Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Paul Murphy is a part-timer, after all

At Prime Minister's Questions today, it was revealed that Paul Murphy has a number of other jobs, including minister for digital inclusion.

Does this mean that he is responsible for the government putting its finger in?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First Minister denies capping policy, ignores 101 problems

In reply to a question from Jenny Randerson (LibDem, Cardiff Central) today, Rhodri Morgan denied that minister Dr Brian Gibbons had done more than request that councils keep their tax increases below 5%.

The Welsh Local Government Association had warned of massive cuts to services as a result of a below-inflation local government settlement for 2008/9.

Jenny Randerson also suggested at First Minister's Questions that by allowing the police precept to rise by about 1%, the 101 general enquiry number, which had proved so successful in pilot programmes, could be rescued. Mr Morgan ignored this point.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A bank run averted

We are grateful to Ken Palmerton, a liberal resident in the Channel Islands, for drawing our attention to a more recent historical parallel to the Northern Rock crisis than the 1866 one usually quoted. In 1914, on the outbreak of war, a Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer took swift action to prevent what would have been a ruinous run on the banks. For a short period, he effectively nationalised UK banking.

From Thomas Johnston's "The Financiers and the Nation":

WHEN the whistle blew for the start of the Great War in August 1914 the Bank of England possessed only nine millions sterling of a gold reserve, and, as the Bank of England was the Bankers' Bank, this sum constituted the effective reserve of all the other Banking Institutions in Great Britain.

The bank managers at the outbreak of War were seriously afraid that the depositing public, in a panic, would demand the return of their money. And, inasmuch as the deposits and savings left in the hands of the bankers by the depositing public had very largely been sunk by the bankers in enterprises which, at the best, could not repay the borrowed capital quickly, and which in several and large-scale instances were likely to be submerged altogether in the stress of war and in the collapse of great areas of international trade, it followed that if there were a widespread panicky run upon the banks, the banks would be unable to pay and the whole credit system would collapse, to the ruin of millions of people.

Private enterprise banking thus being on the verge of collapse, the Government (Mr. Lloyd George at the time was Chancellor of the Exchequer) hurriedly declared a moratorium, i.e. it authorized the banks not to pay out (which in any event the banks could not do), and it extended the August Bank Holiday for another three days. During these three or four days when the banks and stock exchanges were closed, the bankers held anxious negotiation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And one of them has placed upon record the fact that 'he (Mr. George) did everything that we asked him to do.' When the banks reopened, the public discovered that, instead of getting their money back in gold, they were paid in a new legal tender of Treasury notes (the £1 notes in black and the 10s. notes in red colours). This new currency had been issued by the State, was backed by the credit of the State, and was issued to the banks to prevent the banks from utter collapse. The public cheerfully accepted the new notes ; and nobody talked about inflation.

Not since 1697 had the State itself issued paper money.

Gun crime

If it had not been for Peter Hain, and Société Générale, headlines last week would have been dominated by the increase in firearms-related offences. This in spite of the promises made by Tony Blair and Jack Straw in 1997, and the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Burns' Night

Apparently, the haggis, which is traditionally consumed tonight, is under threat. But Scottish Liberal Democrats are alert, and have put down an early day motion in the House of Commons, BBC News reports.

I shall restrict myself to the liquid part of the commemoration of the bard, but wish all participants in Burns' Suppers a braw nicht.

Frank Little

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ambition undoes Peter Hain

The news that Peter Hain has quit the Cabinet, after his deputy leader campaign donations are referred to the Met Police, should give pause to those who place personal ambition over concerns about influence-peddling.

It also means that politicians should take more care over the choice of people to run their administrations.

There did seem to have been a trend towards US-style big money campaigns in British politics. Nick Clegg's and Chris Huhne's combined spending of over £160,000 on the recent leadership campaign may be less than US equivalents, but must be well over what was considered seemly for previous Liberal and Liberal Democrat contests. (It should be added that there is no whiff of impropriety over the donations to either the Clegg or Huhne campaigns.)

Two immediate questions come to mind as a result of today's news: who is going to be the new Welsh Secretary?; and will Mr Hain's resignation be the first domino in a sequence of leading Labour figures whose careers have been threatened by allegations of sleaze?

17:30The new Welsh Secretary will be Paul Murphy, MP for Torfaen, who has filled the post before. Although he is said to be not totally enthusiastic about the Government of Wales Act, he was the unsung hero of the talks in Northern Ireland leading to the Good Friday Agreement. His diplomatic skills will be much needed at Gwydr House.

