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Sunday, November 30, 2014

UKIP and fellow travellers

It is a general rule of politics of course that you cannot choose who supports you but UKIP have particular problems in that regard.

The Independent reports that Nick Griffin, the former leader of the far, far-right British National Party, has said he is planning on voting for Ukip at the next general election.#

Now that is not UKIP's fault apart from the fact that they clearly have policies that appeal to former BNP MEPs. Oh and Nigel Farage said earlier this year that he was “quite proud” of taking votes from the BNP.

So I am afraid that it is mea culpa as far as UKIP go. I am sure you will both get on famously.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Black Friday madness

If you thought it was bad in the UK, then watch this to see how bad it can get:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Politics of personality

The problem with elected Mayors, Commissioners etc. is that they turn the job into a personality contest. That is particularly the case with the London Mayor and that trend does not look like changing with all the parties seeking big personalities to represent them at the next election for that role.

In that regard this Times story that Jeremy Paxman was asked to see David Cameron about becoming the Tory candidate for mayor of London is not really surprising. Nor is Paxman's response:

However, the former Newsnight anchorman said in response to the story in today’s Times that he had decided not to run for the post “for all the éclairs in Paris”.

Mr Paxman’s literary agency, Capel and Land, released a statement from him. It said: “It began life as a Boris Johnson joke. I was indeed approached about the gig and invited to see David Cameron to discuss the idea.

“I decided a week ago that I wouldn’t take it on for all the éclairs in Paris.”

Clearly, Mr. Paxman takes himself seriously. He is a man of substance. In that regard it is depressing that he will not consider running, but nowhere near as depressing as the fact that he was asked to run because he is a 'big name' rather than for his other attributes.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

UKIP blunder again

Social media is full of the latest gaffe by UKIP in which their South Thanet branch took to Twitter to criticise the BBC programme, Daily Politics for supposedly conducting a poll as to whether Nigel Farage has what it takes to be Prime Minister, outside a 'Mosque'.

Unfortunately for them, the so-called 'Mosque' was actually Westminster Catholic Cathedral.

But this isn't just a story about geographic ignorance, the assumptions behind the tweet are particularly disturbing implying disrespect for the Muslim community verging on bigotry. This is the true face of UKIP and one that people need to beware of.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A question of openness?

It is the case that the major parties tend to keep their policy and spending plans a closely guarded secret until the General Election campaign. But does this amount to keeping voters in the dark on unpopular plans or is it just judicious secrecy for fear that if the voters found out how dire things really were they would punish those with the honesty to tell them?

The Resolution Foundation think tank seem to believe that it is the latter. For they have told the Independent that the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, should all be more open with the public about how they would tackle the deficit:

Matthew Whittaker, the foundation’s chief economist, said: “Meeting the fiscal targets set out by the main political parties could mean a redrawing of the boundaries of the state due to swingeing cuts, significant new taxes, or a slower path of deficit reduction and more debt – or a mix of all three. Yet no party has really made clear which it’s going to be.”

He added: “The electorate shouldn’t be subjected to another largely empty fiscal debate like it was at the last election. Currently we are facing a candour deficit as well as a fiscal one.”

Mr Whittaker admitted that uncertainty over the public finances made it impossible for the parties to provide full details of fiscal plans yet. But he insisted: “The gap between the scale of consolidation implicit in their plans and what the electorate has been told to date is just too large.”

According to today’s study, the Tories would need to find another £37bn to balance the books on top of the £8.5bn of cuts planned in the 2015-16 financial year. George Osborne has called for £12bn of welfare cuts, but has found only a quarter of this amount. The foundation said the pace of cuts would need to accelerate after 2015-16 for the Tories to remain on course to achieve their promise of a budget surplus by 2018-19, particularly as the Chancellor has said no new tax rises would be needed.

The Tories might need even bigger savings to meet the £7.2bn of unfunded tax cuts promised by David Cameron.

The Lib Dems would balance the books on day-to-day but not capital spending such as infrastructure projects by 2017-18, with 80 per cent found by cuts and 20 per cent from tax rises. The study estimates that this could mean cuts of between £15bn and £25bn and tax increases of between £4bn and £6bn.

