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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Labour row over Trident

The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn's announcement that he would not press the nuclear button has sent the brothers and sisters into a bit of a tizzy at their Brighton Conference:

In a sign of deep divisions over Trident in the shadow cabinet, Maria Eagle described the Labour leader’s comments as unhelpful – prompting a rebuke from Diane Abbott, the shadow development secretary. Sir Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB union, said he also disagreed with Corbyn.

They add that Eagle, who is the shadow defence secretary and a supporter of Trident, told the BBC: “I think it undermines to some degree our attempt to try and get a policy process going. As far as I am concerned, we start from the policy we have. I don’t think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that in the way he did is helpful.”

In response Diane Abbott tweeted: “Surprised that Maria Eagle criticised JC for making his position clear on Trident nuclear weapon system.”

The paper concludes that the open defiance by Eagle, who has been instructed by Corbyn to lead a review into Trident, shows that the shadow cabinet faces a bumpy ride after the Labour leader told the conference that he would use his mandate to change the party’s position.

Not only could the new Labour leader not get his conference to debate the issue, he is now being openly defied by key members of his front bench.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Defending tenants' rights

I am involved in moving detailed amendments to two items of Welsh legislation this week.

This afternoon we will be considering stage three of the local government bill, which seeks to enable voluntary mergers of principal councils in Wales. Tomorrow, I will be in committee considering stage two of the renting homes bill.

I have major issues with the Welsh Labour Government's attempt to legislate on the private rented sector. In particular I am concerned that Labour’s Renting Homes Bill will dramatically weaken tenants’ rights.

Currently tenants must be offered a minimum of six months residency when they begin their contract. The Welsh Government’s bill would abolish this right, known as the ‘six month moratorium’. This will leave tenants in a weaker and less secure position.

I also have concerns about the provision for exclusion orders for those in supported accommodation, as this could be a breach of human rights legislation.

Removing the six month minimum tenancy rule will put tenants in a much more uncertain and unsecure position, especially given more vulnerable people will be housed in the private sector under this bill.

With fewer than half the houses that Wales needs being built, Labour’s failure to act is driving the dream of affordable housing out of reach of too many people.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are the only party consistently talking about housing. We will double the amount of affordable homes being built in Wales in the next Assembly term, while also putting forward solutions to help people achieve their dream of owning their first house.

Wales needs to get creative on housing. Labour’s poverty of ambition is in stark contrast to the our innovative solutions to get us out of this housing crisis.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Corbyn isolated within his own party on Trident

Although the media have reported the refusal of the Labour Conference to debate Trident, they have barely touched on the significance of that decision in relation to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

Corbyn of course is still attracting a huge amount of goodwill within his party and in the country as a whole. He won the leadership on a platform of radical change, embracing all the left wing policies that Labour has eschewed for three decades.

In particular he pledged that the Labour Conferences would debate the controversial issues like Trident and would no longer be stage-managed as they have been in the past.

The decision of the major unions to block his attempt to adopt an anti-Trident stance therefore is a particularly brutal snub.

As the Independent says, Labour party delegates were expected to vote on whether to renew Trident nuclear weapons or scrap them as party policy on 30 September,but the motion failed to win the support needed from activists in a ballot selecting which topics the party will debate this week.

The paper portrays this as a relief for Corbyn as it helped to head off a revolt amongst his own shadow cabinet, but the reality is that the party has run scared of having a real debate and its leader is now isolated on the issue of Trident renewal, not being able to count on his own MPs or major Trade Unions to support his position.

The other interesting aspect of this decision is that despite doing away with the Trade Union block vote in its leadership contests, it remains the case that the big unions are still dictating the terms at conferences and on major policy decisions.

Is there life on Mars?

The Guardian reveals that Nasa is to reveal a “major science finding” from its Mars exploration mission, giving rise to rumours that the US space agency has found traces of liquid water on the red planet.

The paper says that the space agency has invited reporters to a press conference at 3.30pm UK time today, which will be attended by Lujendra Ojha, who discovered possible signs of water on Mars as an undergraduate student. And whilst it is keeping its cards close to its chest, they have promised a “Mars mystery solved”:

Nasa has found evidence of water on Mars in the past, mostly in frozen form at the poles but said it still considered Mars to be hostile to life.

In March, Nasa scientists said that the evidence supported the theory that an ocean once covered a fifth of Mars’ surface and was miles deep in places.

“If they are announcing that they have found easily accessible, freely flowing liquid water under the surface, which is one of the theories we have been hearing for years and years, that has massive implications both for the potential for life on that planet and sustainability of humans,” said Doug McCuistion, the former head of Nasa’s Mars programme.

He told the Boston Herald: “That would be highly enabling and might be the game-changing trigger for both finding life and hurrying up and getting people to Mars.

McCuistion said that one of the major challenges facing scientists was finding enough water and oxygen to support a human crew on Mars. “If it is already there and you don’t have to bring it, that could save you many, many metric tons of resupply as well as initial carrying capacity and landing mass … if you take water out of the equation that is going to lighten the load significantly.”

Rumours that the main party leaders have drawn up a shortlist of their colleagues to send on the first manned mission to Mars are of course untrue.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What did top Tories really get up to at Oxford?

The rather lurid claims abouit the Prime Mnister and his youthful antics at Oxford that were circulating last week may or may not be true, but what seems to be beyond question is that the University was home to some rich and very posh people whose antics have become something of a legend in their own lunchtime.

It is unlikely that anybody will actually know for certain what went on but the Independent has taken a good stab at establishing the truth. They have looked at contemporary accounts of events as well as various books written by participants, all of which of course may be exaggerated or distorted so as to meet the agenda of the particular author.

They quote, for example a chapter of the book, The Oxford Myth, by Allegra Mostyn-Owen, then fiancée of Boris Johnson, which is candid about the presence of hard drugs at Piers Gaveston parties:

“Back in 1981, a surprisingly large number of students seemed to be dabbling in heroin,” she writes. “Decadence was considered fashionable and cool.” Quoting a friend who was a prominent figure in the society, she continued: “You felt that you should exploit your mind, that you were not stuck in prejudice, that you were grasping something beyond the mundane.” And she gives an intriguing hint that some of these heroin users went on to take places at the heart of the Establishment: “Very few of them actually became addicted, and most of them are now comfortably off in the professions.”

The article goes on to quote an Oxford Mail front page dated 23 September 1982 headlined “The Bistro Assassins”, which reported on a group of hell-raising Oxford students who got their kicks out of getting drunk, smashing up restaurants and then trying to pay their way out of trouble after causing £560 worth of damage to Thatchers Bistro in Thame:

They reportedly told police it was “part of a good night’s fun”.

The article says that members of the club were fined for being drunk and disorderly and for obstructing police. Officers at the scene had found “vomit on the carpets … curtains ripped from the rails … food smeared all over the walls …wine bottles smashed against the wall.”

