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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Another Paul Nuttall claim is debunked

As if the Hillsborough fiasco was not enough. the Independent reports yet more controversy regarding some of the claims on the UKIP leader's website.

The paper says that Paul Nuttall is facing fresh allegations about his honesty after he wrongly claimed he was a board member of a training charity:

In September 2009, an article published on Mr Nuttall’s website stated he had accepted an invitation to join the board of the North West Training Council (NWTC).

It quoted Mr Nuttall as saying: “If facilities like this existed for youngsters when I was at school, many of my classmates would have kept on the straight and narrow.

He then said: “I was very impressed by my visit to the NWTC and have nothing but praise for their contribution. They are doing a first-class job and I am thrilled at the honour of being a board member.”

However, the organisation’s chief executive, Paul Musa, said that, while Nuttall had visited the NWTC several years ago, he had never served on the board.

Mr Musa told The Guardian: “Mr Nuttall was never invited to become a board member of NWTC as this would need to be a directive of the NWTC board, who he never met.”

The Ukip’s leader’s name does not appear on any documentation filed by the NWTC with either Companies House or the Charity Commission, the paper reported.

Mr. Nuttall claims that he has been the victim of a smear campaign, but it seems that he is his own worse enemy.

Being a party leader and the candidate in a high profile by-election brings with it enhanced scrutiny, something that he does not appear to have been prepared for.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tony Blair is right, but......

The level of bile directed at Tony Blair over yesterday's intervention in the Brexit debate was extraordinary, not least as most of it came from the party that he used to lead and which, I believe, he is still a member of.

It was extraordinary because Blair was speaking a basic truth, that the referendum did not specify what form Brexit should take, did not detail a path for the government to take and that the approach currently taken by the Tories does not actually have any mandate.

Referendums are not the same as an election. They present non-binary choices in a binary way, but as with an election it is up to the politicians to interpret the outcome in the best way they can.

That is because we live in a representative democracy in which those elected have regard to the wishes of their electorate but act in accordance with their own conscience and the more detailed information at their disposal.

In the case of the Brexit referendum, Blair is absolutely right. People did not vote for hard Brexit, they voted for a whole host of reasons, after being lied to and misled as to the consequences of their vote, to leave the EU. But did they vote to leave the single market? That was not on the ballot paper and many leavers told them they would not have to do do.

They voted for a £350m a week boost to the NHS, but that was never going to materialise. Instead we are going to have to pay billions more to the EU for the privilege of leaving. And they voted in some cases to control immigration, when most of that immigration comes from outside of the EU. They were lied to about that too.

It is not Blair who is insulting the intelligence of the British population, Boris, it is you and your cronies, who have consistently lied to them and who want to impose a solution on them without giving them a chance to vote on it.

In the face of all this, the reaction of the Labour Party is quite astonishing. They have abandoned all pretence at opposition and instead have swallowed hard Brexit, hook, line and sinker. So much so that even those who have been allies of Blair in the past and who are known as pro-European feel obliged to criticise him publicly.

People have a right to change their mind once they have seen the terms of the deal. That is why the Liberal Democrats have argued for a referendum on that deal. But the question must be posed: is Tony Blair the right person to lead the campaign for that to happen?

Well, firstly he stopped short on calling for another referendum, almost as if he believes that he is going to reverse the tide through some sort of electoral osmosis. He must know that another plebiscite is the only way to achieve his aim of rejecting hard Brexit.

Secondly, Blair himself is such a divisive figure, a man who lost the trust of the British electorate over Iraq, that any leadership role he assumes or is given is doomed to failure.

By all means Blair should devote what resources he can to the campaign for a second referendum but he needs to step back and let others take the lead. It is what the Liberal Democrats have been doing for some time.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Italy celebrates National Cat Day

If the poor misguided English are a nation of dog lovers then we are left looking to the continent for a bit of feline commonsense. And they do not disappoint.


Today is National Cat Day in Italy. They also have a Black Cat Day on 17th November. Cats both indoor and outdoor have been protected in Italy since 1991, when a new law made it illegal to harm or kill street cats.

Local public health authorities are responsible for neutering and spaying them, and animal rights associations can be awarded management of outdoor cat colonies, whose members have the right to roam free and undisturbed.

