Thursday, January 30, 2014

Update on Theresa's Law and how Liberal Democrat MPs voted

The Commons today voted to accept Theresa May's new clause 18 for the Immigration Bill.  It gives her the power to deprive a British citizen of their citizenship if she:

" satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having
that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory. "

Now you see my problem is that George Osborne fits that bill but I'm not Secretary of State so it doesn't matter what I think.   Should it matter what any one individual, even a minister of the crown, thinks this vague wording means ?  You don't have to be convicted of a crime, just to satisfy the opinion of whoever happens to be Home Secretary at the time.  Removing citizenship is a pretty serious matter, which is why there are a number of international conventions on the subject.  The UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961 is where this curious phrase comes from in  Article 8.3 (a) (ii):

"  ...has conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the State"

The convention allows contracting states to remove citizenship, as long as the state concerned reserved the right to do so when signing the convention.  The UK did.   However, in Article 8.4 the convention goes on to say: 

" A Contracting State shall not exercise a power of deprivation permitted by paragraphs 2 or 3 of this article except in accordance with law, which shall provide for the person concerned the right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body." [My emphasis]

In the Commons debate Theresa May twice said that this right was protected:

"The persons subject to provisions in the new clause will continue to be afforded an independent right of appeal, retaining an avenue of judicial redress. “ Hansard Col 347, 30th January 2014

and further down:

"It is right for the Secretary of State, as someone who is democratically accountable, to take the initial decision, but I confirm that there will be a full right of appeal, so a judicial process will apply"

This was ministerial sleight of hand for Theresa May was only referring to judicial review, which applies to all decisions by ministers.  There are a number of restrictions on judicial review but the main limitation is that courts can only look at how the Secretary of State took the decision, e.g. did she consider all the relevant arguments, did she consider irrelevant ones ?  This is NOT an appeal. The court cannot substitute its decision for hers.  Surely judicial review does NOT satisfy the requirement of Article 8.4 of the convention for "a fair hearing by a court or other independent body."

It was perhaps these misleading assurances by Theresa May which led so many Liberal Democrat MPs to vote for her new clause or was it perhaps the three-line whip.  After three years of voting for things you don't believe in, perhaps it's getting easier for them.

I take Liberty's view that terrorists should be prosecuted in court not dealt with by the arbitrary power of a ministerial ukase.   At the very least such executive power should be subject to appeal to a court.  I therefore honour those seven Liberal Democrat MPs who voted against the clause:

Mike Crockart
Duncan Hames
Julian Huppert
John Leech
Sarah Teather
Mike Thornton
David Ward

OK, your lordships, it's your turn now !   Show us what you're made of.

Teresa May can take away your citizenship !

When I read this morning about the last minute government amendment to remove UK citizenship from terrorists, I immediately thought of the UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness 1961 under which the UK can remove citizenship on grounds that a person "conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the State;".  The UK took advantage of a provision in the convention which allows this as long as the state concerned specified it at the time of signing the convention.   However, Article 8.4 of the convention requires a right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body.  The government amendment does not provide for this.  There is a further Labour amendment which does.
People may think, "What the hell ? They're terrorists. Kick 'em out" but we do have a tradition of fair trials in this country.  Teresa May is giving herself the power to remove someone's citizenship and their right to a fair trial because she is satisfied "... that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory."

Can any Liberal agree that a government minister acting alone can decide that an individual is no longer a citizen, without any judicial proceeding whatever ?

School - let's have a little diversity

Just been reading about the problems of yet another national political initiative for schools - this time free school meals for some.  Nick Harvey warned that it would be unfair in the allocation of resources.  Now the Independent reports it wasn't thought through before being announced.

What is it about hands crudely grasping the levers of power before they are wrenched away by the next lot ? Every national government seeks to micro-manage education.  With Blair it was targets that have warped all schools into exam factories and even lesson plans for teachers to download.  Gove like many predecessors seeks to write the detail of history teaching.   I remain an advocate of local education authorities with powers as well as duties and I would have no national curriculum for each generation of politicians to fiddle with.  Let's have a little diversity and evolution in education instead of uniformity and revolution every new government.