Similarities with the Bullingdon are not exactly a coincidence: a Bullingdon Club photo from 1982 shows several members who had belonged to the Assassins Club.

In The Oxford Myth, writing just six years later, Sebastian Shakespeare lamented: “The Assassins gained considerable publicity in the late 1970s because of their rowdy behaviour and restaurant-wrecking, but their meetings today tend to be rather low-key affairs and last summer they convened in a private house. Smashing up a restaurant has become too predictable and embarrassing, and the presence of women has contributed to the dilution of boyish joie de vivre.”

And then there are the accounts of current members of Cameron's cabinet:

Senior figures in the Oxford Union, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, participated in a mock “slave auction”. Gove, now Secretary of State for Justice, bought the then Union president Jessica Pulay for £6, according to an account of the auction published in a student paper. Boris was sold in his absence, while Gove himself was purchased for £35, after attracting “enthusiastic bidding”.

The Cherwell student newspaper accounts how, while president of the Conservative Association in 1987, Jeremy Hunt, now the Health Secretary, found himself at the centre of a political storm after two of his colleagues on the society’s executive committee organised a dinner for Adolfo Calero, a leading member of the American-backed Contra rebels who fought Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government. Hunt and his colleagues were publicly accused of harming the Conservative Party by extending “invitations to terrorists” in a resignation letter from a local Tory official, Andrew Foulsham. Responding to Cherwell, Hunt insisted that “the fears attributed to Andrew Foulsham are grossly exaggerated”

A student of modest means and from a working class or middle class background could well have had their future career prospects ruined if they had indulged in such antics whilst at university. These incidents quite graphically underline why so many people think that the current Tory Cabinet is so out-of-touch with the real world.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Now UKIP are fighting amongst themselves

The Spectator reports on an extraordinary spat at the UKIP Conference yesterday in which they say that the party's one and only MP, Douglas Carswell was accused of being ‘borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in’ by the party’s donor and founder of the Leave.EU campaign Arron Banks and of having ‘residual loyalty’ to his Conservative colleagues by Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

They say that the row between the three men erupted after Farage claimed on the conference stage that he would be the man to make the campaign to leave the EU a ‘united force’.

After the speech, he said the Business for Britain campaign led by Matthew Elliot doesn’t want to leave the EU yet, and that by the time it had decided it wanted to leave ‘we’ll have lost the war by then’.

Douglas Carswell then contradicted his leader by telling the Spectator that Business for Britain was the group that UKIP needed to work with, not Banks’ Leave.EU campaign.

This latest spat underlines the dysfunctional nature of UKIP, kept together only by a common desire to leave Europe and the enormous ego of its leader. That Carswell was elected and Farage was not threatens to blow open at least one of these rationales. And if they do insist on washing their dirty laundry in public then who am I to complain?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Labour's illiberal vendetta against meat eaters

I have commented previously on Jeremy Corbyn's decision to appoint a vegan as his shadow minister for food and rural affairs.

I actually have no problem with that provided that Kerry McCarthy, who has the role, does the job properly, accepts that the industry depends on meat-eaters for its survival and that everybody has the right to choose their own lifestyle. That would be the liberal approach.

Alas that appears not to be the approach being taken by Corbyn's new model army.

The Independent reports that Ms. McCarthy wants meat eaters to be treated in the same way as smokers and targeted with ad campaigns urging them to become vegetarians, presumably paid for from public finances.

She takes the view that ultimately people need to give up meat or dairy if they really want to protect animals.

What I resent most about this pronouncement is that McCarthy has put me on the same side as the Countryside Alliance.

They say that her views are"verging on the cranky" and have warned Mr Corbyn that Ms McCarthy's appointment has distanced farmers even further from the Labour party.

The liberal viewpoint of course is that if a person's behaviour is not harming another then they have the right to carry on without interference from the state.

Alas, Corbyn's Labour has moved even further towards the authoritarian end of the scale than it did under Tony Blair. It is not just his economic policies that should concern us.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

At least somebody thinks the Liberal Democrats are still needed!

Tim Farron's speech at the end of the Liberal Democrats Conference yesterday was a resounding success on several levels, but don't just take my word for it. The Guardian's editorial has validated it and underlined how the country still needs the Liberal Democrats:

His (Farron's) talk at the start of the conference of Labour MPs ready to defect, and the possibility of a return to power within five years, had sounded more like a wish-fulfilment programme than a faithful account of recent events. Yet an opportunity has now opened up on the centre ground of politics, and in his speech Mr Farron sounded ready to try to take it.

In his campaign, Mr Farron had pledged to speak up for the migrant and the refugee, and nothing has happened since to lessen the need for an effective defender of their plight. As he spoke, EU leaders were gathering to discuss again Europe’s response to the overwhelming question of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians seeking asylum, and less than 24 hours after European interior ministers had taken the highly unusual step of imposing refugee quotas on reluctant member states with a qualified majority vote – leaving Britain, which is insisting on its opt-out, as the only state not taking part in the scheme. The Lib Dem leader’s unqualified offer of support is, on a personal level, entirely authentic and, for his party, the stuff of political aphrodisiacs. It will resonate too with the large minority of people beyond Bournemouth who are deeply unhappy with the government’s position.

But for the party activists whose doggedly cheery mood this week has defied the terrible election result, his biggest triumph was to send them off on the long and rough road ahead with a renewed sense of confidence in their importance on the stage of national politics. His formulation, that the party had had five tough years in the coalition, but that the country had had five tougher months since they left it, is an effective endorsement of the case for accepting the responsibilities of power. Even the most vocal critics of the Lib Dems’ role in government cannot deny that it is worse without them. As much as it ever has, the politics of Britain needs the strong and cogent voice at its centre that the Lib Dems can provide.

The speech can be watched in its entirety here:

The Liberal Democrats fightback starts here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is a civil war within the Labour Party inevitable?

As we countdown to Jeremy Corbyn's first Labour Conference the disquiet in his party's ranks are not dying down,  In today's Western Mail the former Foreign Office Minister and retired-Pontypridd MP, Kim Howells warns that there may well be "a civil war inside the parliamentary Labour Party":

Asked how he would respond to recent events if he were still an MP, Mr Howells told BBC Wales' Week in Week Out programme: "I'd be bitterly opposed to the current leadership of the Labour Party.

"I'd be saying things that I believe about the need to win political power and a bunch of old Trotskyites are not going win political power."

The former MP for Pontypridd said Labour has to "start speaking in a language people can understand and convince the electorate".

"There is going to be a civil war inside the parliamentary Labour Party. It's nothing new, it's happened in the past," he added.

"So the party's got to make its mind up - does it really think it's going to win again in the future, with Corbyn as the leader? I don't think so."