Labour would have a “less stringent and more flexible target”, after promising to clear the deficit on day-to-day spending but not capital projects “as soon as possible” before 2020. According to the foundation, Labour would need to find savings of between £4bn and £13bn. A less severe path would mean higher levels of debt and higher interest payments for longer.

The report warned that all three parties were likely to find the next phase of cuts harder to achieve than those made since 2010. “Many of the ‘easiest’ cuts have already been made, while the parties’ assumed ongoing commitment to protect specific budgets such as health, schools and [international] development will place an even greater strain on non ring-fenced departments,” it said.

The foundation said the “already daunting fiscal challenge” could become even tougher because of weaker than expected tax revenues.

If this think tank is right then the 2015 General Election will be 2010 all over again, with everybody afraid to tell the voters the truth for fear of being punished for their candour and of being attacked by their opponents for unacceptable plans.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Are e-cigs the gateway to smoking some claim?

Given that the Welsh Government is currently considering a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public places on the grounds that it normalises smoking, this article on the BBC website is an interesting contribution to the debate sparked by that proposal.

They say that data from the Office for National Statistics indicate those who use e-cigarettes, are almost entirely current or former smokers:

E-cigarettes were mainly used to help smokers quit and because users saw them as being less harmful than cigarettes, the ONS said.

And the proportion of adults who smoked cigarettes had fallen to 19%.

Most of the figures from the ONS are for the year 2013, so it is possible that the picture is still changing.

The proportion of smokers had plummeted from 46% in 1974 to 19% in 2013, the ONS said.

Not only had fewer people taken up smoking, but more smokers had quit. And many smokers and former smokers were using e-cigarettes.

It is still early days of course but these figures show that the Minister's position does not seem to be based on any evidence. In fact the available evidence undermines it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pandering to the UKIP agenda

The Times reports on an interesting and thought-provoking intervention in the debate on immigration from Tory heavyweight, Ken Clarke.

Mr. Clarke argues that that stopping EU nationals from claiming benefits in Britain would be “totally discriminatory” and that in trying to “imitate” Ukip, the UK Government would only make them “more credible”:

In an interview with the Murnaghan programme on Sky News today, Mr Clarke, the Europhile former cabinet minister, said Mr Cameron’s approach was to blame for the poll surge that resulted in Nigel Farage’s party winning the Rochester and Strood by-election last week.

“I do think the tactics of the two major parties of government – the serious parties of government – of trying to imitate Ukip since then have actually made them more credible and has gifted them two by-elections,” he said.

“We were campaigning in a way that was supporting their anti-European, anti-immigration front.

“We have probably provoked a whole fresh rash of demands from Eurosceptics in the media and in parliament for yet more demands from Europe and leaving Europe.”

Mr Clarke said that the party now had to get back to a “serious agenda” where Ukip “have no policies worth talking about”.

He added that talking about the economy was “a damn sight more sensible than ‘how can we be rude to Europeans to cheer up Ukip?”’

“What we mustn’t do is keep trailing all kinds of suggestions of things we can think of that might be nasty to Europeans on the benefit front,” he added.

I am not convinced that the evidence is there to back up the Prime Minister and UKIP's assertions that European Union migrants are abusing the benefits system.

Irrespective of that, it is clear that if Cameron pushes ahead with his proposals then Britain would effectively be walking away from the European Union and all its benefits, without any attempt to negotiate new terms of membership.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Liberal Democrats kill off the Snoopers' Charter

Over on the Liberal Democrats main website there is a bit of a celebration going on as the party rejoices in the news that we have succeeded in killing off the Snoopers' Charter for the rest of this Parliament at least.

They report that although Theresa May has announced that action to match IP addresses to individuals will be included in the upcoming package of counter terror measures, the much wider and disproportionate proposals in the Snoopers’ Charter will not feature.

If the Charter had been proceeded with then it would have allowed the security services to access records kept of every website you visit and who you communicate with on social media sites.