As the article also says an eBay survey over the past year has shown that in Italy, cat-themed or cat-shaped objects - such as cell phone covers, clothes and accessories, home decor, costume jewelry and stuffed animals - are changing hands every seven minutes.

I have always liked Italy and other Mediterranean countries like Malta and Turkey where cats are treated with the respect and care they deserve.

World Cat Day, by the way, was set up in 2002 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and is celebrated on August 8.

Note: the photo was taken by me in Sorrento harbour in 2011. The cats wait there for the fishermen to dock and unload their catches.

Misinformation and intimidation in Stoke-on-Trent Central

There has not been such an intense, no-holds barred, dirty by-election since Birmingham Hodge Hill. It is an indication of how high the stakes are both, for a beseiged Labour Party and for a struggling UKIP, desperately trying to become relevant once more.

The UKIP leader and candidate Paul Nuttall has been at the sharp end of the attacks as his personal and political flaws are pulled apart by his opponents and the media. But Labour have not escaped scrutiny either.

The Labour candidate has been criticised for his historic twitter positions and for his support for the remain campaign. He has been put in the impossible position of defending Labour's new enthusiastic support for the UK leaving the EU whilst apparently not believing a word his party's leadership says on the issue.

And then there are the dirty tricks, the latest of which has made the news this morning. The Guardian reports that the Lib Dems have alerted the police after messages sent to some Muslim voters in Stoke-on-Trent suggested they could go to hell if they failed to vote Labour to keep out Ukip’s Paul Nuttall:

The anonymous message, distributed locally to some in the Muslim community by text and Whatsapp, called for people to vote Labour so as not to help “enemies of Islam”.

It said voting for the Lib Dem candidate, Dr Zulfiqar Ali, a Muslim, could help “far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic Ukip party” take the seat, which is being contested in a byelection triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt.

It is not known how many people received the message, but the Lib Dems claimed it had been “distributed in large numbers” in support of the Labour candidate, Gareth Snell.

The Lib Dems demanded an apology from Labour on Thursday in a letter to the party’s election agent, copying in the police and Stoke returning officer.

Ian Horner, the Lib Dem election agent, wrote: “I am sure that you realise that the religious nature of one of these messages could also be deemed to be covered by the ruling on ‘undue spiritual influence’ in the matter of a mayoral election for the London borough of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014, when the Labour party were the victims of such tactics.”

The party also called on Labour to condemn the “campaign of misinformation and intimidation currently under way in their name in Stoke-on-Trent”.

It is impossible to say what the impact of all this fighting is going to be on the result or indeed, how voters will react to it. Given the turnout record in Stoke-on-Trent I suspect most voters will just stay at home.

But if the remain voters do decide to come out and back the only candidate who represents their views, the Liberal Democrat, Dr Zulfiqar Ali, then there could be an upset.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lost in UKIP fantasy land

The 12 year old Paul Nuttall may well have been at Hillsborough, however, the fact that he and/or his staff have subsequently sought to build up a personal mythology around that tragedy is clearly inappropriate and insulting to the families of those who died and to the community in which they were rooted.

As the Independent reports, the false claim that Mr. Nuttall lost “close personal friends” in the Hillsborough disaster was made twice on his website and repeated in a news story on the BBC. These claims have sat on his website for over five years without any apparent attempt by the MEP to remove them.

Now Mr Nuttall is in a high profile position and under scrutiny, we are asked to believe that the mistake was made by a staff member and the website has been taken down. But who was really to blame for the 'error'?

The Independent says that despite Lynda Roughley, a press officer for Mr Nuttall, saying that she had offered to resign because she had been “entirely responsible” for the website post, in fact the same claim that Mr Nuttall had lost close friends at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium were repeated in another post on his website in 2011 and in a contemporary BBC report.

They add that questions now remain over whether Mr Nuttall was aware of the separate claims made on his website and in the BBC report. It is also unclear whether Ms Roughley was responsible for both of the posts on the Ukip leader’s website.

