Thursday, 26 March 2015

Death of a Poet: We Will Remember Them Julian Grenfell

Many of the young men who went into battle in World War I were poets, either established or as a way to express themselves and fill the hours of waiting to go over the top. As an act of remembrance to those that never returned to their civilian existence on centenary of the day that they fell I will publish one of their poems.

Today marks 100 years from the passing of Julian Grenfell who as a Captain in the Royal Dragoons on the 13th May had been standing talking to fellow officers near Ypres when a shell landed near them. A splinter hit him in the head and he was transferred to hospital in Boulogne where his mother, father and sister were at his bedside when he died of his wounds. The day after his death alongside news of his death his most famous was published in The Times. 

Into Battle

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their bright comradeship,
The Dog star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's belt and sworded hip:
The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridges end.
The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.
The blackbird sings to him: 'Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing.'
In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers; -
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!
And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.


Grenfell attended Eton along with fellow war poet Patrick Shaw-Stewart, before going up to Balliol College Oxford, where he is known to have bullied Philip Sassoon who was later an MP and a cousin of Siegfried. He joined the army in 1910 and , he was the son of William Grenfell who had been Liberal MP for Salisbury (1880-86) and Hereford (1892-3) resigning after falling out with Gladstone over Home Rule, he returned to the commons as Conservative MP for Wycombe (1900-1905) before becoming Baron Desborough. His next oldest brother Gerald William died about 2 months after his elder brother about a mile away from where the shell struck and the youngest brother Ivo George as to perish in a car crash in 1926.

On 1 January 1915 Julian Grenfell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:
On 17 November he succeeded in reaching a point behind the enemy's trenches and making an excellent reconnaissance, furnishing early information of a pending attack by the enemy.

There are very few poems by Grenfell that exist. But some had been published in the Eton College Chronicle and while studying there also in London World and Vanity Fair.

Julian Henry Francis Grenfell DSO 30 March 1888 London, England - 26 May 1915 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

See also: The other poets who died in the war.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Five Green Laws

For the 2015 General Election the Lib Dems give to you five green laws.

Looking to build on our record in Government as well as having a green thread throughout our manifesto there are five specific environmental areas that the Liberal Democrats will specifically highlight with five new green laws.

Zero Carbon Bill
Introducing a Bill in the next parliament to end Britain’s adverse impact on climate change for good by
2050.

Measures will include:

  •  A new legally binding target for Zero Carbon Britain by 2050 
  • A new legally binding decarbonisation target for the power sector by 2030 to support investment in all forms of low carbon electricity 
  • Establishing an Office for Accelerated Low Carbon Innovation to fast-track new green tech including tidal power, renewable heat, ultra-low emission vehicles, energy storage and CCS 
  • Applying Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) to existing coal plants from 2025 to end use of unabated coal generation 
  • Full borrowing powers to the Green Investment Bank, to further boost investment in low carbon technology

Zero Waste Bill

Treble fines and claw back £500 million for the taxpayer by clamping down on organisations which fly-tip to deliberately evade tax and review the tax structure across landfill, incineration and collection.

A "Responsibility Deal" between government and business to ensure packaging for consumer products are designed for recycling rather than designed for dumping,

Commission a Stern type review to undertake a UK-wide review on how Britain’s waste can be used as a resource to generate revenue for the economy and the possibility of legally binding targets on waste.

Nature Bill

Establish the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing to provide advice to Government to ensure that nature is at the heart of government decision-making and that government departments are held to account for achieving progress against commitments to improving the natural environment.

Plans include:


  • Bring forward a package to protect bees and pollinators and help them recover 
  • Design and adopt a National Food Strategy and encourage local councils to adopt a food plan in order to foster the growth of local food economies, from field to fork. 
  • Bring forward a package to protect bees and pollinators and help them recover.
Green Homes Bill

New Green Homes Bill will insulate up to 10 million homes by 2025 and offer at least £100 a year off Council Tax for ten years when energy improvements are carried out. The new Bill would ensure these achievements are built on, incentivising people to insulate their Offering at least £100 each year off your Council Tax for 10 years, when you significantly upgrade the energy efficiency of your home

Other plans under the bill would include:


  • Reforming the Green Deal 'pay as you save' scheme into a new ‘Green Homes Loan Scheme’ which would extend the current scheme to include renewable heat and electricity 
  • A new 'Feed out Tariff' for investment in Solid Wall Insulation, the most expensive and disruptive type of energy efficiency measure

Green Transport Bill

Transport has a significant role to play in reducing carbon emissions. In the UK, transport is responsible for around 25% of our carbon emissions and is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions. We will bring forward a comprehensive package of transport policies to continue to build a people-centred, sustainable, safe travel system that helps the economy grow.
 