Of course Kim Howells is no longer dependent on public opinion to make his living, but many MPs are and no doubt he is reflecting their anxieties in highlighting once more fears of reselections and falling popularity. Nevertheless, Richard Wyn Jones, professor of Welsh Politics at Cardiff University is also worth listening to on this matter.

He has warned of issues between the opposing Labour party in Westminster and the governing one in Wales:

He said: "Welsh Labour has been running Wales since 1999 and the kinds of pressures that you face when governing are very different from ones the Jeremy Corbyn had to face as, essentially, a campaigning backbench MP. And it's easy to envisage that leading to real tensions.

"Now this may well all end in tears. However, I think there's a really interesting phenomenon here and we need to be very careful before we dismiss it."

So the jury is out. We need to see what emerges from the Labour Conference next week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Undermining local media

I raised with Welsh Ministers this afternoon my concerns about the takeover of the Local World media company by Trinity Mirror. I am not expecting much press coverage for this initiative for obvious reasons so I thought I would highlight it here as well as on my main website.

Local World is the parent company of the South Wales Evening Post, the biggest selling Welsh daily. I understand that takeover talks are at an advanced stage, and that if they proceed then Trinity Mirror will control three of the four dailies in South Wales, the Daily Post in North Wales and a large number of weeklies including the Llanelli Star and the Carmarthen Journal.

I am worried that this takeover will lead to a loss of jobs in the Swansea area, a centralisation of operations in Cardiff and a greater emphasis on click-bait journalism in place of good, community-based news reporting. I have asked the Welsh Government to seek assurances from Trinity Mirror on these issues.

Trinity Mirror has centralised all its operations in Cardiff, closing branch offices in Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend and Pontypridd in the last year. In the process they have forced staff to work from home or in their Cardiff headquarters.

We need assurances from Trinity Mirror that if this takeover goes ahead, then they will keep offices in Swansea, Llanelli and Carmarthen open, maintaining the important link between locally-based papers and the communities they serve.

I am also concerned at possible redundancies as a result of this takeover. That is why I have asked the Minister to engage with Trinity Mirror to press them on this issue and to try to minimise job losses

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fact is stranger than fiction

It is the 1982 story of how a Marxist leader assumes power as the Prime Minister of Great Britain only to find the establishment lining up against him, undermining him at every turn and ultimately staging a military coup against him.

A Very British Coup by former Foreign Office Minister, Chris Mullins, introduces Harry Perkins, a former Sheffield steelworker who sweeps to power on a radical manifesto of nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from Nato, public control over the nation’s finances, the break-up of all-powerful media monopolies and abolition of the House of Lords.

Shortly after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition, Chris Mullins tweeted that the book was being reprinted and now he is planning a sequel.  However, if the Independent is to be believed fiction could very well turn into fact.

The paper says that a serving army general has warned that Jeremy Corbyn could face “a mutiny” from the military if he became Prime Minister. The unnamed army commander is reported to have said that any attempt by Mr Corbyn to take Britain out of NATO, scrap Trident or cut the size of Britain’s forces would be fought by means “fair or foul".

The general added that a Labour victory under Mr Corbyn in 2020 would result in “mass resignations at all levels” and there would be the “very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny”:

The general, who is understood to have served in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, claimed that the armed forces would take “direct action” to prevent a Corbyn government from downgrading it and went on to say that his victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay” even among Labour-supporting soldiers.

“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny,” the general said.

“Feelings are running very high within the armed forces. You would see a major break in convention with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over vital, important policy decisions such as Trident, pulling out of Nato and any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces.

“The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a Prime Minister to jeopardise the security of this country and people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.”

The last time the British Army came close to mutiny was in 1912 in opposition to the then Liberal Government's plans to introduce Home Rule for Ireland. At that time Edward Carson formally established the Ulster Volunteer Force, a militia made up of 100,000 men who had signed the Ulster Covenant months earlier.

In Dublin, the Irish Volunteers were formed in response, while the British Army faced mutiny in its ranks as many refused to stand against the UVF and enforce Home Rule should the need arise.

It was a scandal then and it is now, such talk should not be tolerated amongst serving members of the armed forces. After all, as one source says, this is not Bolivia.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Chaos and despair - Corbyn's first week nightmare

He may have attracted thousands of new members to Labour but Jeremy Corbin has hardly got off to a dream start. As the Sunday Times reveals, his landslide election as leader of the opposition has triggered despair and, in some cases outright rebellion amongst his Parliamentary Party, whilst the rest of us watch on in bemusement:

Earlier on Monday, Corbyn had given a lacklustre performance to his first meeting of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), in which he had been forced to defend his opposition to Trident and Nato, and his Euroscepticism. He even refused to rule out wearing a white pacifist’s poppy to the Cenotaph.

By Thursday, senior figures on Corbyn’s front bench were phoning each other to discuss who the next leader of the party should be. A group of senior figures has started planning how to “groom” a “clean skin” to take over when he falls.

What has gone wrong? What can the MPs do to stop Corbyn? Who can replace him and when?

The questions would have surprised Corbyn’s closest allies last Saturday as he toasted victory in the leadership election with a rare glass of red wine at Troia, a restaurant specialising in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine just across Westminster Bridge from parliament.

The new leader’s wife and sons joined his campaign team, including McDonnell and fellow MPs Cat Smith, Clive Lewis, Richard Burgon and Kate Osamor. “The hard work starts here,” he told them.

The portents of trouble were easier to identify across the Thames, where supporters of the defeated candidates Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper joined Labour HQ staff for a “wake” in the Greencoat Boy pub, near Victoria station. Many had been drinking since the result was announced at 11.45am. Several were in tears.

At one point some of them clung together in a group hug and jumped up and down as they chanted “Labour, Labour, Labour. Do you believe? I believe.” Then people peeled off and declared: “We are f***ed.”

The view amongst his own MPs is quite scathing: 

A senior frontbencher said: “He’s like a badge collector who has collected causes. He’s pro-Palestinian, he’s anti- nuclear but if you ask him what his policy is on the Middle East, he can’t tell you. He has collected his lapel badges but he hasn’t got a programme.”

Tempers boiled over as a new MP, Jess Phillips, said she felt “alienated” by his failure to appoint women to senior posts. Diane Abbott, Corbyn’s political ally and one-time lover, told Phillips she was “not the only feminist” in the room. Phillips told her to “f*** off”.

Corbyn said to Phillips that all the jobs were equal in importance. She replied: “In which case why don’t you just swap them all around?”

The frontbencher said: “He didn’t know what to do. He’d had his ‘I am a feminist’ badge torn off his lapel.”

One MP who watched him at the PLP said: “People keep saying this is our Iain Duncan Smith moment, but it’s much worse than that.”

Corbyn seemed little better prepared at the shadow cabinet meeting. Questions on how he wanted the party to vote on Commons amendments and statutory instruments were met with a “blank stare” and the words: “We’ll have to think about that.”

