Sunday, January 31, 2016

Intolerance and the Battle of Dover

Early this week I was twice horrified by a lack of balance in the way some people expressed their views. Then we had the shameful scenes at Dover. In my opinion those who start by accusing their opponents as being traitors or not true Britons/Scots are in danger of starting down the slippery slope which leads to the kind of ugly scenes we have just seen.

In a previous post today I linked to an article by former MP Dr Julian Huppert which mentioned two debates over whether Britain should remain a member of the EU in which he had taken part. He asked those on the other side from himself what they would be prepared to risk or give up for their preferred outcome. They shouted "Everything!"

Everything?  Everything? Really?

In the words of G.K. Chesterton,

"All men are dangerous who care for only one thing."

Then there was the latest manifestation of hostility by SNP supporters against J.K. Rowling.

When the "Harry Potter" author gave a million pounds to the Labour party, I won't pretend that Conservatives like myself were not a little disappointed, but most of us accepted that what she does with the money she had earned is a matter for her. I certainly don't recall any Conservative expressing anything like the vitriol she has subsequently received from the SNP for giving money to the "No" side in the Scottish Independence Referendum - and it is still going on.

I was reading an online discussion this week - I think it was on the comment pages of "The Scotsman" website when saw a comment which encapsulates how narrow minded some people can get. One of the SNP contributors posted that he had some bad news for Unionists: Andy Murray had made it to the final of the Australian open.

Someone asked him why on earth Unionists would be upset by a British player doing well in a sporting contest, and the gentleman replied that Andy Murray was a nationalist.

That sort of comment makes me sad rather than angry.

Andy Murray is a great tennis player, and the idea that I should stop recognising that or stop being pleased when he does well because he made a comment I disagreed with in the run up to a referendum eighteen months ago is too ridiculously petty for words. I will always cheer for a sporting competitor or team from any of the four nations of the United Kingdom who is playing someone from anywhere else, out of friendly support for any part of my country. And not out of hostility to other parts of the world.

One of the worst aspects of the Scottish referendum was when the "Yes" campaign accused those who were voting "No" of a lack of patriotism or not being proper Scots. We are starting to see the same kind of nonsense in the forthcoming EU referendum vote. This is extremely harmful.

It is possible to be a Scottish patriot who is also British and wants to remain so, and it is also possible to be a British patriot who thinks the best interests of Britain are best served by remaining within the EU. The anger built up on both sides during the Scottish Independence referendum will take years to heal and the last thing we need is the same sort of divisive anger to appear during the European Union referendum campaign.

When you start thinking in absolutist terms rather than assessing the merits of a proposal on an objective view of the evidence, you are taking the first step down a very dangerous road. When you start assuming that people who might otherwise be friends must be opposed because they have taken a different political view, you are taking the second step. It does not take too many more before you get to the battle of Dover.

The reports of this week's disturbances in Dover, such as the report in the Mail which you can read at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3424299/Neo-Nazi-gangs-daub-swastikas-BLOOD-protest-descends-violent-clashes-police-anti-fascists.html are utterly horrifying.

Kent Police said nine people had been arrested and more than 20 weapons seized, including a lock-knife, knuckle duster, pieces of wood, glass, hammers and bricks. A police spokeswoman told the Mail that
 
'One person suffered a broken arm and five others sustained minor injuries.' 

and frankly given the sort of weaponry in evidence and used it was fortunate that the number and seriousness of injuries wasn't a lot worse than this.

But even sadder than those injuries is the fact that both sets of people in the photographs below think they were defending British values. That applies whether they were protesting against immigration like these people






or whether they called themselves anti-fascists like these people:



not to mention the ones who smashed the windows of one coach and daubed a swastika in blood on the side of another, or threw smoke bombs.

I don't care what position you are using your democratic rights to argue for, once you start forming into gangs who cover your faces, tussle with police, and get into physical fights with people who take a different view, you have left democracy behind and with it any claim to stand for British values. (Or, for the EDL and Scottish Defence League, English or Scottish ones.)

You may claim to be defending British culture, you may claim to be opposing fascism, but you cannot defend British values or oppose fascism using fascist tactics such as rule by the mob.

BTW, if you read the whole Mail article which I linked to above you will also see that Labour's Shadow International Development Secretary Diane Abbot provided some comic relief in Dover by describing the White Cliffs of Dover as "racist rocks." She apparently told the crowd

"It's 2016, Time for those racist rocks to go. Mr Cameron, tear down those cliffs."

I presume she must have been joking, but such is the state of the Labour party at the moment ...

Sunday Music Spot- O Lord in thy wrath

I would have sworn that when I first heard and sang the anthem "O Lord, in thy wrath" at an RSCM Cathedral singers event in Bristol in about 1979 (three years before this recording at St John's Cambridge,) the music bore the name of composer Thomas Weelkes.

This recording, however. attributes it to Orlando Gibbons and so, I must confess, does every reference I can find. So either my memory is playing tricks on me or the attribution to Weelkes is now regarded as wrong or at best very much a minority view.

But whoever wrote this, it is a wonderful if somewhat gloomy anthem.



Europe and Science

There are many things wrong with the European Union, but if there is one area of the EU's activity which seems to be popular with almost all of those directly affected by it, that area is the European Research Council and the other forms of support which the EU gives to scientific research.

I am, and have been for a length of time which shocks me when I realise how long it is, a member of the "Court" of Bristol University. This used to be, in theory, the University's most senior governing body but has gradually had its' formal and actual powers whittled down for various reasons. Membership of Court remains an excellent opportunity to keep in touch with my Alma Mater and I was struck at the 2015 meeting by how strongly held and almost universal the opinion was among the academics I spoke to that the European Research Council works well and that they would regard loss of preferential access to European research facilities as a result of Brexit as damaging to scientific research in Britain.

This is by no means the sort of reaction you get from people who have had close professional contact with other aspects of the European Union's work and it clearly is not just a matter of people's opinions reflecting where the EU budget is spent. I know plenty of very Eurosceptic farmers, for instance.

I wonder how many of the "students for leave" who have been tweeting their photographs holding signs with various reasons for wanting to vote that way - I hope for their sake most of them express more complex arguments in their finals - have discussed the matters with their lecturers. If they did it is possible that both participants in the conversation would learn things.

Julian Huppert, the former MP for Cambridge, had an article in the Guardian at

https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2016/jan/29/if-youre-pro-science-you-should-be-pro-europe

about this. It's interesting that he debated against the same UKIP member of the European Parliament in two public debates, one each at Cambridge and Peterborough. The former was a heavy win for Remain, the latter a heavy win for Leave. He thought that this might reflect the preponderance in the former debate of people from the University or from science parks around Cambridge.

I suspect that if every other aspect of the European Union was as popular with the people who had dealings with it as their work to support science, the results of Britain's EU referendum would be s much more resounding win for "remain" than currently looks likely. 

Terry Wogan RIP

It has been announced this morning that Sir Terry Wogan has died at the age of 77 after a "short but brave" battle with cancer.

He was a remarkable "larger than life" and very funny TV personality who was almost universally liked - which is not the easiest thing to achieve in this day and age.

He will be missed.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 31st January 2016


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Worst of Both Worlds 4: Cognitive Dissonance

There are still some good points being put by the decent and intelligent people among both those campaigning for Britain to Leave the EU and those campaigning for remain.

There is also some downright ridiculous scaremongering from both sides.

I was not impressed with either side's contribution to a BBC sports report on how How Brexit would affect English Football - in which the BBC had asked for comments from several viewpoints.

Now, I do not claim to be a great expert on football, but it appeared to me that Vote Leave did a far better job of eviscerating the case put by Will Straw on behalf of "Britain Stronger in Europe" than they did of putting their own case.

