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What is the cost of free speech?



badger111LAST WEEK, Badger mused morosely on the limits of free speech. Little could he have known when he wrote his sally than events would unfold in Paris that reveal how little freedom of speech some are prepared to tolerate. A million trees have died and a million pens have dripped ink on the tragic events in France. Needless to say, the tasteless and tactless on the fringes of political thought, and yes I am looking at YOU Nigel Farage, have proffered up their opinions. As evidence of the depth of ignorance that permeates the right wing media here and abroad, Badger invites you to consider the case of Steve Emerson.

Mr Emerson, who touts himself as an expert on Islamist terrorism and national security on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, announced – as a fact – live on air that the city of Birmingham was entirely Muslim, and was a “no go area” for non-Muslims. Birmingham – according to the 2011 Census – is a city of over 1,000,000 inhabitants. It has an identifying Muslim population of 22 percent, with a Christian population of 46 percent, and 25 percent claiming no religion or not giving a religion. In the same interview, he claimed that in London, “Muslim religious police” beat “anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”

Now readers, the Daily Express and Daily Mail and Nigel Farage might want you to think the above is true, but it is – of course – hokum. If Mr Emerson is an expert on anything it is in making a fool of himself. Badger can visualise Steve Emerson brushing his teeth in nonfl uoridated water to avoid being taken over by the Illuminati and wearing a tin foil hat to defl ect rays from the CIA that might turn him into a space hopper. You couldn’t make it up, readers.

But Steve Emerson did. If nothing else, in his ignorance, Mr Emerson has added inestimably to the gaiety of nations. When one can be described, without a hint of post-modern irony, as “a complete idiot” by David Cameron, a man who cannot distinguish between debt and defi cit, then you really have sunk as low as you can go. Now, readers, Badger has had a light-hearted excursion into the wilder realms of political commentary so far, but the time has come to get a little bit heavier. The anti-pasta having been dealt with, we now come to the main course.

Badger is not going to offer an opinion on the murders in France. The waste of life speaks for itself. Still less is Badger going to suggest that events in France could not happen here. The same species of barbarity has happened in this country. What happened in France is, sadly, exceptional only because the initial victims were employed on a national magazine. No, readers, we have had barbarism here.

What Badger wants to talk about is how we live with what has happened. For as long as we consider changing our laws as a reaction to events in France, we are handing victory to murderers. For as long as we allow our government to adopt surveillance powers that will enable it to peek into every crevasse of our personal lives, we are handing victory to murderers. For as long as we consider changing our ways of life and giving up our freedoms because maniacs with weapons and a chip on their shoulders delude themselves they have a hotline to their god’s will, we are handing victory to murderers. It is one thing to wear a badge in sympathy with the dead. It is one thing to mourn alongside others in an expression of solidarity.

It is another thing altogether to change ourselves because others exist who seek to undermine the secular and plural nature of our society. Badger is unfamiliar with French satirical magazines, and does not have a particular wish to acquaint himself with them in the light of events in Paris. Satire is very particular and very parochial. For all Badger knows, Charlie Hebdo has more in common with Look and Learn than Private Eye. But satire, and its frequent accompaniment of investigative journalism, cannot continue and cannot exist in a society that allows every word, jot, tittle and selfi e to be trawled through by the government at its leisure because people died in Paris, or – for that matter – died in London.

Does the UK government think, for one moment, that the writers and cartoonists who died in Paris believed in a surveillance state? It cannot believe that. And, as it does not, its moves towards greater involvement by the security services in our daily lives are nothing more than crass opportunism. A card to play ahead of an election to appeal to that which is worst in us. It will create a society divided by fear and suspicion. That is no way to live, readers, even if you are daft enough to think Steve Emerson has a point. More surveillance will not create a free society.

The French murderers will win a significant battle if, in the endless and hopeless task of eliminating all risk, we allow ourselves to become less free. Badger does not doubt that most of his readers believe in a free society, where people of different races, creeds, abilities, genders and orientations can exist side by side – if not in harmony, then at least with some element of commonality. At the heart of the dilemma we face is a question we need to ask of ourselves. What we need to ask ourselves is not whether we are prepared to limit our personal freedoms , but how far we are prepared to allow the state to limit the freedoms of others. And then we should consider whether we would be prepared to endure those limitations on freedom on ourselves and on our families. Freedom of thought is inextricably linked to the freedom to hope: Badger hopes that we will not turn our backs on freedom. After all, readers, we are kidding ourselves if we think that if we all live in the Big Brother house we will never come up for eviction from it.

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Exciting visit to France for Pembrokeshire school pupils



LAST week, 60 children and 16 teaching staff visited the Bassin d’Arcachon in France as part of a Taith funded project. 

The children, representing Pennar Community School, Neyland Community School, Prendergast Community School, Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi and Haverfordwest High School, engaged in a week of activities with French school children. 

They visited lessons, took part in dancing, art, maths and playground games, all with the aim of developing modern foreign language skills, exploring cultural similarities and differences as well as having an overarching theme of sustainability in schools and caring for the environment. 

The children explored the Dune de Pilat, the largest natural sand dune in Europe, and Biscarosse beach where they undertook beach and environmental studies.