While I'm about it, here's Donald Trefussis again on education and parent power !  OK, it's fiction but so is the idea of a politician who can leave well alone.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Much ado about something: getting the Levels right

Much in the news lately the small community of Muchelney in the Somerset Levels.   I heard Chris Smith, chair of the Environment Agency, on the Today Programme this morning (at 2h11m) defending their work to help flooded Somerset.   I thought he made a good case.   The Levels flood every winter, as did the lane where I lived not far away in Ilford, Ilminster, but these floods are the worse for 90 years.  There has also been much news of villagers helping each other and some help from outside.

Two features of modern life underlie this story.  The first is about the lie at the heart of democratic politics.  For decades politicians have pretended that voters can have a high level of public services AND low taxes.  No you can't. Choose.  Tory MP Ian Liddell Grainger, who has demanded more spending by the Environment Agency, is hardly a well-known advocate of greater public spending usually.  Perhaps he'll now support calls for higher taxes !  The second is about the global threat of climate change, which only Christopher Monckton and Nigel Lawson still seem to doubt.  Again few politicians are willing to commit the funds necessary to face the challenge, to mitigate it and to adapt to it.  Few voters are prepared to pay the price. The Danish economist Lomburg says it isn't worth paying.  I follow Nicholas Stern who explains that the price of not acting will be higher.

History also tells us something in the very names at the heart of the story. Muchelney is Saxon for big island and dates back to the times when this part of the world was flooded annually to the coast. Romans exported from Langport down the road.  The very name Somerset means the summer meadow where you could graze your animals when the winter floods dried up but in the winter you retreated to the hills.

It's not only the level of water we need to get right but how much we want to spend to protect our world.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Climate Change: Avaaz, you're not helping !

A friend has asked me to sign an Avaaz petition supposed to influence decisions of the European Commission about action to fight climate change. Here was my response:

I have signed Avaaz petitions before but will not sign this one because of the misleading information they supply.  They seem to assume that all politicians are corrupt and in the pockets of lobbyists and the industries they represent.   As you know, I was a lobbyist in Brussels for an environmental NGO and can assure you that this caricature is wrong.   There are many hard-working and honest people in the European institutions.   In addition, Avaaz either does not understand EU decision-making or chooses to misrepresent it.   The decisions they describe are in the hands of the European Parliament elected by you and me and the Council of Ministers representing national governments.   The European Commission can only make proposals.  By so describing what happens in Brussels, Avaaz are feeding the widespread deception about the EU which is responsible for public attitudes in Britain today.   They completely fail to point out the role the EU has played in pushing member-states to act on climate change and its crucial role in global negotiations in the UNFCCC.   They are thus playing UKIP's and the Tory Eurosceptics' game, which may well lead to the UK leaving the EU.   How the hell do they expect to get international co-operation to fight climate change if they undermine the one supranational, democratic body trying to tackle it ?

Misinformation from the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail I am used to but I expect better from environmental campaigners.   

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Due process and sexual allegations

Horace Rumpole, Mortimer's fictional Old Bailey hack got in trouble with his son's girlfriend for suggesting that allegations of rape had to be tested rather than simply accepted as true.  It seems to me that many Liberal Democrats, from Nick Clegg downwards,  have been guilty of the same lack of scrupulous attention to due process in the case of allegations against Chris Rennard.   I suppose it's the fact that the allegations came from more than one woman that made them credible, but what our personal prejudices lead us to believe is irrelevant.  Like most of us, I have no way of knowing whether the allegations are true or false.  I heard Linda Jack on Radio 4 arguing that the party's internal enquiry by Alistair Webster QC had not given the complainants a fair opportunity to make their case.  Loathe as I am to quote from the Daily Mail , Alec Carlisle's account shows that Chris Rennard was not given a fair opportunity to answer the allegations.   Just because an allegation concerns sexual behaviour there is no justification for abandoning our usual standards of justice.