One member said: “We’re used to having leaders who are forensically focused on campaigning, who think constantly about strategy, the message they want to deliver and how they want to deliver it. All that stuff is completely alien to him.

“He has spent 30 years speaking to audiences that agree with him. He has never once had to think about how you persuade voters who don’t agree with you to support you or like you.”

When frontbenchers demanded Corbyn agree to sing the national anthem, smarten himself up and hire a spin doctor, Corbyn was irritated. “He believes that to think about that stuff is positively demeaning,” a shadow minister said. “When you talk to him about these things you feel it’s confirming his view that we’re all sellout merchants. He associates all that with Tony Blair.”

It is still early days of course and Corbin has time to properly establish himself but effectively losing control of his own Shadow Cabinet, for whom collective responsibility has now become an optional extra, is not helping.

The Sunday Times speculates that Corbyn's big mission is to give the left long-term control of the Labour Party. If that is the case then it could well presage a string of reselection battles and potential civil war within the party. We will see.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Corbyn has created an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to be a serious opposition to the Tories

In today's Western Mail, Kirsty Williams argues that Jeremy Corbyn's election means Lib Dems can be the 'serious opposition' to the Tories.

She said: “I don’t believe that Mr Corbyn is a danger to Britain. What I don’t believe Mr Corbyn is is the answer to the problems that our society faces.”

Ms Williams argues that Labour’s record in Wales shows that Mr Corbyn would not take Britain forward.

She said: “We spend more per head of population on our health service yet we get worse results for it. We’ve fallen behind on education.

“We haven’t got enough houses... Those policies that Jeremy Corbyn seems to think would be the answer to the problem, actually those policies have been implemented in Wales over the last 14/15 years and they haven’t delivered.”

It is a fair point. Kirsty then goes onto argue that Corbyn's election creates an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats:

“Liberal Democrats, I think, now have an opportunity to be the voice of serious opposition to the Tories and we can legitimately oppose Tory spending cuts because we offer a credible economic alternative to addressing the deficit...

“We can combine both a pro-business, strong economy message with a commitment to delivering first class public services but also a new focus on what makes us absolutely unique, which is as a Liberal party our commitment to those causes other people don’t want to talk about – you know, the defence of Freedom of Information, the defence of civil liberties [and] our international credentials and our green credentials.”

She says that we can build on the success of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Assembly:

Speaking with pride of concessions she has won from the Welsh Government, she said: “What I enjoy most about the job is being able to go to a school and look at the programmes they have been able to introduce in that school because of the Welsh Liberal Democrat pupil premium – I’ll never get sick of that. Being able to talk to young people who will be able to access cheaper bus fares this years because of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

“Being able to go and see new equipment in hospitals that has been delivered because the Welsh Liberal Democrats persuaded a Labour Government to invest in a health technologies fund. That’s the bit of the job I love most...

“We’ve been able to punch above our weight and deliver for people.”

There will be a lot more of that in the run-up to May's Assembly elections.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Liberal Democrats post-mortem written by usual suspects and misses the point

I will not be at the closed conference session tomorrow when they discuss the post-mortem report on the Liberal Democrats General Election campaign. I am going to watch Swansea play Everton before travelling down to Bournemouth.

However, if the newspaper reports of that exercise are accurate then it has spectacularly missed the point. That is hardly surprising as it has been put together by the usual suspects, some of whom were involved in writing previous post-mortems, documents that apparently did nothing to avert the rout the party experienced in May.

The Independent reports the inquiry has concluded that an "utterly ruthless” operation by the Conservatives to gobble up seats held by our coalition partners caused the Liberal Democrats’ meltdown at the May general election.

They say that the review will not be completed until later this year but it is expected not to direct blame at Mr Clegg or Paddy Ashdown, who ran the election campaign, or to argue that the Lib Dems lacked money.

The paper adds that Liberal Democrats' officials admit the party’s private polling, which pointed to a hung parliament, and its on the ground intelligence, did not predict the advance in which the Conservatives gained 27 Lib Dem seats, wiping out the party in its South West heartland: “It was utterly ruthless, a black widow operation,” said one Lib Dem source, referring to the spider which sometimes eats its partner after mating. Well yes, but what about the root causes?

I am not one of those who believes that the decision to go into coalition with the Tories doomed the Liberal Democrats to this defeat, though I would have thought that our coalition-partner's ruthless treatment of Nick Clegg during the AV referendum should have raised alarm bells amongst the General Election team and led to a change of tactics on their part. However, the way that we behaved in coalition was clearly the deciding factor earlier this year.

I am the first to trumpet what we achieved in government: the investment in schools targeted at the poorest pupils, the enhancement of old age pensions, the cut in income tax, cheaper childcare, two million apprenticeships and the blocking of insidious Tory policies, only now becoming apparent as they implement measures we had previously stopped.

But we also let the Tories play us in many ways and were not strong enough in standing up to them on some of their worst measures such as the bedroom tax, fit for work assessments, health reform in England and of course tuition fees.

Our naivety and our inexperience in Government; allowed our opponents to paint a picture that permanently weakened our organisation, decimated our membership and lost us the tactical voters that had elected many of MPs. It left us vulnerable to the ruthless tactics deployed by the Tories during the General Election and cost us scores of seats.

And do not under-estimate our contribution to the loss of trust in politicians and the party. The broken promise on tuition fees still haunts us no matter what we put in its place. That one decision lost us dozens of seats in May 2015 and left Clegg discredited and broken in the eyes of many voters.

The problem last May was not that we were out-campaigned by the Tories, it was that we went into the election damaged with a massively unpopular leader and nothing the campaign team did could repair that.

The new leadership and the different direction taken by Farron can help us repair those wounds and I hope to see us begin to win back support, but it is a long hard journey and the first step must be facing up to past mistakes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Labour now at odds on housing policy

Jeremy Corbyn decision to raise the issue of housing at yesterday's Prime Minister's question time was welcome, but did he reflect the view of his own front bench in his questioning.

The new Labour leader quoted a member of the public named “Stephen” who works for a housing association who apparently said the measure would lead to job losses, less funding for repairs and worse housing conditions.

However, according to Inside Housing, a spokesperson for John Healey, who was appointed shadow housing minister on Monday, told them that the party would not seek to oppose the policy in parliament:

Mr Healey described the decision to tear up the social housing rent formula as a “broken promise from the government” but his office later confirmed Labour would seek to amend the policy rather than oppose it.

When pressed on why it would not oppose it, Mr Healey’s office referred Inside Housing to a speech by former shadow work and pensions secretary Stephen Timms in July saying the rent cut would “save 1.2 million households £700 a year”.

Labour previously tabled amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which would force the government to produce a plan within 12 months to offset the impact of the rent cut to social landlords.

Mr Healey also said the government was “taking its gloves off” towards housing associations and they “must not give any excuse” for the government to attack their house building records.