But where did the claim originate from in the first place? This website says that the first posting on Nuttall's website in 2011 was actually made over an hour after he made the claim to the BBC, when it appeared on their website:

The dates and times are unquestionably being preserved intact in the facsimiles.

As you can see, the creation date/time of the BBC article is 17 August 2011 at 14.44pm and 48 seconds.

The creation date/time of Nuttall’s entry is 17 August 2011 at 15.39 and 56 seconds – almost a full hour later.

In other words, Nuttall gave his quote to the BBC, who then put it on their website. And 55 minutes later, Nuttall or his ‘staffers’ copied it to his blog.

It never seemed credible that any press officer would invent something like this to enhance the reputation of their employer.

Thanks to the fact that the internet has a habit of logging everything that is posted on it, the chain of events are now open to question. Is it possible that the claim that the UKIP leader lost close personal friends at Hillsborough could have originated from an interview given by Nuttall to the BBC back in 2011?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Welsh Government need to step up to the mark on anti-poverty fight

I am not often in the habit of quoting myself on this blog but I believe that the decision yesterday by the Welsh Government to effectively axe Communities First justifies it just this once.

The BBC reports on the row that this announcement provoked and for once Leanne Wood is spot on the mark. More than £300 million has been spent on this programme since 2001 and yet it is difficult to know what has been achieved.

The most recent figures indicate 740 posts were funded through the Communities First programme. At one point it was supporting about 200 projects, before the number was reduced amid worries about its effectiveness. And there were problems too as the BBC outlines:

In 2011, the head of a Communities First project in Wrexham was jailed for fraud after she diverted funds from the charity to herself and her family.

More recently, in 2015, it emerged that one project in Merthyr Tydfil spent most of its £1.5m budget over three years on salaries.

Port Talbot community regeneration charity NSA Afan had its Communities First funding terminated by Welsh Government in January.

But why, months after it was announced that the scheme was under review, is there no plan B? The Plaid Cymru leader quite rightly told the minister that it was "scandalous" he had not set out a replacement scheme:

She said the minister had accused Plaid of "jeopardising" the programme in the past, and claimed Communities First "was only safe with Labour".

"Neither of those statements were true, they were pure spin," she said.

And it is right that Labour have defended the integrity of this scheme in the past with partisan passion, accusing anybody who questioned its effectiveness of abandoning our poorest communities. Yet, when the history of this scheme is written it will be Labour who will be found to be at fault.

They spent huge sums of public money on 200 plus worthy schemes, created lots of temporary jobs, but at no time did they effectively measure whether that expenditure was achieving the objectives set out for it.

In fact, apart from the general aim of reducing poverty, many of us have been unclear exactly what the Welsh Government were trying to achieve or why they were not measuring the impact of this expenditure in affected communities on basic measures such as employment, health outcomes and educational achievement.

Back in September 2016 I wrote:

When I was on the Assembly we carried out an inquiry into poverty. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could scrutinise programmes like Community First in any detail. I hope that the new Assembly is picking that up.

However, the two things that were most obvious from the scrutiny we did carry out was that firstly, the Welsh Government's programmes are designed to alleviate poverty not to eliminate it.

That is fine providing they are upfront about it, after all the Welsh Government don't have all the tools needed for an effective anti-poverty drive. However, Ministers are operating under the pretence that they are spending money to eliminate poverty without any evidence to back that up or even that the programmes they are funding work.

Secondly, there appears to be a major failure within Welsh Government to align all its programmes into a coherent anti-poverty drive. Individual Ministers are doing important work with policies such as the pupil premium, healthy community initiatives, funding temporary jobs through Jobs Growth Wales and of course programmes like Flying Start and Communities First, but there is no overall strategy with clear objectives and a co-ordinated approach to tackling poverty.

So when the Western Mail reports that politicians and charity workers have warned about the impact of losing Communities First the story is a bit more complex than that.

In fact the majority of those quoted are not saying the Welsh Government should keep Communities First at all. They are arguing for clarity and a coherent anti-poverty programme that does what it says on the the tin.

Communities First is on the way out, but judging by today's performance the Welsh Government remains as clueless as ever.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Brexit a threat to our environment?

The Independent features a House of Lords report which claims that the Government is “worryingly complacent” over how it will enforce environmental regulations after the UK leaves the European Union.