Another Liberal Democrats success in moderating Tory excesses.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Miliband under more pressure

Having lost two safe Tory seats to UKIP and facing the prospect of more of his MPs going over to the dark side and joining Nigel Farage, you would think that David Cameron would be under pressure. He is, but it seems that Labour have once more galloped to the rescue with a display of ineptitude hitherto unseen in an opposition party this close to a General Election.

As the Telegraph reports, Labouir MPs are queuing up to criticise their leader as out-of-touch after his hamfisted handling of Emily Thornberry's resignation.

Hazel Blears, a former Labour Communities Secretary, has told the media that Ed Miliband is one of a growing number of MPs who are out of touch with voters because they have little experience of life outside the “political bubble” in Westminster.

Ms Blears, who famously had a cameo role in the 1961 film 'A taste of Honey' as a child,  believes that Parliament contains too many career politicians who have moved seamlessly from jobs as professional political advisers to gaining safe seats in the Commons and then becoming ministers.

She refused to exempt Mr Miliband, a former adviser to Gordon Brown, from criticism over his background as a career politician who has risen through the ranks of the Labour Party:

The intervention from Miss Blears, the MP for Salford and Eccles, will undermine Mr Miliband’s attempts to reassert his authority after the Emily Thornberry “white van man” row.

Miss Thornberry was forced to quit as shadow attorney general on Thursday night after tweeting a photograph of the home of a working-class voter in Rochester which was draped in England flags with a white van parked outside.

Mr Miliband, the Labour leader, said the tweet showed her lack of “respect” for ordinary voters, while David Cameron said the “appalling” message demonstrated that Labour was “sneering” at people who show pride in their country.

Miss Blears defended Mr Miliband’s response to the incident and insisted that Labour was still the party for the working classes. She said the party leader was “genuinely angry” about Miss Thornberry’s actions, which prompted claims that had lost touch with its core voters.

However, she told the BBC that there was a problem with the growth of career politicians.

“I did a bit of research. In 1979, three per cent of all MPs came through that path, the ‘transition belt’ I called it, of being a special adviser, getting a safe seat ending up in the government.

“At the last election in 2010 it was 24 per cent and rising. There is a genuine issue here,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “People right across the spectrum do feel that politician who have never done a different job somehow cannot be in touch with their lives.”

Asked whether she thought Mr Miliband was one of the out-of-touch MPs, Miss Blears said she was referring to “people in every political party… we need to have a variety of people”.

“I think the public are onto something. Politics has changed quite dramatically in the last 30 or 40 years.

“More people now have come through that route of being special advisers and I think we need more people in politics who have got a variety of different lives, who are interesting people who have got something to say.”

Mrs Blears said the public wanted MPs to live in their constituencies, and be seen use the same shops and buses to show they are in touch with reality and not locked in the Westminster “bubble”.

I think she is right,

Friday, November 21, 2014

Another victim of Twitter

Twitter has claimed yet another casualty today with the news that the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry has resigned from that position after an ill-advised post on the social networking site.

The Times says that she went after posting a “derogatory” tweet showing a house draped in England flags with a white van parked outside under the heading 'Image from Rochester'.

As she lives in a £3 million house in Islington herself, naturally some party members, including John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, thought she was being snooty and treating working-class voters “with contempt”.

Once more it is shown that as far as politicians are concerned no good comes of instant gratification and that when faced with the opportunity to express an instant opinion many lose all sense of good judgement.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mixed messages on devolution

Now that the Secretary of State for Wales has opened up debate on what future devolution to the Welsh Assembly might look like and said that nothing has been ruled out at this stage, you would think that the rest of the Cabinet would shut up.

Alas that is not the case. The BBC report that the Prime Minister has ruled out any change to the formula by which the devolved nations are funded. And he is still obsessing about Scotland and English votes for English MPs.

How much long Cameron can continue to defend the indefensible is debatable. He certainly seems intent on driving the whole agenda into a giant cul-de-sac.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Good design standards and the basic passport

We are already used to the high standards that Scandinavians bring to design, now there is a new example with innovations introduced by Norway as to how they will present their passports in futire.