But frankly both sides were all over the place.

The football authorities are reported at the head of the article as thinking as follows:

"The FA is concerned about the influx of foreign players into the top tier of the English game, which it believes is crowding out young home-grown talent.

"Working with the Home Office, it has brought in tougher visa restrictions on players from outside the EU, to ensure only established stars can be snapped up by English clubs. The FA declined to comment on whether it would like to see similar restrictions on players from within the EU, which could only come about if Britain left."

However, Rory Miller, former director of the MBA (Football Industries) programme at Liverpool University has a viewpoint suggesting that the Premier League might want precisely the opposite to the FA, that is that they would want the right to bring in as many overseas players as possible.

Will Straw's "Remain" argument was based on the apparently unconsidered assumption that the ability to bring in lots of European players must be good for British football, citing a Guardian article which suggests that Brexit might make this harder.

The Vote Leave webpage has an article attacking Will Straw's piece which I have linked to above and which made a strong and, in my opinion persuasive, case that the assumptions behind that Guardian article were very questionable.

Unfortunately their arguments pulling the "Britain Stronger in Europe" position to pieces was about the only thing "Vote Leave" had to say which made sense - because those arguments are inconsistent with the rest of their position and damage their own case too.

Robert Oxley's "Vote Leave" piece on the BBC website does not appear to line up all that well with what the Football Association is quoted as saying, as quoted above, either. He says

"The FA has acknowledged the recent restrictions that have been introduced on skilled immigration from non-EU countries are the direct consequence of the EU's freedom of movement rules."

The argument from both Vote Leave and Leave EU, who appear to be in agreement for once, seems to be that restrictions on immigration from the rest of the world have only been imposed to counterbalance the fact that there are none for EU citizens. That is a travesty of the truth.

Those restrictions would have been necessary if the Coalition and Conservative governments were ever going to make even the most minimal attempt to honour election manifesto commitments to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, even without EU freedom of movement rules.

You do not have to be a "fortress Britain" opponent of all immigration to recognise that there are limits on the rate of net inward migration which can be accommodated without social and capacity problems and it is a simple fact that in 2010 Britain was experiencing net immigration from both EU and non-EU countries well above the rate which many people believe to be sustainable.

Returning to the specific football issues, the "Vote Leave" arguments are seriously inconsistent.

They appear to be simultaneously arguing that the ability of EU footballers to play in English leagues is a harmful EU policy which we could benefit from scrapping, and yet also arguing that the suggestion that European footballers might be prevented from playing in Britain after Brexit is untrue scaremongering by the "Remain" campaign.

Robert Oxley (and Brian Monteith of Leave.EU) attack EU freedom of movement rules in their arguments as presented on the BBC site linked to above,. They argue that the EU's freedom of movement policies have prevented British football, quote,

"from implementing policies to nurture domestic talent and from bringing the top footballing talent from right across the globe."

Oxley adds,

"This has hurt clubs' abilities to bring in players from outside of the EU while preventing any limits from being imposed within the EU. That's not a decision of anyone we elect, that's thanks to the controversial 1995 Bosman ruling in the European Court of Justice."

So does Vote Leave want to make it harder for European footballers to play here? That's the logical inference from this argument, but wait ...

In the past 72 hours Vote Leave have been tweeting that Britain Stronger in Europe have been issuing "Project Fear" propaganda about the impact on football of Brexit. They link back to the page here on the Vote Leave website which challenges Will Straw's article, accuse the suggestion that fewer European players could take part in British leagues after Brexit of being "flawed" (probably correctly) and explain that, quote,

"there would be nothing to stop the FA or Government removing the requirement for foreign footballers to obtain a sponsorship licence from the FA after the UK left the EU."

and

"Even in the unlikely scenario that the current rules were retained and applied to EU states, the impact is likely to be limited. Foreign players are entitled to a work visa if they are part of an association that is in the FIFA top 50. This means high quality players from Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Italy, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece and Slovenia would be largely unaffected."

So that is the first cognitive dissonance in the "Vote Leave" view of football.

Is the right of European footballers to play in Britain a harmful policy imposed on UK football by unelected judges, which damages opportunities for home-grown and non-EU talent? Or is the suggestion that a Britain which had left the EU might reduce the ability of European footballers to play in the UK just "scaremongering" by "Britain Stronger in Europe?" They can't have it both ways.


But there is a second cognitive dissonance in what "Vote Leave" has put out in the past 72 hours. If BSE suggestions that leaving the EU might have an impact on how many European footballers can play in Britain were "scaremongering" what do vote leave think this is?

 











Anyone who followed the link provided with the above "Vote Leave" tweet would be directed to a Reuters report with the title

"EU says has no plans to review British VAT exemptions."

Yes, that's right. The link provided to supposedly back up a story about the EU wanting to scrap the 0% rates of VAT in Britain actually says there are no plans to even review them.

The French EU Commissioner did express a personal view that in his opinion zero rating is not the best idea, but he also said that he has

"no immediate plans to propose ending VAT exemptions on various products in Britain"

and noted that member states would have a veto over any such proposal.

The Reuters article also quoted a British government spokeswoman as stressing there was no EU proposal to scrap zero rates and that London would veto it if there were.

"Our position on this is clear," she said. "We will keep zero rates of VAT on certain goods and services we negotiated when we joined the European Community."

So the article to which Vote Leave linked provides no substantiation whatsoever that there is any serious risk of the EU successfully forcing Britain to end zero rating on VAT.

On consecutive days "Vote Leave" was issuing tweets accusing the "Remain" side of scaremongering over football, and themselves issuing a ridiculous scaremonger over a non-existent proposal to scrap VAT zero rating, which Britain could and would veto if it ever came forward.

This kind of "project fear" nonsense is equally silly whether it comes from the "Leave" side or the "Remain" side and some people on both have been doing way too much of it. Vote Leave said we should give the "Red card to Project Fear." Yes - from supporters and opponents of EU membership.

Would it really be so much to ask for a more grown-up debate from both sides?

Reality check

I didn't post today's "quote of the day" because I necessarily entirely agree with it or am 100% comfortable with the words Sir Michael Caine used even where I do agree with hum.

I posted that quote as a reminder to myself and any other politically interested person reading this with an open mind that voters with views not a million miles away from Caine's are the people you need to appeal to if you want to win elections.

David Cameron is Prime Minister because he understands that. Ed Miliband isn't Prime Minister because he was the first Labour party leader for three decades who didn't.

Britain has only had one Prime Minister since World War II who was not always careful to appeal to the centre - and even Margaret Thatcher was far more pragmatic and centrist in government than she has been presented as being after leaving office, both by New Labour propagandists keen to blame her for everything and by her own acolytes keen to present her as keeper of the true blue faith.

Maggie was also perceived as closer to the centre in all three of the elections she won than her opposition at the time. James Callaghan, though a moderate man himself, had just presided over a disastrous "winter of discontent" and the Labour left was seen as pervading his government, Michael Foot fought the 1983 "missile election" on an unashamedly left-wing and unilateralist programme, and Neil Kinnock in 1987 had barely begun the long march to the centre which was eventually to produce New Labour.

Elections in Britain are won from the centre. Both those on the right of the Conservative party who think David Cameron is a soggy leftie, and those in the Corbyn wing of the Labour party who want everyone from Hilary Benn rightwards to JOIN THE TORIES, would do well to take a reality check.

Quote of the day 30th January 2016

"I want the working classes to be taken care of but I don't want to be busting my arse and paying high taxes so that a quarter of a million layabouts can get another hour in bed.

I voted for Blair because I knew he was a rightwing socialist and I voted for Cameron because I knew he was a leftwing Conservative. Those are the ones I trust the most. Not the extremists.

