Saturday 28 December 2019


It is now  a given of UK politics that whoever Labour elects as its leader, he or she will be scorned, derided, misrepresented, mocked and denigrated by the 80% of our press that supports the Tories.

In my own adult lifetime Harold Wilson was patronised  for having been a King's Scout, liking HP sauce and apparently decorating a wall inside No 10 with a flight of pottery ducks.  Michael Foot was ridiculed for wearing a reefer jacket (rather than a morning coat) at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.  Neil Kinnock was routinely derided as a "Welsh Windbag."  Ed Milliband  was pilloried for having a Marxist father and inelegantly eating bacon sandwich (hint, hint, he's actually Jewish so should not be eating bacon). *

First prize for having opprobrium dumped on him must go to poor Jeremy Corbyn for having a beard, working an allotment, talking to Irish Terrorists (as did negotiators on behalf of Mrs Thatcher) and whose views on the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians were routinely distorted as being Anti-Semitic.

And the muck stuck.

Whatever conclusions the Labour Party reaches in its inquiries into their defeat, there can be no doubt that the "unsuitability, " to put it mildly,  of Mr Corbyn as prime minister will be top of the bill.

Yet the flaws in the character, actions and opinions of Mr Johnson, which make him completely unfit to be prime minister, were somehow brushed aside or ignored, even though they were publicly identified by leading members of his own party.

If their main priority was to retain power, as opposed to the good of the country, Troy MPs in the last parliament were right to put Johnson on the slate for election as their leader.  Whatever his flaws he had "electability" and had proved it in twice winning the Mayoralty of London,  normally  a Labour-leaning city, and in maintaining a 10 point lead it the opinion polls.

In the four years he has been Labour leader I have tended to admire Mr Corbyn as an honest and decent man who on  issues from the Iraq war to the rights of the Chagos Islanders has been usually right. True he does not seem to have been much good as a party manager or resolver of internal disputes,but I did not expect the electorate to swallow the poison poured on him to the extent that they did.

However, it now seems that the Labour MPs of the last parliament were right.  What I saw then as an unhelpful stab in the back was in fact a realisation that he made the party unelectable and so they tried to get rid of him.

Which leads me, reluctantly, to the conclusion that we maybe need to go backwards, take away the right of party members to choose the leaders, and return it to the MPs.

Whether there is in the ranks of current Labour MPs anyone with a background so saintly as to be impervious to right wing bile I doubt, but from the outside Keir Starmer seems a good bet.  I'm also intrigued by the possibility of David  Lammy, I think the only MP outside my own constituency and party to whom I've ever written (urging him to take on the leadership of the Remain campaign - sadly he didn't bite.)

*Tony Blair seems to have escaped, and Liberal Democrat leaders don't attract such a high profile, though in the brief period of Cleggmania in 2010 the Daily Mail was quick to point our that he had a Russian grandparent,and, not only that, was married to a foreigner!

Sunday 22 December 2019

Thus we are heirs of endless woes . . .*

We are now ten days into the unfettered reign of Mr Johnson and his cohort and there are no surprises: the outlook is as gloomy as predicted.

The programme announced in Parliament omits the promised protection of employment rights as we leave the EU,  there is to be no compassionate treatment of refugee children and the promised increase to £10 per hour in the minimum wage will only happen "if economic circumstances permit."

Parliamentary scrutiny  of the negotiations with the EU re our future is to be severely restricted, the government is to reserve to itself "Henry VIII powers," the Fixed Term Parliament Act is to be repealed and the constitution itself to be reviewed, presumably to increase the powers of the executive and reduce the powers of the courts.

This is not our sovereign parliament "taking back control" but a power-hungry executive with the interests of only a privileged few at its heart.

With a parliamentary majority of 80 the Opposition parties can bleat and tub-thump to their hearts content, but there's not much they can do about it.  This lot are impervious to shame.  My friend John Cole, a former Liberal Democrat councillor in Bradford, quotes from Liz Gerrard in the New European (16th December}

"This isn't about whether the government is Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green.  It isn't about Leave or Remain.  It is about allowing our society to be  built on lies, deceit and dishonesty."

In the short run, the government may be quite popular if it does implement some of the much desired public investment in the North and North East.  This will have the Keynesian multiplier effect that this blog, among other has been advocating for years.

But very little if anything that we'd like to do for our country will be made easier outside the EU than it would have been had we remained in.  The Remain campaign has been mistaken in talking about a "cliff edge." The effect of our departure on the economy will be much more akin to a slow puncture.  And, of course, we have already lost much international prestige and become something of a laughing-stock.

With his 80 seat majority Johnson claims democratic legitimacy for his policies, but, as so often , the facts when scrutinised don't bear this out.  Even in this general election 52.7% of those who voted did so for parties (Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP) who advocated either remaining in the EU or putting the matter to a People's Vote.  Only 47.3% voted for parties (Conservative or Brexit) determined to leave.

One thing that desperately needs reforming is our electoral system so that such distortions are reduced if not entirely eliminated.  We must hope that whoever is elected leader of the Labour Party is open to working with others, preferably on a whole range of issues, but at least on electoral reform.

In the meantime, we must grin and bear the pain of rampant Tory-ism.  Easy for the comfortable such as myself. Terrifying for the homeless, the disabled, the struggling, those serving in the gig economy and those without adequate pensions.

*  The title is a line from the Shropshire Carol which begins:  This is the truth went from above.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Lest we forget.

I was born in 1937, have taken a serious interest in all the general elections of my adult life, and fought as a Liberal Liberal Democrat candidate in four of them.  I write this on the 2019 election day and before the results begin to emerge.  Whatever they are, whilst no election campaign has quite reached the level of honesty and nobility that my Boy Scout upbringing would require, this has been the nastiest, dirtiest most dishonest and ignoble yet.  It beggars belief that, after 70+ years of universal secondary education ++ our society, our civilisation, our aspirations, could have sunk so low..

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but based on things I have noted in the past four months or so.

  • It is difficult to date the start of the rot, but a significant step was when the 300 or so Conservative MPs in the last parliament, most of whom are probably decent men and women who genuinely feel  they want the best for the country and the world, put an incompetent, lying chancer  such as Johnson on the ballot paper for the Leadership of their party.  They did this because they thought he would be an election winner, and it looks as though they may be proved right.  But they should have known better.  They are mostly serious politicians and, apart from a delusioned small clique, know the the country's best interests are to remain in the EU.  But they put their integrity aside to preserve their seats.  Birthright for a mess of pottage comes to mind.
  • This same Johnson and his team illegally, attempted to prorogue parliament in order to stifle discussion of their EU Withdrawal Deal.
  • Constitutional meddling continued when the Monarch was forced into a pantomime of delivering a "Speech from the Throne" which everyone, including presumably the Queen, knew was a pointless charade.
  • When forced by the Supreme Court to continue the parliament, Johnson attempted to confine discussion of his  Withdrawal Bill, possibly the most important piece of proposed legislation for half a century, to only three days.
  • When about 20 of the more decent Tories voted against his machinations he expelled them from the parliamentary party.  So many of them, and the former leader Sir John Major, have publicly said he is not fit to be PM and urged Conservative voters to support other parties.
  • In the first few days after the election was called Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of Johnson's closest allies and a leading , if not the leading, Brexiteer, claimed that the Grenfell Tower residents who died in the fire did so because they lacked  "common sense " in obeying what were then standard fire fighters' instructions.  We have  seen and heard little of him since.
  • A report on possible  Russian interference in the 2016 Referendum campaign has been kept under wraps for the duration of the campaign (and possibly beyond). Why?  Because if there were such interference if would  demonstrate even further that the 2016 referendum result and all that guff about "17.4 million voters" and the "will of the people" is invalid?
  • It is alleged that the Brexit Party were persuaded to withdraw from fighting in Tory-held seats by the offers of peerages and other bribes.  Denied of course, but Anne Widdecombe, a devout Roman Catholic, is prepared to swear that it's true.  A peerage for Nigel Farage? Really?
  • After a key debate in the campaign Conservative Central office rebranded its Twitter account to appear that it was an independent source of factuality - FACTCHECK UK.  A contribution to "fake news."
  • Johnson failed to join the other party leaders in a debate on the Climate Crisis.
  • Having presumably given the impression that he would, Johnson refused to be interviewed on the BBC by Andrew Neal, reputedly the toughest of the interlocutors.
There have ben other incidents which, by happenstance or engineering, have made life more difficult for the opposition parties.

