threatens to resign over leadership candidate

I listened with mounting incredulity yesterday morning as UKIP's Welsh MEP, Nathan Gill told Radio Wales listeners that if anti-Islam campaigner, Anne Marie Waters was elected as leader of his party then he will quit UKIP altogether.

Nathan Gill is also a Welsh Assembly Member, an institution in which he sits as an Independent following his ousting as Welsh Leader by former Tory Minister, Neil Hamilton. He has a distinctly independent and stubborn streak, which is to his credit, as is his stand against extremism and racism.

As the BBC reports, Mr Gill has also criticised the party's delay in addressing concerns raised about UKIP assembly member Michelle Brown, following a row over racial slurs she made about a Labour MP:

The North Wales AM called Streatham MP Chuka Umunna a "coconut" in a recorded call in May 2016 to her then senior adviser Nigel Williams. She later apologised.

Mr Gill claimed the issue, which the party postponed making a decision on at its National Executive Meeting, had been "kicked into the long grass".

"I have said very clearly that I think that Michelle Brown should be expelled from the party," he said.

"We have to show, very clearly, what we are not - and we are not a racist party and I fought so strongly for that."

It is possibly a bit late for that. However, the question has to be asked of Mr Gill, if he finds it so unacceptable to be a member of UKIP led by Anne Marie Waters, how can he remain in a party which allows her to remain a member and stand for leader in the first place?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

David Miliband signs up to the Lib Dems commonsense agenda

I am sure that David Miliband will not see it this way, but his 'impassioned call for politicians from all parties to work together to avoid the Tory high command driving the country “off a cliff”', is precisely what the Liberal Democrats have been saying for over a year.

According to the Guardian, the former Foreign Secretary and Labour leadership contender, has warned that Brexit is an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”. The paper says that he suggests that it is up to MPs of all political colours to fight back against its worst consequences. Crucially, he argues that the country’s future should be decided by another vote on the terms of a final settlement – either by referendum or in parliament.

The Liberal Democrats of course, have been arguing for a confirmatory referendum, but given the advisory nature of the first plebiscite, if Parliament were to reject any deal and opt to stay within the EU that would be a satisfactory outcome, taken in the national interest.

I don't believe that there is a need for a new party to promote this view. We already have an established party with grassroots organisation and a large membership who can put the commonsense case in Parliament and to the country. Setting up a single issue party in such a short period of time, dependent on Parliamentary defections (chiefly from the Tories), and without any democratic legitimacy or organisation could quickly backfire.

It would help though if the Labour Party took up David Miliband's call to arms and joined us in opposing the Tories instead of working so closely with them on putting in place a hard Brexit.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Could the UK end up in court over the single market?

There is an interesting article in today's Independent which once more exposes the lies fed to us by the Brexiteers during the referendum campaign and since.

The paper suggests that Britain risks a new Brexit fight in international courts if it tries to quit the EU’s single market without giving other countries official notice:

Legal experts, including one who advised the Treasury, agree Theresa May will leave the UK open to legal action in The Hague if she pulls out of the European Economic Area (EEA) without formally telling its other members 12 months in advance, to avoid disrupting their trade.

The notice is demanded by an international agreement, but ministers do not intend to follow the process because, insiders believe, they want to avoid a Commons vote on staying in the EEA – and, therefore, the single market – that they might lose.

As well as the a court battle, experts warn the stigma from breaking the agreement could also make it harder for Britain to secure the trade deals it desperately needs to secure the economy after Brexit.

Pro-EU MPs hope the legal opinion will help persuade the Commons to force and win the vote on staying in the EEA planned for the autumn.

The Government has insisted EEA membership will end automatically with EU withdrawal but former Treasury legal adviser Charles Marquand, said: “A failure by the UK to give notice of its intention to leave would, I think, be a breach of the EEA Agreement, which is an international treaty.”

The barrister said it was difficult to predict how another EEA states might seek to take action, if it believed its single market rights had been removed wrongly. But he added: “I believe there is a potential for international proceedings. One possibility is the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.”

Yet another mess that this incompetent government is leading us into.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Could Brexit lead to a brain drain that will decimate UK scientific research?

The Independent details the story of Nobel Prize winning physicist, Andre Geim and the impact of Brexit on his work and that of his fellow scientists. In particular they say:

A Brexit survey run in March by Nature found that of the 907 UK researchers who were polled, around 83 percent believed the UK should remain in the EU. Paul Drayson, former minister of science in the Department for Business, told Scientific American: “The very idea that a country would voluntarily withdraw from Europe seems anathema to scientists.” In Geim’s case, he and most of his engineers are not British by birth. Indian and Chinese nationalities dominate, followed by Russians, Ukrainians, Italians, Spanish and Polish. All of his funding comes from the EU. The Brexit result has cast thick doubt about how money and people will flow to and from the UK.

The paper suggests that the danger Brexit poses is vast to British scientific research:

That long and storied tradition which, from Newton to Hunter, from Turing to Crick, has enabled the UK to put its name to a multitude of world-altering discoveries. Sticklers will argue that Newton’s discovery of gravity, or Turing’s foundational work in computing happened without EU subsidy. But none could seriously contest that British scientists have flourished within the framework the EU has created for collaborative science, and the structures it has provided to facilitate that enterprise.

Even before Brexit, the level of UK science spending stood below 0.5 percent of GDP, a lower percentage than any other G8 nation. Loss of additional funding would compound the pressures placed on scientific institutions. Even if the British government manages to compensate for the financial shortfall, the psychological effects of Brexit will linger. In 2015, long before the Brexit vote, Dr Sara Kendrew, an astronomer at Oxford University, warned of anti-immigrant rhetoric’s ambient effects. “Our foreign-born scientists are part of the hidden face of migration in this country,” she wrote in The Guardian. “They work extremely hard to teach and mentor students at our universities… and bring in millions of pounds in research funds.”

Brexit will make us poorer in more way than one.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Government hiding the facts on work capability assessments

The Independent reports that Ministers have been accused of wasting taxpayers’ cash in a legal fight to “suppress” the results of fitness-to-work tests, to protect the “commercial interests” of private firms.

They say that the Information Commissioner ordered the release of the information about controversial Work Capability Assessments (WCAs), which have been repeatedly attacked as cruel and unfair:.

It would reveal the monthly performance details from each testing centre used to decide if people are sick or disabled enough to receive benefits.

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is now appealing the watchdog’s ruling to a legal tribunal, dragging out the case until at least November.

The paper says that MPs have protested about people with serious health conditions – including cancer patients awaiting operations and a stroke victim in hospital – being judged fit-to-work and being stripped of benefits.

However, the DWP is bizarrely insisting the information – dating all the way back to 2011 - must be kept under wraps “as it covers commercial interests”. They must not be allowed to get away with this. Democratic accountability should mean that this information is made public.

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