The town of Neyland has had a twinning connection with the town of Sanguinet for more than ten years and this trip allowed these friendships to develop further and pave the way for a return visit by up to 20 French children next year.

The group was hosted by the twinning committee and the mayor at a reception in the town hall where the children had the opportunity to sample local dishes.

The children and staff were excellent ambassadors for their schools and for Pembrokeshire, laying the foundations for future collaborations.

Taith is Wales’ international learning exchange programme, with taith being Welsh for journey.

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UK inflation falls to 2.3%, raising questions over interest rate cuts



UK inflation has dropped to 2.3% in April, marking its lowest level in nearly three years. However, the decline fell short of analysts’ expectations, dampening hopes for an imminent interest rate cut by the Bank of England.

City analysts had anticipated a reduction to 2.1%, closer to the Bank’s 2% target. This discrepancy led markets to adjust their forecasts, now predicting that the Bank’s current rate of 5.25% may not be reduced until August, rather than next month as previously speculated.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the decrease from March’s 3.2% was primarily due to lower energy and food costs. The last time inflation was this low was in July 2021. Significant contributions to the drop included a record 27% fall in electricity and gas prices over the past year and a modest 2.9% annual rise in food and soft drink prices, the smallest increase since November 2021.

Illustrating the ongoing strain on household budgets, furniture retailers reduced prices by 0.9% between March and April, while overall goods prices dropped by 0.8% month-on-month. However, annual services inflation, reflecting inter-company charges, remained stubbornly high at 5.9%, only slightly down from March’s 6%.

Despite the overall fall in the consumer prices index (CPI), the ONS noted that higher property rents and mortgage costs kept the alternative CPIH measure, which includes housing costs, elevated at 3% year-on-year. Petrol and diesel prices rose last month, although the price of Brent crude has recently stabilised around $83 (£65) per barrel.

KPMG UK’s chief economist, Yael Selfin, suggested that the chance of an interest rate cut next month had diminished. “Falling inflation nears the Bank of England’s target but may not suffice for an early rate cut,” she stated. Echoing this sentiment, Paula Bejarano Carbo of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research noted that core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, remains high at 3.9%. Combined with robust wage growth, this persistence could compel the Bank’s monetary policy committee to maintain rates.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded April’s CPI figure as a “major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal,” asserting that it validated the government’s economic strategy. Conversely, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves argued that it was premature for the Conservatives to celebrate, highlighting the ongoing pressures of soaring prices, mortgage bills, and taxes.

In the eurozone, inflation held steady at 2.4% in April.

Separate ONS data indicated a larger-than-expected rise in public borrowing for April, with the monthly deficit reaching £20.5bn. Despite a decrease in debt payments, the high cost of servicing government debt exceeded expectations, potentially ruling out pre-election tax cuts.

Economic adviser Martin Beck from the EY Item Club described the public finance figures as disappointing, suggesting that continued higher borrowing costs would likely prevent any significant fiscal easing before the next general election.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy and Energy, Samuel Kurtz MS, praised the inflation drop, attributing it to the UK Conservative Government’s effective economic policies. He called on the Welsh Labour Government to support the economy by fully implementing business rates relief and reforming growth taxes.

Paul Butterworth, CEO of Chambers Wales South East, South West, and Mid, noted that while the reduction in inflation was significant, it remained above the Bank of England’s target. He expressed hope that the continued downward trend might prompt an interest rate cut soon.

Meanwhile, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) warned that despite the fall in inflation, the cost of living crisis continues to severely impact mental health. Their recent survey revealed that 74% of respondents felt their mental health was worsened by the crisis, with particularly high impacts on those with pre-existing conditions, women, ethnic minorities, and lower-income households.

BACP’s Director, Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, emphasised the need for government action to address these mental health challenges. The BACP has proposed a 13-point action plan to improve access to mental health services, stressing the importance of funding and support for vulnerable populations.

As the nation grapples with economic and mental health pressures, the government’s response to these intertwined issues will be crucial in the coming months.

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Fleet Air Arm veteran donates ‘a lifetime’s research’ to heritage centre



A CENTENARIAN Fleet Air Arm Veteran has made a nostalgic return to Pembrokeshire to donate documents, photographs and books – a lifetime of research – to Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre.

Hugh Langrishe, who recently celebrated his 101st birthday, lived in Pembrokeshire for 25 years – initially at Llanfallteg and then at Saundersfoot – with his late wife, Pam, who died last year. Since 1994 he has lived at Bromyard, Herefordshire.

He was joined by his son Jack and partner Julie Cavanagh, and friend Cliff Morris.

Hugh served as an engineering officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II and was attached to Royal Navy squadrons at air stations in Australia which supported the British Pacific Fleet. This prompted his research into many aspects of aviation history. When living locally he was a very active member of the Pembrokeshire Aviation Group.

This was his first visit to the Centre and he commented: “I did not expect to find such a professional museum. Everyone involved has done a job which is absolutely outstanding. The result is better than many a professional museum or collection I have seen. It deserves any award it might fetch.”

John Evans, of the Heritage Trust, added: “We were honoured to welcome Hugh back to the county and to be entrusted with his archive which includes a remarkable photographic collection.”

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