  • There was an  intervention by the Chief Rabbi which basically called on Jews not to vote Labour. This was timed for a day on which the Labour Party issued some policies on faith matters and was presumably timed to distract from anything positive that was said. There was also the publication of some evidence to an official enquiry on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.  The Chief Rabbi's intervention is unprecedented for any religious leader.  Did the "evidence" to the enquiry have to be published  in the middle of the campaign when most potentially sensitive political material is embargoed?  I am not and never have been a member of the Labour Party so I cannot comment with authority, but I suspect that much of the disquiet arises from opposition to the policies of the Israeli government rather than genuine disrespect for Jews. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that both intervention and publication are party politically motivated.
  • The resignation of Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on the day campaigning started was something that Corbyn and the current mainstream Labour Party could have done without.  I believe Watson resigned  for health reasons, but the timing was unfortunate.
  • The BBC has been criticised, I think justifiably, for being over-kind to the Tories.  In a news item they cut out the derisive laughter one of Johns's replies to a question in public engendered, and replaced his fudged laying of the government wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday with another version.  They allowed him to be interviewed by the less aggressive Andrew Marr "in the national interest! after the London Bridge killings, having said thy would refuse him such air time unless he appeared with Andrew Neal
  • All the media spent much more time and pages of ink on the alleged sexual activities  of Prince Andrew and  Virginia Roberts than they did on Johnson and his alleged  favourable financial  treatment of Jennifer Arcuri, a one time girlfriend, or, for that matter, any other Johnson affairs.
  • It is reported today that the BBC chief political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, thought by most of us on the left to be over-right wing, has "leaked" the news that the opening of the postal votes seems to indicate "grim news" for Labour.  Revealing postal votes before the close of poll is meant to be illegal. Another key figure in BBC political reporting is Nick Robinson, who was President of Oxford University Conservative Association in his youth.
  • On the plus side, the BBC and other media seem to me to have been more generous than usual with coverage of we Liberal Democrats.
And finally:

  • Some would claim that this winter election was triggered by collusion between the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists in allowing Johnson to call an election with a simple majority in the Commons rather than the two-thirds required by the Fixed Term Parliament Act.  Whatever the result, serves us right? 
  • On the other hand that 19 Labour MPs led by Stephen Kinnock voted FOR Johnson's Withdrawal Bill meant that hopes of gaining a confirmatory referendum in the last parliament had expired.
We shall see how the "blame game" develops.

What is ironic is that, apparently, the   best we Pro- Europeans can hope for in this election is another parliament without a Tory majority, which is what we had six weeks ago.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Pre-election final thoughts

First, two  gems I've heard in the past few days:

1.  From the joint leader of the Greens, Jonathan Bartley,  on a radio "Question Time" last night: "If the environment were a bank it would have been rescued already."

Yes indeed: the powers that be rushed to rescue the financial system - and don't forget it was Gordon Brown who led the world in this in 2008, though the Tories aren't too keen on acknowledging it.  One at least is still peddling the lie that  the UK Labour Party were responsible for causing the world financial crisis.  Be that as it may, the climate crisis has until now received no such urgent action.  Welcome to XR and Greta Thunberg: they have so far proved the only game changers in this election.

2. Words to the effect that: "The Labour Party have been unveiling goodies like some sort of political Advent calendar."

I think this has been a major mistake by Labour. 

I suspect most Liberal Democrats are happy to go along with most of their policies, though we might express them differently -  for example taking back into "public ownership" rather than  top down  "Nationalisation" such as the energy suppliers and railways, and putting more emphasis on consumer and employee participation.
But does it all need to be free, and does it all need to be done at once? 

For example, does super- duper broadband need to be free from the start? The earlier form of distance communication, the postal service, had to be paid for, and a 1d (that's a penny, hence Penny Post)  was quite a whack in those days.  And, as I've argued in earlier pasts, not every pensioner needs a free TV Licence.  Nor do many WASPI  women whose pensions have been delayed need compensation, or every primary school child need a free breakfast provided by the state.  

Yes, I know the arguments for universality, but it doesn't all have to be done at once, which is the impression the Labour (panic?) announcements give.

One economic commentator has said that although all political parties now seem to have rediscovered the benefits of Keynesianism, much of the electorate has still to catch up.  "Where's the money coming from?" is a common reaction,  and Labour's promises are not seen to be credible.

Talking of Advent: the readings in mainstream Christian Churches last Sunday, the Second in Advent (year A) were  from Psalm 72, and St Matthew 3vv 1-12

Psalm 72 asks God to bless the ruler (the king in the psalm: for today read "political leaders") with "justice" and "righteousness."  He is (they are) to "judge the people according to right and to defend the poor."  

For good measure rulers are to  "defend the children of the poor" as well, and "bring peace."

Oh, and "punish the wrong doer. " 

  I  suppose the Tories would go along with he last bit (provided it's not a banker, or, indeed, a philanderer and  deceiver )

In the passage from St Matthew's  Gospel John the Baptist exhorts both rulers and the rest of us to be like trees that "bring forth good fruit." He  warns that that trees that don't "bring forth good fruit" will be  "hewn down and cast into the fire."

Ye that that hath  ears to hear, let him (or her) hear.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Election: a game changer?

When the news of the killing of two young people by a terrorist near London Bridge last Friday was first broadcast my heart sank.  This was partly, of course, in sorrow  at yet another violent attack in our otherwase relatively peaceful society, but also that this incident could boost yet further the Tory lead.

Past elections have sometimes  been knocked off course by unexpected incidents.  In the first one in which I stood, as he Liberal candidate in my home patch, the then Batley and Morley constituency in 1970, from the outset the main question was how big Harold Wilson's Labour majority would be.  However, a few days before the election international trade figures were released showing that our overseas trade (the difference between the value of exported and imported goods) was in deficit.  I think it was by about £60m, peanuts* by today's standards, but it was enough to shatter confidence in Labour's economic competence and the Conservatives under Ted Heath won a majority.

A similar "game changer" occurred in 2017, when the Tories published their manifesto.  It contained reasonably sensible measures for financing social care but Labour dubbed them a "Dementia Tax" and Theresa May, who had been on course to win, lost whatever momentum she had and, in the result, her majority.