Frank Little

Monday, January 21, 2008

Let's get back to some old politics

I'm fed up with the constant sloganising about "change", and "new politics". It seems to go along with more scraping away of our powers as voters. As Lord Greaves put it in a letter to the Independent last Saturday:

the key must be the revival and re-establishment of local democracy.
The Victorians invented multi-purpose local authorities, elected
democratically and accountable to local people, because that is the best
way to organise services at a local level, provide a strategic vision
for local communities and represent their needs to government. Unless we
achieve a massive renaissance of local democracy, dismantling national
bureaucracies and sweeping away the confusion of quangos, all the rest
is pie in the sky.

We must reverse the trend to treat local councillors as elected employees of the state, submerged in paper.

Frank Little

Barack Obama

Rarely, if ever, do I post an item on American Politics but after listening to this speech I just wanted to share it - for those who are interested.

Posted by Richie Northcote

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sustainable Communities Bill is now law

After more than 5 years of campaigning, there is now a Sustainable Communities Act on the statute book. Although Liberal Democrat MPs, with the party's tradition of community politics, were prominent in pushing the Bill through, it has been a cross-party effort. Here we should acknowledge the support given by Dr Hywel Francis, the MP for Aberavon.

As a result, the government is now committed to make local communities work. By October of this year, it will have to ask every council, like Neath Port Talbot CBC, to submit suggestions of ways that it can help you and your council make your community more sustainable. Neath Port Talbot council must ask your opinion of what these suggestions should be.

This will be done through citizens panels, drawn from all sections of the community.

This is a new bottom-up process. The policies to create sustainable communities will be driven by us, as citizens, not by bureaucrats in Cardiff or Westminster.

More details on how the Act will work will appear on the Unlock Democracy web site.

In the meantime, the Local Works campaign is asking for support for a Private Members Bill which will enable local decision-making in the field of energy conservation. Michael Fallon's Planning and Energy Bill would allow councils, after involving their communities, to set high energy efficiency standards for new developments and to require them to generate energy by local on-site technologies.

The government is not yet backing the Bill. Our MPs should be asked to be present in the House of Commons next Friday, 25th January, when the Bill reaches its next stage, and to support it.

We should also write to the minister for local communities, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper, House of Commons, LONDON SW1A 0AA, demanding that the government back the Bill and not talk it out.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Severn Barrage is going ahead

Amidst all the kerfuffle about Peter Hain's undeclared receipts, it was not noticed that the Welsh Secretary virtually confirmed that the government was committed to building the Severn Barrage. At Welsh Questions in the House of Commons last Wednesday, the following interchange took place:

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the environment in Wales. [177789]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions, for instance on our joint support for the Severn barrage, which will be by far the biggest renewable energy project in Britain.

Note the "will be".

This in spite of significant opposition, summarised here, and before the viability of tidal lagoon schemes, as proposed by Peter Black and supported by Jane Davidson, has been assessed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yellow school buses

Congratulations to First Group on keeping the need for specialised school buses before the public. Admittedly, the company will be looking for a commercial return on their investment, but it is open to other bus companies to do the same.

The Evening Post featured the campaign last week.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Richard revived?

The Western Mail reports that Sir Emyr Jones Parry, chairman of the pre-devolution referendum convention, wants the size of a future Senedd to be part of his terms of reference.

The paper's correspondent, Martyn Shipman, recalls that:

The all-party Richard Commission, which reported in 2004, recommended that the National Assembly should get full legislative powers, that the number of AMs should increase to 80, and that all AMs should be selected by Single Transferable Vote (STV).

However, Peter Black foresees conflict over just how powerful the convention is to be.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Capita and Neath Port Talbot

The Capita-supplied payments system has been running in Neath Port Talbot for six months, without a peep from Unison. When a LibDem-run council installs a third-party IT system, we never hear the end of it in the local press.

It would be interesting to know how much the installation cost, now that budgets for next year are being considered.

Frank Little

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Technology doesn't control crime, people do reports that an ambitious IT scheme to integrate prison and probation records has been pared down after costs soared from an original estimate of £234m to £512m.

What is the cost of employing a probation officer these days - perhaps £30,000 p.a.? £510m would pay for 1,700 at that rate for ten years.

It is not the lack of technology which is failing the probation service; it is the shortage of dedicated staff. People make sure that probation is being observed, that job placements are fulfilled and that problems are attended to, not IT systems.

It reminds me of the super-duper farm payments system in England which drained the DEFRA accounts while not reimbursing farmers on time, while a simpler system in Wales fulfilled its purpose.

Frank Little

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Political Donations

Hard-pressed treasurers of local political parties manage to complete their PPERA returns correctly, while the campaign of a minister of the crown, members of a well-funded national party which brought in the rules in the first place, suffers from cock-ups.

Later Guido Fawkes believes that Peter Hain's campaign was well-run until his first campaign manager was replaced. He also reports that one of the donations came from the sort of loan company that consumer programmes advise potential customers to look at very carefully.

"Guido Fawkes" is an avowed traditional Tory, but he is also a well-informed journalist. One cannot dismiss his allegations out of hand.

Frank Little