The Telegraph says that whilst EU citizens’ passports are coloured an inoffensive but indistinct burgundy, the Scandinavian nation’s new passports are distinctly finished in white, turquoise or red and contain a surprising feature that should brighten up proceedings for passport controllers the world over:

Designed by local agency Neue Design Studio, who won a competition to redesign the documents and national ID cards, the passport is based on the theme The Norwegian Landscape.

Pages feature minimalist interpretations of the country’s most striking landscapes, and show one of its most mesmerising phenomena only under specific circumstances.

Should airport security staff – or anyone else – shine the passport’s pages under UV light, the otherwise elusive Northern Lights will instantly appear as iridescent trails on the paper.

They add that the new Norwegian passport is expected to enter circulation in about two years, so for now it has been left to the Finnish passport to fly the flag for Nordic design nous.

This passport features an elk on the bottom of each page and bored travellers who flip them rapidly will see the animal amble.

I want one of each.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And the word of the year is?

Those of us preoccupied by representations regarding the prevalence of electronic cigarettes will be heartened (or maybe not) by the conclusion of the Oxford English Dictionary that the word of the year is 'Vape'.

Apparently, use of the word, defined as to “inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device”, has more than doubled over the course of the year to win.

The Independent says that the shortlist, which included contenders such as bae, slacktivism and indyref, is compiled by scanning around 150 million words of English in use every month. They have specialist software to identify new or emerging usage. Lexicographers then select a shortlist from which the winner is chosen.

The winning word needs to “reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance”.

Well as far as the Welsh Health Minister is concerned it certainly does reflect his preoccupation. He wants to ban vaping in public even though there is no evidence to show that there is any health impact on non-users. I wonder if the OED know.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Welsh Liberal Democrats' Pupil Premium is delivering for deprived pupils

The Western Mail has a heartening story today in which they report that the pupil deprivation fund, insisted upon by the Welsh Liberal Democrats as part of budget negotiations, and designed to support Wales’ poorest pupils, is having a “positive impact” and “plays an important role” in helping to break the link between poverty and low attainment:

An evaluation of the Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG) found its introduction had led to “a significant amount of new activity” aimed at supporting pupils identified as being disadvantaged.

Independent researchers Ipsos MORI and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (Wiserd) said the PDG had helped to engender a greater focus on disadvantaged pupils and how best to provide for them.

But while support for the PDG was overwhelmingly positive, the report warned that there was “considerable variation” in the scale and reach of programmes funded using the grant.

It said there was “some ambiguity” about how the PDG should be targeted and impact analysis was inconclusive, with improvements in pupil attainment appearing to pre-date its introduction.

The report said: “The introduction of the PDG has led to schools funding a significant amount of new activity aimed at supporting pupils they identify as disadvantaged. Over half the interventions currently funded using the PDG (58% in primary, 71% in secondary schools) were not run in schools prior to the PDG’s introduction.

“Even where activity pre-dated the PDG, it has usually been scaled up as a result of the additional funding available to schools. However, there is a considerable variation in the scale and reach of programmes funded using the PDG, particularly at the secondary level.”

Next year this grant will rise to £1,050 per pupil and then £1,150 per pupil the year afterwards. It is a sign that even in opposition the Welsh Liberal Democrats can deliver on their manifesto priorities and get things done.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


You would not think that we were yet in a position to revert to old versions of the mobile phone but apparently this is very much the latest trend.

The Independent reports that the flip phone is making a comeback for mostly practical reasons:

The trend appears to have originated in the handbag of Anna Wintour, who earlier this year was spotted peering at the screen of a flip-phone she had first acquired in approximately 2004 – before she switched to a BlackBerry and, later, an iPhone.

Wintour-watchers interpreted her reversion to pre-smartphone technology as a style statement, but the Vogue editor, who is 65, is far from alone among her age group. Iggy Pop, 67, recently told The Cut website that he owns a flip-phone, "because you can drop it a lot and it won't break, and when you want to text it still has three letters to each button".