It may well be, however, that these murders may turn out to be the game changer in this election.  The Tories can't lose their majority because they haven't got one, but as information about the killing leaks out,  Johnson's initial and predicable reaction, the traditional Tory "Lora Norder" response of "lock'em up and throw away he key, " which probably did resonate with many if not most of the electors, may come to be seen as a crass "knee jerk" reaction.

In the past few days incident has brought to light more reasoned approaches.  The two young people killed, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were former students of law and criminology, and were working with an organisation, "Learning Together" designed to explore ways of effectively rehabilitating former criminals.  

Jack's father, Dave Merritt, has publicly declared that "Jack would be livid his death has been used to further an agenda of hate."  A pity he didn't write  it in the Sun or the Daily Mail rather than for the (mostly I presume) already converted readers of  the Guardian.

We also now know that one of the members of the conference at which Jack and Saskia were helping to lead, who risked his own life  by rushing forward to restrain the killer, was an ex-offender, Marc Conway.  For good measure, another person who put his own life at risk was a Polish kitchen porter named Lukasz, presumably the sort of person who would not be welcome in a Tory "points based immigration system."

Equally telling has been publicity given to the impact of recent cuts in the staffing and funding of the judicial system and police, prison and probation services. The Ministry of Justice budget has been cut in real terms by 40%, resulting in a 20% cut in police funding, several thousand fewer prison officers leading to prisoners spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, and the disastrous part-privatisation of the probation service engineered by Chris Grayling

These details give the lie to the fatuous business-speak mantra that government departments can "do more with less."  This applies equably our NHS, local government. education, social security provision, consumer protection and health and safety monitoring.

The ideologically driven government austerity regime of the past decade has had consequences and will have more.

Of course there is no guarantee that the best provisions in the world would absolutely rule out to possibility of a maverick individual surviving the system unreformed.  But a rich country such as ours should be aiming at the best provision for the vulnerable, rather than cheeseparing to benefit the rich.

Locking people up and throwing away the key is not now and never was a civilised approach to criminal behaviour.  It was Douglas Hurd, one of the better Tories of past generations, who when Home Secretary told the party conference that  "prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse."

Sadly so far there is no sign of a more reasoned approach to tackling the problems of our society is affecting public opinion.  The polls remain static.

But there's still time. The best memorial for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones would be a substantial dent in the Tory lead.

* It was in fact about 0.2% of the then GDP, compared with today's 7%. The 0.2% was largely the result of one-off payments for two Boeing jet aircraft, and was more than balanced by a 0.7% surplus on trade in services.  But his information didn't "trickle down" to the electorate.  On such misconceptions do the fates of general elections rest.

Friday 29 November 2019

Migration: the view from Canada

I have a second cousine  living in Canada who seems to be more clued up on UK affairs than most of us here.  i think she gets it from "The Economist," - harly a raveing left-wing source.  She writes:

Cousin Peter, Hello

I think another blog issue. Net Migration to the UK

NET in-migration from EU countries ONLY 48,000 !!! Down from 200,000.
[And even that wasn't many.]  So the fear of "those dreadful Romanians" which prompted people to vote LEAVE, is no longer an issue.  48,000 in a country of 70 MILLION !!! A well-attended Football game perhaps.

Reasons. (Which you already know)

Eastern EU countries (recently joined the  EU) are now economically
"getting on" themselves (with massive EU subsidies - eg to Poland,
Lithuania  -I might add)

The low Pound - they say - "Hey why bother cleaning hospital floors in
Tooting Bec, when the pound isn't worth anything to "send home", and
living 4 to a room in London". They go back to their families.  Low
skilled low wage people, that is.

"Stable" high paid EU people in long term jobs in the UK are getting fed up with Brexit and moving back to Continental Europe - "I can be an Italian Chef in Marseilles or Lyons, just as easily: and a better
climate", says Giovanni.

The British Business Community/Federation are panicking saying they NEED EU skilled tradesmen like plumbers and electricians, everyday
wheelbarrow pushers and diggers, especially in the Building industry
-not just "the Brightest and the Best" architects and engineers. (As per
some Party "new" proposed immigration rules)


And then (also today) is the Report from the IFS (Institute of Fiscal
Studies) saying "every" Party's Manifesto figures are misleading.  I
think I recall them saying something like: Labour's long term spending
to "get things fair and efficient" might be 60 billion over many many
years.  The IFS said a Conservative"No Deal" would plunge the UK into a deficit of a similar amount !! 60 billion loss, in no time at all

I hope you're keeping your nerve.


Cousine M.

I received the above yesterday from M's Canadian outpost.  She's way ahead of the Guardian, who only today report the fall to 48 000 of EU migrant numbers.  You can see the details here.  What the Guardian's graph  doesn't show is that the fall in migration from the EU 27 is more or less made up for by increasing numbers from the rest of the worlds, over whom we do have control( and many of whom have skin colours other than pink. )

Funny old world in which yo have to be careful what you wish for.

Personally I'm jolly glad to have been born and live in a country that people want to come to rather than escape from, and to have had the privilege of living and working in three other different cultures where I hope I've  made a small contribution akin to  the sort of positive contribution  immigrants from other countries and cultures make here.

Friday 22 November 2019

Our Liberal Democrat do-able manifesto

Someone on the radio this morning said that the Liberal Democrats had highlighted five vital points of our manifesto, which made it easy to grasp.

I haven't noticed these five defined on any official manifesto I've seen, but I think he mentioned:

  1. Stop Brexit.
  2. Action on the climate emergency.
  3. The health service.
  4. Education.
  5. Housing.
1.  Stopping Brexit is rightly at the top of the list.  As the other parties are trying, and I suspect succeeding, in hiving off Brexit as a boring issue we've all heard quite enough about, we need to continue to emphasise that hardly anything anyone wants to do for our society - about the climate crisis, housing, education, the NHS, crime or whatever - is made any easier by leaving the EU, and most things become much more difficult.

 "Just get it done because we're bored by it" is a fatuous argument when  the reputation of our country  and well-being of our own and future generations will be gravely damaged by a wrong decision.

2.  We are right  to give the next priority to the climate emergency: a "climate fund" of £100bn over five years, an ambitious target of  80% of our energy needs to  be met from clean renewable resources by 2030 and the taxation of frequent flyers.

3.  We are right to advocate an extra 1p on income tax to more properly fund the health service and bring mental health services into line with physical services.

4.  Although the manifesto highlights an extra 20 000 teachers I'm curious from know from where we'll find them.  Scrapping STATS and OFSTED would be my favourite bits, and I suspect those of most practising teachers.  Set the teachers free to teach

5.  A target of an 300,000 houses a year, along with penal levies on homes left empty for more than six months, will help alleviate a major distortion in our quality of life.

As far as I can see we have left proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, second chamber reform, devolution of power to the nations and regions, land value taxation, employee representation, profit sharing and other Liberal shibboleths on the back-burner for the time being (though legalisation of cannabis has somehow squeezed in).

Politics is, after all the art of the possible.

By contrast dedicated Labour  supporters must feel that all their birthdays and Christmases have come at once.  Their manifesto claims to be "the most radical for decades."  Indeed it is and, in an ideal world I would go along with most of it.

In the 2017 election Labour's fortunes improved when they launched their slightly less comprehensive manifesto, and they presumably hope this even more radical one will have a similar effect.  I hope they are right.

However, I suspect they misinterpret the public mood. 