Nick Clegg's office has been remarkably inept too in handling the issue.  Back in the midst of the Eastleigh bye-election Nick responded quickly setting up two inquiries, but then his office kept the story going by issuing new statements almost daily.  Now he has stepped in again after Webster's report.   Someone needs to remind him of the old adage "When you're in a hole, stop digging !".

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela - how times have changed

"The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation ... Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land" - Margaret Thatcher, 1987

"How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?' - Terry Dicks, Conservative MP, mid-1980s

"Nelson Mandela should be shot" - Teddy Taylor Conservative MP, mid-1980s

"A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half-mast." - David Cameron, 5th December 2013


Excellent piece by Bill le Breton on why empowerment is an illiberal concept and no, we are not in the centre ground !

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

His sins were Scarlett but his dossier was read and believed

Writing in today's Guardian Simon Jenkins says "The days of believing spy chiefs who say 'Trust us' are over."   Sorry Simon, those days were over more than a decade ago when Sir John Scarlett colluded with Blair's No.10 in compiling the dodgy dossier.  Or perhaps in 1924 when MI5 and/or MI6 leaked the fake Zinoviev letter to the Daily Mail and brought down the Labour government.

In case you have any doubts about Scarlett's culpability, we have his memo to No.10 at the time in which he refers to "the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional".  Scarlett later claimed at the Iraq Inquiry that he had not been under pressure to change the dossier and that it was produced in good faith.    Even the weak-kneed Hutton Inquiry concluded "that Scarlett had worked closely with Alastair Campbell, then the Prime Minister's Director of Communications and Strategy, on the controversial September Dossier, with Campbell making drafting suggestions which the inquiry found may have "subconsciously influenced" Scarlett and the JIC. This influence may have had deleterious effects on the quality of the assessments presented in the dossier."

But what does Sir John Mcleod Scarlett care ?  In 2004 he became head of SIS and in 2007 he got his KCMG.  No, Simon Jenkins, the days of trusting spy chiefs are long over.

(Footnote: it was Norman Baker who forced an investigation into the Zinoviev letter as well as accusing the security service of complicity in the death of Dr Kelly following his criticism of the dodgy dossier.)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In the fens

Today I cycled along the banks of the River Cam as far as Bottisham lock.   Just past the lock you come to the first of three lodes, Burwell Lode.   These are narrow canals dug by the Romans.  Burwell Lode doesn't look navigable but Reach Lode is.  I am astonished by these little waterways built two thousand years ago.
On the way back I stopped to smoke my pipe at Bait's Bite Lock where the wind was breaking up the surface of the river, but the sun was shining.   Apparently I was cycling into a head wind over 20mph.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Let a thousand idiots bloom !

Those of us who know what a bunch of fools and liars UKIP are were not surprised by Godfrey Bloom's latest outburst.  (NB. Before the Telegraph let you watch Bloom, they make you watch a Gucci advert, the male and female models in which I feel sure have never seen the back of a fridge.)   I really want the electorate to have the greatest possible exposure to this bunch before they vote in European elections next year.   They will surely self-destruct.

I thought that Bloom was wrong in his use of vituperation because he meant "slattern" when he said "slut", although saying that most women are slatterns would hardly have helped his case.  However, my venerable Compact OED (the one you read with a magnifying glass) defines slut firstly as "A women of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits of appearance; a foul slattern".   Only the second definition gives "A woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade".   The UKIP woman (yes, they exist !) present at the interview can be heard suggesting that the reporter doesn't understand the difference between slut and slag, obviously a point of doctrinal importance to UKIP.  My OED declines to give any definition of slag applicable to a human being.  Interesting how history has provided us with so many ways of being rude about women !

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The last day of Summer

I always think of the Last Night of the Proms as the official end of summer.   A great way to round off a wonderful day visiting Rutland Water with Jonathan Calder and a splendid lunch in Uppingham and... a double rainbow at the Finches at Upper Hambleton.