“Housing associations must continue to do all they can to offer more homes,” he added.

So even at PMQs, Corbyn cannot get it right. Or are we to expect him to overrule his own front bench?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Labour omnishambles on benefits and anthems

In my opinion Jeremy Corbyn acquitted himself reasonably well at Prime Minister's Question Time today. As others have said it was a defensive performance that partly resembled a radio phone in but he touched on some key issues and raised some valid points.

His performance outside the chamber however, still has the air of that political satire 'The Thick of it' about it, in which his team overreacts to criticism and where front bench spokespeople contradict him on key policies.

The so-called affair of the Labour leader not singing the UK National Anthem is a good case in point. Frankly, I am comfortable if Corbyn chooses not to sing the UK anthem. That is his choice and the fact that he stood in respectful silence should be enough.

I was less comfortable about him not doing up his top button. If you are going to wear a tie then do so properly or don't wear one at all. The halfway house Corbyn presented just made him come across as indecisive.

But, having failed to sing the anthem and taken all the heat for it, his team then put out a statement saying that he will sing it in future. Apparently, this decision was taken after five of his own shadow cabinet ministers attacked his refusal to sing the UK national anthem.

Immediately, this makes the Labour leader look weak and indecisive, at the mercy of his own party, buffeted by forces he cannot control and even admitting that his actions on Tuesday were disrespectful. It is not a good start.

More serious is the fundamental disagreement between the Labour Leader and his own spokesperson on key policy issues. The BBC report that the shadow work and pensions secretary and Pontypridd MP, Owen Smith has contradicted Corbyn on the issue of capping benefits:

Jeremy Corbyn told the TUC conference on Tuesday that he wanted to "remove the whole idea of the benefit cap".

But Mr Smith told the BBC the party was "very clear" that it was only opposing UK government plans to reduce the cap from £26,000 to £23,000.

He said Labour was "in favour of limits on what individuals can draw down".

Speaking to BBC Two's Newsnight programme, Mr Smith said it would be "foolhardy" to oppose a policy that had wide public support.

After being told Mr Corbyn had said the cap should be scrapped altogether, Mr Smith responded:

"No, our policy is to review that aspect of it - we are very clear.

"We are in favour of an overall reduction in the amount of money we spend on benefits in this country and we are in favour of limits on what individual families can draw down.

"Because I don't think the country would support us saying we were in favour of unfettered spending."

The Prime Minister of course, preferred to cite Jeremy Corbyn's version as official Labour policy this afternoon but you cannot help but wonder which one will prevail. Does anybody now know what Labour stands for? Even its leader?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Corbyn's vegan farming and agriculture minister stirs old memories for the Welsh Assembly

They say that history repeats itself, but whether that will be the case over the decision by Jeremy Corbyn to appoint a vegan to oversee Labour policy on food and rural affairs has yet to be seen. England after all is a different political environment to Wales, where our attempt to sustain a vegetarian Minister in this brief ended in grief and her sacking back in July 2000.

The Telegraph says that Kerry McCarthy, a former party whip, is the first shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs to reject eating or using any animal products, including dairy and leather goods.

They say that among the issues the Bristol East MP, who is a patron of the Vegan Society and vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports, has campaigned on during her ten year parliamentary career are food waste, the "overuse" of antibiotics in farming and ending the badger cull.

Actually, I have a great deal of sympathy with all of those causes, though I do eat meat. And this attempt to break the mould is refreshing and worth doing. We should not forget though that poor Christine Gwyther, was harangued for her principles and her views in Wales.

Following her sacking, the new Welsh Agriculture Minister, now the First Minister of Wales, went on a summer long campaign of seeking out farmers' breakfasts and being seen eating meat at any and every opportunity. The Welsh Government returned to normality.

McCarthy is not in government of course so this does not apply in the same way. Nevertheless, the reaction of the agricultural community to her appointment will be interesting to watch.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Tory Trade Union Bill is an illiberal mess

Unshackled from the coalition and with a majority in Parliament, the Tories are starting to flex their muscles. The Trade Union Bill, which is being debated next week would never have got past the Liberal Democrats in the last government and with good reason. At least one Conservative MP agrees.

The Independent reports that David Davis, a former shadow Home Secretary and noted civil libertarian has strong reservations. He says that Tories’ trade union crackdown resemble measures enforced under General Franco’s Spanish dictatorship. In particular he has criticised the idea that individual people on picket lines should be forced to register with the police.

The paper says that a YouGov poll has found that 65 per cent of the public are against provisions in the bill to bring temporary agency staff to break public sector strikes. The Bill includes sweeping provisions such as proposals to ban strikers from using social media and to introduce higher voting thresholds for industrial action.

There are also new requirements for employers to be given longer notice of strikes and for workers to re-ballot themselves after four months of agreeing to take action.

Many of these measures are a disgrace and undermine basic human rights and longstanding civil liberties. It is the further extension of the surveillance state and should be opposed.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A civil war or toys being thrown out of a pram?

My one regret about the Labour leadership contest is that I did not put £100 on Corbyn to win when he was 200-1. The winnings would have paid for my election campaign next year. However, like others I did not at that stage expect the sensational victory that the Islington North MP pulled off yesterday.

Hindsight is not a very practical attribute. If it had been then many Labour MPs would not have given Corbyn their sympathy-nomination at the beginning of this leadership campaign. Certainly, judging by this headline in today's Sunday Times, Labour has now been plunged into a bitter civil war due to the fact that nearly half the shadow cabinet have refused to serve under him.

Their reluctance is understandable. They have clear ideological differences, they are upset that the Labour Party has snubbed their brand of politics, and of course they find it difficult to be loyal to or share collective responsibility with a man for whom the concept is an anathama. Well it has been up to now.

Because if there is one thing worth noting about the left, it is that when they are in charge they expect unquestioning loyalty and discipline, even if they are not prepared to give it in return. The split I am expecting is not from the right or centre of the Labour Party, but from Corbyn's own comrades.

The new Labour leader will at some stage have to compromise. It is inevitable. And let's face it, even if he doesn't we all know that some left wing groups will appear within the Labour Party who feel that they have been slighted in some way or another and will start to accuse Corbyn of selling out. That is when it really gets interesting.

At yesterday's 'Refugees welcome' rally in Swansea's Castle Square, the Socialist Workers were out in force. They were delighted at Corbyn's victory. At last they have a chance to show what the left can do.

It is because of that conviction that so many Labour activists and politicians are now throwing their toys out of the pram. They have made their own bed. They now need to live with it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Tories inadequate living wage will not compensate for benefit cuts

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a study which shows that less than one-sixth of the losses faced by households from the summer Budget benefit cuts will be recouped by the introduction of the ‘national living wage’.

Public Finance reports that Chancellor George Osborne’s proposals to cut welfare spending, which include reducing the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London) and a four-year working-age benefit freeze, will reduce incomes significantly.