Yes, back in 1945, when Britain had emerged from a devastating war as part of a victorious coalition, memories of the miseries of the 1930s depression were still very vivid and national self-confidence as at a maximum, the country was ready for a complete and adventurous change of direction.

Labour is right to highlight the miseries and unfairness of the post crash decade, of the damage to civic society, the crumbling of our infrastructure, and, above all the sheer unsuitability of the lying and disingenuous clique who have taken over our government.

To me the biggest puzzle is why the public are not seething with anger.

But we  aren't - maybe because 80% of us have survived austerity reasonably comfortably.

So while the Labour manifesto is to be admired, and chunks of it could well be at home in a Liberal Democrat manifesto, the public is not ready for it. 

And the successful media demonisation of Mr Corbyn means that they are not ready for him either.

Most serious of all, it really is not credible that the major contender for replacing the present shambles of a government should continue to sit on the fence regarding the major issue facing us: Brexit.

Step for award the Liberal Democrats with our more modest but do-able proposals - a sort of Fabian Liberalism

Monday 18 November 2019

Your clothing and the climate crisis.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that all forms of transport and travel powered by carbon based fuels are damaging to the environment and that we need to cut buck on their use if global heating is to be kept within bounds.

It came as a surprise to me that the world textile industry is one of the major causes of environmental desegregation.  The facts detailed below are taken form an article by  Sandra Laville, the Guardian's environment correspondent, published  last June.

1.  The textile industry creates 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 per year, more than international aviation and shipping combined.*
2.  It consumes and pollutes "lake sized" volumes of water.
3.  It creates chemical and plastic pollution: up to 35% of microplastics in the ocean come from synthetic clothing. When we wash clothes containing synthetic fibres, each cycle releases hundreds  of thousands of tiny fragments of plastic into the waterways.
4.  Neither nationally or internationally is inspection of working conditions sufficiently robust  to ensure that adequate health  and safety standards are maintained and at least minimum legal wages paid.
5.  In the UK discarded textiles generate 1.3m tonnes of waste each year, of which 350 000 tonnes are incinerated of put into landfill.

This does not mean that to save the planet we should all go around naked, but it does mean that we should avoid  the fast-fashion industry, buy clothing made to last and wash it only when necessary.  What we need to do is follow the practices of our grandparents: buy quality clothing and wear it until it wears out.

 The fast fashion industry has expanded enormously in the past 25 years.and its younger customers.  In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other European country, and five times what we bought it the1980s.  On average such clothing is discarded by its consumers after five weeks. 

An adjoining article recommends that we commit to wearing every piece of clothing at least 30 times.  I'm happy to say that my generation will have no problem with that, and counting.

*  When I put this to an expert at Leeds University he suspected there could be some double counting: the CO2 emissions of creating and transporting  the textiles could be included in the "Textile" figure, and again in the "Transport" figure.  Let's hope he'll sort it out in his PhD.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Some truths about the Climate Crisis

Last month I attended a day conference on the Climate Crisis run by the Leeds Trades Council, largely a Trades Union organisation and Labour Party front. (The session of "Working with others" never even mentioned the Liberal Democrats.  I'm not sure they even mentioned the Greens)

Reassuringly the emphasis was not so much on preserving jobs in existing industries as the urgency of action to  avoid a climate catastrophe, even if that means contracting some existing industries.  Rather there was considerable emphasis on  the opportunities to be created in the expanding Green industries.

I picked up the following "facts" which sound sensible to me.

1.  It is a nonsense to think that so-called "carbon capture and storage" techniques (CCS) will enable us to carry on extracting and  burning fossil fuels and capture and bury the carbon to keep it out of harms way.  CCS has never yet been achieved on a large industrial scale, even though several billions have already been spent on pilot schemes.  Even if it is achievable, great lumps of carbon (frozen CO2?) in the ground and ready to leak out at any moment are hardly a friendly legacy to leave for future generations to deal with.

2.  Cutting carbon emissions by 2050 , the current government policy, will be too late. "Experts" (of whom some Tories have had enough) say we need to achieve the target in 12 years at the most (ie by 2031).

3. Gas is a fossil fuel and any achieved from fracking will pump huge amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2) into the air.  Even if we discover how to stop the resulting earthquakes and poisoning of water supplies which presently result from the procedure there is not now and never will be a case for fracking.

4.  Hydrogen for use as a fuel does not exist in nature but has to be created, usually from water by electrolysis (I remember doing this at school).  This requires more energy than is contained in the resultant hydrogen fuel.*

5.  Much time was spent in discussing the proposed expansion of the Leeds and Bradford airport.  Our conclusion was that LBA should be contracted rather than expanded, and the same goes for London Airport. We look for ward to seeing Boris Johnson, PM or not, lying in the road to stop the bulldozers if anyone is daft enough to go ahead with their third runway.

So far these issues have not featured al that prominently in the election campaign.  The should come second only to Brexit

*  On this it depends how the electricity is generated.  If we can generate all the electricity  we need from wind, tidal and solar power, than that alters the situation.  For the present even electric cars are not super-virtuous  if some of the electricity they consume is from fossil fuels.  Nor from bio-fuels: the production of these takes up valuable farming lands and their use pours  noxious gasses into the air.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Grenfell; who or what is responsible?

Earlier this week leading Brexiteer and still a cabinet minister  Jacob Rees Mogg gave it has his opinion that the residents of the Grenfell Tower Block who obeyed the Fire Service's instructions to stay  in their apartments during the fire,  "lacked common sense."  This has caused outrage and it is understood the Tory campaign managers hope to keep Mr Rees Mogg out of the limelight for the rest of the election period.

The following information is culled from a letter from a Sasha Simic published in the Guardian on7th November.

  • When he was Prime Minister David Cameron promised to abolish the "albatross" of "overregulation " in the building industry and claimed that his Conservative government would "kill off the health and safety culture for good."
  • In 2015 Sajid Javid, then Business Secretary and now Chancellor of the Exchequer,  launched a government initiative called "Cutting Red Tape" which, among other things, claimed that "Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections  reduced from six hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job."
  • When he was Mayor of London Boris Johnson closed 10 London fire stations, took 30 fire engines out of service and slashed over 500 firefighter jobs to  "save money."
  • It was the Tory-controlled Kensington and Chelsea council that "saved" £293 000 by draping Grenfell Tower with flammable cladding rather than fire-resistant cladding.
 I have not checked all these facts, but have no reason to believe that any are incorrect or exaggerated.  

They should be printed and published in every non-Tory election communication
M/s Simic  concludes with the view  that "[i]t was the Tory doctrine of the unfettered free-market perusing profit above all other considerations that paved the way  to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people."

It's hard to disagree.

Out of the EU and in cohorts with the US as a quasi 51st state we can expect more of the same.  

When anyone mentions "the nanny sate" or  "red tape" it is essential to remember that one person's red tap is another's health and safety and better prospects of decent and safer working and living conditions.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Some "facts" which might get in the way of feelings. (1)

 First to explain the commas around "Facts" in the title.  Ther are in fact no facts about the future,* just predictions with a varying likelihood of being correct.  So this post is really about some perditions in the election campaign which in my view are highly likely to be correct, and which  the BBC's  "news reality check has deemed to be reasonable.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn has claimed that, if the NHS is opened up  to the US "Big Pharma" in a free trade deal this could cost the NHS an extra £500m a week.