Peers believe that European institutions, such as the Commission and the Court of Justice have played a key role in ensuring member states upheld EU environmental regulations, with threat of heavy fines having a significant “deterrent effect”. As a result, campaign groups like ClientEarth have also been able to take the Government to court in the UK to force it to come up with an effective plan to cut air pollution to levels considered to be safe.

They say that under the Government’s plans for Brexit, much of EU law will be transferred onto the British statute book in an attempt to provide some continuity. But, while the rules will be broadly the same, members of the Lord’s EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee said an “effective and independent” system of enforcement would be required to “fill the vacuum” left by the European Commission.

The Lords Committee stressed that new procedure would need to be powerful enough to ensure the Government and public bodies stayed true to their environmental obligations:

But it was clear that the committee did not have confidence that the Government was planning to have such a system in the UK post-Brexit.

“The Government’s assurances that future Governments will, in effect, be able to regulate themselves, along with ministers’ apparent confusion between political accountability to Parliament and judicial oversight, are worryingly complacent,” they said in the report.

“We note the concerns of witnesses [giving evidence to the committee’s hearings] that existing domestic judicial review procedures may be inadequate and costly.

“It will be important for any effective domestic enforcement mechanism to have both regular oversight of the Government’s progress towards its environmental objectives, and the ability, through the courts, to sanction non-compliance as necessary.”

Another sign of how ill-prepared the UK Government is for the hard Brexit it favours.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Clamping down on whistleblowers

Since the Clive Ponting trial many politicians have been focussed on seeking to protect whistleblowers, that rare breed of mostly public sector employees who go public about abuses within their workplace in the public interest.

Legislation has been passed to protect whistleblowers because it has been understood that dealing with abuses and other issues in an open and accountable way leads to more efficient governance.

Nevertheless, this legislation has proved largely ineffective as employers have found many ways to circumvent it, not least in disputing whether the published information amounts to whistleblowing in the first place as opposed to a breach of trust.

Now, it seems that the current UK Government is to start to reverse the trend. According to the Guardian, they are proposing to launch a “full-frontal attack” on whistleblowers over proposals to radically increase prison sentences for revealing state secrets and prosecute journalists:

Draft recommendations from the legal advisers say the maximum prison sentence for leakers should be raised, potentially from two to 14 years, and the definition of espionage should be expanded to include obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on.

The moves have prompted concern from whistleblowers that draconian punishments could further discourage officials from coming forward in the public interest. One critic said the changes were “squarely aimed at the Guardian and Edward Snowden”.

This proposed legislation is well worth watching. Government ministers and senior management in the civil service often have a different definition of what is in the public interest to others. Their rationale is more often, self-interest.

It is important that in seeking to protect state secrets the Government does not drive out whistleblowing as a means of identifying inefficiencies and abuse within our public services.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

European Commission 'agrees £48bn Brexit divorce bill'

The Independent reports that the cost of leaving the EU could be far more substantial than any of the leavers let on during the referendum campaign.

They say that Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, is set to demand a €57bn (£48bn) payment from the UK to the leave the bloc. The figure was purportedly agreed at a meeting of member states, although Sky News reported that France and Germany called for the UK to be charged at least €70bn.

They add that Britain is committed to tens of billions in spending on EU-wide projects up until 2020, as well as the pensions of officials. Negotiations for a potential trade agreement would only start when the final Brexit bill is reached, the meeting concluded.

There may not be much left over for the NHS.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

How Brexit will let down steel producing areas

Those MPs who represent steel producing areas and voted for the UK Government's hard line Brexit bill could well be regretting their actions after it was revealed that the steel industry is a low priority in negotiations.

The Independent reports that a leaked document divides Britain’s industries into “low priority”, “medium priority” and “high priority” for negotiations – indicating how much special attention they needed in the Brexit process. High priority industries include banking and the automotive industry, while fisheries and the chemicals industry sit in the middle tier. Steel and telecoms are in the bottom tier.

As one MP says, “The dumping of cheap Chinese steel is a huge worldwide problem for the steel industry and we need to work with other steel producing nations to remain competitive in a saturated market. The last thing that British steel industry needs is an import tariff on their goods."