They say (rather obviously) that this is particularly true for households where no one works, which will lose on average £2,069 and cannot gain from the new wage rate:

Overall, the IFS concluded that, on average, only around 13% (£150 per year) of the £1,090 annual losses faced by working age households in receipt of benefits and tax credits would by offset by the NLW.

Among households with someone in paid work, those eligible for benefits and tax credits were estimated to lose an average of £750 per year from tax and benefits changes. On the other hand, the average gain from the new NLW, which will be introduced for those aged 25 and over at £7.20 from next April and reach £9 an hour by 2020, is expected to lead to an increase in wages of £200 per year. This suggests that the new NLW will, on average, compensate for 26% of the losses this group.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies add that largest proportion of households gaining from the higher wage rate are in the middle of the income distribution, while it is households in the lower half of the income distribution who stand to lose the most from the reforms to taxes and benefits.

Essentially, the wage increases are not as large as the benefit cuts. And, the living wage is not targeted at the same group who lose from the cuts.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why short-sighted Cameron is making the refugee crisis worse

I am sure that the Prime Minister would agree that the best way long term solution to the refugee crisis is to provide stability to countries such as Syria, which has seen 4 million people flee from war and persecution.

The same David Cameron however is cited as wanting to launch a bombing campaign in Syria, whilst the invitation by his Government to regimes criticised for “appalling” human rights records to attend the world’s largest arms and security fair in London hardly gives us the sense of ministers assuming the moral high ground.

As the Independent says providing stability and prosperity in troubled states would mean that people are less likely to undertake dangerous journeys to escape to a better life:

In reality, however, this would mean the West bringing peace to Syria, the main source of the most immediate wave of the dispossessed, and Iraq, from where increasing numbers are following their Syrian neighbours to the West. Peace would also have to be established in Libya, which has become the key conduit for trafficking across the Mediterranean. Furthermore living conditions would have to be dramatically raised in a swathe of other countries, from Bangladesh to Palestine and across sub-Saharan Africa, which is also where many refugees are coming from.

Critics point out that Britain has played a key role creating the violent and unstable conditions in these places with its part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the bombing of Libya, for which Mr Cameron was the chief cheerleader. The Prime Minister was also the first one to cry “Assad must go”, just as he had cried “Gaddafi must go” when the Syrian uprising was at its infancy and could, perhaps, have been settled before its descent into savagery.

But where does one go from here? One way to bring stability would be through aid. The government justified diverting some of the aid money to defence (thus making the defence budget look larger than it really is) by maintaining that pre-emptive humanitarian action would prevent strife and the rise of extremism and thus bolster the UK’s defence. But George Osborne has announced that part of the international aid budget will now go towards looking after the additional refugees Britain has been forced to take in. This will, in effect, mean cuts in overseas projects, some in highly vulnerable communities which may slide into instability and violence, creating further refugees.

The message is clear: Britain is still not doing enough to fulfil its international and moral obligations, our government continues to fuel the wars and conflicts that have led us here in the first place and, welcome as the decision to take 20,000 refugees is, using the international aid budget to pay for this means that we are less able to help create the stabiliy needed to prevent these crises in the first place.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What should replace the BBC licence fee?

That the UK Government is considering replacing the BBC licence fee has been confirmed by this report in the Guardian in which the they say that culture secretary John Whittingdale has offered support to replace it with a household levy collected in a similar way to the council tax. However, he has told MPs that no decision had been made ahead of legislation expected next year.

The BBC itself has backed the household levy system, outlined in the government’s green paper on the future of the BBC, as one way of modernising the current system:

The culture secretary said such a system could help tackle the issue of non-payment, which is currently a criminal officence, as well as introducing a progressive element absent from the flat-rate licence fee.

In wide-ranging comments, he also indicated that “all things being equal” the licence fee would rise in line with inflation following a controversial funding deal agreed between the government and the BBC, but his comments were attacked by political opponents as spreading further doubt.

Asked about the possible introduction of a household levy, Whittingdale said that the “simplest” of a “number of different options” was “instead of having to pay separately, you could pay it at the same time as another bill, such as your council tax bill. It would make it easier to collect, it would also I think address concerns about evasion”.

Whittingdale's idea is that the system should be linked to the council tax, which is based on house size, so that it could be levied in a progressive way rather than a one-size-fits-all rate of £145.50. Nevertheless, there is a danger that such a levy could be viewed as another poll tax in disguise. And what happens if a household does not currently need to pay a licence, something that may be more common as people access media through the internet?

I have no solution to this. We do need to secure the future of the BBC and do so in a sustainable way. The licence fee is going to become less and less relevant and more difficult to collect precisely because of changes in technology and the way we consume multi-media. Perhaps a levy linked to house-size is a way forward. What do others think?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Crass Tories join the UKIP bad boys

Two reports in today's papers indicate that it is not just UKIP politicians who are walking around with their foot in mouth over the refugee crisis.

The Guardian reports that a Scottish Conservative councillor has been suspended by the party after tweeting that he would like to see members of Islamic State infiltrate the home of the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon:

Gordon McCaskill, a councillor for East Renfrewshire, was responding to a TV interview given by Sturgeon on Sunday, in which the SNP leader said she would be “absolutely happy” to house a refugee from Syria.

McCaskill posted on Twitter: “Scenes we’d like to see: the refugees Nicola invites into her house are Daesh [Islamic State] moles.” The tweet has since been deleted.

Meanwhile, in the Independent we can read about a Conservative MP who caused uproar in the House of Commons after he claimed that refugees "going on holiday to the places they fled from" are preventing him from getting a haircut:

Adam Holloway, the MP for Gravesham, was speaking during an emergency debate called by Yvette Cooper on the refugee crisis.

He said: "It’s quite possible to be a refugee and an economic migrant, and I think that’s one of the appalling truths, if you like, of the Syrian bodies that are being washed up on the beaches.

"They previously got to safe countries and now they’re choosing to come in Europe…

"We have people in this country who have come here, have claimed asylum, and then they go back on holiday in the places they’ve claimed asylum from.

"I couldn't have my hair cut the other day for that reason."

Whilst I have every sympathy for Mr. Holloway's state of hirsuteness, he really does need to get some perspective. These sort of crass comments help nobody.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Is Labour about to embark on a civil war?

The Telegraph columnist, Dan Hodges may have rejoined the Labour Party but that has not blunted his ability to hand some home truths to the party. And in yesterday's column he takes no prisoners.

A Labour MP told me recently that they are confident that Jeremy Corbyn will not win the leadership contest next weekend. Dan Hodges suggests that they are deluded and may well advise that that particular MP  to watch their back.

He says that when Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour leader on Saturday, his party will have stepped into the void:

How deep and long the drop will be is equally uncertain. All that anyone knows for sure is the direction of travel: downwards.