This, it is true, is a "worst case scenario" and I hope Corbyn said " could" rather than "will."   But the argument is that medicinal drugs in the US are priced on average at  two and a half times more then NHS currently  pays for the equivalent.  So if we become dependent on US drugs, and the US pharmaceutical  companies manage to push up our prices to the US level, this will indeed  raise costs by about £500 a week.

 News Reality Check thinks this is a reasonable estimation.  It depends, of course, on our actually leaving the EU and accepting a free trade deal on US terms, which, as argued in an earlier post, is highly likely to be the case if we do leave.

 A rise in costs of £500m a week is in  sharp contrast to the flaky claim of £350m a week saved for the NHS by Brexit.

Another  claim is from Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, that if we remain in the EU the economy will grow at a faster rate than if we leave, and that the extra growth will generate an additional £50bn in tax revenues over the first five years.  The fact checkers say that is credible but, in terms of total government expenditure, it's not all that much!

Well, perhaps not, but it's better than nothing.

These figures for a million pounds here and a billion there are bandied around and, given that the overwhelming majority of us don't even a significant fraction of  £1m, (in fact , the TUC claims that the average family is £14 000 in debt, or) they perhaps don't convey much.

 However, most of us know what a second is.

It takes just over eleven and a half days to run up a million seconds.
(Stick 1 000 000 in your calculator, divide by 60 to get minutes, then 60 again to get hours, then 24 to get days.  Or, if you can remember how, do it even more convincingly by long division.)

It takes nearly  31 and  3/4 years to run up a billion seconds.

If you don't believe it repeat the above starting with 1 000 000 000  or see.

So £50bn, even spread over five years, adds up to quite a lot of decent social security payments, affordable houses built, , schools and  hospitals modernised and properly staffed,  potholes in the roads repaired, or whatever your priorities are.)

Not to be sniffed at.

Brexit supporters please note.

*  some people argue there are no facts about the past either, just different interpretations.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

ASDA's new "contract"

ASDA used to be Associated Dairies and employed the friendly chap (they were usually chaps) who delivered your daily milk and, if the bottles lined up out side uncollected, realised something was wrong and did something about it.

Now ASDA is a supermarket and after a period of continued British ownership, is now part of the US Walmart empire.

Last Saturday ASDA staff were forced to accept new contacts or lose their jobs.  I am neither an employee, shareholder nor a customer of ASDA, so have no personal axe to grind, but am appalled at the apparent conditions implied by the new contracts.  (The word itself is misleading.  "Contract" implies an agreement voluntarily made between equals, not something forced on another on a "take it or leave it" basis.)

I am ashamed to live in a country which imposed, without choice, the following conditions:

1.  Shifts can be changed without agreement with four week's notice.
2.  Staff may be forced  to work Bank Holidays (and probably weekends) without extra pay.
3.  There is no payment for breaks.

The first condition obviously affects  parents with young children  and those with caring responsibilities, who may have organised their working hours and days to accommodate those responsibilities (or even leisure activities -   why not?)

The second demonstrates how businesses have gradually eroded cultural norms, or hard-won rights, to their own benefit and to the detriment of their employees.   When Sunday trading was permitted on a wider scale in this country in 1994 employees were assured (indeed I think it was guaranteed in the Act) that no-one would be compelled to work on a Sunday.  It was also the norm to pay "time and a quarter" for the first two hour or so of overtime, time and a half for more, and double time for Sundays and Bank Holidays.  These little compensations have now gone out of the window (even with my own main grocery, the Co-op, whom you would  think would be a model employer)

Do they really mean the third infraction: time spent on tea breaks will be unpaid?  Although the most minor in potential inconvenience it is surely the most petty.  A fifteen minute break for a cup of tea and a chat with colleagues every morning and afternoon is, sadly , the high point of many workers' day.  (I so well remember the first factory I worked in during my holidays while still at school.  Morning tea-break was at "Five to Ten" when the morning service came on the BBC Light Programme with its theme tune "Dear Lord and Father of mankind."  I think of it every time we sing that hymn.)   If they rally do mean it, even on the minimum wage, that amounts to a pay-cut of over £20 a week.
For further and better particulars of the absolute hell produced by these management practices  read "Hired" by James Bloodworth.  You'll never buy anything from Amazon again.

Remaining in the European Union will not necessary defend us from such outrages, But if we do leave, and the social democratic influence of the EU wanes and the neo-con policies of the US become even more dominate, outrages such as this will become more common.

Friday 1 November 2019

A not-so-special relationship.

President Trump's two handed intervention into our general election is ambiguous in its effect.

On the one hand Trump  has somewhat torpedoed Prime Minister Johnson's oft-repeated claim that a "free  trade deal with the US" is more or less in the bag by announcing that  the the deal Johnson has negotiated with Europe will make the negotiation of a free trade deal with the US more difficult. 

If we take Trump at his word, he has exposed Johnson's boast as groundless.

On the other had he has helpfully, for Johnson, advised  Nigel Farage to make pacts with the Tories to ensure that our Leave vote is not split, and opined that Jeremy Corbyn would lead the UK  to a "bad place."

 I wonder how this advice resonates with Farage's mantra of "taking back control."?  

OK, it is advice and not an instruction, but it does illustrate that any relationship between the US and the UK is one of our subservience  rather than equality, and special only in the sense that the US President has graciously taken note of our little domestic squabble.

Another issue illustrates that Johnson has nowhere  near the influence with Trump that he likes to pretend.  

Last month Johnson intervened in the campaign to have Anne Sacoolas, who allegedly killed Harry Dunn in a road accident and then claimed diplomatic immunity,  return to the UK to face trial.  

Johnson announced that, if the two Foreign Offices could not resolve the matter then he would personally contact  President Trump.  I believe he did so. but apparently to no avail.  Mrs Sacoolas is still in the US.  

For some reason our media have failed to give much, even any, publicity to this failure.

What is clear is the President Trump is keeping his campaign promise  to "put America first." Any expectation that the UK will receive special treatment, in trade deals, diplomacy, or anything else, is pure delusion.

Trump would like to add the UK market of 66 million or so  to his domestic market of some 330  million.  But it will be on his terms - we shall have no favours.

So far Jeremy Corbyn has the best line on this: "Our NHS is not for sale."

Thursday 31 October 2019

Election in the bleak mid winter.

As argued in the previous post, my strong preference is (now was) for this parliament to continue scrutinising Johnson's Brexit Bill, hoping  for an amendment to put it to a referendum, and then, after the referendum, and whatever the result, have the General election. 

Alas, that is not to be.

I regard the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) as the one great Liberal Democrat constitutional gain of the 2010 Coalition (the other two, for electoral reform and House of Lords reform, were both scuppered by combinations of Tory deceit and Labour pusillanimity).

The purpose of the FTPA was to make our politics fairer by taking  away from the incumbent prime minister  the right to call a General Election just when he/she felt the governing  party had the best chance of winning.  It is a sad irony that we Liberal Democrats, instigators of this splendid act, should be the first to drive a coach and horses through it.

The argument is that the Liberal Democrat and SNP leaders had concluded that there was no longer any possibility of obtaining a majority for a People's Vote amendment from the existing MPs.  Well, they are more in touch with their parliamentary colleagues than I am, so they may well be right.  but I can't help thinking they were somewhat premature.  All that was needed was for the Labour leadership to change its mind, which, now that the election has been called, they have done.  