You'll never walk alone

Just read tomorrow's Observer about Sarah Teather giving up.    Reacted intemperately  thus:
 "So bloody typical of the woman.    Who ever said politics was easy ?   Buggering off will not help and doing it just before conference is just egotistical and very unhelpful.  Too much easy early success.  Some of us have been fighting our corner for decades and won't be giving up."

If she had a real connection with Liberal Democrat members she'd realise that many share some of her dissatisfaction.   She should listen to the Last Night of the Proms singing "You'll never walk alone".

Jonathan Calder also has interesting comment.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The block on the rock

It strikes me that the Spanish government's current tactic of delaying crossings at the frontier of Spain and Gibraltar is illogical.   If they maintain that Gibraltar is part of Spain, they should remove all frontier controls.

People who often question the role of the EU in maintaining peace in Europe are missing the point.   The dispute over Gibraltar is a small example.   Traditionally such disputes were resolved by force of arms. Today the argument is referred to the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Keynes, thou shouldst be living at this hour

At the Liberal Democrat conference in 2011 Jeremy Browne, MP for Taunton, was heard to say, "We have taken down the picture of Keynes in the office and put up one of Gladstone".   If it were only the picture !    At the time, I thought Keynes knew a little more about economics than you Jeremy.   It seems now that the Financial Times agrees.   In case you can't get past the paywall, here's a quote:

The lack of growth in the austerity nations should have come as no surprise, with monetary policy transmission channels clogged and the global nature of the slowdown keeping exports weak. In a balance sheet recession banks want to shrink their loan books and consumers want to rid themselves of debt. The role of government at these times is to support economic activity until excess consumer debt has been worked off and a sustained recovery has taken hold, even if this means a higher public debt burden in the meantime.
This is what makes the UK’s latest moves so puzzling. In stoking up a housing boom policy makers are doing the exact opposite, tempting a new generation of consumers into debt in the hope the government can improve its own financial position.

A more supportive fiscal policy would have meant an earlier and less unbalanced recovery. The sales tax would not have been raised, slashing real disposable income early in the recession. Major infrastructure programmes could have boosted the supply side of the economy while creating employment and demand.

The lateness of the UK recovery comes at a cost. The long-term unemployed have lost valuable skills and economic stagnation has seen an unnecessary further rise in government debt.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The plank in the eye

As an alternative to military action, I looked at proposals for financial sanctions against Syria and against the guys who supplied the chemical weapons amongst other armaments. Why, I wondered, do we not go after them ?

The Daily Record has the answer.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

When is it right to go to war ?

A friend asked me if I would rule out military action in all circumstances without a resolution of the UN Security Council.    Putting on on side the circumstances in which the UN Charter authorises actions without such a vote, I still don't think it is possible to rule out action ever without a UNSC motion, but yes I support the development of international law since the Second World War.  To act without such a resolution I would set the bar very high, much higher than the current situation in Syria.

The ancient Christian doctrine of the Just War is a good guide.  War is a great evil and one should only resort to it on the following conditions:
1) to overcome a greater evil
2) in a proportionate way, i.e. only as much as required to overcome the evil
3)only when there is a reasonable chance of success.

I do not believe that the military options available to respond to the conduct of Assad's regime fulfil those conditions.

Further more, as a federalist I maintain that we have a duty to build supranational structures which provide peaceful means of resolving conflict, law between nations as well as within nations.    Those who advocate the use of force need to demonstrate that they have made a serious effort to provide the world with an alternative.  To abandon steps in that direction only makes violence more likely in the future, as Bush and Blair have proved.

It should have been us

It should have been Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats forcing Cameron to think again on intervention in Syria.   Lamentable performance by Clegg on the Today programme this morning. Gladstone would have got this right. Once again I considered resigning from my party and rejected it.  I will be there long after Nick Clegg has gone. I am delighted that we have a parliamentary and not a presidential system.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria: what I told my MP

My MP asked constituents for comments before the Syria debate tomorrow.  I responded:

Dear Julian,

You have expressed all my concerns.   My instinct is that we should not intervene because of the difficulties of any military option, the risk of making things worse rather than better in Syria and the consequences for relations between the Islamic world and the West.    The Middle East today is like Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (but with modern weapons) and we dabble in their religious wars at our peril.   Above all, Liberal Democrats should not support action without a UNSC resolution.  That was our stance over Iraq and we should stick to it.  One final comment - I understand that the UN Secretary-General is seeking more time for the chemical weapons inspectors to do their work.  Sounds strangely familiar.