Meanwhile, in Korea, both Samsung and LG have launched brand new flip-smartphones aimed at the elderly. LG says it designed its Wine Smart handset after a round of market research found that many older consumers were intimidated by the small buttons and complicated features of many modern touch-screen smartphones.

Yet it isn't just the older generation that's turning back the technological clock. Rihanna may be rare among millennial celebrities, for whom Twitter and Instagram connectivity is mostly a must, but a recent study by the US think-tank Pew found that as many as 15 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 13 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds in America don't use a smartphone.

Some surely prefer the tactile "fwap" of an unfolding clamshell to the digital click of an Apple device, while others can't afford the upgrade. But for those who can, argued writer Chiara Atik in a recent essay for online science magazine Matter, "A flip phone represents the ultimate luxury: inaccessibility."

There is nothing new under the sun it seems.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Severn Bridge Tolls to go up again and still it is only the Lib Dems who want to scrap them

It was only a few days ago that the Welsh Assembly debated a Liberal Democrats motion to abolish the tolls on the Severn Bridge and now the Western Mail reports that the cost of entering Wales is to rise again:

The tolls cost just 12p when the first Severn bridge opened but have risen sharply in recent years and will be £1 more expensive than five years ago after January’s rise.

Heavy goods lorries will see tolls rise to just 40p shy of £20.

Severn River Crossing PLC said that tolls for cars and motor caravans will increase from £6.40 to £6.50 from New Years Day 2015.

On average, over 80,000 vehicles use the two Severn crossings on a daily basis. The tolls are estimated to cost businesses and commuters around £80 million per year, including value added tax.

The Welsh Government commissioned a report, on the economic impact that the tolls have on the Welsh economy. This was published back in 2010. With regards to business performance, the impact report stated that half of all businesses surveyed considered the crossings to be either important or very important to their business.

It has been estimated that a small number of businesses spend in excess of £200,000 per year on toll costs alone. In some cases, this could account for up to 10% of annual vehicle operating costs for a business, resulting in a significant negative impact on profits and performance for cross-Severn goods companies. South Wales can therefore be seen as a less attractive location for businesses of this type to invest in. Evidence of this can be seen by the fact that Tesco relocated one of its major depots from Magor in Monmouthshire to Avonmouth, citing the tolls as a major contributory factor to that decision.

In terms of  productivity, findings have shown that, by removing the tolls, the annual gross value added for south Wales could be boosted by approximately £107 million.

The case for abolishing the tolls altogether and charging the £15 million a year maintenance costs to the taxpayer in the same way as we pay for the rest of the road network is overwhelming. Why then are Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives intent on continuing to charge people to enter Wales? Only the Liberal Democrats are pledged to abolish these tolls.

Sign the perition to abolish the tolls here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Action on payday lenders at last

The BBC report that a cap on the amount that payday lenders can charge their customers has been announced by the City regulator.

They say that from January payday loan rates will be capped at 0.8% per day of the amount borrowed, said the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) so that in total, no one will have to pay back more than twice what they borrowed, and there will be a £15 cap on default charges.

This is good news, better late than never. It also demonstrates the commitment of the Coalition Government to dealing with this issue.

To be fair the Labour's spokesperson has welcomed this announcement and has concentrated on how it will be monitored. However, if they had addressed this issue when they had been in government (and they were asked to) then we might not be in this situation now.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

IFS confirms Scotland gains from from the Barnett formula

The Public Finance magazine contains an interesting report of a paper issued by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which confirms previous studies, that Scotland benefits disproportionately from the Barnett formula.

In fact it is a bit more complex than that as the first part of their study concentrates on the different way that business rates are treated in Scotland and Northern Ireland for the purpose of distributing grant to those countries as compared to Wales.

In their paper, Business as Usual, Barnett say that the result of this different treatment means that Scotland and Northern Ireland will by 2015/16 have sustained block grant cuts that are respectively £600 million and £200 million less than should have been applied:

The technical flaw identified by the IFS arises because of business rates, which are fully devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland (and in Wales from next April). The Barnett calculation assumes that these rates part-fund England’s local government budget, but in practice this budget has been cut even as business rate revenues rise. Scotland and Northern Ireland have gained accordingly. 

‘This is clearly not in the spirit of the Barnett Formula, suggesting that the existing formula treats business rates in a flawed way,’ the IFS paper argues. 

‘The flaw in the Barnett Formula’s treatment of business rates means Scotland’s budget has increased by significantly more since 2000 than it would have done had business rates not been fully devolved.’

In fact we were already aware of this issue from the comprehensive spending review in 2010 when Wales got less than it should have done because of this anomaly. I believe from memory that the Welsh Government had been offered the opportunity to correct this in the past but had declined.

The IFS goes on to say that additionally the spending reviews in 2010 and 2013 gave Scotland an extra £400 million above what a corrected Barnett would have delivered, bringing its relative gain to £1 billion, or around 3% of its 2015/16 budget.

Naturally the Treasury does not want to know anything about any of this. It seems that for them it is business as usual. But how much longer can they ignore the evidence stacking up in front of their eyes?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The principled socialist aproach to hereditary peerages

Today's Times has a pretty astonishing story regarding the legacy of the late Tony Benn. The paper says that Stephen Michael Wedgwood Benn, eldest son of the late Labour MP and the brother of the shadow cabinet minister Hilary, has formally “established his claim” to the Viscountcy of Stansgate.

They add that his decision, announced in the House of Lords, means that he is free to run in a by-election for a seat in the second chamber when a place on the Labour benches comes up.

The paper sets out the history of this title:

If Dr Benn, 63, a political lobbyist, moved into the Lords it would represent another extraordinary chapter in the family’s history. The peerage was first bestowed on Mr Benn’s grandfather, the Labour cabinet minister William Wedgwood Benn, in January 1942.

The title was to be passed down to “the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten, by the name, style and title of Viscount Stansgate, of Stansgate in the County of Essex”.

Tony Benn, who died aged 88 in March, inherited it when his father died in 1960. He had been trying to change the law for years to allow hereditary peers to give up their title, but acquiring his peerage disqualified him from keeping his Bristol South East seat in the Commons.

He was eligible to run in the resulting by-election, which he won. However, the title meant that he was unable to take up the seat, which was taken by his Tory rival.

It took a three-year battle to secure the Conservative government’s support for a bill allowing him to renounce the peerage. The change in the law ensured that it still passed down the generations.

The Peerage Act 1963 officially became law on July 31, 1963. Mr Benn became the first peer to renounce his title minutes later.

But most extraordinary is the circumstances by which Dr. Benn might take up a seat in the Lords. The paper says that the number of hereditary peers allowed to sit in the Lords is limited to 92 in law.  Labour has four. By convention, peers usually have to wait for a hereditary peer in their own party to die to take their place.

If a vacancy did occur then Dr Benn would have the luxury of being able to target his electorate. In the event of a by-election, the three remaining Labour hereditary peers would each have a vote.

However, he could fill one of two current vacancies for crossbench peers and then move to the Labour benches.

Nice work if you can get it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Some unfortunate facts about the M4

Opposition to the extension of the M4 around Newport remains very strong within the Welsh Assembly, so much so that it is unlikely that the Labour Government would be able to get a majority to approve the £1 billion scheme.

Plaid Cymru feel so strongly about it that they pulled out of the budget negotiations with the Welsh Government leaving a clear field for the Welsh Lib Dems to get a much better deal for children and young people.

Plaid Cymru must be feeling fairly embarrassed this morning therefore as a result of this story on the BBC.

The BBC report that the Welsh government owns more than £12m in property, land and farms along the controversial black route and it has spent more than £20m in professional fees to consultants since 1998.

Some of this expenditure was incurred under a previous Labour Government but a large chunk of it was committed by the former Plaid Cymru Transport Minister. Oops!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Labour campaign chief writes off Miliband

When even the woman brought in to revive Labour’s election campaign concedes that  Ed Miliband is struggling to convince the public that he can lead the country or even his own party then Labour must know that they have a problem.

