Sunday, 25 February 2018

Guilt by association

It is hard to see why the red-tops are smearing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a commie puppet. The tenuous Czech connection has been forensically dismissed by a BBC reporter with access to the Czech secret service archives, and Paul Anderson, who was a Tribune journalist in the period in question, has put the affair in context. The real danger of Corbyn is not his threat to renationalise the railway (with which even many long-suffering commuters from the Conservative home counties have sympathy) but his unholy alliance with Mrs May. He seems determined to augment the Brexiteers' drive to a poorer (except for financial speculators) United Kingdom outside the single market not only of the EU but also EFTA. (The prospect of "a" customs union which is different from the existing customs union has been held out by Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, but this is clearly the sort of "cherry-picking" which has already been dismissed by negotiators for the EU 27.) So why are the Tory-leaning tabloids attacking Corbyn now, years away from a general election?

Social media have also unearthed CIA records which mark Corbyn as suspicious - because he had close contacts with workers organisations around the world. There seems to be a general feeling in the US establishment (based presumably on their own experience) that all trade unions everywhere are either controlled by the Mafia or are communist front organisations.  Worse in their eyes are the TUC equivalents who dare to criticise the way that régimes favoured by the US suppress human or workers' rights or both.

Perhaps there is no specific reason for attacking Corbyn at this time. Perhaps the grandiose claims of a minor Czech agent who feels he has been forgotten have stimulated a minor press feeding-frenzy. This would be even more worrying. There are already signs reminiscent of the McCarthyism of the 1950s US, when careers could be threatened because of a youthful dalliance with socialist ideas or merely because of attraction to communist front organisations.

I "like" a Facebook page dedicated to Jammu and Kashmir, because I feel that the heartless anomaly created by the Indian independence settlement should be corrected. I stress that this should be negotiated away, hopefully through the good offices of the Commonwealth or otherwise by friends of both India and Pakistan. I reject the use of force, either by governments or terrorist organisations. However, it is very probable that there are other members of the group who are tied to Islamist extremism, which seeks to capitalise violently on the grievances of Kashmiris. Should I fear a knock on the door from Special Branch because of this coincidence?

This is just one personal example. In a world shrunk by the World Wide Web and globalisation, it would be easy to find links from anybody to anybody else. Let us hope common sense and objectivity prevail.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Friday, 23 February 2018

Libraries declining in Wales

BBC reported earlier this week that the number of professional librarians in Wales had declined by a fifth while the number of volunteers had increased 13-fold. The decline in facilities has not been as steep as in England, but it is part of a national trend. There is little doubt that if free libraries were not prescribed by law, many local authorities would have done away with them altogether.

There is still a place for the public library, if only because of the wealth of material published before 1997 when the World Wide Web really took off. The main libraries are already information centres rather than just a collection of bookshelves. However,, professionals are needed to guide the ordinary citizen. The popular Web search engines by their commercial nature bias their results towards the new and the paid-for links.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Where will Macron's party go next?

The next European Parliament elections will likely take place from 23rd to 26th May 2019. There is already speculation as to how many French seats will be taken by President Macron's party and whether he will have enough MEPs to go it alone or whether his people will join one of the other blocs in the parliament. Most opinion in Brussels points to En Marche joining ALDE, which would move that party even more towards economic rather than social liberalism. However, there is a minority view that EPP, the broad conservative grouping would be more to his liking. This graphic shows more:

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Czechs refute Corbyn spy scare story

Guido Fawkes and other reactionary outlets have been fulminating over claims that the leader of the Labour party was a collaborator with the Czech security services. While the Czech agent concerned has, for reasons of his own, puffed the affair, the archivist of the former communist organisation herself has confirmed that Corbyn was no more than "a person of interest". I am as ready as the next man to condemn Corbyn for the company he kept as a firebrand back-bencher. However, I do believe him in this instance that his meetings with Dymik/Sarkocy were innocent.

Where I will agree with Guido is that BBC TV channels have failed to deal with the story. However, an interview with the archivist herself was broadcast by BBC Radio News earlier this week.

We should put the current brouhaha in context. Respected Guardian journalist Richard Gott was fingered in the 1990s as a Soviet mole. Gott admitted: "I took red gold, even if it was only in the form of expenses for myself and my partner. That, in the circumstances, was culpable stupidity, though at the time it seemed more like an enjoyable joke". There is the incentive for intelligence officers to exaggerate the number and importance of the agents they are controlling, to boost not only their reputation in their service but also their expense accounts. And Corbyn's and Gott's chats over coffee are as nothing compared to the (admittedly minor) treachery by a Conservative junior minister in the 1960s.

Monday, 19 February 2018

How can this minister act objectively?

It is my clear recollection that in the 1960s and '70s government ministers, on appointment, sold off any shareholdings or put them in a blind trust.

Trusts can be active or passive. Active funds give trustees to the power to manage funds to their best ability, selling or buying according to market conditions. Passive funds effectively froze the shareholdings etc. until the minister ceased to be a minister. Either way, the minister ceded responsibility to independent trustees in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

In the current Ministerial Code, there is a worrying element of discretion. The paragraph dealing with financial interests states:

7.7 Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest between their Ministerial position and their private financial interests. They should be guided by the general principle that they should either dispose of the interest giving rise to the conflict or take alternative steps to prevent it. In reaching their decision they should be guided by the advice given to them by their Permanent Secretary and the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. Ministers’ decisions should not be influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with a particular firm or organisation.

An item in the New European's "Mandrake" column makes this relevant. Steve Baker, a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, purchased an interest last year in Glint Pay Ltd, a financial services holding company, and has retained it. This site asserts that:

Glint will offer a frictionless way to both store and spend your money in gold, including at the point of sale, just like a regular local currency. The bigger picture is that gold historically has been a better storage of value than any government-created currency, and therefore — with the aid of technology — is (arguably) a good candidate for an alternative global currency.

As "Mandrake" points out, there is a glaring conflict of interest here. Baker is bound to be involved in decisions which will affect the future value of sterling and possibly other currencies. He has had the temerity to accuse civil servants of a lack of objectivity, all the while possessing an indirect hedge in gold against a probable fall post-Brexit in both sterling and the euro.