As ever,


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pickles' EU Pork Pie

Eric Pickles doesn't just eat pork pies, he tells them, particularly where the European Union is concerned. On Liberal Democrat Voice Giles Goodall reveals a classic tale of inventing and spreading Euromyths, this time the European flag and the birth certificate.  The Sun and the Mail voraciously gobble it up.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Breakthrough on the cat front

Since I moved in my neighbour's beautiful Burmese Grey has always greeted me warmly in the street but run away when encountered in my garden (jungle).   Today she recognised me in the garden and followed me into my study.   This post has been somewhat delayed by her jumping on to my desk and attempting to help me write it.  She has also provided me with another excuse (other my own indolence and procrastination) for not getting on with paying bills and other regrettable incidents of life.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

War and peace

I confess to a liking for Second World War films.  I just watched The Cruel Sea.  Some years ago at a dinner in Brussels I met Frau Von Moltke.  Her husband, a Director-General in the European Commission, was at the other end of the table.  I asked if he was related to the general.  "Which one ?", she asked and then added "actually he's related to all of them."   Relations of his had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War and the Second World War.   Of course, so had members of my family (except the Franco-Prussian).   Generations of Europeans have died and killed each other in war for centuries.  Their descendants have tried to build something better.

It makes me so angry to hear the nationalist bollocks of UKIP and their friends in the Tory Party.  It also makes me angry to hear the half-hearted, luke-warm, grudging comments of British so-called pro-Europeans.  How do they imagine we can build peace without the European Union ?  For pity's sake, let's learn from history, stop moaning and get on with working for peace in Europe and the world.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The making of EU Laws and sausages

Helena Morrisey has written a very misleading and mistaken article in the Telegraph.  (Nothing unusual there, you might say, but it deserves rebuttal).  Ms Morrisey makes four criticisms of the EU legislative process and one massive mistake.  The criticisms are:
 1) legislation on a large scale at a distance leads to bad outcomes;
 2) EU Commissioners may be motivated by proving themselves right instead of finding the right solution;
3) An EU Commissioner misused polling evidence;
4) Industry has to spend a lot of effort lobbying to influence legislation.
Of course all these criticisms apply (sometimes more forcefully) to UK national legislation.  "Laws are like sausages. Better not to see them made", a quotation falsely attributed to Otto von Bismarck.

 Scale and distance
By now, we should be familiar with the habit of British government of imposing very detailed one-size-fits-all regulation on the UK.   Jo Grimond used to remind us of the wartime rubrick that in the event of invasion people should report to the nearest railway station.  In the Orkneys this was Bergen in Norway and the locals reported back that unfortunately it was already in enemy hands.   Clearly the dangers of uniformity are even greater over the larger area covered by the EU, which is why the legislative process operates differently.  European Directives set out agreed objectives but leave the specific means of achieving them to national legislation which each member-state is required to adopt to transpose directives.  Imagine how beneficial it could be if UK legislation gave such flexibility to local government.

Motivation of EU Commissioners
Ms Morrisey's only evidence for all her criticisms is her own experience of draft legislation for gender quotas on company boards.   Like her, I don't agree with mandatory quotas, but the EU Commissioners have not proposed this to satisfy their amour propre.  Gender equality is a principle of the EU set out by all member-states in a number of treaties dating back to the Treaty of Rome and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.  All these documents were agreed unanimously (as treaties must be) so we know that successive British governments have voluntarily signed up to them.  For more information, see here.  See also the Council of Ministers' conclusions on the European Pact for gender equality for the period 2011 - 2020.   A British minister attended that meeting and agreed those conclusions.   The Commission's job is to draft legislation to give effect to the agreements reached by member-states.