So Labour MPs are trying to reassure themselves. Perhaps things won’t be as bad as they’d feared. Maybe Corbyn will reach out. Moderate his rhetoric and his polices. Even if he doesn’t, perhaps he won’t be around for long: 18 months could well be enough. 

Those Labour MPs are deluding themselves. It won’t be as bad as they feared. It will be worse.

Hodges suggests that Corbyn has the means to assert his authority and to ruthlessness weed out dissent:

The Corbyn ascendancy has been many years in the making. The coordinated attack on the Blairite think tank Progress, and the targeted punishment beatings of Blairite and Brownite shadow cabinet ministers. The establishment of the independent Left-wing think-tank “Class”. The formation of the “People’s Assembly” anti-austerity coalition. These interventions weren’t part of a long-term master plan to secure the leadership for Corbyn. But they were part of a well crafted strategy for increasing the Left’s influence within Labour. A strategy that has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Which is why Labour MPs thinking Corbyn’s leadership will simply fade away like a bad dream are in for a nasty shock. The nightmare is real.

It’s true that many of Corbyn’s supporters have a tenuous grasp on reality and some none at all. But his inner-circle contains a number of hard-headed and seasoned political operatives.

Simon Fletcher, his chief of staff, delivered Ken Livingstone two mayoral victories, and ran London for the best part of a decade. As a senior adviser to Ed Miliband, it was Fletcher who designed the new voting system that is set to deliver Corbyn his against the odds victory. Another key team member is shadow minister Jon Trickett. Trickett advised Gordon Brown, and helped Brown survive and neutralise numerous assassination attempts. He also helped mastermind several of the parliamentary rebellions that helped usher Tony Blair towards an early retirement. Another ally is Andrew Murray, chief of staff at the Unite trade union and deputy president of Stop The War. Murray is the man who organised the “spontaneous” oversubscribed public gatherings that characterise Corbynmania.

Hence the threat of deselection which have being floated by some members of Corbyn’s team. Though Corbyn himself has not officially endorsed the call, he knows he doesn’t have to. The mere threat of Corbyn’s henchman turning up on their doorstep is likely to be enough to keep many Labour MPs in line. 

If Corbyn wins on Saturday we really could be in for some interesting times.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Two countries divided by a common language

I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said that ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’ and the more I read about the US Presidential election the better I understand the sentiment.

Today's Guardian reveals that the former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has added her voice to a controversy triggered by Donald Trump’s criticism of Republican rival Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish by saying that immigrants to the United States should “speak American".

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner whose hardline stance on illegal immigration is a hallmark of his bid for the party’s nomination in the November 2016 election, said that Jeb Bush “spoke Mexican” adding: “We’re a nation that speaks English.”

Putting aside the niceties of what these languages are actually called, it seems that Republicans in the United States are taking the debate on immigration to depths that even Nigel Farage has so far not fathomed. I can remember a time when it was an advantage to speak more than one language. Is the lowest common denominator of American politics now turning multi-lingualism into an electoral liability?

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Could Cameron's failure on refugees undermine his European agenda?

Despite his supposedly damoscene conversion to taking more refugees into the UK, David Cameron still stands charged with moral failure and political cowardice over the refugee crisis facing Europe.

It is a human crisis on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. About 366,000 people have come to Europe this year, with Italy, Greece and Hungary, bearing the brunt of responsibility for these arrivals. In August 50,000 refugees reached Hungary. Germany is anticipating receiving between 800,000 and a million arriving. About 2,800 people have died or gone missing en route in the Mediterranean so far this year.

Altogether, four million people have fled Syria of which 1.8 million have gone to Turkey, 1 million to Lebanon and 600,000 to Jordan. About eight million more are internally displaced. In this context, the few thousand additional refugees that the Prime Minister has said he will take amount to a totally inadequate response.

What is also important is the strain this is putting on the European Community. Already there is talk of the Schengen open-travel agreement being under threat. Whilst, the burden of so many refugees can only add to the wider financial crisis facing the Euro-zone, even if it has knocked it off the top of the headlines for the time being.

And the UK cannot isolate itself from that. We may not be in the Eurozone but our economy is intimately tied into it and our economic recovery could be threatened by further crises.

As if that were not worrying enough for our Prime Minister (assuming that he understands the consequences of these events and the damage they could do to his own policies), there are signs that his European agenda may also be threatened, not by the the crisis itself, but by his own moral failure to respond adequately to it.

Yesterday's Guardian picks this up. They say that Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister and EC president, has condemned Britain’s stance on the crisis and warned of dire consequences for Cameron ahead of the UK’s in/out EU referendum:

In an interview with the Observer, Prodi said the UK should have recognised the moral imperative – and economic benefit – of taking up its quota, which would have amounted to some 18,000 people.

He said: “I do think there is a moral obligation, but I don’t expect anything will be done [by the UK].

“Some 18,000 people for the UK is nothing, not at a time when the economy is going well.

“This is a general problem, the contradiction of the British negotiation. I think it will not be easy for Cameron to have a positive deal in order to come back to London and say ‘Look, I got a lot from Brussels’.”

He added: “Mrs Merkel’s position was not just a message of EU cohesion, but was also an intelligent proposal for the German economy because Syrian immigrants are appropriate to the German needs – the shrinking of population and the need for skills – 40% of the Syrians are graduates.”

If Cameron wants a fair hearing in Europe for his renegotiation then he is going to have to do some heavy lifting.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

End of the road for cats eyes

They were invented by Percy Shaw of Boothtown, Halifax, West Yorkshire and have been a fixture on British roads since the 1930s but now cats eyes are set for the scrap heap, with the UK Government proposing to phase them out and replace them with LED lights.

The Telegraph reports that Ministers are preparing to amend traffic legislation to allow a new generation of solar-powered LED road studs to be used on British roads which can be seen up to 1,000 yards ahead, 10 times further than cats eyes.

They say that the lights are capable of working for up to 10 days with just four hours of charge, and cost the same amount over the course of their life as traditional cats eyes:

Ministers have announced a consultation on amending the regulations to allow LED lights without reflective strips after admitting that they provide "extended visibility" and "better performance in poor weather conditions".

The consultation states: "Advances in technology have led to the development of studs that include only light emitting diodes, hardwired in tunnels and solar powered elsewhere.

"We propose amending the regulation to accommodate this technology. Traditional studs use reflectors or retroreflecting material which rely on headlight beams for their illumination.

"Active studs use internal light emitting diodes as their light source giving extended visibility distances and better performance in poor weather conditions over traditional studs." 

As the average life of a cats eye is two to three years before it needs replacing we could find this technology rolled out across the UK quite quickly.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Crass UKIP candidate and Tory MPs get public mood wrong on refugees

Listening to David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouthshire argue on Radio Wales that most of the refugees attempting to enter the UK are not fleeing war, but are "mostly young men, mostly with mobile phones, chancing their luck", it was difficult to believe that any politician could match him for a lack of compassion and understanding of the humanitarian crisis facing Europe and Britain's role in helping to create that crisis.