Admittedly, they want a People's Vote on a Withdrawal deal that they have negotiated rather the Johnson deal they may have amended, but it is a move in the right, if somewhat hypothetical, direction.

Mr Johnson was keen to label the existing Commons as a "zombie" parliament,"  simply on the grounds that it could not be relied upon to do what he wanted.  That, of course, is the function of parliament - to scrutinise the government's proposals, and, where they are felt to be lacking, propose improvements.  

The British constitution was working well.

To make a comparison with Johnson's much admired America, the US president can't just sack Congress because it doesn't jump to his wishes: he (not yet a she) has to wait for the Constitution to take its course.  And, with Donald Trump in the presidency, thank goodness.

However, we are where we are and must make the best of it. 

Happily our Liberal Democrat message is clear: we will do all we can to "Stop Brexit."  It could be best to stop there, and maybe that is what our campaigns team will decide. Or we may be forced to complicate matters by giving "further and better particulars": that in the(unlikely but not impossible) event that we win an over-all majority we shall simply Revoke Article 50, and if we need to work with others less determined we shall support a People's Vote which contains the option to Remain.

Al least this twin policy will be easier to explain than Labour's.

A winter campaign puts both Labour and we Liberal Democrats at a disadvantage, since our strengths are in "boots on the ground" prepared to canvass.  But with darkness falling around tea-time effective canvassing time is seriously reduced.  The Tories by contrast, have few members but bags of money for targetted mailshots and the even more invidious super-targetted digital messages.  Fortunately one of the social media on which these "dark arts" can be practised has decided to outlaw them, but so far (the larger?) Facebook hasn't.

It will not be an easy campaign for anyone except the SNP, who seem destined to sweep the board again in Scotland. 

In England Labour are hoping for the sort of boost they achieved under Mr Corbyn  in 2017, but part of that was due to Mrs May's ineptitude.  Johnson may be a philanderer, serial liar and opportunist, and totally unsuited for the office of Prime Minister, but he is (or was) an effective campaigner.  He won the London Mayoralty not once but twice, and London is a Labour-leaning city.  Here's hoping he will not be so effective on the larger scale.

Friday 25 October 2019

Brexit: here's what to do next

1.  ignore Prime Minister Johnson's call for a General Election on the 12th December.  To satisfy the Parliament Act he needs the support of two thirds of MPs to get it, and he controls less than half of them.  The opposition parties needn't even vote against, but just abstain.

This will be awkward for Labour, as Mr Corbyn has stated that he will agree to a general election as soon as "no deal is off the table," which it now appears to be.  However, the last three Tory prime ministers haven't worried too much about breaking their words, so he can join the gang.  There is  no need direct his MPs to act  as "turkeys voting for Christmas."  At lease some of them are well aware of this.

For we Liberal Democrats and the SNP this involves self-sacrifice since both parties are likely to do well in an early election.  However the priority is to get Brexit fixed, so that is what we we should do.

2.  Parliament can now spend as much of the time as is necessary to  sorting out  the Brexit Withdrawal Bill which Mr Johnson is so proud of having got through its first reading. All the clauses can be thoroughly scrutinised, which is what parliament exists for, amendments can be moved (to include employment rights, better access to the single market, membership  of the customs union, the Northern Ireland stitch-up, a special status for Scotland  and anything else MPs are worried about.  Above all, for the bill, as finally amended (or not) to be put to a confirmatory vote by the public, against the option of the status quo.)

Some amendments will be carried, some lost, maybe even the requirement for a confirmatory vote, but at least MPs will have tried.

3.  In parallel with all this parliamentary activity,  party teams and civil servants should be working out the details for the confirmatory vote, so that, should the amendment for that be successful, all will be in place for it to be held before the 31st January.

If the amendment falls, then they will have at least leaned from  the experience and  that won't be anywhere near as costly as the millions (or was it billions) spent on preparing for a no-deal Brexit, which hasn't happened and, if the law is obeyed, won't.

4.  The Withdrawal Bill should be in its final form by Christmas.  We shall know exactly on what terms we shall leave, and can spend January debating  whether to accept them or prefer the deal we already have.

5.  After that, knowing where we are, we can have a General Election to decide where we're going, and who is best to lead us there.


Thursday 24 October 2019

United Nations Day

Today 24th October, is United Nations day, though you wouldn't know it from the British media.  I have as yet seen no reference to it in my daily newspaper, nor heard any mention of it  on the BBC  news bulletins.  If you'd like further and better particulars they can be found here and here.

I believe it's now Labour Party policy that we should have more public holidays, so, if and when this policy is implemented I suggest that one of them should be UN Day and, not only that, but it should  be the actual date and not just the nearest Monday, which is the unfortunate British custom for public holidays.

It has been a long standing suggestion from some Tories any extra holiday (or a replacement for May Day, which some of them would  like to see abolished) should be Trafalgar Day (21st October, commemorating the British naval victory over the French and Spanish fleets in 1805) or some such event in our "glorious island history."

Such backward-looking thinking is typical of our Right Wing, and of the thinking of many of the Brexit supporters, which I've seen described as "a desire to recreate an imaginary past."

Admittedly UN Day commemorates a past event, the coming into operation of the Charter in1945, in the hope of establishing a world rules-based order and avoiding the horrors of the wars of the earlier part of the century.  It has not, of course been even moderately  successful so far, and its current structure reflects the perceived geopolitical power structure of the 1940s rather than those of today. 

Nevertheless the Charter remains "our shared moral anchor," as Antonio Guterres, the current Secretary -General puts it.  (I wonder how many people in Britain recognise his name?)

Once the Brexit morass is sorted out we need to "Lift up [our] eyes unto the hills" and refocus our concerns onto creating a world  without wars and poverty, but in which everyone can enjoy their lives in peace, sustainable plenty, and liberty.  (And also discover a way of stopping Microsoft, or whoever is responsible printing everything in italics when you don't want it to).

Monday 21 October 2019

Brexit - where now?

In my training as a Reader (lay preacher) in the Church of England more than thirty  years ago I was taught that  "the Kingdom of heaven is now, but not yet."

There's a similar ambiguity about last Saturday's vote on Brexit in the House of Commons.  The government's withdrawal deal was not exactly defeated, so it's still with us now, but may only be implemented if and when all the necessary legislation is in place to ensure that a "no deal" Brexit cannot be engineered by the back door - something which the Johnson-Cummings team are thought to be quite capable of engineering.

Like Mr Johnson I should have preferred a decisive vote: Johnson for acceptance of the deal, me for chucking it out. 

The government is anxious to have a repeat vote this afternoon, which their supportive press is  trying to bounce us into thinking they could win. Both the press and the government seem unaware of the irony of their desire  for a second vote in parliament only two days after the last one, along with their adamant refusal to allow a repeat vote on the Referendum itself, which is now three years out of date.

Minster after minister appears in the media mouthing three flawed arguments.

1.  "The people" just want us to get this done - to just get on with it.

 That's actually a good argument for Revoking Article 50 here and now, by far and away the neatest way of getting it "done" and clearing the way for tackling our real problems. 

For those who are still anxious to create a deal for leaving that does the minimum of damage, surely finding a solution to the most crucial problem we've faced in the last 40 years requires  serious and in-depth consideration.  Just "getting it done" is a lazy and facile argument.

2.  They argue that we must "put an end to uncertainty." 

Any deal to leave the EU will be no means end the uncertainly - merely open the gateway for the commencement of further negotiations which will take years.