Polling evidence
What, a politician misquoting polling evidence ?  Surely that would never happen in Britain, would it ?!!!!  However, Ms Morrissey says "The crux of ...[the Commissioner's]... argument was that “three-quarters of Europeans are in favour of legislation on gender-balanced company boards”.   No it wasn't,  the crux was the whole agreed programme on gender equality; the misquoted polling was an argument prayed in aid of the idea.

Lobbying by industry
Morrisey simultaneously claims that all this lobbying is a waste of effort and that the EU is an "undemocratic political union", a calumny for which no evidence is produced.  In fact, the ability of industry (and anyone else) to influence legislation is a fundamental component of democracy.  Far from being undemocratic, the EU has a very open legislative process compared the archaic rituals of our own parliament, dominated by an overmighty executive.

One massive mistake
Morrisey asserts "The power of the European Commission is such that it is relatively easy for it to create new regulations...", again without evidence.   She goes on to complain about the qualified majority voting system which she describes as a debilitating process.  She completely omits to mention that QMV is the system in the Council of Ministers.  The Commission only proposes legislation which then has to be agreed by QMV in the Council and, in nearly all cases, by a majority of the European Parliament.   Yes, I'm sorry Ms Morrisey, but democracy does take time and effort unlike most decisions made hierarchically by managers in industry.  Would she prefer a system where an EU Commissioner really had the power and could ignore lobbying ?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blaming the poor - whatever happened to solidarity ?

The Guardian today reveals that even Labour supporters have bought into the Osbornite vision of the undeserving poor.   "Labour party supporters increasingly believe that welfare recipients are undeserving and that the welfare state encourages dependence, with a noticeable share saying that poverty is caused by a personal failing rather than a problem with society."  This is the conclusion of a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  

The maps above come from a different report last year showing where the greatest risks of poverty according to Experian.  Leaving aside Experian's total inaccuracy about my own affairs, I suspect there is a strong correlation between the riskier areas and the areas with the highest Labour votes.  We know that Tories and UKIP blame the poor but where is our society headed if Labour voters join in ?

The Rowntree website has a lot of material on poverty but I couldn't find the actual report so I don't know about the attitudes of Liberal Democrat voters.  The party's membership cards quote the preamble to the constitution: "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."   Much debate goes on about the relative merits of liberty and equality but a better phrase uttered on the radio by David Goodhart has stayed with me: "The twin aims of Liberalism - solidarity and diversity".   

Monday, May 13, 2013

Referendums,lies and damned lies

Today on Facebook a friend posted an article by Vince Cable saying that Liberal Democrats would table an amendment in the debate on the humble address (response to Queen's Speech) calling for a referendum on British membership of the EU. Only problem: the article was from 2007.

It was the wrong idea in 2007 and it's even more the wrong idea today, but not just because we would lose the referendum today.  Misunderstanding about the EU is deeper than it ever was and not by accident.  The media have been feeding the public lies and distortions about the EU for several decades. Many politicians from all parties have compounded the problem by repeating the casual xenophobia on which it is all based.      But the whole idea of a referendum is wrong.

A referendum is the worst possible way to decide complex issues. Why ?

1. People rarely vote on the merits of the actual issue, but on clusters of related and unrelated matters.  Classic example: the referendum on AV.   Polls show and have shown for years widespread support for electoral reform but people voted on their opinion of the Liberal Democrats at the time.

2. When an issue is complex, if people vote on the issue at all, they vote on the basis of media representations of the issue, which are often far from accurate and usually biased.  In this case, a tiny minority (both for and against British membership) would read the actual treaties.  The vast majority will have read and heard over and over again the myths propagated by the media. Before you respond that I am being elitist, I am not saying that people are incapable of understanding the issues.  In frequent discussions face to face I am convinced that most people can understand the issues.  I AM saying that they won't because they won't have a face-to-face discussion.  Instead they will face the continued bombardment of deliberate distortion in the media.