Seeing that most of these areas are represented by Labour MPs perhaps, that party should have thought of all this before it imposed a three-line whip on an unamended bill and effectively allowed the Tories a free rein in how it implements Brexit.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why the Lords should ignore empty threats and stand up for what is right

One of the more bizarre outcomes of this week's Brexit vote in the House of Commons is the number of Tory MPs lining up to threaten the existence of the House of Lords, despite their previous diehard defence of the second chamber in the face of many attempts to reform it.

The sort of reforms that democrats have been arguing for over decades have suddenly become attractive to the Tories, not out of principle but because they may not get their way. Their previous championing of this bastion of privilege and patronage has come back to bite them.

Thus in the Independent, we get Oliver Letwin throwing his toys out of that pram, arguing that MPs should consider abolition or “full-scale reform” of the unelected upper chamber if it votes to delay the Brexit bill beyond the end of next month.

And then there is the BBC reporting an anonymous Government source, who goes further by saying: “If the Lords don't want to face an overwhelming public call to be abolished they must get on and protect democracy and pass this bill.”

Nick Clegg must be sporting a wry smile at the Tories change of heart, after attempts he made to reform the institution by making it more accountable and democratic were foiled by backwoods Tory MPs and Labour shenanigans.

The Tories made their bed when they foiled Nick Clegg's reforms and now they are going to have to live with the consequences. But if the Lords, in doing their job of revising inadequate and partisan legislation, ends up being reformed then that would be welcome.

The motives may well be selfish and wrong-headed but the outcome would be to all our benefit.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Tories betray child refugees in callous and compassionless u-turn

As the BBC reports, a key route into the UK for children caught up in Europe's migrant crisis is to close after a total of 350 arrivals.

They say that a written ministerial statement by the Home Office announced that the UK will stop receiving children via the so-called Dubs amendment at the end of March. The law was designed by peer and former refugee Lord Dubs and aimed to help some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children across Europe.

A legal challenge on how the government has handled the legal commitment will go ahead on Friday. As the BBC point out, Ministers accepted the Dubs amendment last year after months of pressure from campaigners and members of the public to take children from the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais:

The amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 required the home secretary to bring a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children to the UK after consultation with local authorities. While there was no target number written into the legislation Lord Dubs and his supporters had suggested the UK could help 3,000 of the most vulnerable.

In Wednesday's statement, Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said 200 had already arrived and a further 150 children would follow before the end of March, filling the available places offered by local authorities.

A further 700 unaccompanied children had arrived in the UK under separate EU-wide rules designed to reunite families.

Separately, the UK has settled 4,400 individuals directly from Middle East camps under an international programme to help displaced Syrians, half of whom are children.

Responding to the decision, Lord Dubs said: "Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees. At a time when Donald Trump is banning refugees from America, it would be shameful if the UK followed suit by closing down this route to sanctuary for unaccompanied children just months after it was opened."

"During the Kindertransport, Sir Nicky Winton rescued 669 children from Nazi persecution virtually single-handedly. I was one of those lucky ones. It would be a terrible betrayal of his legacy if as a country we were unable to do more than this to help a new generation of child refugees.

This is a shameful decision that reveals a lack of compassion at the heart of this Tory Government. Let us hope that the legal challenge forces them to reconsider.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

UK Government uses sleight of hand on a Brexit carrot

At one stage yesterday it looked like Brexit sceptics in the UK Parliament had got some of what they wanted when the Minister stood to confirm that MPs will be given a vote on the final deal.

However, closer scrutiny revealed that the promise was worthless as it became clear that if the house rejected what was put before them then there would be no re-negotiation and that the UK would leave the EU without any agreement in place. It was one of those take-it-or-leave-it offers favoured by movie gangsters, not so much a concession as an ultimatum.

The rejection of any deal at the final stage would see the UK crash out of the EU and make it subject to World Trade Organisation rules – making it of no meaningful use to opponents of hard Brexit. Nevertheless, the faux-offer achieved its purpose and the Government won the vote by 326 votes to 293.