Once you're left of Blair or right of Cameron I don't trust you."

(Sir Michael Caine, in an interview in yesterday's Times)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Police and Crime Commissioner's Radio interview

Have just listened on the internet to the excellent BBC Radio Cumbria interview given earlier today by the county's first Police and Crime Commissioner, Richard Rhodes.

I thought it was a really interesting description of the role and how it has worked which addressed some of the difficult issues he has had to deal with.

You can listen to the interview at: http://bbc.in/1KKEOmK

(This is a three hour slot of which most of the last hour is the interview with Richard - move the slider along to two hours and four minutes.)

On a separate but related point, there is a new Conservative webpage for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections featuring information about the post, the elections, and Conservative candidates including Peter McCall who is standing in Cumbria to succeed Richard Rhodes (Richard is not seeking re-election.)

The URL for Peter McCall's page on that website is

 http://www.policeandcrimecommissioners.info/person/cumbria-peter-mccall

Road problems expected in Barrow area this afternoon

DELAYS of up to three hours are being expected today as a slow moving "abnormal load" is be moved from Barrow to Lindal.

Motorists are being advised by Cumbria Police to expect delays due to a trial run for an exercise to move an extremely heavy load from Barrow to Lindal.

The movement was scheduled to start at noon with the load due to travel from Ramsden Dock Road, along Park Road and the A590 before reaching Lindal. Motorists have been warned they should expect delays until around 3pm.

The movement is expected to cause particular problems for the shipyard workforce, the vast majority of which finish at 12.30pm on a Friday.

The North West Evening Mail says they understand the delays today are part of a 'trial run' for the real abnormal load, which is due to be transported by road in around two weeks' time. It is believed the transportation will not take as long as three hours.

As a new version of "Dad's Army" comes out ...



(Peter Brooke in The Times)

Dan Hannan MEP on the silliest phrase in politics


Quote of the day 29th January 2016

A story from Ed Balls, repeated by John Rentoul ...

"In 2006, Tony Blair, who still refused to give Gordon Brown a date for the handover, agreed to make Balls, a new MP who had been Brown's adviser, a minister. So when the reshuffle started, Balls was expecting the call. As usual with Blair's reshuffles, though, things went a bit wrong, and it was 24 hours later that the call finally came through to Balls's constituency home in Yorkshire.
 
"I have the Prime Minister for you," said the Downing Street switchboard.

"Hello Ed," said the Prime Minister.

"Hello, Prime Minister," said Ed, although he had always called him Tony before.

"I want you to join the Government," said Blair. "It may not be what you're expecting. It's Northern Ireland."

Balls, his mind reeling with shock as he contemplated the upheaval, how he would manage with the children and the security, managed to say: "It would be a privilege, Prime Minister." In fact, he added: "It's what I've always wanted."

There was a pause.

Then a roar of triumph from the other end. "Gotcha! It's the Treasury." Click. Dialling tone. "

http://www.independent.co.uk/…/daily-catch-up-ed-balls-on-t…

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Peter McCall's Website

It is high time I published a link to the campaign website for Peter McCall, Conservative candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Cumbria.

Peter will be standing for the Conservatives in May this year to succeed the present commissioner, Richard Rhodes, who is not seeking re-election.

This is the link to his website:

http://www.petermccall.org.uk/

And here is a link to his Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Peter-McCall-Candidate-Police-Crime-Commissioner-Cumbria-524833154351883/?notif_t=fbpage_fan_invite

Three Weather Warnings in place for Cumbria

With America’s Storm Jonas just passing over, the UK’s next storm - Gertrude - is ready to take its place, with three weather warnings in force for Cumbria.

An amber weather warning is in place from 3am on Friday until 10am, with winds of up to 70mph expected, potentially reaching speeds of 80mph along coastal and elevated areas.

The wind may lead to structural damage and power disruptions across the county, and the Met Office is warning that people should be prepared.

There are also two yellow weather warnings in place for Cumbria, for snow and rain.

Between 20 and 40mm of rain was expected to fall in parts of the county between 3pm today (Thursday), and noon on Friday. Elevated areas may see as much as 60mm of rainfall.

More details at

http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/latest/Three-weather-warnings-in-place-for-Cumbria-ffaeb9b4-6cbd-4ab2-ac00-154ac41b1809-ds

DC comes to Lancs and Cumbria and announces more money to repair damaged infrastructire

The Prime Minister came to Cumbria and Lancashire and announced that the government is making more money available to repair damaged infrastructure in Northern England following the floods.

Details of the packaged have been announced on the government website here and include the following:

  • £2 million of new funding announced to repair flood-damaged infrastructure across the Lake District National Park
  • £1 million PR campaign announced to encourage British families to spend their Easter holidays in the north
  • package builds on almost £15 million funding from public and private sector to promote tourism to the north and holidays at home


  • The new package will provide £2 million of government funding which will be used to fix bridges, rebuild walls and restore footpaths across the iconic Lake District National Park.

    And as part of this, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) have identified 180 local apprentices who will be mobilised to help with the park’s repair effort.

    It will also feature £1 million in new funding to launch a marketing campaign, co-ordinated by VisitEngland, encouraging British families to spend their Easter break in the north of England.

    The package builds on the government’s £10 million programme to grow tourism in the north, a new £4 million Holidays at Home are GREAT campaign, and advertising space worth £500,000 has also been made available at Heathrow to promote flood affected areas.

    Prime Minister David Cameron said:
    "From York Minster to Honister Mine, Carlisle Castle to the Leeds Armouries, the north has some of the most iconic tourist attractions the UK has to offer. So it is absolutely right that we do everything we can to make sure these businesses feel supported and ready to receive visitors. 
    The measures we’ve announced today are an important step, showcasing the best the region’s tourist industry has to offer while helping one of its key attractions in the Lake District National Park get back on its feet."

    Investigating allegations against British Soldiers

    Minister for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt spoke yesterday at a Westminster Hall debate about IHAT, the Iraq historic allegations team, which has been created to ensure that allegations against British Service personnel are properly investigated in a way which is fair and just to both sides. You can read the speech in full at

    https://modmedia.blog.gov.uk/2016/01/27/westminster-hall-debate-on-the-iraq-historic-allegations-team/

    Here are some extracts

    "I would also thank all Honourable members who have spoken in support of our Armed Forces.
     
    We send them dressed in body armour, into harms way, to defend our freedom, and our national interest. It is not just their courage and capability that makes them the best, it is their values and the high standards we hold them to: values of self-discipline and self-sacrifice.
     
    Much of what they do in both war and peace is to uphold the rule of law, including international humanitarian law, such as the well-known and well-understood Geneva Conventions.
     
    As a nation we have chosen to invest in preserving and promoting these vital rules in armed conflict, ensuring they are reflected in all we do, and using our considerable reach to instil them in Armed Forces across the globe. And it is right we meet the obligations on us to investigate credible allegations of serious criminality or war crimes.
     
    How ironic it is then that those brave men and women who do so much to protect and promote human rights and the laws that enshrine them, stand accused of wishing to exempt themselves from such obligations."

    "I wish to explain why protecting our Armed Forces from litigation motivated by malice and money is not just compatible with upholding human rights and the pursuit of justice - but that Human rights and justice depend upon it.
     
    This is not about holding our Armed Forces “above the law”- as Leigh Day have suggested, but rather that we wish to uphold the primacy of international humanitarian law that helps keep our Armed Forces safe and gives them the freedom to act in accordance with those laws and protect human rights. The ability to take prisoners, for example, is a well understood good. Not to be able to do so would have very grave consequences indeed, for both sides of a conflict.
     
