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Whose Europe is it anyway?

In M. Davies on March 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

“Our Europe Not Theirs”, edited by Glyn Ford and Julian Priestley. Published by Lawrence and Wishart.

Reviewed by MAT DAVIES

Our Europe Not Theirs is a timely call for a break with what the authors consider to be the right-wing orthodoxy which has gripped the European Union. The aim of this book is to offer a series of “progressive left-wing policies” such as tackling fuel policy and wage repression whilst simultaneously safeguarding national interests.

It achieves the former by criticising current policies and then exploring a variety of key institutions which are capable of delivering legal and political change. Whilst some arguments are coherent, particularly with respect to fuel poverty, there are also a series of points which fall victim to ideological generalisation, historical ambiguity, and what I suspect to be a misreading of the economic and security agenda in the EU.

“NEOLIBERALISM”:

The thrust of the book is concerned with reforming the European economy, which Derek Reed takes up. He argues on page 33 that “there can be no progressive economic alternative without a radical shift in tax and regulatory regimes – especially, but not only, the financial sector.” This assertion emerges from his observations that the interdependency of states and global capital is led by a neoliberal ideology which emerged out of “Austrian” economics such as those proposed by the late Frederick Von Hayek. Whilst few would argue that the tax regimes currently in place need harmonising and reforming and that global capital flows need appropriate and effective regulation, his argument is institutionally and historically wrought with some rather basic problems.

First, Von Hayek, author of the Road to Serfdom, certainly inspired right-wing governments in the 1970s and ’80s, but his key arguments were not realised. Like Milton Friedman, many of his prescriptions are caricatured and used to prop up what is termed “neoliberalism” which is rarely conceptually spelled out.

Second, the institutions that Reed critiques such as the European Central Bank were institutionally designed based on a report led by the French Socialist Jacques Delors. The kind of reforms Reed would like to see were actually presented and rejected in the early 1970s. The “Werner Report” argued that an ECB needed to be concerned with unemployment and a broad set of social indicators in addition to interest rate setting and keeping inflation under control. Why this was not mentioned is curious. Nonetheless, Reed identified a series of institutions and policies which currently lack accountability in their design.

Furthermore, Reed is clear about linking “fuel poverty” which is a major issue in the UK to the European Union. This is a very important policy issue, currently lacking from Labour’s reasoning on “how” to tackle the topic after the next General Election. As an overview. Derek Reed’s contributions are well written, accessible and balanced. I doubt if many on the left would argue with his central points. Yet the “what to do” question is not as problematic as “how to do it” with electoral legitimacy.

SECURITY:

Moving on from the economy, Patrick Costello makes a compelling case regarding the role of the EU and Britain’s security. He pursues the fact that the EU has moved in this highly contentious policy direction in a number of ways, most noticeably since the Lisbon Treaty and the launch of the European Action Force led by UK Labour politician, Baroness Ashton. And a number of achievements have been made.

However, he reports that Britain’s national security policy has undermined this European shift, through fuzzy agreements with France when the UK ought to be more concerned with leading the way in security policy at EU level.

This is a very important chapter, but again fails to point out that there is nothing new about this school of thought. We have had a European Security Policy since 2003, and a series of obscure programmes which were hardly reported in the UK. These have led to a number of transnational bodies which police borders (Frontex), surveillance (Eurosur) and policing (Europol). Unfortunately these are developments which the electorate will not likely know about, but will further fuel UKIP’s argument of an anti-democratic EU. I am not clear why these agencies and their mandates were not given attention.

THE FAR RIGHT:

The strongest chapter, which should concern the moral pulse of those on the left is called “turning back the tide of nationalism”, and is written by Glyn Ford. Glyn identifies a broad shift across Europe towards the extreme right. This is observed in France (Front National) and Italy (Northern League) amongst others such as the neo-Nazi party in Greece (Golden Dawn) which secured 7 per cent of the vote in the last national elections.

This chapter calls for on the ground action at its best, delivered with positive messages, statistics and case studies, which begin to turn back the tide of pandering to innate nationalism that we have seen over the past few decades .

In summary, the book charts key themes such as economics , security and nationalism as well as green policies and international trade. It should interest most people on the left concerned with Europe. But it’s light on footnotes and heavy on terminology.

One final criticism I have to make concerns the closing by Julian Priestley who argues that a referendum on British membership of the EU should not take place because the public are not properly informed about the EU’s institutions and policies. This is a morally shady argument which could likely precipitate the lack of legitimacy the EU already entertains. Based on that assertion, the book should perhaps have been called “Their Europe Not Ours”.

