Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester Arena suicide bombing

I had turned on the BBC News Channel at 11 o'clock last night. News was already coming through of a loud bang at the end of Ariana Grande's concert in the Manchester Arena. Mobile phone footage from inside the auditorium shown by the BBC did not identify the source or nature of the explosion. There appeared to be no material damage. It was natural to assume that it had any one of a dozen causes. In view of the BBC's tendency over recent years to follow the popular press in sensationalising events and the reports becoming repetitive, I turned off the TV and switched to clearing up outstanding matters on the Internet. Thus my earlier posting may seem insensitive. I can only plead ignorance.

At 3:10 something woke me up. Checking on the TV news again, the full horror was brought home to me. Memories of Arndale were aroused - on that occasion, nobody was killed. Last night, though the physical destruction was less, the personal desolation was much worse. I believe the timing was deliberate, twenty-one years after Arndale, and probably advanced three weeks because of the snap election and taking advantage of a concert attracting a young audience making the atrocity more appalling. I deeply sympathise with the families and friends of those killed and seriously injured last night. They would have included not only young people themselves but also parents waiting in the foyer to pick up their children. My thoughts also go out to the performer herself, not much older than most of her audience, who must be affected.

Then the reactions on Facebook started coming in as friends woke up to the appalling news. Public political campaigning has by common consent been suspended, and no doubt many concerts and other public events. It is important, though, that this cessation out of respect is only temporary, or the terrorist will have won.

Thoughts of South Wales Police will turn to extra security for the Champions League final on 3rd June. Up to now, Cardiff has been regarded as a happy and welcoming venue for sporting finals, with unobtrusive policing. Regrettably, with the new terrorist tactic of attacking people outside a popular venue after an event, the security net will have to be thrown wider and probably inconvenience people not involved in the sport at all. I trust that people will understand and support the police.

I wrote that political campaigning has been suspended. That is not completely true. One popular newspaper, sinking below even the level of previous editors Kelvin Mackenzie and Piers Morgan, has sought to blame Jeremy Corbyn for causing last night's bombing by being soft on terrorism. All political leaders should condemn this gutter journalism.

It's not Mrs May's uey which worries me, it's what she has stuck to

Mrs May has grabbed the headlines by merely suggesting that her next government would look at the possibility of keeping the cap on the cost of social care. However, what interested me was what she had to say about the future relation between England and Wales, seeing as how she was speaking in Wrexham and launching the Welsh Conservatives version of her manifesto. The answer was: not very much. The main manifesto says:

We are a United Kingdom, one nation made of four – the most successful political union in modern history. Its very existence recognises the value of unity – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales achieve less as two, three, or four, than as the United Kingdom together. This unity between our nations and peoples gives us the strength to change things for the better, for everyone, with a scale of ambition we simply could not possess alone.

and

The United Kingdom Government has in the past tended to ‘devolve and forget’. This Conservative government will put that right. We want the UK Government to be a force for good across the whole country. So we will be an active government, in every part of the UK. We will work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the new devolved authorities in England, for the benefit of all our people – but that will not be the limit of our actions in the four nations. We are ambitious for everyone in Britain and will leave no-one behind in our efforts to spread opportunity and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom.

which suggests more interference than most previous central governments have indulged in.

But the most worrying aspect of the May manifesto is the indication that she is still determined not only to repeal the Human Rights Act but to take us out of the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. The only concession she makes is that it will not happen in the next parliament.

We will not bring the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Welsh looked-after children fostered out of area

A BBC investigation has found that 131 children from Wales are currently in care placements outside the country. There is a helpful map on the BBC's web pages. One should also take into account the number of children placed away from their home area within Wales.

Jennie Welham, from Action for Children, pointed out that sometimes the placements were for good reasons if, for example, the child would be living with relatives, which she said was "preferable for identity purposes".

However, "As a child, if you're placed out of an area, out of Wales in particular, away from your family, your community, your school, your friends, activities you might have been doing, it's a big deal. Children find themselves in a strange environment, a different culture, so it's not only that you might lose your home, you lose everything that goes with it."

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Some Swans predictions came true

I was right to predict Swansea City's survival (though I had their finishing position wrong, thanks to the successive glitches against Middlesbrough and Tottenham). Paul Clement did prove to be the right man for the job. Llorente, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Mawson fulfilled expectations.

Now the task is to plot the advance of the club back to Europa Cup qualifying at least. Part of the solution must lie in developing the players from the successful under-23 side. It cannot be a coincidence that the side which came up from the championship included so many Welsh-qualified players and players that the club had developed. Certainly, some positions can be strengthened only by dipping into the transfer pool but not to the extent that they destroy the esprit de corps which was almost lost in the 2016-17 season.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Labour and digital freedom

There has quite rightly been criticism in Neath of the threat to our digital freedom foreshadowed by the Conservative manifesto. In the interests of fairness, it is necessary to point out that the Blair-Brown governments led the way with ID cards (which the coalition put a stop to) and the Digital Economy Act which was pushed through in Labour's last few days in government. Liberal Democrats vigorously opposed the Bill, as we have consistently opposed all abridgements of personal freedom, and were supported by 23 Labour rebels and just a few Conservatives, David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) to the fore, plus Adam Price of Plaid Cymru.

The Labour rebel roster represents all wings of the party. It is unlikely that all of them have ever been in the same lobby together, before or since:

Abbott, Ms Diane (Lab); Burgon, Colin (Lab); Challen, Colin (Lab); Corbyn, Jeremy (Lab); Davies, Dai; Dismore, Mr. Andrew (Lab); Drew, Mr. David (Lab); Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Lab); Grogan, Mr. John (Lab); Hoey, Kate (Lab); Howarth, rh Mr. George; Jones, Lynne (Lab); Joyce, Eric (Lab); Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Lab); Lazarowicz, Mark (Lab); Love, Mr. Andrew (Lab); Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert (Lab); Mitchell, Mr. Austin (Lab); Palmer, Dr. Nick (Lab); Reed, Mr. Andy (Lab); Simpson, Alan (Lab); Todd, Mr. Mark (Lab); Truswell, Mr. Paul (Lab); Watson, Mr. Tom (Lab).

Sadly, the Corbyn-led "opposition" has shown less spine in standing up to the May administration since the EU referendum.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Conservatives would drop third hasp of pensions lock

I have written in the past that 2.5% was too high as the fall-back in the pensions triple-lock, but I did not advocate doing away with it altogether, as Mrs May threatens to do. Instead, I proposed a figure more in line with our long-term growth rate.

However, I am informed by a party colleague more au fait with these things that the UK state pension still lags behind the EU average and that the 2.5% would take us towards that. On the other hand, the prices index component of the lock looks like predominating over the period of the next parliament as the effects of the reduced value of sterling continue to feed through. So perhaps a one-off increase to achieve parity is called for.

Australia has troubles with defence procurement, too


An Australian warship has been dry-docked while its propulsion system is sorted out, while the sister ship is undergoing further sea trials.

I note that the ships
were built by Spanish firm Navantia using a propulsion system made by German firm Siemens. British firm BAE Systems integrated the ship's systems.