Other plans would include:


  • Fast track support for the growing electric vehicle market, starting with implementing a full network of charging points for electric cars, and a target of 2040 
  • Make progress towards implementing the recommendations of the 'Get Britain Cycling' report 
  • We will update planning law to ensure new infrastructure developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport 
  • Oppose any increase to the national speed limit We will undertake a review of road transport taxation 
  • Where 20mph isn't achieving the saving of children’s lives, give local authorities the power to reduce the speed limit outside schools to 10mph 


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Danny Alexander lays out Liberal Democrat economic plan

Today the day after George Osborne delivered the final budget of this coalition Government Danny Alexander the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary of the Treasury laid out our plans for tax and spending.

Lib Dem plans include borrowing £70bn less than Labour and cutting £50bn less than the Conservatives, keeping Britain on the path to prosperity, showing that we still believe in a stronger economy AND and fairer society; the Conservatives recently dropped the latter in a campaign poster and in their budget plans.

Danny announced using the same figures that were available to Osborne that there is still roughly roughly £30bn of fiscal consolidation by 2017/18 to complete the job of economic recovery. To go about funding this the Liberal Democrats will ensure that those with the broadest shoulders to bear the largest share.

To fund this the Liberal Democrats will raise £6bn through shutting remaining tax loopholes, £6bn will come from tax rises, with high value properties and the banking sector paying more. The additional money will come from £12bn of departmental savings and £3.5bn from welfare savings.

Public expenditure can then start to increase once this threshold is met and ensuring that the NHS has the £8bn a year it needs to secure its future.

 The measures to tackle tax invasion include:

  •  Introducing a new strict liability criminal offence for off shore evaders so that pleading ignorance can no longer be used in an attempt to avoid criminal prosecution. 
  • Introducing a new offence of corporate failure to prevent tax evasion or the facilitation of tax evasion. This would stop organisations from being able to get away with facilitating or abetting others to evade tax. 
  • Increasing financial penalties for offshore evaders – including, for the first time, linking the penalty to underlying assets. A billionaire evading £5m of tax won’t just be liable for that £5m. 
  • Introducing new civil penalties so that those who help evaders will have to pay fines that match the size of the tax dodge they facilitate. So if you help someone evade £1m of tax, you risk a penalty of £1m or even more yourself. 
  • Extending the scope for HMRC to name and shame both evaders and those who enable evasion.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

DUP and UUP take power of choice out of voters' hands

In 2010-11 while I was running the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign I approached the UUP (who were somewhat receptive) and the DUP (who were less so) about introducing a fairer voting system for Westminster elections. The system that we were offering in the referendum was AV using a preference voting system to elect a single member to each seat.

One of the key arguments that I used to those who would listen to me (which included the now leader of the UU), Mike Nesbitt) was that in Northern Ireland with multiple parties it would mean the MP would have to secure the support of the majority of the electorate. So if people objected to an MP who refused to take up their seat in Westminster they could vote for the other candidates who would. Or if their preferred candidate didn't get the most first preferences their vote could transfer to another candidate within their comfort zone.

I also said that in Northern Ireland it would do away with the suspense of would there be pacts between parties before candidates were even named taking away the choice of individual voters for supporting a type of Unionism or Nationalism that they felt comfortable with, and leaving them only with one they were less comfortable with. Both parties in the end did not support us, although the Progressive Unionist Party along with UKIP did from the unionist side of politics here.

Therefore, sadly I am not surprised at the news this evening that the two largest Unionist parties have carved up four seats between them. The DUP will contest East Belfast and North Belfast with Gavin Robinson looking seeking to gain and Nigel Dodds MP to hold respectively, The UUP have been handed Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry and Mourne to two of their MLAs Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy.