    Any action which undermines or deviates from such rules is detrimental to our operational ability, to our own Armed Forces' safety, and we should make no apology for investigating and holding to account our own Armed Forces for such actions. It is in our national interest to do so, as well as in the interest of the people who serve in our Armed Forces."

    "The IHAT was set up in 2010 to ensure that credible allegations are properly investigated. It ensures that the International Criminal Court is not required to investigate or prosecute so that British service personnel do not end up in the Hague. It investigates allegations brought to it. It is independent, but funded by the MOD and we have a responsibility to ensure it is both fit for purpose and value for money.

    IHAT is methodically working through all the cases lodged with it - it triages them. Many hundreds of cases have been discounted following an initial assessment. Others are being dismissed after a fuller investigation, gathering information and evidence which will put to bed those allegations once and for all. A minority of cases will result in a full investigation, and a smaller number still will be referred to the Service prosecutor.
     
    From the 1,558 cases it has been asked to look at I anticipate only a handful may result in prosecution. As was announced at the weekend of the 58 unlawful killing cases concluded so far none have resulted in a prosecution.
     
    I want to give Honourable members an insight into some of those cases. This will demonstrate the importance of what IHAT does and some of the practices by a minority of law firms that are a concern to both IHAT and the MOD.

    Case number 377: It was alleged that a passenger in a car was shot by a “hysterical” British solider in a tank. The IHAT investigation ascertained that PIL has submitted this allegation in October 2014, despite the Danish Armed forces accepting liability for this incident and paying compensation in August of 2003.

    Case number 82: Was the investigation into the death of a man who died in a UK controlled detention facility. The evidence gathered by IHAT showed that he had previously been diagnosed with a heart condition, and this had been picked up from a medical he had had at the detention facility. He was given appropriate medication. He later suffered a suspected heart attack and died while UK forces were taking him to hospital.

    Case number 123: It was alleged that a 13-year-old girl had been killed when she picked up part of a UK cluster bomb that had failed to detonate. The IHAT investigation established that a 13-year-old boy had been killed, but was unable to ascertain whether Iraqi or UK munitions were responsible. PIL challenged the MOD's decision not to refer the case to Sir George Newman and the Iraq Fatalities Investigation. Shortly before the hearing PIL disclosed a witness statement the boy's father made before the IHAT investigation in which he said that he had been killed whilst in the vicinity of an Iraqi mobile missile launcher preparing to fire missiles into Kuwait, which was destroyed by a coalition forces helicopter.

    There are many other cases I could mention which concluded after thorough investigation that UK service personnel had acted in self-defence, in the defence of others, and lawfully.
     
    IHAT enables us to meet our obligations to investigate serious wrong doing and its work is exonerating those wrongly accused, and rejecting bogus allegations. Its investigators - a mix of service personnel, police officers and legal experts - are doing a public service.
     
    I want to pay tribute to them. They feel their responsibilities keenly. These investigators did not set up IHAT; this was done by a previous Government. And it was done so for sound legal and policy reasons. There should be a domestic system of accountability, without one there would be an international one."

    "The Al-Sweady case, which has exonerated our Armed Forces, and resulted in Leigh Day being referred to the Solicitors disciplinary tribunal, cost the MOD and the British taxpayer £31 Million. That is £31 million I would argue they would rather see spent on equipment and support for our Armed Forces.
     
    The status quo is financially unsustainable and morally unjustifiable.
     
    To put this right falls to us in this place, but we must all be resolved to do so. This issue and the solutions we will bring forward are complex. But the objective is simple: we must protect human rights and we must protect those who defend them - our Armed Forces."

    Hugo Rifkin's post for Holocaust Memorial Day last year

    I missed this blog post by Hugo Rifkind when it was posted a year ago for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015 and again when a number of people linked to it yesterday for this year's commemoration.

    But it is so powerful that, even though I may be a day late, I thought this was worth linking to and I recommend it as worth reading.

    Quote of the day 28th January 2016

    "Would we want to live in a world where only North Korea had nuclear weapons and the rest of the world didn't?"

    (Hilary Benn MP on Newsnight last night)

    Wednesday, January 27, 2016

    What the House of Commons library did and did not say about jobs

    One of the things to watch out for - from both sides - in the EU referendum debate is when people quote selectively from respected "impartial" sources.

    A classic example is the way some people quote selectively from successive versions of reports by the House of Commons library summarising economic relations between the UK and the rest of the EU which are relevant - if considered correctly - to the costs and benefits of EU membership.

    The most recent version, Briefing Paper 06091 published on 19th January,

    "In brief: UK-EU economic relations" can be found at

     
    What the "Britain stronger in Europe" group actually said this week, which is correct, is
     
    "Over 3 million UK jobs are linked to our trade with the EU – that’s one in every ten UK jobs."
     
    However, what is often claimed by some of those remain supporters who are a bit cavalier with the facts - I'm sure we can all remember one politician, very prominent at the time, who suggested this a year ago - and what "Remain" is often accused of claiming by "Leave" supporters (not always justly) is a similar but quite different claim -  that three million UK jobs result from Britain's EU membership.
     
    Follow the link above and you will see the actual quote from the House of Commons library document is as follows:
     
    "Both the Conservative – Lib Dem Coalition government and the previous Labour government stated that over three million jobs are linked, directly or indirectly, to exports to the EU. This is not the number of jobs linked with membership of the EU as some trade with EU countries would still take place if the UK were to leave the EU."

    and also, in more detail:

    'Both the Conservative – Lib-Dem Coalition government and the previous Labour government stated that over three million jobs are linked, directly or indirectly, to the export of goods and services to the EU. For example, in a speech in June 2014, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said:

    "Indeed, the latest Treasury analysis shows that 3.3 million British jobs are connected to Britain’s place in Europe."


    Under the previous Labour Government, a figure of 3.5 million was quoted:

    Mr. Clifton-Brown: "To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the number of UK jobs which are contingent upon UK exports to the EU."

    Angela Eagle: "The Government estimate around 3.5 million jobs in the UK are linked, directly and indirectly, to the export of goods and services to the European Union."


    The methodology behind this estimate was explained in the following PQ:

    The estimate of 3.5 million jobs linked to trade with the European Union is based on the assumption that the share of UK employment linked to trade with the EU is equal to the share of total UK value added (GDP) generated in the production of goods and services exported to the EU.

    The calculation uses data from UK Input-Output tables to estimate the proportion of UK value-added content generated in exports of goods and services and applies this to the values of UK exports to the EU. This is then divided by total UK GDP and the resultant proportion then applied to the total UK labour force to estimate the proportion of the labour force linked to EU exports on a value-added basis.8

    It is important to note that this estimate is the number of jobs related to trade with other EU member states. This is not the same as saying that over three million jobs are dependent on the UK’s EU membership, since some trade with EU countries would take place even if the UK withdrew from the EU. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Treasury made this point, telling Open Europe that the 3.3 million figure was "not an estimate of the impact of EU membership on employment"'

    That last qualification is extremely important.

    If remain campaigners say that more than three million jobs are linked to UK trade with other EU countries they are telling the truth. If they say those jobs would all go if we leave, they are not.

    However, "Leave" campaigners have to be careful too.

    Under the so-called "Norway Option" or under "Flexcit" plans which start with a "Norway -like" position and negotiate onwards from there while keeping free trade, there would not be additional tariff barriers so those jobs should be reasonably safe. There are of course other issues with the Norway option (see previous posts.)

    Under the so-called "WTO" option it's not that simple. The "Most Favoured Nation" rules of GATT and the World Trade Organisation mean that the EU would have to offer a Britain which had voted to leave trading terms at least as open as the best terms agreed with any country which is NOT part of the European Single Market.

    This severely limits the ability of the EU to push for punitive terms of trade on a departing Britain if they were foolish enough to try to do so. It does not mean there could be no increase in tariffs or non-tariff barriers at all. There could be, and hence a threat to some of those three million jobs under that scenario is a legitimate concern.

