Thursday, 24 May 2018

Know your EP

The European Parliament Information Office in the United Kingdom has produced this useful guide to the UK's roster of MEPs. (Hands up those who know how many MEPs represent Wales and who they are!)

Channel 4 has also started a "fly on the wall" series about the daily work of those MEPs. It is a pity that this project was not started six years ago when the key rôles played by Liberal Democrats (notably by Sharon Bowles) in the development of policy would have been on display. Even three years ago, before the EU referendum, would have made more of the electorate better informed.

The World Trade Organisation relies too much on international goodwill

As Tahir Maher points out in Liberal Democrat Voice, "decision making in the WTO is still based on consensus diplomacy by 160 members with different outlook and views working on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is decided." As a result,

Over the last decade, numerous stalled negotiations have beset WTO credibility. [...] An ineffectual WTO will hurt everyone, but the most significant impact will be felt by the poor. In 2010 the Millennium Development Goals achieved one of its objectives, and that was to cut extreme poverty by half. Achieving this objective was aided by economic growth in poorer countries that took advantage of low tariffs and open markets where WTO played an essential role in overseeing trade rules are appropriately negotiated, implemented and monitored. A possible trade war and a weak WTO will result in wealthier countries uplifting their tariffs and introducing other protective measures. The current playing field, as it were, would be ineffective, and the strong countries would push poorer countries to accept harsher trade deals.

The disputes procedure is also hamstrung, with the result that President Trump's recent imposition of tariffs on "national security" grounds has practically passed unpunished. China has a case.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

It is not enough to be anti-Labour

Andrew RT Davies, in the wake of the Welsh Conservatives spring conference, has iterated his belief in a Plaid-Conservative pact to oust Labour from Cardiff Bay. In purely policy terms, this is bizarre. How would a socialist, EU-friendly, party agree on a positive agenda with a market-driven, isolationist outfit? The Welsh Conservatives 2016 manifesto was rather airy-fairy according to this BBC analysis, but there was enough to suggest that they would have by-passed local authorities in education and introduced competition into the NHS in Wales, surely anathema to Plaid.

The two parties would have no positive message to put forward but instead rely on public resentment against a Labour government which has been in power too long. Short of a massive sex or corruption scandal, I cannot see traditional voting patterns being upset to the extent that an "anyone but Labour" platform would succeed.  There will be a stronger pair of negative slogans threatening the two parties: "Vote Plaid, get a Tory government" and "Vote Conservative, get a nationalist".

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Swords into ploughshares, or ordnance into self-build

Gravenhill is a large-scale scheme enabling self-build homes on the site of what was, if I recall correctly, the former headquarters of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. There was also a REME workshop which I recall my father being called away to on courses during his service career.

The CAT magazine Clean Slate in which I first read about the project claims it as the largest-ever self-build scheme in the UK. The early self-builders of Crawley New Town may dispute that, but Gravenhill is certainly impressive.

It could be a model for the many disused industrial sites in South Wales.

Monday, 21 May 2018

A very Russell T Davies scandal

Swansea's own Russell T Davies has done gaily for the Thorpe scandal what Cardiff's Andrew Davies did heterosexually for Jane Austen. Russell T was interviewed for the Sunday Supplement*, when
he confessed to playing up the Welsh connections - which are nevertheless fascinating. He also said that he had given a preview of the whole three-part series to Norman Scott who had pronounced himself satisfied with the result. Only later did the Daily Mail publish a piece in which Scott was said to have complained about the way he was portrayed.

Personally, the only characterisation I did find convincing was Ben Whishaw's Norman Scott. Hugh Grant was just Hugh Grant with a deeper voice than usual and surely Leo Abse was higher-pitched and sounded slightly posher than  played him? As I recall Lord Arran he was more Benjamin Whitrow than . With so many actors and a writer having to rely on court transcripts, a novelisation and newsreel footage for their characterisation, it was good to read at least one recollection of one "who was there", Lord Thomas of Gresford.

