Friday, 24 March 2017

'Storm: Nature and Culture': new reviews

Here's another review of Storm. This time from the Church Times.


I've also had this review from an Indian environmental website:- http://www.downtoearth.org.in/reviews/storm-front-57277?platform=hootsuite

Friday, 17 March 2017

'Storm: Nature and Culture' review

Here's a review of Storm from the Methodist Recorder





Thursday, 9 March 2017

Brexitwatch - MPs' last chance to get a say on Brexit. Write to yours.


After the House of Commons nodded through the bill to give Theresa May a blank cheque on Brexit with astonishingly little dissent, the House of Lords has tried to give MPs another chance by amending the bill to give Parliament a genuine say.
On Monday, it will go back to the Commons with the UK's increasingly dictatorial unelected Prime Minister ordering that the changes be reversed. If you want to stop Parliament being bypassed, it is crucial you write to your MP NOW to demand that they stand up for the amendment and democracy.
My MP happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, and this is what I have written to him.
Dear Sir Keir,
When Gina Miller gave Labour MPs a chance to have a genuine say over any Brexit terms that Theresa May may negotiate, you ran a mile. 
Now the Lords have courageously given you a second chance (which Labour does not deserve.) It is vital that this time Labour supports the amendment to give Parliament a meaningful voice. 
I trust you are fighting hard for this outcome with Jeremy Corbyn. If he refuses and continues his Brexit coalition with the Tories and UKIP, I trust you will defy him and vote for the amendment, urging your colleagues to do the same.
If Labour are prepared to show some backbone for once, there is every chance of winning over enough Tory rebels to defeat our increasingly dictatorial prime minister. If Labour again refuses to oppose, you can hardly complain if Tory rebels decide there is little point in sticking their necks out.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Brexitwatch - another pathetic Labour capitulation



Astonishingly Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, which campaigned to stay in the EU and most of whose supporters want to stay in the EU, ordered its members in the House of Lords, to vote against keeping the UK in the EU's Single Market.

The usual bogus 'will of the people' argument advanced by Labour to justify deserting its supporters does not apply here. Voters in the referendum were given no say on the Single Market, and throughout the campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to promise we would stay in it. Besides, at the last general election, every Tory MP was elected on a promise to keep us in the Single Market.

And the overwhelming majority of businesses and economists think leaving will do terrible damage to Britain. So even by Labour's standards, this is a bizarre decision. Below is the letter I have sent to Labour's chief whip in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and to my own Labour MP.

Dear Lord Bassam,
I cannot believe that you whipped Labour peers against an amendment to make Theresa May keep us in the European Single Market.
Is Jeremy Corbyn now so terrified of UKIP that he does not realise that most Labour voters throughout the country are pro-EU? Does he not realise that leaving the Single Market will inflict enormous damage on our country, and that those who suffer most will be Labour voters? And does he not realise that his enthusiastic coalition with the Tories and UKIP ensure that when Brexit all goes horribly wrong, Labour will share the blame? What's the plan? To ensure Labour is now as comprehensively wiped out in England as it was in Scotland?
Your usual 'will of the people excuse' can't be used in this case. People were not asked their view on the Single Market in the (advisory) referendum, but virtually every MP at the last general election was elected on a promise to keep us in it, while Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to promise we would stay in it.
Labour's betrayal of its supporters will not be forgotten. For my part, I will not vote in any election for any politician or party that helps drag us out of the EU.
Yours in sorrow and anger,
John Withington 


Friday, 24 February 2017

History's most lethal storms


Doris has just reminded us how lethal storms can be, causing deaths in Wolverhampton, Swindon and London, but mercifully it was much less deadly than other tempests in our history.

As my latest book Storm: Nature and Culture reveals, the worst storm ever to hit the UK was the Great Storm of November 1703 which claimed about 125 lives on land and perhaps 8,000 around our coasts, where many vessels, especially Royal Navy ships, were sunk.

The deadliest storm of all was probably what became known as the Bhola Cyclone which also struck in November, this time in 1970. The world has seen many stronger storms, but this one was particularly lethal because it hit the Bay of Bengal where the land was densely populated and just a few feet above sea level.

Estimates of the number of people killed go as high as a million. The cyclone also played a significant role in history. The land it struck was then East Pakistan, which was already longing for independence. The dilatory response of West Pakistan to the disaster was the final straw, and after a bloody civil war, East Pakistan became the new country of Bangladesh.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a LibDem lord


It's good to write to members of Parliament to complain or cajole, but sometimes it's good just to say 'thank you'.

I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for being the only major party in England to oppose Brexit, so I wrote the letter below to their leader in the House of Lords, Lord Newby. This week the Lords will have probably the last chance to give Parliament a meaningful role in the Brexit negotiations when they consider Theresa May's back-of-an-envelope bill on triggering Article 50.