The Times reports that Lucy Powell, who was promoted to vice-chairwoman of the operation last week, said that constant sniping from within the party about Mr Miliband’s leadership was fuelling “a wider concern” among voters.

They add that in an attempt to flush out MPs plotting to replace him, she called on them to “decide what their plan is and get on with it” or give him their backing.

It is John Major all over again.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

UKIP's dodgy allies

I am indebted to today's Observer which has run an in-depth interview with Korwin-Mikke, whose far-right Polish party UKIP are now allied with in the European Parliament. It is a party that France’s far-right Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, has decided  is too extreme for an alliance.

The interview does us all a service by highlighting the sort of policies and views UKIP are prepared to harness themselves to, and in doing so reveals the true nature of Nigel Farage's party. Here are some extracts:

Mr. Farage does choose the most charmning bedfellows, but given that in doing so he has just secured an additional million pounds of public money for his party I doubt if he will care.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Facebook is the go-to site for Assembly Members

This morning's Western Mail has a curious little article in which they try very hard to make a mountain out of a molehill.

The paper reveals that National Assembly Members and their staff have spent more time on Facebook than any other website, including search engines, news sites and the Assembly’s own home page.

They say that in July 2014 the social networking site was clicked on 218,000 times, averaging around 6,400 visits per day:

It was accessed from Assembly staff’s computers more often than the search engine Google, which had 74,000 hits in July.

Their computers visited Facebook 196,000 times in August, as well as the travel website Trip advisor and amazon.co.uk.

But in September, the end of the Assembly’s recess, Facebook usage plummeted to 26,000 hits.

The paper drags up a spokesperson from the Taxpayer’s Alliance, who says that: “Taxpayers will wonder why their money is being spent on politicians’ Facebook visits.

“Wales, like the rest of the UK, faces some fundamental challenges. There is quite enough important work for everybody in the Assembly to be getting on with.

“There must be a crackdown on internet time wasting.”

What world does he live in? Not only do I interact often with my constituents using Facebook but I also get casework through that website. No doubt the Taxpayer's Alliance still use messenger pigeons to talk to each other.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The knives are out for Ed Miliband

The Times reports that senior figures in the Labour party have claimed that leading candidates to replace Ed Miliband have opened secret negotiations on what to do should he step down:

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, and Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, are said to have spoken about a post-Miliband future amid a growing revolt among Labour MPs. “It’s about presenting a joint offer to make a contest unnecessary,” one figure said, suggesting that Ms Cooper and Mr Burnham have struck a non-aggression pact as the party’s poll ratings fall.

Mr Miliband was forced yesterday to deny as “nonsense” that his leadership was in crisis. His comments came, though, after a reshuffle to shore up his authority intensified complaints from disillusioned MPs. Plotting Labour backbenchers admit that there is neither an obvious successor nor a practical mechanism to oust Mr Miliband. They hope, nevertheless, to channel what they claim is now overwhelming opposition to make his position untenable.

The Labour crisis is growing and Ed Miliband's position is looking more and more untenable.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Check your MP's record on animal welfare

The Independent reports that the charity Animal Aid has launched a website resource that enables voters to check the record of their MP on animal welfare issues,

The paper says that the site, which is launched today, contains information on politicians’ voting records and views on such topics as the installation of CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses to prevent cruelty, and circus animals:

Animal Aid hopes that VoteForAnimals.org.uk will put pressure on MPs and parliamentary candidates to show their support for animal welfare ahead of the general election in May.

Data on whether MPs have signed motions relating to animal issues can be obtained by searching by names or postcodes. Constituents are encouraged to contact their MP directly through the site to ask him or her to support key animal welfare issues.

Let's hope they do the same for the devolved Parliaments in 2016.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

No alcohol on the Welsh Assembly estate

Today's Western Mail finally catches up with a ruling by the Assembly's Presiding Officer that the sale of alcohol should be banned from all Assembly premises before 6pm on working days.