    Hence the only real answer to the question of how many jobs depend on the EU is that it depends very much what alternative is on offer.

    Cameron on Corbyn

    PMQs this afternoon was another session of DC knocking the bowling from Jeremy Corbyn to the boundary in all directions.

    It had been suggested in some quarters that a competent opposition leader should have been able to embarrass the government over the Google tax deal. I am not sure I agree, as David Cameron could reasonably have argued that this week a Conservative government finally managed to claw back some of the tax Google should have paid under the last Labour government.

    As it was the Labour leadership laid themselves open to this:









    The best Labour could do in response was to infer that the use of the word "bunch" in the quote above was racist. Last time I looked "bunch" was not a pejorative term.

    It's going to be a long four years and eight months for the Labour party ...

    Holocaust Memorial Day: - a story of hope and infamy which must never be forgotten

    Seventy one years ago today, the Soviet army liberated the last 7,000 survivors who were still present at Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Tragically the SS guards had sent most of the prisoners to march West a few days before on what amounted to a death march: of about 60,000 prisoners sent on those marches more than 15,000 died.

    The world was horrified at what was found at Auschwitz and other camps and responded as one "never again."



    Although the genocide organised by Nazi Germany was one of the largest and worst in history it was, tragically, far from being the only such event and there have indeed been others since.

    Nevertheless if we commemorate and remember such events, and those who stood against them, we have more chance of making that cry of "never again" reflect reality.

    And in remembering the inhumanity of the Nazis we should also remember the heroism of those like Sir Nicholas Winton who risked and sometimes lost their lives rescuing people from the Nazis, and those who somehow managed to keep hope alive in the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

    Here is a piece by the director of the Holocaust Memorial Trust on the heroism of Sir Nicholas Winton, who died last year at the age of 106.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/karen-pollock/holocaust-memorial-day_b_9078268.html

    The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is "Don't Stand By" and that should be a lesson to all of us.

    Quote of the day for Holocaust Memorial Day: 27th January 2016


    Tuesday, January 26, 2016

    The Worst of Both Worlds 3: "a puerile barrage of dodgy statistics."

    Sadly there has been a further slew of ridiculous arguments from the headbangers on both sides of the EU Referendum debate, which is shaping up to be even worse than the one which preceded the Scottish Independence referendum.

    So to try to bring a bit of balance and make the point that both sides need to do better, I'm continuing my series of "Worst of both worlds" articles which points out the problem with one of the most egregiously foolish or inaccurate statements or propaganda pieces from each side.

    Whether or not you agree with anything else in the Daily Mail leader "Puerile Scare Tactics" (below) it is difficult to disagree with the conclusion that


    "the British public deserves a mature debate on the facts - not a puerile barrage of dodgy statistics."

    Absolutely, and although there are some people in both the pro and anti Brexit camps who are trying to be fair, reasonable and truthful, and  to whom this does not apply, I'm afraid a puerile barrage of scaremongering and dodgy statistics pretty much sums up what is being thrown at us by too many people on BOTH SIDES.





    How not to argue for "Remain"

    The most egregiously silly comment in the past week from a "remain" supporter has to be the absurd comment on the Daily Politics by David Lammy that a million Indians died fighting for Britain and that

    "They fought for the European Project."

    Lammy managed to make the UKIP representative he was debating look like a statesman by offering this grotesque distortion of the truth as a supremely easy target to shoot down ...



    Just to put what actually happened in perspective, depending on what sources you take and which deaths are included, estimates for the number of service personnel from the Indian Subcontinent who lost their lives fighting in World War II range from a little over 36,000 to 87,000. (There were also about 74,187 Indians who died fighting for the British in World War one).

    Even if you lump both wars together, Lammy was off by about an order of magnitude unless you include the deaths of between 1.5 to 2.5 million Indians from war related famine and starvation, particularly in Bengal, following the Japanese invasion of Burma (a major supplier of rice to Bengal) combined with a cyclone which caused tidal waves and floods and a devastating outbreak of the "brown spot" fungus. You could write books about who was to blame for this (and people have) but it had nothing to do with "the European Project."

    And of course, those people from India who did die fighting Hitler were not fighting for "The European Project" either but to defend the rest of the world against a genocidal dictator.


    So much for the "Remain" side, what about the "Leave" campaign?

    Different supporters of British exit from the EU have very different ideas about whether the "Norway Option" of going to EEA status would be a good solution in the event of a "Leave" vote in the forthcoming referendum. Some such at Dan Hannan MEP and "Leave.EU" think that Norway has a good deal. Other opponents of British membership such as Douglas Carswell MP are adamant that they do not want the EEA/Norwegian solution.

    A few weeks ago I responded to the fact that some supporters of the "Norway/EEA Option" and are so convinced they are right about this that they have been accusing David Cameron of lying when he says that the "Norway Option" would make Britain subject to the rules of the European Single Market without any say in setting them.

    Today I'm going to respond to some supporters of the Norway/EEA Option who have been accusing the BBC of lying on the same basis. I make no apology for the fact that I will be repeating some of the same comments, quotes and links used in a previous post called "The Norway Option."

    I usually have a lot of time for "The Conservative Woman" blog but an article today by David Keighley on that site is in some ways worse than David Lammy's gaffe - because some people might take what it says seriously.

    Keighley does not quite have the guts to directly call Jonty Bloom of the BBC a liar but he effectively makes that charge by referring to "many EU experts" who he says think that a BBC radio 4 programme presented by Bloom, Norway's European Vision, crossed the divide at which "biased BBC reporting" tips over into "being deliberately untrue."

    The central argument on the basis of which Keighley and the "EU experts" he quotes, a "leave EU" website piece called Another pack of BBC lies, and the EU Referendum site are accusing Jonty Bloom of being "loathsome" and effectively calling him a liar concerns the central question of how much influence Norway has over the single market's rules. They all appear to take particular exception to the following quote:

    "Norway is not a member of the EU, it has no say over these or any other EU rules. It can lobby against them, but it does not sit round the table when they are proposed, discussed, amended, debated, or voted into law. The consequences can be huge".

    Let's be clear about five things concerning Norway which no informed person disputes (though one of the allegations made by the "Leave" camp against the "Remain" camp is of denying the first of these).

    1) Norway is much richer than the average EU Country.

    2) A majority of Norwegians do not wish to join the EU

    3) Norway is, however, part of the Single European Market and pays nearly as much per head for this as Britain does for full EU membership

    4) Norway, like all EEA members, is consulted on technical aspects of Single Market rules and can occasionally influence these. However it has no vote when the rules are set.

    5) EU institutions are deeply integrated into the economy and society of Norway.

    Incidentally there are some Norwegians who have encouraged Britain to leave the EU and join them in the EEA and others who have pleaded with us to stay in (not least because we are usually one of the most sympathetic countries for them to lobby when they do want to amend a single market rule change which would harm them.)


    Please people, on both sides, let's have a bit of basic logic:

    The fact that Norway is outside the EU and comparatively rich does disprove the argument that being outside the EU guarantees poverty and failure. It does not prove either way whether Norway would be richer still or poorer if it were inside the EU.

    Let me reiterate that I am not accusing those who believe that Norway has significant influence over the rules of the EU Single Market of lying. I do think they are wrong.

    And I think it is most unhelpful when they accuse those who disagree with them of lying, whether it is the Jonty Bloom and the BBC or David Cameron, because the Prime Minister and others who have expressed this opinion have not simply made it up, but are repeating what has been said many times by senior members of the Norwegian government.