Labour fell for it hook-line-and-sinker, hailing the so-called offer as “a significant victory” for Parliament and an “eleventh hour concession”. Their desperation to justify Corbyn's three line whip on the final bill once more clouded their judgement and their efficacy as an opposition.

For all intents and purpose, Labour have walked away from their duty as an opposition to properly scrutinise and oppose the government. Yesterday was no exception because even if the offer had been genuine it would not have been enough.

In my view, Parliament should accept nothing less than the ability to send the Government back to the negotiating table, and a final say for both houses and the British people.

Yesterday's proceedings underlined the fact that the current Government cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of country whilst the official opposition are out of their depth. It is more important than ever that voters get the final say on whatever this process ends up producing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Commons Speaker taps into national mood with Trump ban

Whatever one might say about House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, his announcement yesterday, that Donald Trump should be blocked from addressing Parliament has tapped into the mood of the nation.

Inevitably, the decision of the Speaker not to invite the US President to speak to the House because of its opposition to "racism and sexism" has attracted some controversy. The announcement appears to have taken the Speaker of the Lords by surprise, whilst a number of Tory MPs are significantly unhappy.

Irrespective of the consequences it is likely that Bercow has killed off any likelihood that Trump will formally speak to MPs despite the fact that a number of equally unsavoury heads of state have done so in the past.

I suspect that the unseemly haste with which the invitation for a State visit was issued was significant rather than Trump's views. That though, should not prevent the Speaker indulging in what was an effective piece of political theatre.

The question now is whether Bercow has set a new benchmark by which these invitations are issued? In the past the Indonesian President has addressed MPs despite his rather dodgy human rights record. Singapore's President has enjoyed the privilege of speaking to Parliament even though homosexuality is illegal in his country and the Chinese President has also been afforded the privilege.

If a new moral and ethical criteria is to be applied to such invitations in future then that is very welcome. However, the Speaker needs to define more clearly what that criteria is and ensure that it is applied consistently.

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Observer backs the Lib Dem view on Brexit referendum

Yesterday's Observer sets out in some detail why Parliament and the British people need to scrutinise in some detail how the Government is handling Brexit:

Parliament has been given a vote on article 50 not as a result of pressure it applied itself, but because Gina Miller took the government to court. Mrs May shamefully resisted all the way up to the supreme court.

The bill to trigger article 50 continues in that vein. While it might satisfy the courts, it is fundamentally undemocratic. There are no measures to give parliament a meaningful chance to scrutinise the terms of Britain’s EU exit. The white paper says only that parliament will get to vote on the final deal agreed with the EU.

Too little, too late. After a lengthy process that includes approval by the European council, approval by at least 20 countries that make up 65% of the EU’s population, and ratification by the European parliament, it will essentially be a choice between any deal Mrs May has struck and crashing out of the EU after two years on World Trade Organisation terms, risking economic carnage. In other words, no real choice at all.

The terms of our European Union exit are no less critical than the principled decision itself on whether to leave the EU. Yet the government is, in effect, eroding any means by which parliament could scrutinise them. It is nothing short of outrageous. As the bill enters its Commons committee stage, the next few days will prove a critical test of the extent to which parliament is willing to assert itself.

It is all the more important given that there is much to be concerned about in a thin white paper that sheds little extra light beyond the prime minister’s speech two weeks ago. Her faith that we will be able to secure single market-style access for cherry-picked sectors, while ditching freedom of movement and renouncing dispute resolution by the European court of justice, is completely misplaced.

Her belief that we will be able to negotiate a full deal within two years of triggering article 50 appears deluded, given that free-trade agreements typically take far longer to negotiate and ratify, even when they do not include the fiendishly complicated negotiations around services that she wants included in any final deal. There is an alarming lack of detail about implications for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Crucially, they argue that Parliamentary scrutiny must be meaningful and that there must be an opportunity to reject any agreement before it goes to the European council for approval, so as to give the government a mandate to seek further time for negotiation, should it reject it:

Any MP planning to vote against the amendments to the bill that seek to ensure this – whether or not they supported Brexit – should reflect long and hard on precisely what they think parliament is for, if not to scrutinise the government on this most momentous of decisions. Second, the British people must have the opportunity to accept or reject the deal negotiated by the government. The referendum result provided a democratic mandate for Britain to leave the EU; it did not give permission to the prime minister to negotiate any deal she sees fit.