There is no doubt that uncertainly is doing considerable damage to the UK economy (a much more serious matter than the public allegedly getting bored with the issue).    Phillip Inman pointed out in his Observer column last week (13/10/19) that since the Referendum business investment in new plant, machinery and technology in the UK grew by barely 0.1% per year, compared with 7.4% in 2014 and 6.5% in 2105. 

It is such investment that creates jobs and improves productivity.  Leaving the EU on the 31st October , or any other date, will not change this situation overnight.

3.  We must "Carry out the instruction of the British People."

 But the "British People" however defined, gave no such "instruction." 

The "people" of Scotland,voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, as did the "people" of Northern Ireland.  Of the whole United Kingdom only 37% of those entitled to vote  opted for leave and it is now recognised that the referendum was seriously flawed in both its construction and conduct.  

A lawyer, David Allen Green, writing in the November issue of Prospect, claims that :"Had that Referendum  been legally binding, as opposed to merely advisory, there is little doubt the result  would by  now have been set aside."

Of course, it takes time to argue the above.  "The people's will" is quicker and punchier.  But serious decisions should be made on serious consideration of the facts, not simplistic and highly questionable  slogans.

I have no more idea than anyone else how events will develop in these last ten days of October.  My own preference is that  the Brexit issue should be settled, preferable by revoking Article 50 but if not, by a People's Vote, before we have a General Election, and I urge the Remain-inclined parties and politicians to work toward this sequence.

Friday 18 October 2019

Brexit; the blame game moves on.

As argued in previous posts Prime Minister Johnson appears to be gaming the Brexit situation and its constitutional implications in order to enhance his chances of wining an election and remaining prime minister.  Many of us believed that he wasn't really interested in negotiating a new deal  with the EU, and, to our surprise, he has succeeded.

But then, so did Mrs May.

And the "new deal" bears a strong resemblance to the one she achieved though  some of the changes appear to make things worse. 

For example there is to be  an effective border in the Irish Sea to cut off Northern Ireland - something that the Brexiteers declared a "constitutional outrage" when this idea was floated in the earlier negotiations.  And the "guarantee," such as it was, of continued protection at at least the EU level for UK  employment conditions and the environment seems to have disappeared.

However, these not inconsiderable "details" aren't mentioned in the headlines, so Johnson can be seen as a "winner.".

I strongly suspect that this deal will suffer the same fate as Mrs May's - that it will be defeated in the Commons tomorrow.  I certainly hope so.

However, even if this happens, Johnson can still declare himself a winner.    He  has succeeded with the potentially intransigent Europeans.  Now this mighty  UK Crusader is held back  by an intransigent parliament.  Role on the General Election.

It cannot be said too often or too loudly that his deal, or Mrs May's, or one that  Labour might be able to negotiate, is nowhere near as good as the deal we already have if we stay in the EU.

if the present MPs do not have the guts to Revoke Article 50 here and now, which they are perfectly entitled to do, then I hope they can devise some method of holding a People's Vote exclusively on Brexit before an election takes place.

Friday 11 October 2019

"Just Johnson?" - a QC's warning

Lawers have been trying in a Scottish court to get some sort of "order" to force Mr Johnson to comply with the Benn Act "come what may."  The court as so far refused, on the grounds that Johnson has already agreed to comply with the act so a further order is unnecessary - they have to believe him.

In his appeal against this decisions Aidan O'Neil QC told the judges:

"One shouldn't be taken in by the kind of shtick that the prime minister is simply an overgrown schoolboy  playing at being prime minister, as if he was Just William  leading his cabinet  band of outlaws.
This is serious stuff.
This is calculated
This is deliberately focus-grouped , 
workshopped and
war gamed
to appeal to their base."

(My emphasis)

I admire Mr O'Neil's insight.

We cannot know for certain, of course, but all the evidence points to the probability that Johnson and his advisor Dominic Cummings are playing games in Johnson's interest rather than the nation's.

As argued in an earlier post, Johnson has created a win-win situation for himself. 

If he gets a deal, however inferior to the present arrangement, he will be hailed as a hero.

If he fails, he can blame  the intransigent Europeans for refusing to play his game.

We must strongly suspect that Johnson is gaming our future to the advantage of himself and his supporters rather than negotiating for the benefit of the nation. 

Sunday 6 October 2019

Tory tunnel vison

The Tories have a long history of calming to be the "party of law and order,"  so much so that journalists in the 60s invented their standard bearer as "Lora Norda."  At their Conference this year the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, revived the claim and warned criminals to "watch out, we are coming for you." 

Given that:
  • their prorogation of parliament  was declared illegal by the Supreme court;
  • the entire government is apparently seeking ways to circumvent the Benn Act which make leaving the EU with no deal illegal;
  • the prime minister is under investigation  for improper use of public funds for whilst Mayor of London;
  • the Leave campaign, on which they set such store, was found guilty of financial irregularities in the referendum.
warning criminals to "watch out" is perhaps an unwise thereat for a Conservative to make to make at the moment.  

Or maybe M/s Patel just thinks that what's sauce for society's misfit ganders  doesn't apply to its  rich and powerful geese.

Another case of tunnel vision was exposed on Radio 4's "Any Questions!" on Friday.  When asked the very pertinent question "Has the government suddenly found a whole Magic Money orchard" given the amounts they are currently promising to spend on police, education, hospitals, infrastructure,  and more, Tory Minister Robert Buckland had the sauce to explain that  the because interest rates were at an all time low this made now a good time for public expenditure.   

Interest rates have, of course, been at an "all time low" for the past decade, throughout the long drawn out period of austerity which has caused so much misery to so many of the less well off, and, through the starvation of funds to Local Government, done so much damage to the public realm.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Brexit Profiteers?

A front-page headline in yesterday's Guardian (1st October) highlighted ministers defending Mr Johnson on "groping allegations."   Whilst not wishing to downplay the importance of this incident (these incidents?) I should prefer greater prominence to be given to the allegations that supporters of the prime minister and Brexit are hoping to make considerable, indeed very considerable , financial profits if we do indeed leave the EU with no deal on 31st October.  The report of these  (actually a denial) appeared only on Page 9.

The possibilities of profiting from Brexit by "shorting"* (see below but please don't try it at home ) are detailed in Gavin Esler's book, Brexit without the Bullshit (page 89).  Esler explains that one fund manager, Crispin Odey, donated almost £9 000 to the Leave campaign, then "shorted" sterling and maybe other UK assets, and made a financial "killing"  when the pound fell in value as a result of Leave winning the Referendum. 

Since then, according to Esler, Odey is reported to have "shorted" Talk-talk to the value of £7.5m, Intu (£40m), Lookers (£2.5m) and some retail stores, including Debenhams (£17m).

In the event of a no-deal Brexit the pound is likely to depreciate yet again  and Codey and his associates will experience  another "morning with gold in its mouth."

Odey, of course, denies any such intention.  However, the possibility is sufficiently serious to have caused no less than Phillip Hammond, former Chancellor, and Lord (Nick) Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury, to "question the political connections  of some of the hedge funds with  a financial interest in no deal."

Lord Macpherson has warned: "They are shorting the pound and the country, with the British people the main loser."

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the machinery of government has been high-jacked with the help of a group of the super-rich who aim to make themselves immeasurably richer and the rest of us somewhat poorer through an action of national self-harm.

*  How to "short."