    A few months ago I published on this blog a review of a Special Report published a few days before in The Economist magazine, "The Reluctant European" which analysed the arguments for and against British exit from the EU. (It is available here as a sequence of articles and here as a PDF)

    I predicted that both sides would quote extensively but selectively from it, a prediction which proved accurate, because it recognised that one particular argument for Brexit had a good deal of force, but severely criticised a number of the arguments put by both sides, particularly most of the other arguments for Britain's departure from the EU. I also wrote that one thing in "The Reluctant European" which was particularly likely to upset some Brexit supporters was that, quote,


    "The Economist challenges head on an argument often put by advocates of British exit from the EU, that despite not being in the EU the rules still give Norway and other EEA members some influence over what those rules are. When he was an academic, Norway's present attorney general led a study of the relationship between the country and the EU which reported 'serious democratic concerns because Norway was forced to implement laws that it had no say in making.'

    "The magazine quotes Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Europe minister, as saying that because his country is not represented in the Brussels institutions, it often finds it difficult even to discover what laws are being proposed and adopted. They say that the Norwegian Prime Minister and Attorney general have advised Britain 'to steer clear of the Norwegian model at all costs.'



    It is not at all difficult to find on the internet plenty of articles and interviews in which Fredrik Sejersted, formerly a professor of law who took over as Norway's Attorney General last year, has indeed expressed precisely the views which "The Economist" attributes to him.

    So has Vidar Helgesen, who combined the jobs of Minister for European affairs in the Norwegian cabinet, and chief of staff in the Prime Minister's office, until six weeks ago: he is still in Norway's government but moved to become Minister of Climate and the Environment on 16th December 2015.


    In 2012 Fredrik Sejersted and Ulf Sverdrup wrote a report for the European Council on Foreign Relations on the Norwegian model. At that time Fredrik Sejersted was director of the Centre for European Law at the University of Oslo and Ulf Sverdrup was director of the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI). They wrote an article in The Independent about the report they were writing which any British Eurosceptic who is thinking of supporting a "Norway Option" solution for Britain would be very well advised to read, which you can do here.

    They noted that

    "Norway has stayed out of the European Union, and seems to manage quite happily, reaping the benefits of the single market without the aggravations of membership. To many British Eurosceptics that must seem like the perfect deal.

    "Well, it is not. On closer examination, the ‘Norwegian option’ is not an example to be followed, but should rather serve as a warning about how difficult a ‘half in; half out’ approach to Europe is. While Norway is formally outside the EU, in reality we are deeply integrated but without the rights of representation. The model is complex and costly, as well as problematic both in terms of democracy and national interest."

    They went on to explain that

    "Norway has taken more than three-quarters of EU law and policy, and this has had tremendous effects on the national political and legal system."

    "The real lesson to be learned from Norway is that for a modern European country with an open economy there is nowhere to hide from the EU."

    "The common feature is integration without representation.

    "Through the agreements Norway is in effect obliged to implement new law and policy coming from Brussels, but without any say in the decision-making processes.

    "A veil of formal sovereignty hides the transfer of real powers, creating a special kind of democratic deficit."

    Earlier the same year, a committee chaired by Professor Sejersted had written a report commissioned by the Norwegian government on the country's EU membership which delivered similar findings as you can read in an article on the BBC website here: that report argued that Norway's status outside the EU was essentially "an illusion."

    Let's look at the comments made by Vidar Helgeson while he was Norway's European affairs minister and Chief of Staff to the Norwegian PM, and here again the problem of selective quotation by pro- and anti- BREXIT campaigners becomes apparent.

    Mr Helgeson has said things which can be quoted out of context by those Eurosceptics who like the Norwegian option as inferring that Norway has substantial influence on single market rules, and he has also said things which can be quoted by those who wish to express concern about the Norway option to imply the opposite.

    In fact his views are perfectly consistent but much more nuanced than those looking for a quote to support a black-and-white view of the matter might wish. A good place to read them in context is an interview at EurActiv.com in which he discusses both Norway's influence on the single market and how much Norway has to pay for European Economic Area (EEA) status: the relevant page is called

    "Vidar Helgesen: our EEA contribution costs almost as much as EU membership."

    Talking of the pre-work by technical experts, he says that

    "we have the right to take part in committees under the Commission where Norwegian experts do participate.

    "As long as you have knowledge and expertise and bring that to the table, our voice is heard as much as EU member states. A lot of these discussions are technical. In some areas, we are globally leading in the technical expertise."

    However he immediately went on to add:

    "If and when there are bigger political issues our shortcomings are more evident because we are not at the table when the decisions are made."

    Later in the article he says that

    "There is very clearly a paradox in that the single international actor that influences the Norwegian society and our daily life the most, the EU, is the only big international organisation that we are not a member of."

    You can immediately see why one side of the argument about the "Norway option" might want to selectively quote the first three sentences there and leave out what follows, and the other side of the argument might wish to do the reverse!

    Commenting on those British "leave" campaigners  who hold up Norway as

    "an example of a successful nation operating outside of Brussels' control."

    Vidar Helgesen told Sky News that "the truth is much more complicated and much less rosy."

    He said that "We import three quarters of EU legislation with virtually no say in the decision making process. It's a very good solution for our economy - some argue it's not necessarily a good solution for our democracy ..."

    He told the Telegraph in an interview written up as "Why Britain should not leave the EU to be like Norway: by a Norwegian minister" that


    "Without a seat at the table, it is difficult to play a real part in decision-making."

    "During the past 20 years, Norway has incorporated more than 10 000 EU rules into the EEA Agreement. We see the results of these rules every day – in our daily lives, in our work and in business. However, we have had little direct influence over their development. Although we implement more than three quarters of EU legislation, we have to work very hard to make our voice heard."

    "Norway’s trade with EU countries accounts for a greater share of our foreign trade than is the case for the UK. We are part of Schengen, and in relative terms we have more EU labour immigrants than the UK. We regularly align ourselves with EU positions on foreign and security policy. And our financial contributions are on a par with comparable EU member-states. Basically, with the exception of our agricultural policies, we are part of the same European integration process as the UK. But we do not have the right to vote in Europe."

    He gave a very interesting three minute TV interview on the subject of British EU membership and the Norway option in October 2015 which you can watch on the MSN site at
     
    http://www.msn.com/en-gb/entertainment/watch/is-the-norwegian-option-wrong-for-britain/vp-BBmzmON

    Interestingly the last line of the interview was the statement that another lesson from Norway is not to try to predict referendum results!

    Pulling the threads together it seems to me that those "Leave" supporters who think that a "Norway Option" would give Britain dramatically more freedom from Brussels than we have now have mistaken the illusion referred to by Fredrik Sejersted for the reality and failed to see through the veil of formal sovereignty which hides the transfer of real power to the EU.

    And there is enough evidence for both points of view about the Norway option that for either side to accuse the other of lying gets us absolutely nowhere.

    The Radicalism Paradox

    Dan Hodges has a very good piece in the Telegraph at

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/republicans/12121057/Why-radicals-see-their-own-radicalism-as-a-virtue.html

    on what he calls "the radicalism paradox."

    "This is how it works. Those who are trapped within the Radicalism Paradox can clearly identify the risk posed by the radical or extreme policies and stances of their opponents. Margaret Thatcher. Nigel Farage. Donald Trump - to the Left they represent an existential threat to our way of life. An affront to the proper, decent ordering of society."

    "But to the progressive radical, their own extreme policies or stances - that radicalism that is such a vice in others - is a virtue."

    He continues about what can happen:

    "Moderation itself becomes viewed as dangerous and extreme. David Cameron won a general election by locating – and then painstakingly navigating his way to – the political centre-ground. Yet there are many on the hard-Left and hard-Right who genuinely regard him as a dangerous extremist. Tony Blair, the Godfather of British centrism, is regarded by many of the same people as a neo-Thatcherite or neo-Stalinist anti-Christ."