In these four seats there was potential that the vote could have been different under AV in 2010.

Belfast East of course was where Peter Robinson lost out to the Alliance's Naomi Long. The combined DUP/UCU-NF vote would have greatly out polled Naomi 5 years ago. It is possible that under AV Robinson would have held on in 2010. But the arrogance of the DUP that this is a unionist seat and the trouble that the DUP/UUP stirred up may actually mean that with the DUP being given the candidate here some moderate UUP voters instead of voting for the Unionist candidate may well transfer to Naomi. This is the grand prize the DUP wanted from the deal, it would be somewhat ironic if the way they have gone about trying to win it back backfires on them and this deal is the latest part of thier arrogance.

Belfast North is the only seat that has a defending Unionist MP in it. The margin of DUP/UCU-NF vote over the combined Sinn Féin/SDLP was a mere 1.6% lead, so under AV it would all go down to who would have swept up the Alliance's 5%. It was something similar the following year in the Assembly elections. So it is tight and the fact that the SDLP have not named a candidate here would be worrying for the DUP deputy leader facing the same fate as his leader 5 years ago.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone was the most marginal seat in 2010, Sinn Féin taking it from a single Independent unionist unity candidate by a mere 4 votes. The deal this time of course means that the unionist unity candidate will have a party name attached to them on the ballot as opposed to being listed as one of two independents, it is also one of the unionist MLAs for the constituency so has more name recognition than the candidate last time. Will it be enough to overcome 4 votes in a seat that Sinn Féin have held since Ken Maginnis stepped down as the UUP MP in 2001 (even against a single unionist on occassion)? Ironically when we went to Enniskillen and reran the poll as a sample of AV during the fairer votes campaign Michelle Gildernew still won and gained transfers from all fronts to get her there (so the MP has backing from strange quarters).

Newry and Armagh is the only seat that Unionists lost in the 1986 by-elections in protest to the Anglo-Irish agreement. It is also a seat that they haven;t come close to taking back ever since. Indeed in 2010 the combined vote was still 9% behind Sinn Féin and doesn't even need the further 23.4% that the SDLP polled to secure a nationalist majority.Most of the remaining vote has been squeezed so far that there is really nothing else up for grabs this time round. The UUP did badly in getting this as their second seat as part of the deal it is not likely to change hands even with the candidate using the naming of a play park after an IRA terrorist and Irish language as two rallying calls for unionist votes


In light of the almost impossible task in Newry and Armagh the shock is that they left out the more winnable:

Belfast South had the combined vote of DUP and UCU-NF a mere 16 votes behind the SDLP candidate. So it would have depended largely on how the Alliance Party vote would have transferred as to who would win there if there was an AV election. This time while Sinn Féin have named a candidate so too have the NI Conservatives. So some of that UCU-NF vote will go that way and it has to be seen what impact Sinn Féin will have on Alasdair McDonnell's vote. Maybe the expectation is that Belfast South will fall because of the split nationalist vote and perceived falling of McDonnell's standing, but it could be a risky game they are playing having made the pact in the four seats they chose.

However, as I point out in a couple of the examples above the need in the two Belfast seats that are part of this pact is for the DUP to bring across moderate unionists to their cause behind their unity candidate. The issue is what impact the DUP attacks on Alliance for trying to find a way for everyone will have on some of those votes. It is highly possible that by going over the heads of such moderate unionists in North and East Belfast that vote may find another home.

No doubt it is a risk that the DUP are prepared to take but the UUP would appear to do less well out of this deal than if they had backed a move to AV four years ago. The problem as I pointed out four years ago to making such pacts is that not all of your support will back the unity candidate. Some DUP vote may well head to TUV (if they stand) in the seats that the UUP are given and some UUP vote will also head elsewhere where the DUP have the candidate. It doesn't guarantee the result they want when the finishing line is not set and merely grabbing the most votes under First Past the Post rewards a "winner".

Editor's Note: Stephen was the Northern Ireland Co-ordinator for the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign and attended UUP conference ahead of that year's Assembly Election to Lobby key figures in that party.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

MR PRATCHETT

In his writer's layer in Somerset a bearded fellow was leaning over his keyboard.

"What next?" he thought as he imagined the characters of his creation in his head. "Maybe a little more of Death." He thought.

YOU CALLED?

"No dear, it wasn't me," he said still staring at the screen not looking round.

TERRY PRATCHETT.

"Oh," he said, this time turning his head to look behind him. As he did so there was a thud as his body's head fell unto to the letter "a" and filled the screen with the letter. "Is it that time already?"

I'M AFRAID SO, said Death.

And as the two of the them walked off into the endless light out in space the giant space turtle Great A'Tuin reached her final destination to the time of mating and the massive elephants on her back Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen stood still for the first time in history. The Disc that lay upon their shoulders stopped turning.

Only in the history books will life on the Discworld now be remembered and in the imaginations of millions of readers will the characters live on.

Terry Pratchett 28 April 1948 - 12 March 2015

The only man who for the last 25 years has continually made me laugh out loud in too many public spaces, walk into too many lamp posts and had me still reading when the sun came up the day after release date. All while largely not physically present.

Ethnic minorities under attack from UKIP

First the DUP came after those who are LGBT.

Now UKIP come after those not born in the UK.

Next?

Nigel Farage the leader of UKIP has say he would scrap most of the race relation laws in this country. The laws that protect ethnic minority workers. These laws are in place to protect the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population from unscrupulous employers, and yes the minority ethnic does cover white non-British with certain provisos.

One of those provisos of course is that EU citizens have the freedom to work in any other EU member state. That applies equally to Poles wanting to work here, British people wanting to run a taverna in Greece or German wives of British MEPs wanting to work as their husband's secretary.

Nigel Farage tries to say in his defence that the nation is colour blind, and that so is his party. Yet as I point out above while the vast majority of the country may well now be colour blind there are still racists in our nation, just as there are homophobes, misogynists and people who would at the drop of a hat start to use what they feel is their superiority over a minority grouping in the workplace or provision of services.

In Northern Ireland recently we have seen the DUP launch a challenge to allow an exemption to the equality act placing Christians outside having to give equal provision of goods, facilities and services to LGB people. Now we have UKIP also wanting to take apart the equality legislation to allow racists, who sadly do exist in our nation, to prohibit non-UK nationals from employment.

A large number of non-UK born employees in this country are the spouses of UK citizens, just like Mrs Farage. Because we are an eclectic mix. It is part of what 40 years of being European has resulted in. We are no longer confined by red tape to looking for work and education to the UK, many of us take the opportunity to work or study elsewhere and many of those fall in love and marry someone of a different nationality. If that other nationality is also within the EU there is no need for that person to take up citizenship in their spouses nation as the right to reside is part of what being European allows.

I do recall the days I got the first bus from Bathgate into Edinburgh for work. There were a great number of Poles on that bus with me. They got off at Broxburn to start a 7:30 shift processing chickens. There were very few Scottish accents getting of that bus at that time to join the chicken processors. More recently Northern Ireland's DUP health minister has spoken highly of the non-UK nursing staff who attended to his wife in the unpopular overnight shifts while she was recovering from her two strokes.

We tread a dangerous slope if we think we don't need protections for any sector of our society, especially those seen as minorities. Yes the majority may be fair and transparent in their dealings but there are some who would take that opportunity to discriminate and it they that such laws were brought in to prevent harming others they view as different.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

...and so to pastures new

After last night's announcement on my blog about Emma Farthing-Sykes taking up the Liberal Democrat mantel in Linlithgow and East Falkirk.

Today I am delighted to announce that I have been selected as the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Sedgefield.

It is a great delight to be able to continue to take the Liberal Democrat vision of a Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society, this time to the people of Sedgefield. Only the Liberal Democrats are capable of delivering both so that everyone can get on in life.

Labour seem to neglect the economic quagmire they left after they were last in office. Not only refusing to take responsibility for it, but also even five years on not prepared to deal with the consequences. While the Conservatives are already showing that they will only focus on the economy without ensuring that those that need our assistance most are allowed fairness and support.

The days when it was either or were broken in 2010 and the Liberal Democrats are still the only party offering a vision that allows the economy to grow and get stronger while those most in need in our society's help and support are not enslaved by poverty or any other hindrance to their advancement, ensuring opportunity for everyone.