I felt for the son of Thorpe and Caroline Allpass who, though he has managed to keep out of the public eye, must suffer every time there is a reminder of his mother's tragic death and the scandal which will ever be associated with the name of his father.

In the course of this Vaughan Roderick matter-of-factly came out. The programme was also notable for an interview with Peter Tatchell on the illiberal "Section 28"  ("Clause 2B" in Scotland) introduced by Mrs Thatcher which ramped up discrimination and violence against homosexuals. There was also a telling contribution from Rodney Berman in the papers review.   

You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone

The European Parliament think tank has been issuing, in advance of next year's EP elections, a series of articles about the benefits to the ordinary voter of EU membership. A recent one caught my eye, bearing as it does on small farmers in Wales, a significant sector of the economy. A pdf explains Direct Payments to Farmers.

More than three quarters of farm holdings in the EU are small - below 10 ha - with the very large majority of those below 5 ha. In order to address the specific situation of these farms, member states can apply the small farmers scheme (SFS), a simplified direct payment scheme granting a one-off payment to farmers who choose to participate. The maximum level of the payment is decided at the national level, but in any case may not exceed €1,250. The small farmers scheme includes simplified administrative procedures, and participating farmers are exempt from greening and cross-compliance sanctions and controls. The scheme is applied in 15 EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Slovenia.

Note that the UK has chosen not to participate. It is quite happy to take the basic payments for greening, payments which are said to favour such people as the Duke of Westminster and Paul Dacre, Brexiteer editor of the Daily Mail, disproportionately. £1,000 may not be  a lot, but cutting administrative procedures was one of the reasons cited by Welsh farmers who voted Leave in 2016.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Names of the "royal wedding peers" have emerged

The Guardian has published the names of the peers whom Theresa May has appointed in the midst of the brouhaha about a certain love match in Windsor. The Liberal Democrats have already protested this apparent reverse spin and have wisely not taken up the single peerage which was on offer. These additional appointments push the Lords roster towards the 800 mark at a time when the Conservatives are still intent on reducing the elected membership in the Commons by fifty.

One name leaps out as that of a Brexit fanatic: Sir Peter Lilley. Of the other ex-MPs, Sir Edward Garnier was a declared Remainer, Sir Eric Pickles a Eurosceptic, Sir John Randall not known but as a supporter of David Cameron probably a Remainer, Sir Alan Haselhurst a Remainer and Sir Andrew Tyrie a Remainer. So Remainers just out-weigh Leavers; perhaps Mrs May was attempting to slip the appointments past the Brexiteers, who will no doubt have been absorbed by all things English royal family over the last few days. They would be consoled by a DUP appointment, that of William McCrea who has been criticised in the past for being soft on unionist paramilitaries.

The three Labour appointees repay service to the party but include one person accused of tolerating anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn.

The appointment of Sir Andrew should be welcomed. His was a rare voice of reason over financial matters on the Conservative benches and in my opinion retired too soon from the Commons. Perhaps he was persuaded to go, with the promise of a barony as a sweetener, by an administration whose budgets he frequently criticised from his position as chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

Diana Barran, as recently retired CEO of SafeLives, which seeks to end domestic abuse, is another worthy appointment as is that of Catherine Meyer, the founder of Action Against Abduction. One notes that Sir John Randall is Vice-Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation, so liberal causes are well represented.

The fact remains that the House of Lords is now far too large because the system of appointments has been misused by successive governments. It could all have been so different if the Lords Reform Bill had been allowed to proceed in 2012. It received overwhelming support at Second Reading, including a majority of Conservative MPs, and all that was needed was agreement to a programme motion to prevent the Bill being talked out by the reactionaries (on either side of the House!). However, the then leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband opposed this and would not discuss any alternative to Nick Clegg's proposed timetable. It is typical of Labour hypocrisy that they are now spreading the story that it was the Conservatives who blocked Lords reform.