    I have a lot of sympathy with that view.  The extreme example is how similar the genuine Marxist and Fascists were. Yet Stalinists could see all to clearly the evils of Nazism yet were blind to the evils of the system they supported and Nazis vice versa.

    The same applies to ultra-hardliners of other types. When I was a student there were hard right-wingers who referred to the hard left students as "Red Fascist Scum."

    They did have a point about the hard left. But those who used that expression - particularly with the third word added - were nearly always those who were accurately described by Paul Goodman, William Hague, David Cameron and others as "Blue Trots."

    Exactly the same applies to the more extreme pro and anti BREXIT campaigners: there are sensible people and good arguments on both sides but I am already getting very tired of the brainless "project fear" nonsense coming from the hardliners on the extremes of both arguments.

    I want to vote on the basis of what is the most constructive and positive argument for a better  Britain - but am already finding it a temptation to be actively resisted to come down on the opposite side from whichever bunch of hardliners has annoyed me the most.

    Quote of the day 26th January 2016

    “So, what made you leave ... Parliament?”

    (Interviewer Robbie Savage to Ed Balls)




    Ouch.

    Balls began his answer with the words "The electorate."

    I could accuse him of many things but lacking a sense of humour would never have been one of them. Never thought I would feel sorry for him either, but honestly ...

    Monday, January 25, 2016

    Cecil Parkinson RIP

    Lord Cecil Parkinson has died of cancer at the age of 94.

    He was MP for many years for the Hertsmere constituency, which at that time included part of the City and District of St Albans where I grew up and was a councillor towards the end of his time in politics. The Hertsmere constituency Conservatives also shared an office with the St Albans Conservative Association so the two associations inevitably had quite a bit to do with each other.

    I did not know Cecil Parkinson well, though I did know people extremely well who knew him equally well and I remember how well, to a man and woman, they all thought of him. I also remember hearing him speak and talk to people at various formal and informal occasions, the clearest memory being of the occasion when he opened a nursing home in what had once been the Bishop's Palace in St Albans.

    I remember that he was superb at explaining policies and programmes in a clear, concise, accessible and convincing way. I also remember that he was an extremely courteous and charming man.

    Rest in Peace

    The pen versus the sword

    Thanks to my old comrade from student days, Quentin Langley (via Facebook) for this one:

    Quote of the day 25th January 2016

    "We can, belatedly, do the  right thing: repeat what a Conservative government did in 1971 after  much less provocation. To the Kremlin's consternation it kicked out the entire Soviet Embassy KGB contingent - all 105 of them."

    (Dominic Lawson in yesterday's Sunday Times on how Britain should respond to Judge Sir Robert Owen's finding that Alexander Litvinenko was murdered on British soil by Russian agents and that the order to carry out that murder probably came from the very highest level of the Russian government.)

    Sunday, January 24, 2016

    Sunday reflection spot - can the rules fix everything?

    Every since I was at University I have regularly found myself taking part in attempts by various clubs, unions, councils, or political parties to sort out problems by amending their constitution, rules or standing orders.

    Occasionally there really is a problem with the constitution concerned and then such exercises can add value.

    But most of the time it is part of a power struggle - some party, group or faction is pushing a rules change which they think will make the outcomes more "fair" which invariably means increasing their influence or representation.

    Much of the time I have spent in "constitutional reviews" of various bodies which was kicked off because of such power struggles was completely wasted, and very little good ever comes from them.

    There is an interesting article in The Economist called "Does the constitution fix everything?" which reports on a horrifying case where an American policeman, Jeffrey Heffernan was demoted after his bedridden mother asked him to fetch her a political poster supporting her preferred candidate for Mayor in the local elections. He was seen carrying the sign, and word reached his boss, local police chief James Wittig, who supported another candidate. Mr Wittig took revenge for Mr Heffernan's supposed political views by demoting him.

    The argument when this case reached the US Supreme Court was, quite rightly, not whether Mr Wittig's action was morally wrong and proved him to be a petty tyrant of the most egregious kind - and I note that even the lawyers defending the City of Paterson which employed Messrs Heffernan and Wittig did not pretend to be impressed by the latter's action - but whether it was a breach of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech. A majority of the current Supreme Court are opponents of Judicial Activism, that is they don't think it is their job as judges to make new laws but only to enforce what the current law actually says. The First Amendment to the US constitution talks about Free Speech, not the right to fetch someone a poster.

    While I hesitate to set myself against a court of learned judges in another country, I must confess myself surprised and disappointed that the court found for the City of Paterson and against Mr Heffernan. As a lawyer from the solicitor general’s office put it there would appear to be a strong case that the appellant had "a First Amendment right not to have adverse action taken against him by his employer for the unconstitutional purpose of suppressing disfavoured political beliefs”.

    Justice Elena Kagan asked the lawyer for the City of Paterson if he was really "telling me, no, the First Amendment does not prevent the government from punishing a person because that person doesn't share the government's views, unless that person is actively opposed to the government's views”.

    That, she suggested, is a “strange doctrine” and I have to 100% agree.

    But on one issue the lawyer for the City of Paterson was dead right, when he said,

     “The constitution doesn't fix everything.”

    Those who expect that tinkering with any constitution will make things perfect have always, in my experience, been sadly disappointed.

    A leaked Labour report on why they really lost

    The Daily Mail has some fun here contrasting a secret Labour report which has been leaked to them on why Labour lost the 2015 general election with Margaret Becket's whitewash, sorry official report.

    Here is an illustration from it ...

    Sunday music spot: Hark all ye lovely saints above - Thomas Weelkes

    Despite the apparently sacred title this is actually a madrigal



    If the last election had been fought under another electoral system ...

    There is an excellent post by "The Screaming Eagles" on  Political Betting this morning in response to a suggestion that Tim Farron and Jeremy Corbyn are supposedly in talks for an arrangement to make a joint promise of electoral reform for the 2020 General Election.

    Aside from the little matter that, as he points out,

    "I’m astounded given Corbyn’s dire polling, why the Lib Dems (or anyone else) would want to form an alliance/understanding with a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party on any topic."

    it is worth reminding ourselves what various election systems might have produced in 2015, an election in which the Conservatives and UKIP between them received about half the votes cast.

    The electoral reform society who produced the numbers in the table below thinks that

    * The AV system rejected by the people in a referendum in 2011 would have given the Conservatives a larger majority.

    * Both STV and List PR would have meant that the nearest thing to a stable government would probably have been a Conservative and UKIP coalition.

    I can see that it is rational for UKIP supporters to prefer that outcome to what happened, but would anyone else? Really?

    I think this is supposed to be a joke ..

    There is a social media campaign, which appears to be a spoof, claiming the support of 28% of UKIP supporters for "UKIP to Stay" e.g. Kipper voters who want to remain in a reformed EU.

    Their website is at

    http://ukiptostay.blog.com/

    Quote of the day 24th January 2016

    "A disproportionate number of Labour members who have joined since the2015 general election are 'high-status city dwellers pursuing well paid jobs'" reported the Guardian furiously on Thursday ...
     
    "While those under-represented are young people and families in short-term rents and rural areas. The poor, in other words."

    "being a Labourite in 2016 is nothing but another leisure operation for the seriously rich."

    "My delightful millionaire neighbours, Labour members to a soul, will protest anything. Anything. As long as it's on a weekend and they're not in the Dordogne."

    (Giles Coren in The Times yesterday, in an article called "Labour is the new hobby for the idle rich.")

    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    Where the growth is coming from ...

    Of 588,000 jobs created in the UK over the last year, about 75% are full time employment ...

    Then and now ...