It's risky and you need a lot of many to start with (or iron nerves)

1.  Identify a currency or  asset you think will fall in value.
2.  Borrow shedloads of the currency or asset.
3  Sell them quickly at the current price.
4.  When the currency or asset falls in value buy them back at the lower price.
5.  Return the currency or assets borrowed to their original owners
6.  Pocket the difference.

Monday 30 September 2019

Three curiosities.

1.  Why is the government, at our expense, allowed to advertise on television and the motorways that we should "Get ready for Brexit  on 31st October,"  when parliament has passed a law, which has received the Royal Assent, that such a move will be illegal?

 I suppose they could argue that, strictly speaking the law, known as the Benn Act, says no Brexit without a deal approved by parliament.  But there is as yet no sign of such a deal, and even if one were to emerge, it  far from certain that parliament would approve it. 

The most that the government can legitimately advertise is "Get Ready for a possible Brexit on 31st October" which would puncture Johnson's chutzpah.

I wonder if anyone has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority?  Maybe I should.

2.  I am a great admired of the BBC, which is one of the few things we have left which, as an impartial news source,  is still "the best in the World and the envy of the World."  But surely their impartially is damaged by the fact that they are running Volume 3 of Charles Moore's respectful biography of Margaret Thatcher as their "Book of the Week" in the very same week that  today's Tories are holding  their conference.  This amounts to product  placement: it surely can't be a coincidence.

I haven't a record of what was "Book of the Week during the Labour conference  (I've tried to find out but the BBC website defeats me) but I'm pretty sure it wasn't John Bew's sympathetic biography of Clement Attlee.*  Nor did they run Jo Grimond's excellent autobiography** during the Liberal Democrat conference.

3.  There have been in recent weeks a surprising number of programmes about the First World War, the rise and fall of the Nazis and the Second World War.  Are we the only nation in Europe still quite obsessed by these events as we look back to our moments of greatness?

It could be argued that these programmes support we Remainers as they illustrate the horrors which the formation of the EU was designed  to avoid in the future.  It is more likely, however, that they feed the Leavers' nostalgia for a world in which so many mistakenly believe that Britain stood alone and saved the world from a terrible fate, and so could thrive alone again.

*   Called "Citizen Clem," published 2016  and well worth a read.
**  Called "Memoirs,"  published 1979 and contains in two sentences  the reason why we in  the UK have made such a mess of things since 1945:

" . . .we came out of the war being told that we had saved the world by a unique act of courage  against fearful odds.  We naturally became convinced that the world must see that we were  natural leaders of the West  entitled by our deeds of valour and skill to rest on oars as far as work was concerned and owed a debt, indeed a living, by our neighbours."  (Page 99)

Thursday 26 September 2019

Yesterday in Parliament

You would think that, on the first day of its historic unrevokedness the debates in the House of Commons would  be statesmanlike and of lofty constitutional erudition.  Instead, by all accounts, it was a day of rudeness, squabbling and name-calling such as would  disgrace a school playground.

By accident or design, MPs have succeeded in changing the reporting of the debate from one of high constitutional significance to  to one of scorn for and condemnation of politicians.

On Newsnight  last night Labour MP Barry Gardiner claimed that Mr Johnson's inflammatory language was deliberate and designed indeed to "change the subject" from  the embarrassing failure of the government's policies to  "the general state of politics."  A presumably impartial commenter on this morning's Radio 4 Today programme took a similar view - that the government front bench were  "deliberately provoking the opposition to change the debate."

I suspect this is not chance but that  the hand of Dominic Cummings lies behind it. 

Another ploy seems to be to discredit the present House of Commons.  The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, instead of explaining the reasoning that led him to advise that the prorogation of parliament was legitimate, instead scorned the parliament as "dead" and "without legitimacy."

This is nonsense.  This parliament was "refreshed by contact with the electorate" only two years ago and is less than halfway through its term.  The election that formed it was called by the Conservatives for their own ends. Hard lines on them that things didn't work out as they expected, but they must live with the results of their own folly.

The  Opposition parties are right in their refusal to let the Tories off the hook by calling another election (which would in all probability  produce yet another Commons in which no party had a majority).

Instead it is the duty of this Parliament  to disentangle the Brexit knot by "quiet calm deliberation." (Gilbert and Sullivan got so  much right even 100+ years ago).

How about this for reasoning?

1.  The overwhelming majority on all sides recognise that to leave the EU with no deal would be highly damaging, and in any case parliament has already declared it to be illegal.
2.  We could possibly leave on a minor variation of Mrs May's deal, but that has ben rejected three times, so is really a non-starter.
3.  We could follow Labour's present official course, which would  be, after an election,  to negotiate a better deal.  It is unlikely, though not impossible, that Labour  could win enough seats to form a minority government and achieve this, but their published aims include remaining in the single market and customs union - otherwise known as Brexit in name only, or BINO.  That is, leaving the EU but still obeying most of the rules without having any say in making them, so what's the point?
4.  So the best thing to do is to Revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU.
5.  To calm any resulting  agitation this should be accompanied by a sympathetic and reasoned explanation as to why it is sensible  and democratic to set aside the result of the referendum, along with  concrete and calculated proposals to ease the factors (unnecessary government austerity, punishing of the poor, neglect of the regions etc) which have lead to the discontent which lay  behind the Brexit vote.


Wednesday 25 September 2019

Labour disappoints, Supreme Court delights

Labours conference decision on Monday to be indecisive and remain on the fence re Brexit  will undoubtedly benefit we Liberal Democrats if an election takes place before a People’s Vote.  Nevertheless, as a dedicated Liberal/Liberal Democrat activist for nearly 60 years I should have preferred Labour to make a clear decision in favour of Remain.  Then we could have seen 23rd September as the date the tide turned positively in favour of our chances of putting an end to this act of national self-harm which will irrevocably damage our political, economic, social  and cultural futures, along with the living standards of many Labour's loyal voters.
Why is it that Mr Corbyn and his supporters cannot recognise that leaving the EU is simply a plot by which series of fortuitous chances  (Cameron’s fear of UKIP, a complacent parliament which failed to include normal safeguards in the rules for the Referendum0, a hugely biased press, much of it owned by foreign-based tax avoiders, illegal expenditure, lies  and dubious practices via digital targeting, not to mention the possibility  of foreign interference) have enabled a tiny clique of the Tory elite to gain temporary control of the machinery of government in order to establish a neo-liberal off-shore island for their own economic benefit.
 All power to Labour's Remainers to to come on board the Exit-Brexit alliance and bring more of their party with them,  even if this does lead to a less convincing performance in the next election for we Liberal Democrats.
 In other words, I'm prepared to but the national interest before my party's interest as , I suspect, would most Liberal Democrats.
 Corbyn et al shamefully and misguidedly do the reverse

By contrast Tuesday's (24th September) unanimous Supreme Court ruling that our prime minister acted unlawfully in using residual prerogative powers to prorogue parliament certainly makes up for Monday's disappointment.

This is a moment of genuinely historic significance. Britain's shambolic uncodified constitution is actually working and, for, as far as I know, for the first time in our history a British prime minister has been declared to have acted unlawfully be our own judicial system.   

We should declare every 24th September  a National  Holiday  and  could call it Constitution Day.

What now happens is anyone's guess.  Ideally I should like our present parliamentarians, their powers restored,   grasp the nettle,  and Revoke Article 50 here and now.  They could do it before the end of the week.