That is very much the Liberal Democrats position. It is the sensible way forward from where we are now.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Will this be the first test of Trump's new America?

The most long-lasting legacy of the Trump Administration will be the make-up of the US Supreme Court, which is likely to influence social policy in the United States for decades to come. Already, one nominee has been sent to the Senate for confirmation and there is talk of at least two more vacancies opening up in future years.

At stake is the ground-breaking 1973 judgement on abortion, Roe vs Wade as well as a host of other legal decisions and the first test for the new regime may not be long in coming if this article in the Independent is any guide.

The paper reports that a new law in the US State of Arkansas gives a pregnant woman's husband the power to stop her from having an abortion, even in cases of spousal rape:

Most second trimester abortions will also be banned by Act 45 - the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act - which will make it possible for husbands to sue doctors who carry out abortions for civil damages, or get an injunction to block the termination.

The pro-life law, which was pushed through in just two months by the state's Republican government, prohibits all dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedures, in which the physician removes the foetus from the womb with surgical tools.

D&E procedures are the safest way for women to end their pregnancies after 14 weeks of gestation, according to the American Medical Association.

But the medical procedure will now become a felony in the southern state, punishable by a $10,000 fine or six years in prison.

This is despite 683 of Arkansas's 3,771 abortions being D&E in 2015, according to the state's health department.

A clause in the legislation also states the husband of a woman seeking an abortion, if he is presumed to be the baby's father, can file a civil lawsuit against the physician for monetary damages or "injunctive relief" ― a court order that would prevent the doctor from going ahead with the procedure.

The woman’s parents or legal guardians can also sue to stop the abortion, if she is a minor.

Although a husband cannot win money in cases of “criminal conduct” against his wife ― namely, spousal rape ― he could still sue to block her from having the abortion.

This barbaric law has already been passed in onec form or another in six other states, and in all four states where the law was challenged ― Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia ― it was struck down by the courts.

Holly Dickson, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, believes that this latest bill might not be constitutional and intends to challenge it in the courts before it comes into effect. That challenge may go all the way to the United States Supreme Court, at which point we will see the impact of Trump's nominee. Could this be the death knell for Roe vs Wade?

Saturday, February 04, 2017

How much trouble is the Labour Stoke-on-Trent campaign in?

Stoke-on-Trent Central is one of Labour's safest seats and yet there is a sniff of panic within Labour Party ranks when, faced with a strong UKIP challenge, they are already casting around for allies in the hope of holding onto the seat.

It is bad enough that the party's own canvass returns are predicting that they will lose Copeland to the Tories, an own goal of massive proportions. It would mean that Jeremy Corbyn could be the first official opposition leader to lose a by-election to the Government in 35 years. But to lose Stoke-on-Trent as well would be catastrophic.

It is little wonder that Labour are casting around for a lifeline, but as the Guardian reports, looking to the other left-of-centre parties to bale them out is fraught with difficulties. We should not forget the way Labour has treated the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in the past, not least in Richmond Park where they refused to form an alliance with us to oust Zac Goldsmith.

And then there is the little problem of Labour being on the wrong side of the argument over the defining issue of modern British politics, our future in Europe. As the paper says, Liberal Democrats leader, Tim Farron, has made clear he has no intention of forming a “progressive alliance” with Corbyn, who has infuriated some pro-remain voters by whipping his party to back the government’s article 50 bill.

Labour have not just put their electoral future in jeopardy as a result of their failure to lead on the European issue and their inability to effectively oppose the Government, they have politically isolated themselves as well.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Corbyn gaffe upsets the LGBT+ Community

I think it is safe to say that Jeremy Corbyn is not having a good week. Having successfully split the Labour Party and lost thousands of members over his uncompromising stance on Brexit, the leader of Her Majesty's opposition has now put his foot in it at the start of LGBT History Month.

The Metro say that Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he said people ‘choose’ to be gay and lesbian as part of a speech in solidarity with people, whatever their sexuality:

However, the wording he used has raised questions.

‘We’re with you, we’re in solidarity with you,’ he said. ‘Your triumphs are our triumphs.

