Monday, 26 September 2016

Shadow Treasurer speech

That was an interesting speech by John McDonnell to the Labour Conference in Liverpool today. In many ways it was a repudiation of the Blair-Brown-Mandelson attitude towards the banks and financial services industry. He promised to abolish tax avoidance - though not admitting the vehicles for tax avoidance provided by the Blair-Brown governments. There were promises to intervene in industry, including threats to renationalise some companies. So far, so socialist, as his ringing acceptance of the label in his peroration made clear.

But there were a couple of policies which an old Liberal would have endorsed. He spoke at length in favour of worker participation on company boards and of worker cooperatives (the one successful policy which the Liberal side of the Lib-Pact pact of the 1970s was able to push through). He also supported the demand for "sectoral collective bargaining". I had to look up this piece of jargon, which turned out* very similar to the wages councils (steadily dismantled by the Thatcher government and given the final blow by Cameron) which had their origin in the Liberal government trade boards established in 1909.

There was also an endorsement of small business and even independent traders. He went so far as to promise support for this sector in implementing a genuine legal minimum wage. This is a considerable break from the monopoly-loving Labour of the past (though McDonnell also promised to support BT in providing broadband).

Another refreshing aspect was the absence of attacks on Liberal Democrats - indeed, there was implicit praise for Liberal Democrats in the Lords who cooperated with Labour to halt some oppressive Tory legislation.

There was the usual backing track of attacks on Conservatives, deserved to a great extent, but the ritual does get wearing after a while. However, there were at least firm policy proposals which can be debated, rather than the woolly mess which has marked Labour economic policy in the past.

*From a helpful Canadian site:
How would unions obtain sectoral bargaining rights?
A sector would have two defining characteristics:  a geographic scope and type of work involving “similar tasks”.  So for example if this was applied in Ontario, you could have a sector such as “employees working in fast food in the City of Toronto”.  There would be questions for the labour board to sort out, such as how narrow the tasks can be divided.  Can a sector be “employees working in coffee shops” or “employees working women’s apparel”?
Once a historically underrepresented sector is identified, then any union that can obtain at least 45% support majority support at two or more employers in that sector can apply for a sectoral certification.  The union would have to win a vote at each location as well as  win a majority of all employees combined.  If the union is successful, it would obtain a sectoral certification.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

India - Pakistan still a flashpoint

One never knows how far Amit Varma's tongue extends into his cheek, but this article's reading of the relations between two Commonwealth members seems deadly serious.

Our conflict with Pakistan will not be ended by diplomacy. China supports Pakistan, America needs Pakistan for Afghanistan reasons, and all diplomatic manouvering on this subject is just theatre.

But surely he goes too far when he accuses Pakistan of acting like a madman and suggesting that India should go the same way?

If Pakistan’s generals saw Modi and his minions as unhinged reactionaries driven by bigotry, Islamophobia and a virulent nationalism, they might back off.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Secondary education

Some Brexiteer on "Any Questions?" yesterday asserted that Liberal Democrats would get nowhere because we were obsessed with Europe. She cited Tim Farron's federal conference speech of last Tuesday. Well, in the words of Paul Simon, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. The overwhelming impression I had was, after necessarily considering what the effects of Brexit would be, that Tim's major concern was with the threat to extend selective education beyond its current redoubts in England. He echoed Kirsty Williams' determination that there would be no reintroduction of the 11-plus on her watch as education minister in Wales.

(Incidentally, in a previous post I laid part of the blame for the sheep-and-goats tripartite system on the wording of the Butler Education Act 1944. I should have checked instead of relying on memory. As Nicholas Timmins points out in "The five giants", though the preceding White Paper had made clear that the tripartite system was expected, the Act merely required education according to age, ability and aptitude.)

You can judge the speeches for yourself. The text of Tim's is here and Kirsty's here.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Glamorgan - a dying fall

Just when it looked as if there would be a belated fourth win to achieve some respectability at the end of the four-day campaign, there was a clatter of wickets after lunch yesterday to present Leicester with a 26-run victory. Typically, there was one good individual score (by Will Bragg), but most others failed. It is the inconsistency in batting throughout the season which has held the county back. On the plus side, there have been some encouraging debuts by younger players and one hopes that Chris Cooke will be over his herniated disc condition by the start of the 2017 season.

Another problem which seems to have been solved is that of clearing out the lower order. No opposition at the latter end of the season has run away to a huge total after suffering early reverses, a recurrent difficulty in previous matches, and there is apparently a type of bowler for any wicket. Retention could be a problem, which probably comes down to finance. On the whole, I am cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sewage competition

None of the discussion I have seen or heard so far about creating a competitive market for water supply touches on the complementary requirement to remove and treat sewage. Welsh Water has a good record in this area and there is a danger that competition on price could drive down standards.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Kolpak and Brexit

Looking at the c.v.s of some of the players involved in the current Leicester v Glamorgan match, I was reminded of the means by which (especially) South Africans were enabled to be signed to England and Wales counties. The Kolpak ruling means that any player from a country which has a trading agreement with the EU has a right to ply his trade in an EU member state, regardless of any local league rules aimed at preventing foreign domination of teams.

There were over 60 Kolpak players in English cricket in 2008. Measures were introduced then and in the next year to stem the flow, but it is not clear how far these have been effective since there is no readily available list of those overseas players who are here under Kolpak rules and those who qualify under the government's point-based system. It is probably safe to say that, if EU membership is revoked, some counties will be scrambling to move people from the former to the latter category, and that the EWCB on the other hand will be in no hurry to meet their demands for GBEs.

In my estimation, the four-day game is going to be less affected by Brexit than by the sad decline in financial support for it. What will clearly be hit is the plan for a city-region-based Indian Cricket League style twenty-over competition, which must have overseas stars in order to succeed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Edmund Rubbra

Rubbra is one of those composers who has clearly been undervalued through most of his lifetime and since, but whose music I have found difficult to engage with, unlike near contemporaries Rodrigo, Shostakovitch, Tippett and Walton. This must partly be due to the lack of exposure, which is being rectified by Radio 3's Composer of the Week this week. (I see that the last time Rubbra was celebrated by CotW was twenty years ago, which reinforces the earlier point.)