The most bizarre aspect of the announcement however is the reaction of one Assembly Member, who says that he does not want to be named for fear of being branded a tippler.

This individual described the decision as “impertinent” and a “breach of human rights”, and vowed to carry on drinking moderately at lunchtime elsewhere in Cardiff Bay

That sentence is disturbing on so many levels, not least the misunderstanding of the Human Rights Act by an elected full-time politician and the idea that he has a right to buy alcohol even when the licensee does not wish to sell it to him.

The big question that springs to mind though is how does he have so much time to go out drinking at lunchtime? I certainly don't even if I were partial to a drink, which I am not.

This sort of attitude just reinforces the rightness of the decision not to serve alcohol in our workplace in working hours.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

What else did Norman Baker expect?

I am still trying to get my head around Norman Baker's resignation as a Minister in the Home Office. He says that he resigned after facing a “constant battle” to introduce policies in the face of a Tory “lurch to the right” in pursuit of Ukip voters and likened his experience of working under the home secretary to “walking through mud":

Baker told the BBC News channel: “The home secretary was reluctant to let me have my head and it was a constant battle to try to get things through. That is unfortunate not just for the Home Office but actually for the government.”

The former minister dismissed criticism from Damian Green, who was sacked as a Home Office minister in the Tory summer reshuffle, that he had acted as a “Lib Dem home secretary” on a par with May.

Baker said: “We are in a coalition government and therefore it was right that I took an interest in matters right across the department which is no different to how I behaved in the Department for Transport.”

But he said that his battle was complicated by the Tories’ “lurch to the right” in response to the Ukip threat.

“I have done it for a year, it is very hard work, the Home Office is probably at the cutting edge of the
coalition,” he said. “It is where most policy issues are difficult, whether it is Europe or immigration. It has not been helped by the lurch to the right from the Conservative party as they chase Ukip off to the fringes.”

Baker said there was no point in hanging on to office. “We don’t always have to cling to office as ministers. If we think there is a time to go, there is a time to go. I want a break. I want to spend more time with my family, more time in my constituency, more time doing stuff I want to do, like my music.”

That may well be the case but really, what did he expect? Norman Baker is perfectly entitled to make his own decision on this of course. I thought he was an excellent Minister and welcomed the fact that he stood up for liberal values in a department not famed for its adherence to such principles.

In that regard he will be a loss. However, it does not help the case for the party or for coalition politics when a Minister of his calibre flounces out in this way.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Lord Barnett predeceases his formula

The BBC reports that the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Lord Joel Barnett has died at the age of 91.

Lord Barnett is best known in Wales for devising the Barnett formula, which determines how much money the Welsh Government has to spend. It is based on a simple population calculation so does not take into account need. In recent years Lord Barnett argued strongly that it was not fit for purpose and needed reform.

In that regard he was in the mainstream of Welsh politics even though he never represented any part of our country. The best tribute we could pay to him now would be to ditch his formula and replace it with a more equitable calculation.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Fair voting explained with animals

With thanks to Mark Pack

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Labour's hypocrisy on Lords' reform is astonishing

The Times reports on the backlash, certainly amongst my party, at the proposals by Ed Milband to reform the House of Lords.

The Labour leader has said that he wants an elected senate to replace the House of Lords and to represent all the towns, cities, regions and nations of the United Kingdom.

The problem is that when the Liberal Democrats put forward proposals along these lines instead of working with us to achieve an acceptable solution, Labour joined with the Tories to vote them down.

It is no wonder that senior Liberal Democrats are accusing Miliband of hypocrisy:

Deputy leader of the Lib Dems Sir Malcolm Bruce said: “Ed Miliband partnered up with backbench Tories to destroy the best chance this country has had to reform the Lords. 

“We could have given the UK greater representation in Parliament, but when presented with the chance, he bottled it; turned his back and ran. This is simply lip-service from a Labour party who have no intention of actually delivering.”

The fact is that we cannot trust Labour to deliver constitutional change. When it comes to the crunch they do not back up their words with action.

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