‘Our defence of you is a defence of all of humanity and the right of people to practise the life they want to practise, rather than be criminalised, brutalised and murdered, simply because they chose to be gay, they chose to be lesbian, they were LGBT in any form.’

The paper says that video of the speech on Twitter caused an immediate stir, with Conservative councillor Paul Church describing the comments as ‘retrogressive and offensive’, saying: ‘LGBT+ people do not ‘choose’ who they are.’

One commenter responded: ‘Well intentioned but complete FAIL’ while another said: ‘I think we need a new type of left-wing politics…led by Gen-Ys.’

One person tweeted: 'Memo to @jeremycorbyn - People don't 'choose' to be gay anymore than I 'chose' to be left-handed.'

By any standard this is the sort of clumsiness on the part of Corbyn and his staff which was easily avoidable. I suspect he will be delighted when the week is over and he can start afresh on Monday.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Why Welsh UKIP AMs have just got interesting

Until now the only thing really interesting about the UKIP group of AMs in the Welsh Assembly was the fact that they fight amongst themselves like ferrets in a sack.

A number of them are former Tories, one got into trouble for suggesting that the litter problem in Cardiff is caused by Eastern European immigrants and then was made a member of the committee which promotes equal opportunities, whilst another was put in charge of the Climate Change Committee even though his party does not apparently believe in it.

The remainder of the group have been a bit of a mystery except for this rather interesting story on the BBC. They say that the UKIP Assembly Member, Michelle Brown has denied an accusation by a Cardiff Bay hotel that she smoked "recreational drugs" in her bedroom there.

They say that Future Inns issued Michelle Brown a £250 charge, accusing her of causing a "strong smell" in her room that meant it could not be used for 24 hours:

A spokesman for Ms Brown denied the allegation of drug use.

He said the smell was caused by the AM smoking a strong tobacco product in the non-smoking room.

"It was an absent-minded mistake, and Michelle paid the resulting cleaning fee," the spokesman said.

The incident took place in May 2016 in the week following the North Wales AM's election to the Senedd for the very first time.

Ms Brown, who lives in Mostyn, Flintshire, stayed at the Future Inn hotel in Cardiff Bay from 9 to 11 May.

The complaint was made by the hotel following her departure on the Wednesday.

BBC Wales understands that the hotel accused the guest of smoking "recreational drugs" in her bedroom and said that "due to the strong smell in the room it cannot be used for 24 hours".

A spokesman for the AM said: "Michelle had recently spent a couple of nights at a hotel with smoking rooms, of which there are many across the UK, and regrettably forgot she was staying in a hotel without such rooms.

"It was an absent-minded mistake, and Michelle paid the resulting cleaning fee".

We may never know what the strong tobacco product was.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Will Prince Charles be allowed to meet Trump?

Much as I am opposed to the unseemly haste with which a state visit has been offered to Donald Trump, secretly I really want to witness a meeting between the US President and Prince Charles, but only if it could be subsequently broadcast to the rest of the world.

For all his quirks, the heir to the throne is fairly sound on climate change and is not afraid to let his views be known more widely. He is also alive to the threat to democracy posed by popularist movements such as that headed by Trump.

The Independent reports on his latest pronouncement in which he issued a warning over the “rise of populism” in a veiled apparent reference to the election of Donald Trump and increasingly hostile attitudes towards refugees in Europe:

The Prince of Wales said there were “deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s”, adding that “evil” religious persecution was taking place across the globe.

The “suffering doesn’t end when they arrive seeking refuge in a foreign land," he said in the pre-recorded message for BBC Radio 4's Thought For The Day.

“We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s," he said.

“My parents’ generation fought and died in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and inhuman attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.”

Citing UN statistics, he added that a "staggering" 65.3 million people abandoned their homes in 2015 — 5.8 million more than the year before.

“The suffering doesn’t end when they arrive seeking refuge in a foreign land," he said. "We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith."

He went on to urge listeners to remember this Christmas “how the story of the Nativity unfolds with the fleeing of the holy family to escape violent persecution”.

For once Donald Trump has not responded. Perhaps the reference was too subtle for him.

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