Europhobes (they are not sceptics, not doubtful or critical - they want out) will argue that the issue of in-or-out is not complex in itself.  Everyone can understand it.   If the Scots can decide whether they want to be an independent country, so can the UK.   Totally different question.  Scottish Nationalists are actually less nationalist than the British europhobes.  They want Scotland to be a country within the European Union, a supranational body.  Europhobes by contrast peddle the myth of national sovereignty, that Britain should and could have the power to decide all questions independently.   A moment's reflection on the global economy, the environment and security shows this to be impossible.  They constantly paint supporters of the EU as wanting to "create a country called Europe", another lie.   The EU is about different countries working together.

If anyone persists in arguing the merits of referendums, do they then think that the question of whether British soldiers should fight, kill and die abroad would be a suitable subject to put to referendum.  The public has never been asked to vote on the North Atlantic Treaty nor on the fundamental change a few years ago when NATO decided that mutual defence included fighting out-of-area.    Perhaps questions rather more important than anything for which the EU has competence ?

Saturday, May 11, 2013


For a few words from the man who introduced Wigan to the world - Eddie Waring - on another good day for the town in 1965, see here.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Looking forward to Tory split

Excellent New Statesman comment on Lawson's outburst.  "Lawson's piece is a reminder of why the EU referendum has the potential to result in the biggest Conservative split since the reform of the Corn Laws. "  Now that's a day we can all look forward to.

Robin Cook resigned. 396 warmongers should have.

Whilst looking for something else I came upon Robin Cook's resignation speech on You Tube.  I remember listening to it at the time.  It still moves me to tears and anger at Tony Blair and his fellow war criminals on the Labour front bench.   At the end of the clip when the house claps, you can see their embarrassed immobility, except for John Prescott who shifts his great weight uncomfortably.  Cook  was a better man than any of you.   I for one will not forget how Labour and Tories took us to war on false pretences.  Tories need not pretend that Blair deceived them.  He didn't deceive Cook and he didn't deceive me and he didn't deceive the millions who marched against his shameful war.

You can find Cook's speech here and the Iraq debate here.  It is a peculiarity of Hansard that whilst the record contains the full text of Tony Blair's motion for war, it does not appear to contain the text of the amendment opposing war without UNSC consent.  The amendment was lost 396 to 217.  You may read here the list of MPs who voted NO to the amendment and therefore yes to war.  Never let them forget it.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Are we living through the 1930s again ?

This is Gabor Vona, the chairman of the Hungarian party Jobbik, addressing his fellow racists.   This  weekend hundreds of them protested in Budapest against the city's hosting of the World Jewish Congress.  Nor is this a minor party.  It is Hungary's third largest with 43 MPs and 3 MEPs.  The old Hungarian Liberal party,  the Alliance of Free Democrats (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége) has almost disappeared but there is hope in a new group, Together 2014 (Együtt 2014), four of whose members came to help us in the Cambridgeshire County Council elections.  

The rise of right-wing populist parties such as UKIP in UK, Golden Dawn in Greece and the Five Star Movement in Italy is characteristic of European austerity.  In hard times people reject traditional parties and gravitate to those offering nationalism, quick fixes, hatred and fear of others.  Traditional parties meanwhile fail to present their core beliefs effectively for fear of losing votes to each other, thereby guaranteeing that they do lose votes because nobody knows what they stand for.   This disastrous mixture of failure and demagoguery feeds of economic distress.

Have we learned nothing from the 1930s ?   Please, please let not the 2010s finish as they did.

Monday, April 29, 2013

This is so Daily Mail: the spy in the fridge !

The Daily Mail has found a story that combines all its fear and hate and sheer bonkers fantasy in one go : the spy in the fridge.     The rant with pictures is about devices which would shut off domestic appliances automatically to avoid power cuts.  Here's how the Mail sees it and the true picture:

1) Daily Mail: EU Conspiracy
An " EU-wide body of energy regulators" has suggested it to the European Commission -oooooh, scary !  Foreigners telling us what to do !
True Picture
The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) is the network of operators "cooperating for reliable operation, optimal management and sound technical evolution of the European electricity transmission system."  UK and European partners co-operating.

