Who does Labour represent now?

With Jeremy Corbyn’s latest decisive victory in the Labour Leadership election, I am led to ask the question, who does Labour represent now? It certainly doesn’t represent the centre left, nor does it seem to be in a position to form an effective opposition at a time when one is badly needed.

Having been a Labour supporter for 40+ years and a member from 1997-2013, I am used to differences of opinion in the party. I used to console myself with the thought that ‘Labour is a broad church’. But eventually the ‘church’ began to narrow and some members, like myself, found ourselves heading for the exit.

What is different about Jeremy Corbyn’s position is that he has been elected by overwhelming support from members who have a very idealistic position, but little practical understanding or appreciation of the kind of politics that is needed to make a party capable of forming an electable government that can deal with the many issues the UK now faces. It doesn’t help that Jeremy himself seems to be stuck in the 1970s, still talking about renationalisation, and advocating the reduction of austerity by throwing money at the problem without any consideration of where it might come from.

It remains to be seen what moderate Labour MPs will do, who don’t identify with Jeremy’s agenda. I know from my days as a member how loyal Labour supporters are, but if the situation becomes intolerable for them, and the party splits, there is an opportunity for an amalgamation of ideas and possible cross-party links with social democratically minded LibDems like myself.

Just over a year ago I joined the LibDems, partly in anticipation of what was likely to happen in Labour, but also because I saw them as a party where my centre left views might be better represented. Through LibDemVoice I got in touch with George Kendall, and together we have set up the Social Democrat Group, whose aim is to reach out to moderate Labour members so links can potentially be built. So far we have held successful fringe events at the Spring and Autumn LibDem conferences, and attended the Fabian and Progress summer conferences, with future meetings planned.

Going back to the title of this post, it is clear that Labour as it is doesn’t now represent many of the people who need it most. The formation of a new centre left grouping, formed by a social democrat consensus between moderate Labour and LibDems, might fill that gap, and in the coming weeks, months and years we hope it might become a reality.

You can find out more about the Social Democrat Group by visiting our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/SocialDemocratGroup/, or following us on Twitter at @socdemgroup.

Pokémon Go – a ‘game’ changer for mobile device power

Pokémon Go (referred to in this post as PG from now on) has been around in the UK for a while (since mid-July). I started playing it (largely out of curiosity initially) in August, on a visit to London for a few days, where we went to some exhibitions and to the Great British Beer Festival. I was quickly captivated by the game – it fits in well with my interest in travelling, and is, in a sense, complementary to Swarm/Foursquare, which I already use all the time. Travelling to new places and discovering new Pokéstops is fun and an education in itself, as well as is (of course) catching new Pokémon.

The main purpose of this post is not to discuss PG itself, but the issues involved in using it on a mobile device. I currently have a Sony Xperia Z3, running Android 6.0.1. The PG app is relatively memory-intensive (220 Mb, compared with Facebook at 320 Mb), and although it can be installed on an SD card, I found that it was less stable then, and had a tendency to crash. So I am now running it on the phone’s internal memory. It runs pretty well, although the latest update (0.37.1) seems to take a bit longer to start up. It only works properly if it can get a GPS fix, and needs a good data signal. Wi-Fi or 4G are best, but it will work (just about) with a decent GPRS signal (‘2G’) which is still all that is often available outside cities and urban conurbations. It doesn’t usually work well when travelling, unless the phone has a clear sky view, since otherwise it can’t get a GPS fix, and often the data signal is poor as well in these situations. I have been able to use it on a bus going through a town, as long as it is either a single decker, or I am on the top deck of a double decker (so the phone can get a GPS fix).

The introductions to PG that I have read stress the need for a good data plan. I have not found this to be a problem, especially as I use Wi-Fi whenever possible. The other thing they talk about is power consumption, and as my time playing the game has increased, this has indeed become an issue. For example, let us suppose that I am able to play the game with my phone connected to its charger. I have found that the power demands of the app almost balance the power supplied by the charger, and I can’t charge my phone while the app is running! It isn’t surprising then that a fully charged phone doesn’t stay charged long if PG is running continuously. I have used two approaches to get round this problem. The first is to always carry portable rechargeable power supplies with me. I already did this in my pre-PG days, as with my normal heavy use the phone didn’t always last a full day. The difference is now that I carry 3-4 of these with me when travelling, all of which have to be charged before a trip, and recharged during it if it is longer than a day. This requires considerable organisation and planning, and when staying in a hotel, ones with multiple power points are now my favourites! The second approach is to try to be sparing about when the app is running. If it is hatching eggs, it needs to be left on when walking, but otherwise, switching off the app whenever you can is recommended. But this isn’t always possible if (for example) you are in an area with lots of Pokéstops and Pokémon, in which case, switching supplies is the only option once the phone gets low on power.

In conclusion, PG is great fun, but successful and extensive use with a smartphone requires careful planning to ensure you don’t run out of power just when you reach a particular Pokéstop, or an area teeming with interesting new Pokémon! This may become less of an issue as battery technology improves, but for now it is a serious consideration. That reminds me, it’s time to check my portable power supplies!

August 2016: Culture, Beer and Pokémon Go

As we come to the end of August, and I suppose (sadly), the end of the summer, I thought it would be good to reflect on my activities over the last month.