MAT DAVIES

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PUBLIC OWNERSHIP? It’s just common sense!

In A.Graham on March 31, 2014 at 12:37 pm

by Alistair Graham

Our railways – a case study

If we take the railways as a kind of case study, then public ownership provides the most efficient means of running the system. Labour inherited a fragmented (and run down) network, battered by war and starved of investment. It transformed it into a nationally co-ordinated system capable of getting the goods needed by industry to their destination and passengers to where they wanted to go. And whilst British Railways remained in profit, its revenue stayed in public hands.

In 1945, Labour was returned to power – and by 1950 it had successfully changed the face of Britain. Amongst the achievements of the Attlee Government was the mass nationalisation of the “public utilities” and the mining industry, the public ownership and control of the run-down railway system, the introduction of secondary education for all – and last but by no means least, the National Health Service.

Of course all this was attacked by choleric retired colonels in their clubs, papers like the Mail and Express and by such right-wing bodies as “Aims of Industry”. But within a few years, the drive towards public ownership had been largely accepted, even by many in business and industry. After all, the publicly owned services provided them with cheap and reliable resources on which they could depend. Like power and transport. The concept of a “mixed economy” suited them very well.

THE RAILWAYS:

If we take the railways as a kind of case study, then public ownership provides the most efficient means of running the system. Labour inherited a fragmented (and run down) network, battered by war and starved of investment. It transformed it into a nationally co-ordinated system capable of getting the goods needed by industry to their destination and passengers to where they wanted to go. And whilst British Railways remained in profit, its revenue stayed in public hands.

GOING OFF THE RAILS:

True, the system began to unravel in the early 1960s. The Tories were now in power – and Ernest Marples was Minister for Transport. He had major interests in the construction firm Marples Ridgeway, which had been contracted to build the first motorways – and he appointed Dr Beeching to head an enquiry to cut the railways down to size. We were now in the age of the motor car. And thousands of miles of track were shaved off the railway network as a result.

PRIVATISATION:

But the system remained in public ownership until the 1990s, when John Major was Prime Minister. Thatcher never travelled by train herself, and selling them off was beneath her dignity. But under new legislation the network was to be carved up, and bits and pieces were franchised out to private companies.

And, of course, we all paid for it. In a special feature in February 1998, the Clarion revealed that under privatisation the railways were receiving “some £2 billion in public subsidy – almost twice as much as British Rail when it was publicly-owned.” Today, of course, this sum is even higher.

True, during the Thatcher years, the railways had been starved of capital, as the road lobby was given its head. Privatisation was effectively the final blow.

FRAGMENTATION:

There are some two dozen franchises in the hands of private companies operating up and down the country. Many of the companies that run our railways are in foreign hands. For example, Arriva is owned by the German Deutsche Bahn.

The First Group, which currently operates the First Great Western franchise, is largely American owned. And so it goes on. Only the East Coast mainline is, by an accident of fate, in public hands – and its profits go into the public purse rather than to shareholders. This, of course, doesn’t stop the Government from expressing its intention to dispose of it at the earliest opportunity! Indeed. a French company, Keolis/Eurostar is one of three short-listed bidders for the franchise.

IN EUROPE:

In mainland Europe, things are different. The majority of railway systems on the continent are publicly-owned. They are run efficiently, with modern rolling stock and with lower fares than in the UK. Indeed, here in Britain we endure higher fares than anywhere else in Europe.

The argument for a return to public ownership rests its case with a simple question. Is it better to have a co-ordinated, publicly-owned railway network or a fragmented system run in the interests of its shareholders?

The answer should surely be clear cut. And it could be achieved by a simple non-renewal of franchises as they came to an end. Thus the rail network would revert to public ownership, and we could return to an integrated transport policy.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

FREE SCHOOLS: Where’s the accountability?

In R.Richardson on March 31, 2014 at 12:34 pm

by Ruth Richardson for The Clarion

In the last issue of the Clarion we took a look at a Free School that had been visited and praised by David Cameron in 2012. It was the King’s Science Academy, in Bradford. Early in 2013, the Education Funding Agency discovered serious failings in the school’s financial management. Now we hear that the founder and principal, Sajid Raza, has been arrested on suspicion of fraud. We await further developments with interest.

NEVER MIND THE ESTIMATES – LOOK AT THE COSTS!