    This is a follow-on to the quote of the day post immediately below, which I recommend should be read before reading this one.

    I wanted to make people think for a moment about who might have made that robust quote about the rights of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future, hence I linked to Hansard rather than giving the answer immediately below the quote.

    What does it say about the change in the Labour party to look at the contrast between what Labour's leader at the time said in 1982, and what their present leader says about the Falklands?

    But it's worse than that. Prior to 2015 Michael Foot was almost certainly the most unelectable leader Labour had ever chosen and is in a close race with IDS to be the most unelectable leader either of the two largest parties in Britain had ever chosen (we can't know for certain because Conservative MPs removed IDS rather than find out the hard way exactly how electorally disastrous he would have been).

    Yet you only need to compare the comments of Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn about the Falklands to realise that the former was a great statesman compared to the latter.

    Quote of the day 23rd January 2016

    "The rights and the circumstances of the people in the Falkland Islands must be uppermost in our minds. There is no question in the Falkland Islands of any colonial dependence or anything of the sort. It is a question of people who wish to be associated with this country and who have built their whole lives on the basis of association with this country. We have a moral duty, a political duty and every other kind of duty to ensure that that is sustained."
     
    "The people of the Falkland Islands have the absolute right to look to us at this moment of their desperate plight, just as they have looked to us over the past 150 years ..." 
     
    "Even though the position and the circumstances of the people who live in the Falkland Islands are uppermost in our minds—it would be outrageous if that were not the case—there is the longer-term interest to ensure that foul and brutal aggression does not succeed in our world. If it does, there will be a danger not merely to the Falkland Islands, but to people all over this dangerous planet."
     
    To see who said this when the Falklands were invaded, follow this link to the Hansard archive for 3rd April 1982 and scroll down to 11.45 am.

     

    Friday, January 22, 2016

    The final humiliation

    Labour is to be investigated by the Electoral Commission for being late submitting the receipts for the "Ed Stone."

    The party blamed "an administrative error" for failing to meet the deadline after the receipt for the "heavest suicide note in history" - it was noticed that no accounting for the two ton block of stone had been included in their original submission. After a hasty search they found it, but not in time.

    I will be surprised if the EC throw the book at them over this one: if we're completely honest most people who've been involved in politics will be thinking "there but for the grace of God go I" in that most of us, even the relatively well organised and resourced, will at some stage have struggled with an Electoral Commission form or nearly made a mistake with one, or at least been afraid of doing so, and the stone represented about £8,000 out of Labour's £12 million national campaign spending.

    Nevertheless to get in trouble by failing to account properly for something that helped them lost the election and was described at the time as a "tombstone" for their campaign is a fitting final metaphor for the shambolic campaign Labour ran in 2015 - forgetting to account for something which got you lots of the sort of media coverage which would be seared into their memories (for the wrong reasons), is eight feet tall and weighs two tons does at least appear a bit careless.

    One voter said on the Today programme this morning that Labour "couldn't run a bath" and this will not have done anything to correct that impression.

    Mind you, if his skill at reshuffles and media management is anything to go by, Jeremy Corbyn looks to be the one person in the Labour party who may yet achieve what would have been useful to them in 2015 but won't be much help now - e.g. making Ed Miliband look competent! 

    When politics becomes like a religion

    There are two views about whether religion is a good thing, and the main criterion for which view you think is right is whether you think there actually is a God or not.

    There is, however, not much room for argument about whether it is a bad thing when heads of government demand to be worshipped like Gods or when a political philosophy starts to behave like a religion.

    Two political philosophies which have been particularly prone to acting like the worst forms of religion, including starting wars and persecuting people with different belief systems, are Communism and Nationalism.

    An argument which I regularly have with atheist friends is whether killing or persecuting people for holding a different belief about God is a problem specific to religion.

    The atheist side usually start the argument by saying that only religious believers kill in the name of religion: I always respond by pointing to atheist regimes like those of the Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, Kampuchea, and North Korea which have attempted to eliminate or restrict religious belief, persecuting millions of people and murdering large numbers in the process.

    The atheists usually come back by pointing out that these are all Marxist, Communist or extreme left-wing regimes, and all other regimes which have repressed religion are totalitarian, and therefore that the problem is with totalitarian regimes in general and many Communist ones in particular rather than atheism. I respond that we can agree that totalitarianism is the problem, and it's only the religious totalitarians who kill in the name of religion.

    Whichever stance you take on that particular argument, I quote it because I think it makes the point perfectly that political philosophies which come to act like religions are very bad news.

    A couple of days ago I saw a tweet from Richard Dawkins with a link to an Iraqi "Islamic Scientist" supposedly a researcher in astronomy, who, in a TV debate with a real scientist was arguing that the earth is flat because the Holy Quran says so. (There are also Muslims who would strongly dispute that interpretation of the relevant passages, by the way.)

    I thought "come on, he has to be being ironic" so I watched it. Nope: he was serious. Here is the clip.



    This is ppossibly the most extreme refusal to admit the obvious since the moment during the Gulf War when the Iraqi information minister nicknamed "Comical Ali" was giving a press conference saying

    "there are no American Tanks in Baghdad"

    and the cameras all swung round a few degrees, zoomed out to long range and focussed on where, actually in sight from the location of the press conference, was the unmistakable shape of an M1 Abrams main battle tank moving insouciantly up the highway and effortlessly blowing up anything in its' vicinity that might contain Iraqi soldiers who had not yet surrendered.

    It is only fair to point out that this kind of religious flight from reason into dogma is the complete antithesis of the attitude of many religious believers including Muslims - during the Islamic golden age (from about 800AD to 1300AD) Muslim scholars were as advanced as any in the then world - and many if not most of the great advances which led to modern science were made by scientists who were themselves religious believers, something which is still true today.

    Nor does it apply to everyone on any given point of the political spectrum.

    But my point is that it is not just Muslims and religious believers, or rather a subset of those groups, who close their minds to the truth like the chap in the clip above. Sometimes those with strong political convictions do. And for evidence I refer you to a book and an article which came out in the few days by two prominent journalists both of whom were raised by Communist parents.

    The point that certain political philosophies which act like churches can be amazingly good at persuading people to close their minds to reality is a powerful one, and the recent book David Aaronovitch "Party Animals: my family and other communists" gives a very clear picture of how this can work.

    “The Party was a church,” he writes. “Its strength was that it was about belief and faith as much as about intellect.”

    There is an excellent review of this book by Martin Kettle (who like David was raised in a family of communists) in the Guardian this week which you can read here called

    "How did my communist family get it so wrong? Because politics was their religion"

    "Communism didn’t work. And most people who lived under it hated it," he writes,

    but Communists, many of them intelligent and decent people,

    "couldn’t in the end face the reality that something that had given their lives such meaning had turned out so badly. They put loyalty before sense and reason in their politics and in their lives. They lived with their lies as best they could."

    More to the point, Martin Kettle looks at the British left in 2016 and the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn and argues that the same thing may be happening again today. His article concludes:

    "This left of today looks to me suspiciously as if it is developing into another church. This left too is marked by a reluctance to ask necessary but difficult questions about its plans for the world beyond the church walls. This left too seems happiest as a fellowship of true believers, squabbling among itself, dismissive of all those who remain sceptics or whose beliefs the elders find unacceptable. Just as the communists knew things deep down that they should have faced up to, so too does this left."

    "There is nothing inherently wrong with having a politics that is essentially a religion, providing that you recognise it for what it is, something personal between you and your friends. But I’ve been there and done that. If politics is an act of faith – rather than a programme and a willingness to change and adapt to new times – it will fail, as communism did. That’s fine for those for whom belief in socialist principles matters more than anything else, just as it was for the communists. But it won’t work. And in the end people will hate it too."