2) Daily Mail: Bloody green nutters and their wind farms
"...the European Union’s most influential energy bodies...are pushing for the move as green energy sources such as wind farms are less predictable than traditional power stations"
True picture
The problem isn't wind farms, it's sudden peaks in demand.  You can't ramp up supply quickly.  As the text says, in the last resort this would prevent large scale blackouts.   So obviously the Mail would prefer all electricity shut down rather than selected appliances

3) Daily Mail: They can stop you watching royal weddings !   
It's just not British.   They worked in a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge but even the Mail couldn't find a way to show her in a bikini this time.
True picture
Royal weddings don't cause sudden, unpredictable peaks.  That's what "outside sources" as the Mail calls them, i.e. Transmission System Operators plan for.

4) Daily Mail: Big brother to switch off your fridge
 (No, not the Bazalgette bollocks - I suspect the Mail rather likes that)

David Davis said: "There is a Big Brother element to this – and it also shows the energy suppliers passing down their incompetence to the customers. They should be supplying energy as customers need it, not the when they want to give it."
True picture
Ah, the old "predict and supply" policy.  The assumption that we are all entitled to all the energy we ever want, whatever the consequences for global warming and resource depletion. Oh I forgot, the Mail doesn't really believe in climate change.  It's a liberal conspiracy. Let Marcus deal with that.

(By the way, I don't read the Mail but thanks to Donnachadh McCarthy for the link.   For any one who hasn't seen it yet, the final word on the Mail is here.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happy now ? How laid back are you ?

The Office for National Statistics has published figures for national wellbeing, which show which parts of the UK are happiest, most relaxed and most fulfilled.   The BBC summarises with a table of the top and bottom 5 places for each statistic.   It turns out that the remoter parts of Scotland are the most laid back.   There are a number of interesting graphs including this one which shows how much people think they can influence local decisions:

What a pity the turnout in local elections doesn't rise to these levels !

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

House of Lords insists on equality duty

Update on the government's determination to remove the EHRC's general duty.   Last night the House of Lords insisted on its amendment to keep the duty.  Ping Pong continues.   Come on Liberal Democrat MPs ! Wake up !

You can see how the Lords voted here at Column 1294.    Surprising how the Lib Dem Lords split.  Not entirely predictable.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Equality legislation: Lib Dem MPs hand free gift to Labour

Last Tuesday the Commons voted 310 - 244  to reject a Lords amendment to keep Section 3 of the Equality Act.  In other words they supported the government's proposal to repeal  Section 3 which sets out the general duty of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission which says:

The Commission shall exercise its functions under this Part with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which- 
(a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination, 
(b) there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights, 
(c) there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, 
(d) each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and 
(e) there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights. 
As we can see, there is not a single word there that a Liberal Democrat could disagree with.  Yet 41 Lib Dem MP's voted to scrap it.  MPs John Hemming, Adrian Sanders, Sarah Teather and David Ward rebelled against the government and deputy leader Simon Hughes abstained after speaking against the government line but the whips still won the day.  11 of our MPs were absent. Party president Tim Farron urged ministers to back down but when they did not he voted with the whip.
Jo Swinson, the minister responsible argued that the section has no effect in law.  Cambridge law professor Sir Bob Hepple QC begs to differ.   As the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference  pointed out yesterday:
* Section 3 is entirely congruent with the preamble to our party’s constitution and repealing it would be to act against all our fundamental beliefs and instincts. 
* Our MPs had no mandate to vote against it last Tuesday because: 
1. The party fully supported the 2006 Act. 
2. In our 2010 manifesto the Party reaffirmed its commitment to further advancing equality and human rights. 
3. This commitment was carried forward into the coalition agreement. 
I cannot see that the government has made out its case to repeal Section 3. If, as they argue, it has no effect, then why waste time debating it. If, as others argue, it has a beneficial effect then leave it in place. Repealing this section hands a gift to the Labour Party who will quote Liberal Democrats' opposition to Section 3 every chance they get. What were our ministers thinking of when they agreed to this ?