Dear Lord Newby,
I am grateful for all the Liberal Democrats' efforts in trying to prevent the worst excesses of Brexit. I hope you will keep up the good work in the Lords over the next couple of weeks.
I was deeply disappointed in the performance of the Commons - a point I have made forcefully on a number of occasions to my MP, who happens to be Sir Keir Starmer.
I have also written to the Labour leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith and to Baroness Wheatcroft on the Tory benches. If you have any suggestions about other peers I might write to, I would welcome them.
The points I have made were as follows. The referendum result does not represent the 'will of the people'. The vote was advisory only. If Parliament had wanted to make it binding, it could have done, but it chose not to. Nor is there any moral obligation to obey a result that was won by what the Leave campaign now admits was lies and deception, and yet which was still decided by only a tiny majority among a gerrymandered electorate.
So those members of Parliament who support Brexit are doing so out of choice and they will share in the responsibility for its consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, The best option, therefore, is rejection of the A50 trigger.
If that cannot be achieved, it is vital that the Lords pass MEANINGFUL amendments, and if those amendments cannot be passed, then the Lords should reject the bill. 
MPs talked about three concessions they said they had won from the government:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
In my view, these 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless MPs suddenly discover some backbone, the regular reports will just be the Brexiters' usual mixture of empty slogans and wishful thinking.
As for the final vote, the government is saying it will still be 'take whatever terms Theresa May has agreed however bad they are' or leave without any agreement, which will be even worse.
So at the very least, the Lords need to pass the following amendments:
1. The government must keep us full members of the Single Market. Theresa May and every other Conservative MP was elected on this promise, and throughout the referendum campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to say they did not wish to leave it.
2. When Theresa May has completed her negotiations, she must come to Parliament for approval of the proposed settlement. If it is rejected by Parliament, the UK will remain a member of the EU.
3. To be valid, any final agreement must win the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Until this is given, the UK remains a member of the EU.
 Good luck!
John Withington

Friday, 17 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a Lady


On February 14, I posted a letter I had sent to Labour's leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Smith, hoping to persuade her to fight for meaningful amendments to the government's bill authorising Theresa May to trigger Article 50.

I have now also written to a Conservative peer, Baroness Wheatcroft, who has spoken eloquently about the need to limit the damage from Brexit. This is my letter:

Dear Baroness Wheatcroft,
I trust we will not see the miserable weak-kneed capitulation we witnessed in the Commons on this measure being repeated in the Lords. Most members of Parliament know Brexti will seriously damage our country, and MP after MP said so. Then most of those same MPs trooped through the lobby to give Theresa May a blank cheque, failing to pass a single amendment to her back-of-an-envelope bill which promises the most extreme form of Brexit.
MPs do not seem to realise what a devastating blow they have delivered to Parliamentary democracy. Gina Miller risked her life to give them a say in the most important decision this country has had to take in decades, because they did not have the courage to demand it for themselves. And then they were too cowardly to grab the lifeline Ms Miller had thrown them.
Even among the Leave campaigners, no one seems any longer to argue that there will be any tangible benefits from Brexit, and the only argument advanced is that it is the 'will of the people'.
I hope you agree with me that this is completely bogus. The referendum was advisory only. If Parliament had wanted to make it binding, it could have done, but it chose not to. Nor is there any moral obligation to obey a result that was won by what the Leave campaign now admits was lies and deception, and yet which was still decided by only a tiny majority among a gerrymandered electorate.
So those members of Parliament who support Brexit are doing so out of choice and they will share in the responsibility for its consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, The best option, therefore, is rejection of the A50 trigger.
If that cannot be achieved, it is vital that the Lords pass MEANINGFUL amendments, and if those amendments cannot be passed, then the Lords should reject the bill. 
MPs talked about three concessions they said they had won from the government:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
In my view, these 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless MPs suddenly discover some backbone, the regular reports will just be the Brexiters' usual mixture of empty slogans and wishful thinking.
As for the final vote, the government is saying it will still be 'take whatever terms Theresa May has agreed however bad they are' or leave without any agreement which will be even worse.
So at the very least, the Lords need to pass the following amendments:
1. The government must keep us full members of the Single Market. Theresa May and every other Conservative MP was elected on this promise, and throughout the referendum campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to say they did not wish to leave it.
2. When Theresa May has completed her negotiations, she must come to Parliament for approval of the proposed settlement. If it is rejected by Parliament, the UK will remain a member of the EU.
3. To be valid, any final agreement must win the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Until this is given, the UK remains a member of the EU.
Even if you accept the 'will of the people' argument, the only thing the 'people' voted for was to leave the EU. Theresa May has NO MANDATE for taking us out of the Single Market, the customs union, ending freedom of movement etc etc. Indeed after a narrowly decided vote, her decision to go for the most extreme form of Brexit and completely ignore the 16 million or more people who voted to remain in the EU is a gross betrayal of the British people.
And it is not just membership of the EU that is at stake, though that is serious enough. Elements among the Brexiters plainly wish to destroy democracy in our country, trying to shout down anyone who disagrees with them as an 'enemy of the people'. For the moment, they can be beaten, but if Parliament keeps on caving in to their bullying, a time will come when they cannot be.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington