Monday, 23 October 2017

Shock news on EU audit: nothing happened, for the ninth year in a row

The propaganda by Farage and others should be set against the facts:

The European Court of Auditors gave the EU annual accounts a clean bill of health for the 9th year in a row. The Court found that, in particular in cohesion policy and agriculture, the overall estimated level of error for payments has further declined from 4.4% in 2014 to 3.8% in 2015.
No errors were found in the examined revenue transactions. Administrative expenditure continued to be the area with the lowest level of error.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

NHS origins: Bevan, Beveridge and ... Willink?

I quote from "Medicine Balls" (written by Phil Hammond, a physician in practice as well as a writer and performer) in the current Private Eye magazine:

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was up to his usual cherry-picking tricks at the Tory conferences, claiming that the brains behind the NHS was not Nye Bevan, but Conservative health minister Sir Henry Willink and his 1944 white paper.

In fact, the idea for a state health service is usually credited to the social researcher and poverty campaigner Beatrice Webb in 1909. Lloyd George introduced state-organised health insurance in 1911*, but for workers only. Lord Dawson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, reported in 1920 that "the best means of maintaining health and curing disease should be made available to all citizens", and it was William Beveridge who first proposed "cradle to grave care" in his 1942 report.

Willink's contribution was important - garnering cross-party support for a consensus that "everybody irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available". But it was Bevan who fought the vested interests and made it happen in 1948. The Conservatives voted against the creation of the NHS 22 times, including in the third reading.

Bevan resigned from government in 1951, as a matter of principle over the introduction of prescription charges. Nothing, it seems, will tempt Hunt to resign.

*presumably on the Prussian model, which continues in France and Germany, and which Beveridge would have studied as a young researcher

Friday, 20 October 2017

Czechia elections

This Sunday (oops!) Saturday, elections will take place in Czechia which may produce a result as significant as that in Austria, which attracted some media attention. The front-runner is a party ANO 2011 standing on an anti-corruption plank. However, leader Andrej Babis is himself accused of tax-dodging, the reason for his being sacked earlier this year from the current coalition government.

While committed to remaining within the EU, ANO 2011 would not have Czechia adopt the euro and would resist the move to ever-closer integration.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Understanding between faiths

Housekeeping my archive, I came across tributes to Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who died a year ago. One must admire his efforts in reconciling the Abrahamic faiths in the face of continued dissension within each of them, leading to violence in the case of one, Islam. Perhaps the aims of the Three Faiths Forum will be achieved, but, if so, it can only be a first step. Islam needs to be reconciled with Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto. Eventually, there must be a common understanding of what lies at the heart of all faiths worldwide and historically.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Future for nuclear power in the UK

There was an interesting little debate late last night in the House of Lords. It was moved by the Earl of Selborne to take note of a report on nuclear research published by his Science and Technology Select Committee in the spring (and rather overshadowed by other political events). The debate was sparsely attended, but each speaker brought valuable experience or knowledge to the discussion.

The most interesting point for me was the general agreement, even by the government spokesman summing up, that the UK lost the plot during the Thatcher years.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Boundary review: it looks like good news for Skewen

The latest revision of the Boundary Commission for Wales' proposals returns Skewen to the Neath constituency where it belongs.

I am sure that many local interests contributed to the change of thinking by the BCW, but I would put in a word of praise for our local Liberal Democrat party, and especially for the coordinated work of the national party, led by WLD's behind-the-scenes mapping genius. The outcome (assuming it survives a further 8-week period for objections) is also a tribute to the persistent campaigning of former county borough mayor and Skewen resident Keith Davies

Alun Cairns' bimodal trains prove not to be so great an advance

On Sunday afternoon, GWR issued this message:

On Monday, 16 October, our brand new ten car long distance services will operate in passenger service for the first time. This is the first new train to be introduced in Wales for a generation, and is a very significant day for our customers and partners in South Wales. 
The first Intercity Express for South Wales, the 0815 from London to Cardiff, and the 1055 from Cardiff to London will  be brand new ten carriage trains. 

The 1145 from Paddington will be the first train to travel right through to Swansea.  As well as the platform showcase at Swansea, where we have also invited local media, a helicopter will film the journey of the 1145, creating a film that we will make available online so that everyone can see this fantastic new train makes it way through the beauty of South Wales. Cardiff 13.47 .Returns from Swansea at 15.28.

Earlier services were not trouble-free. The first - 8:15 - service to Wales was cancelled. The first service from Bristol was severely delayed. The Bristol Post reported:

The maiden voyage of one of Great Western Railway’s new high speed trains was delayed leaving Bristol due to an unexpected fault. Commuters on board the brand new Hitachi train, which was due to depart Temple Meads station for London Paddington at 6am, were delayed by 26 minutes as staff reportedly struggled to couple carriages. A separate problem was also reported with the air conditioning, which caused liquid to leak from vents above seats.

Tim Farron put the boot in:

“Chris Grayling promised this would be a fantastic new service, instead it ended up going badly off the rails.
“At least he got a first-hand experience of what many rail passengers have to put up with every day: overcrowded, delayed and unreliable trains.
“This whole sorry episode sums up the government’s failing transport strategy.
“Ministers need to step up investment in the railway network across the UK, instead of posing for photo ops that go embarrassingly wrong.”