In December, the National Audit Office produced a study showing that Michael Gove’s Free Schools have cost twice as much to build as originally estimated. Half the districts county-wide where there’s the most pressing need for places do not have a single application for a new Free School. And in the schools covered by the survey, three times as many unqualified teaching staff were employed as the average for the state sector.

In December, the National Audit Office produced a study showing that Michael Gove’s Free Schools have cost twice as much to build as originally estimated. Half the districts country-wide where there’s the most pressing need for places do not have a single application for a new Free School. And in the schools covered by the survey, three times as many unqualified teaching staff were employed as the average for the state sector.

GOVE, A DISASTER:

A recent article in Tribune by Graham Lane (former chair of the LGA’s education committee) declared that Michael Gove has been a disaster. He faces not only the anger of teachers about changes in their pay, conditions and pensions, but also the growing resentment of governors and parents over how he is dumbing down so many young people’s opportunities. It should not be the role of Government ministers to decide the school curriculum. Gove is keen to prescribe what books students should study, but his perspective is narrow. The history syllabus would be pared down virtually to a list of the kings and queens of England.

However, it’s over the lack of accountability of academies and free schools that Graham Lane reserves his strongest criticism of Gove. The role of local education authorities has been marginalised, so that cohesive strategic planning is almost impossible.

Now, says Lane, Tristram Hunt (shadow Education Minister) needs to open a debate on how a Labour government would strengthen the role of the LEA. Hunt has already declared his support for the idea of local networks of collaboration between academies, free schools and LEA schools. How this would work needs to be fleshed out.

The privatisation of educational services is, says Lane, unproductive and a waste of public money. Many schools, including those under LEA control, use private companies to enhance the curriculum in art, music and drama – an expensive use of a school’s budget for, often, short-term gain. A quick trawl of the internet or a glance at the back pages of the Times Education Supplement shows how prolific these companies are – all, of course, out to make a profit for their shareholders.

VOTING WITH THEIR FEET:

Teachers’ morale appears to be at an all-time low. Not only are pay and conditions under threat, but many feel that teacher training does not adequately prepare new recruits for the reality of life in the classroom

Forty per cent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching.

WHAT ABOUT SUPPORT STAFF?

Finally, teachers are not the only workers in education who are unhappy with their lot. Let’s not forget the classroom support staff – sometimes known as teaching assistants or “learning mentors”. I was shocked to find that that there is no national pay scale for them. The School Support Negotiating Body, set up by the previous Labour Government to set things in motion, was abolished under the coalition. Terms and conditions set out in the local government national agreement are frequently ignored, and there has been a huge growth in “term-time only” contracts.

The role of the support staff has changed a great deal over the past fifteen years. Many are used as teachers to avoid paying for expensive supply staff to cover absences – particularly in free schools.

An Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL) survey showed that two thirds of support staff work extra hours, most without additional pay. When Michael Gove abolished the Negotiating Pay Body, he said that the organisation “did not fit well with the Government’s priorities for greater de-regulation”!

RUTH RICHARDSON

THE MINERS’ STRIKE: thirty years on

In A.Graham on March 31, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The Miners’ Strike dragged on from March 1984 until March 1985.

Alistair Graham looks back.

During the bloody, dogged years of the miners’ strike I was living “up north”. At the time I was assistant secretary of the Halifax District Trades Council, and was closely involved in giving what support we could to the miners’ struggle.

During the bloody, dogged years of the miners’ strike, I was living “up north”. At the time I was assistant secretary of the Halifax Trades Council. And was closely involved in giving what support we could to the miners’ struggle.

We had “adopted” two local pits, Emley Moor, near Huddersfield, and Park Mill collieries. We collected food and money for those on strike and their families and did what we could to publicise the miners’ cause.

Others, too, were involved. Indeed, a network of support groups had sprung up to back the miners and provide what help we could. And through my membership of the ILP I also found myself involved in support for two pits in South Yorkshire, Hatfield and Armthorpe.

PROVOKING THE STRIKE:

There’s no doubt in my mind that the strike was provoked, and that the Thatcher Government was well prepared. It came to a head when Ian McGregor (head of the NCB) abruptly announced the closure of two pits (Polmaise in Scotland and Cortonwood in Yorkshire). McGregor then told the National Union of Miners that he was planning further closures, with the loss of at least 21,000 jobs.

The strike was on, and by the end of March, it was solid throughout Yorkshire, Scotland, the North East, South Wales and Kent. Only in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire did the bulk of miners choose to remain at work.

The Government, though, had planned ahead and was ready for the conflict. Stockpiles of coal had been built up. Haulage firms with “scab” crews were hired to transport the coal – and the police were brought in to face the picket lines at the pits.

POLITICISING THE POLICE:

The use of the police, however, went much further than merely keeping order at the picket line. They were deployed to blockade motorways, instigated “stop and search” tactics – far from the picket lines and away from TV cameras and news photographers. Indeed, an investigation in the Guardian (March 1985) concluded that “there has been a widespread abuse of the criminal law in relation to arrests, road blocks and bail. In general the law appears to have been used as a means of social control rather than for its intended purpose.”

You can say that again. Effectively the police had been politicised to serve a government whose leader described the miners as “the enemy within”. The violations of the law included imposing bail conditions that amounted to house arrest or exile for many miners.

And sometimes the police went further – such as the invasion of the pit village of Armthorpe in South Yorkshire in the summer of 1984, when they charged through the community in riot gear, smashing up the place. The incident was later re-created in the film “Billy Elliot”.

And, at Orgreave coking depot, near Sheffield, police on horseback wielding truncheons indiscriminately caused havoc as they mounted a charge through picket lines. And Arthur Scargill was arrested.

The Miners’ union funds were also under attack as they were sequestered by the law courts. But still the strike dragged on. But it was beginning to take its toll. By December, many miners, particularly those with wives and children found themselves facing a bleak Christmas. In many cases, debts were mounting and there seemed no end in sight.

It wasn’t surprising that the solid support for the strike amongst the miners began to haemorrhage. As March approached it was becoming obvious that the strike could no longer be sustained.

On March 5th 1985 the striking miners returned to work. Along with others from our Trades Council and other support groups from Huddersfield and the Colne Valley, I joined the procession as miners and their families marched back to Park Mill colliery. There was no brass band to lead us, but the banner was there at the head of the column.

Not long after that, Park Mill pit was closed. And over the next few years, the lights at the pitheads in coalfields all over the country went out.

Thatcher had won. But the human scars remained – and in many old mining communities they remain to this day.

PROTECTING OUR PENSIONS? FAR FROM IT!

In C. Mickleson on March 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm

The Government has announced that pensions will not be threatened, and old folk can rest easy. This assurance, though, is far from the truth, argues CLAUDE MICKLESON.

Once again George Osborne is trying to divide the nation. He is trying to set those still at work against those who’ve done their stint and whose meagre pensions have been worked and paid for.

Despite Government lies, pensioners aren’t being left untouched by the cuts. Far from it.

Let’s start with the Basic State Pension – the lowest of all amongst the advanced countries of Europe. We should bear in mind that any amount we get above this basic is merely enforced savings (originally called SERPS it’s now known as the “State Second Pension”). It was originally introduced by Labour in the 1970s, and is only a return on one’s own savings.

GOING UP?

The pension, we are told is to be increased in April by what they’ve chosen to call the “triple lock” – an increase allied to the CPI*, the average wage increase or 2.5 per cent whichever is the greater.

Now, the National Pensioners Convention has been fighting since 1980 – when Thatcher moved the goal posts – to get back the previously negotiated arrangement that pensions should be increased annually according to the increase in average wages or prices – whichever was the greater.

Thatcher changed the rules, so that only prices would be taken into consideration. This resulted in the basic pension now being around £75 a week less than it would have been.. The present government has calculated that the poverty level is £178 per week. Incidentally, through the rise in the Retail Price Index it meant that pensions have been pinned to the standard of living experienced in 1980. Progress demands that the standard of living increases along with the increased wellbeing (reflected in the GDP) of the country as a whole should be taken into account. So, a big step back there for pensioners.

CONGRATULATIONS?

The Government has now introduced the “triple lock” which includes average earnings. So, congratulations to a Tory government? No, not exactly. We all know how wages have been forced down so low that many are receiving less in real terms than they were before this Government took over – so no increase there. Then there’s the change from RPI to CPI. The CPI is always lower, and thus over the ensuing years will add up to a similar amount to that lost through Thatcher’s meddling in 1980.

OK. Point taken. But what about bus passes, winter fuel allowances, Christmas bonus and 25p increase for the over-80s? Then there’s the free TV for over 75s. What about that lot?

Gordon Brown was opposed to any proper increase in the basic pension, but with pressure put upon him, he gave pensioners a sop. They got their bus pass – a “benefit” difficult to quantify as many have difficulty finding a bus, and some don’t use their passes anyway.

Winter Fuel Allowances are a massive saving to the Health Service if people can keep themselves warm and free from illness. “Heat or Eat” is no fun, and very bad for health. The present Government reduced this allowance as soon as it took office, despite the cruel increases in energy prices since.

The Christmas bonus (£10) was, when introduced, the equivalent of a whole week’s pension. But it was never increased and now it’s a joke. The least said the better, about the 25p a week extra for the over-80s. It’s a fact that as one gets older expenses are greater – but by considerably more than a mere 25p.

Now let’s look at the details.

The bus pass – of great value for some, but useless for others. Let’s say it’s worth £10 a week

Fuel allowance – For those between 60 and 80, £4.80 a week. Those over 80, £5.77p a week.

Free TV for those over 75 – £2.80 a week.

Christmas bonus – 19p a week.

So let’s tot all this up. Those between 60 and 75 get about £15 a week from all these benefits. The 75 to 80 year-olds get about £18 a week. And over-80s get just over £19 a week.

Not a lot compared to the shortfall of £75 a week! And these “extras” don’t increase in line with inflation.

*Footnote: the CPI is the “Consumer Price Index”, brought in to replace the Retail Price Index (RPI) as a measurement of price levels. It can be claimed to be another means of massaging the figures to the detriment of hard-up pensioners!

“Foodbank Britain”: On the road to recovery??

In Editorial on March 31, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Question: What happens when you turn a corner?

Answer: Nothing much. You’re still heading up the same blind alley.

Back in January, George Osborne was able to announce triumphantly that the economy had finally turned a corner. It had taken a long time (much longer than originally promised) with a double-dip recession on the way, but UK plc was finally on the road to recovery. It was at last responding to treatment, and (as they used to sing during the depression years), happy days were here again.

Of course for the millions out of work together with those struggling to make ends meet in our low wage, part time workplace, such assurances mean very little. And Osborne’s promise to raise the basic minimum wage didn’t mean a lot either – though it was significant that a number of employers quickly protested that they couldn’t afford to pay it. There must be something fundamentally wrong with a regime in which so many in the workforce are unable to earn a basic minimum wage – let alone the “living wage”, which has become Labour’s yardstick by which to measure pay levels. Indeed, wage rates for many who do have jobs are continuing to fall. We still live in foodbank Britain, with poverty levels continuing to rise, and where measures such as the bedroom tax are increasing the scourge of homelessness.

How long this “recovery” will continue of course remains problematical. If we’re including the period leading up towards Christmas season, then consumer spending traditionally rises. Indeed, it seems such a rise in consumer sales has helped Osborne achieve his modest growth.

Another factor was a steep rise in house prices. They’re growing at the rate of 75 per cent, according to the Halifax. How this percentage is estimated we’re not sure – but surely even if it was a healthy trend, this kind of rise must be unsustainable, despite the encouragement of easy credit. And if we’re aiming for a sustainable economy, it’s not the way to go.

As for the industrial sector (once the mainstay of the UK’s economy), this has been reduced to a state of fragility, with any exports depending on world economic trends. It’s suggested that export trade has made little difference to the situation.

No doubt Osborne felt his chest swelling with pride when the IMF acknowledged his “recovery” – whilst ignoring its warning that it was still fragile.

CUTS TO CONTINUE:

And, of course, the Chancellor was quick to point out that the cuts would continue to bite. We still have to balance the books, he insists, and cutbacks would continue unabated – even after the date of the next election (always assuming that the Tories got back in, of course).

There is, of course, a hidden agenda here. The cuts in public spending haven’t been made merely to restore the economy to health. More important to the Tories is the attack on the public sector and what’s left to us of the welfare state. The structure created by Beveridge together with the multitude of services once provided by local councils are suffering a lingering death by a thousand cuts. We may well be reduced to the same level of social welfare as exists in the USA.

And we’re sure it hasn’t escaped their notice that their scorched earth policy will make it much more difficult to restore the welfare of the nation if Labour succeeds in winning next year’s General Election. Even if the will is there (and we hope it is), it won’t be easy to revive the public sector, to anything resembling health. Is “One Nation” Labour capable of making this leap of faith, to reconnect with its supporters?

We hear little of the claim that “we’re all in this together” these days, as it’s so blatantly untrue. Neither do we hear talk of the “Big Society” – Cameron’s cover for undermining the welfare state. What has been created is a deeply divided society in which the poorest are demonised and allowed to go to the wall, whilst the rich simply carry on getting richer.

From where we’re standing, it’s impossible to talk of “recovery” when the poorest in our society continue to slide further into poverty. If we really were pulling out of recession, then everyone should benefit from it.

FOOTNOTE:

According to the South West TUC newsletter, this recovery doesn’t seem to have been reflected in our region.

Employment rates have actually fallen slightly in the south west . In areas which had seemed to be weathering the storm somewhat better than others, the number of jobs has now fallen. Perhaps the best that we can say is that the much vaunted fall in unemployment has been somewhat patchy.

Meanwhile, Government statistics claiming that the road to recovery starts from here have been challenged by a number of economists. Ministers have been accused of using “dodgy cost-of-living figures”.

The critics include the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Its director told BBC Radio 4 that by next year “average household incomes will be lower than they were pre-recession and lower than in 2010.”

As for families, lower income working people and those out of work, the struggle against declining living standards goes on.

DINOSAUR: Modern Times

In Dinosaur on March 31, 2014 at 12:09 pm

dinosaurThe Bonus culture:

Aren’t bonuses brilliant? You work in a London bank for a nice salary – and then you have it topped up for you at the whim of the bank’s directors. Indeed, you can end up with even more than double your salary – if you’re lucky.

And the beauty of it is that it’s got no connection with how much money you’ve made for the bank – or, indeed, how much money’s been…er… how shall I put it? .. mislaid. It’s their way of saying thank you , just for being there. And it pays for the new Porsche and one or two little extras. So let’s lay in another crate of bubbly and celebrate!

And, of course, since your bank got bailed out by the taxpayers, it doesn’t even have to make a profit to give you that bonus. It’s a kind of incentive, we’re told. A sort of encouragement to carry on doing what you’d been doing during those heady days before it all fell apart.

Well, so much for the bonus culture, which seems so ingrained in the banking system that this particular dinosaur wonders whether he should just stash his cash in a tin box under his bed. But financiers and even politicians seem wedded to it. The world of investment banking seems to exist in a bubble, divorced from the reality of life as lived by the rest of us.

Surely it’s time to burst that particular bubble.

Celebrating the slaughter:

It’s difficult to get to grips with exactly how Michael Gove wants us to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War. He’s denounced such “negative” images as those shown in the musical Oh What a Lovely War or that portrayed in the final instalment of Blackadder. By implication he seems to see us fighting to defend democracy, free speech – and our British way of life – whatever that may be.

In fact in 1914, less than half the population had the vote (about 40 per cent, I believe). “Free Speech” became an expensive commodity as the war progressed. It’s always one of the first casualties of war. And even today historians are arguing about what actually caused the war to erupt.

It became effectively a war of attrition – with generals in charge still using the tactics of the Boer War. If it had lasted longer might well have become a case of “last man standing”. It had a devastating impact on an entire generation. It led to the collapse of four imperial powers, and ultimately to the era of dictators and demagogy across Europe.

So are we going to see displays of the iconic poster bearing the words “Your Country Needs You”? Are the organised tours of the war cemeteries going to be accompanied by sanitized homilies on how the dead gave their lives for us all? Maybe we could have an allocation of white feathers for those who wish to hand them out to folk with a more cynical take on the conflict. Or would that be going too far?

Perhaps. A rather more sober, maybe even sombre, approach is needed, Mr Gove.

A punishment from above:

It must be difficult at times keeping control over a party that seems to have more than its normal share of fruitcakes – whilst at the same time trying to claim the same level of sanity as the rest of us.

I’m talking about UKIP of course, that collection of oddities that wants to take us out of the European Union, close the drawbridge and put paid to all those Romanians and Bulgarians that are poised to flood in, in an ever increasing trickle.

The latest member to raise his head above the parapet is a UKIP councillor from Henley-on-Thames. He’s declared in an interview on his local radio station that the wet and windy weather that we’ve been enduring is a sign that God disapproves of Government legalisation of gay marriages.

David Sylvester (a former Tory turned UKIP) said that we had been “beset by storms” since Cameron had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel”. Now an embarrassed Nigel Farage has decided to suspend Mr Sylvester.

He also added that all candidates standing for UKIP in the Euro-elections in May are being vetted – and five of its sitting MEPs won’t be standing again. Well, no doubt that’ll weed out those who openly declare their belief in “Bongo Bongo land.”

Dinosaur