However, he was trumped shortly afterwards by another Tory MP called Davies, this time Phillip Davies from Shipley, who according to the Huffington Post called a female constituent that she was "pathetic" and accused her of having a "trendy left wing view" in an argument over the refugee crisis:

Mr. Davies wrote that Britain cannot take "a never ending supply of people into the UK" while net migration is 300,000 a year, three times the level David Cameron has committed to bringing it down to.

After Amy Firth called his position "cold" and asked if the emails were spoofs, Mr Davies replied: "It is frankly pathetic to suggest that you can only show you have compassion by thinking we should take everyone who wants to come here."

He added: "I see that you subscribe to the trendy left wing view that what is important is looking compassionate whether it is really compassionate or whether it is sensible.

"If you want to think that you have a monopoly on compassion which can only be shared by people who agree with you then that is your prerogative."

Well both MPs could well find themselves isolated today if, as expected, David Cameron completes a full U-turn and announces plans to increase the number of refugees being allowed into the UK.

Neither MP however, has managed to match the sheer awfulness of Wimbledon Ukip candidate Peter Bucklitsch who called the parents of the Syrian child whose body washed up on the shores of Turkey yesterday "greedy". Writing from what appears to be his account on Twitter, he said the parents of the boy are responsible for his death for their attempts to "queue jump" into Europe for "the good life".

This is yet another candidate who has been endorsed by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and so far appears to remain a member of that party. It is truly dreadful when a crisis of this sort provokes comments such as those made by these three individuals.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Cameron's plan to leave the ECHR will open the door for abusers of human rights

The Telegraph reports on comments by Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the European Commission and the former Dutch foreign secretary, who believes that David Cameron's plan to withdraw Britain from European courts will encourage Vladimir Putin to disregard human rights laws.

Mr. Timmermans has warned that Russia would leave the European Court of Human Rights if Britain did so. He said EU countries must be "tied" to a common European human rights system as they cannot be trusted alone to defend the rights of their citizen:

The court's membership goes beyond the EU, taking in states including Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan which have poor human rights records.

Mr Timmermans said Britain must accept that overseas bodies must be allowed to criticise its human rights record if it wants to pass judgement on other countries.

“You can only challenge others if you are ready to be challenged yourself,” he said in an address to Tilburg University in the Netherlands. “

“I take issue with people in the UK who say ‘we don't need a Court in Strasbourg to check what we're doing’. If you take that position in London, the same position will be taken in Moscow or elsewhere.”

Court officials noted how Alexander Konovalov, the Russian interior minister, in January said that Russia could disregard a ruling from the ECHR over Yukos, the energy giant whose ownership is disputed. "The United Kingdom does not execute quite a few decisions by the European Court,” Mr Konovalov told the Russian parliament.

Mr Timmermans said that countries should be “tied to the mast” of a common European human rights system because of ”their inability to safeguard the rule of law, to protect citizens' rights, to uphold constitutional government by themselves.”

“You could compare it to the Greek hero Odysseus, demanding to be roped to the mast of his ship to be able to resist the call of the Sirens: 'take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast,'” Mr Timmermans said.

“Homer describes him as saying, 'If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.'”

The language may be colourful but the sentiments are correct. How can Britian hope to have any moral authority with those who abuse human rights if we opt out of the framework we set up to provide justice for those whose rights are being infrnged?

The thought that a UK exit from the ECHR might be followed by the likes of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan should shame Cameron into rethinking his plans.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

What to buy the person who has everything?

It is an age-old dilemma, what do you buy the person who supposedly has everything they want. Alas, it is not a real dilemma because most of us do not know such people. However, according to the Independent, the multi-millionaires who helped to found Facebook have the perfect solution. They have set up a secret website containing their wish lists.

The paper says that Nick Bilton, who wrote about the Silicon Valley tech bubble for Vanity Fair has discovered  'T.N.R. 250', which is short for 'The Nouveau Riche 250', and which comprises Facebook's first 250 employees, many of whom have become multi-millionaires.

Members of T.N.R. 250 use the group to discuss what they want to do with the cash they have put away as Facebook has grown. The wish list includes boats, planes, Banksy portraits and even tropical islands:

The catch? The group is not actually on Facebook. That would spoil the illusion many in Silicon Valley are working hard to maintain that they don’t really care about money at all.

Secrecy is partly a result of the dot com crash 200, according to the New York Times – when the celebratory balloons at billion parties deflated as the air went out of the tech market.

The Times has also pointed out that it’s not cool to care about your wealth when some of the most famous tech billionaires don’t. Steve Jobs wore the same roll-neck for nearly every Apple presentation, while Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is similarly unflashy about his wealth.

Still, as long as their families can access the website so as to know what to get them for Christmas.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Farage steals key Lib Dem policy but gets his sums wrong

One the of the more distinctive policy offerings in the Liberal Democrats Federal manifesto during this year's General Election was the complete abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls.

We calculated that this would save the average motorist commuting each day over £1560 per year. These tolls are a huge barrier to business, costing the South Wales economy around £107 million a year.

Now UKIP have adopted our policy with Nigel Farage writing in the Western Mail this morning that these tolls penalise those coming into the country on one of the most direct routes from England. You would think that he would know but the last time he tried to come into Wales, to speak at a UKIP Conference in Margam, he failed to arrive, blaming immigration on the M4 as the reason for his no-show.

Where Farage really loses it is in his supposed analysis of how this policy will be paid for. As it happens the cost will not be great. All the revenue currently goes to the private company who manage the bridges, whilst the cost of maintenance after 2018 is a few million pounds each year and could be picked up as part of the UK's annual road maintenance bill.

Farage though argues that the cost of scrapping tolls could be offset by choosing a cheaper option for an M4 relief road near Newport. This is financially illiterate as the money for building a new M4 relief road will come from the Welsh Government's capital budget whereas any revenue from tolls would go to the UK Government. Capital is a one-off expenditure and by definition does not re-occur, whereas revenue is an annual charge on the taxpayer.

He continues: "It is staggering that Labour in Wales has mooted continuing the massive tolls on the Severn Bridges after 2018, reflecting the increasing appetite among politicians in Cardiff Bay to get as much money as possible from the taxpayer to fund an ever- increasing greed for big government.”

Well, yes it is staggering but none of that income would come to Cardiff Bay. As it happens the various parties in Cardiff Bay have different proposals for the Severn crossing. This is how much it will cost motorists under each of their plans:

• Conservatives: £1296 per year
• Labour: £888 per year
• Plaid Cymru: £480 per year
• Liberal Democrats: £0 per year

Farage also sets out his stall against the M4 relief road, though it is not clear what his alternative is. That leaves only Labour, amongst those contesting next year's Assembly election wanting to build this by-pass.

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