June and July were characteristically busy, with an EPSRC Panel Meeting, exam boards and External Examining at NTU in June, and a conference in Lyon (see previous post) in July. I also spent some of July starting preparation of a new module I’ll be teaching in the Spring Semester 2017, on Digital Forensics. When August arrived I was ready for a break, and I was in London (with Angela) for most of the week of 8-12 August. The main event of the week was my annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival, but it was not only a week of imbibing (!), as I will describe. On 8 August we travelled to London, and booked into the Tavistock Hotel, which has become our main ‘base’ in London (although the County Hotel is still good for overnight visits, as mentioned later). We had tickets to see ‘The Go-Between’ at the Apollo Theatre, and when we got there we were upgraded to better seats, which was an unexpected bonus. Michael Crawford, who was due to play the main role, was indisposed, but the understudy did a great job. It was a musical version of the book, and very effective too. The GBBF took centre stage for me on Tuesday (although Angela went to the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum, followed by a musical based on the Titanic story at the Charing Cross Theatre, before joining me at the GBBF in the evening). On Wednesday morning we went to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. I was glad to see it, but found that I liked some of her work more than others. After the exhibition, I headed to Olympia for the GBBF, and Angela went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum. It was very nice that Angela was able to join me at the GBBF on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

Regarding the GBBF, it was as good as ever, with an interesting beer selection, and good food provision. I won’t put my list of beers tried here, but they have been recorded, and are also on my Untappd account, for any fellow beer connoisseurs reading this! My only disappointment was that the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) announcement wasn’t made at the opening ceremony on the Tuesday afternoon. Instead we just got the list of finalists, and the results were relayed to us in the evening after they had been announced at the awards dinner. This was a great disappointment, because the Tuesday afternoon session is the Trade session, attended by many from the brewery and pub trade. They don’t all stay for the evening session, and so won’t have been present for the announcement, which when it came was a bit of a non-event. I hope very much that CAMRA return to the previous tradition, as it was a great start to the festival, and something that made the Trade session special.


Going back to our week, Angela returned to Keele on Thursday, taking our suitcase (for which I was very grateful). I attended the Thursday afternoon/evening session at the GBBF and stayed at the County Hotel on Thursday evening. On Friday morning I went to the British Museum to see the Sicily exhibition, as this was due to finish on the coming Sunday. It was very good, and I learned some new things, including the fact that the Normans ruled Sicily for a while! It was then time to return to Keele.

I then had a week of catching up on administrative tasks, but on the following week, on 23 August I was back in London for a meeting with my old postdoc supervisor, Richard Catlow, about a 70th birthday meeting I am organising for him next year, followed by another night in the County Hotel. The following day I managed a bonus trip to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, a couple of weeks after Angela. It was simply amazing, and runs until the autumn, so I recommend it if you have a chance to go!

Finally, in the title of the post I mention Pokémon Go. Having heard a lot about it since it was launched in July, I thought about giving it a try, with encouragement from Angela. So I installed it on my phone on 7 August, and have been playing it ever since. It fits in with my enjoyment of travel to different places, and is actually quite educational, since many of the Pokéstops are at places of interest! Angela then joined on 21 August, so we are both dedicated ‘Pokémoners’ now! I suspect I will be writing a further post on the specific subject of Pokémon Go before long.

Some personal reminiscences of Gurnos Jones

This post was originally written following Gurnos’s death on 3 June 2016, in response to a request for reminiscences. As far as I know it has not been published elsewhere, so I am posting it here as a more permanent record.Jones_Gurnos 90x90

I started my career at Keele in May 1986, some 30 years ago. Initially I was a postdoc in Richard Catlow’s group, but I joined the academic staff as a lecturer in 1988. Gurnos was on my interview panel as Head of Department, along with Brian Fender (Vice-chancellor at the time), and Gurnos appointed me, and was my first Head of Department.

My main recollections of Gurnos as Head of Department are that he was firm in his decision making, but always fair. We had regular staff meetings (far more than we do now), and because we were a small but nevertheless independent department, we were responsible for a lot of decisions that are now made at a higher level. For example, I remember when Biology proposed the Biochemical Engineering degree (which incidentally is still very popular) we discussed whether Chemistry should be involved, and decided against it. A decision like that would now be out of our hands!

The first job Gurnos asked me to do was to run the 2nd year Physical Chemistry Lab. As a non-experimental computational chemist this was a challenge, but Gurnos had the view that as a chemist I should be able to do it. Thankfully everything went smoothly, and the main thing I remember was that students wrote their reports in hard backed lab books, and so carrying large piles of these back to my office, or even home, to mark, was a regular experience. I also became 2nd year tutor, taking over from Andy Fitch when he moved to the ESRF in France. In those days the administrative structure of the department was much simpler: there was Gurnos as Head, and Year Tutors. Students were also allocated tutors in the department (this was long before the University started the present Personal Tutor system).

Most of my lecturing in those days was done in the main Chemistry lecture theatre, which we had almost exclusive use of. The old department office was next to this lecture theatre, and there was a door from the office into the lecture theatre, which made a dramatic entrance from the lecturer a possibility!

My main social recollection of Gurnos was his famous pancake parties, which I was invited to once I had joined the academic staff. They were gatherings of the great and good, and I remember talking to some quite senior university staff there in the informal setting of Gurnos and Pat’s house in Larchwood.

In the present environment things are so different that it is difficult to think that a small department like Chemistry could survive. But Gurnos was a good head, and steered us through some difficult times. I will always remember him with fondness and respect.

ICDIM2016 – a personal perspective

ICDIM2016 was held in Lyon from 10-15 July 2016. It was organised by Christophe Dujardin and his team. It was the 8th ICDIM meeting I had attended since 1984 and the 16th meeting I had attended in the joint EURODIM/ICDIM series in total.

I travelled to Lyon by Eurostar from St Pancras. It was a seamless journey and the train arrived early. It was nice to have Mário’s company on the trip; he had spent the previous week working with me, which was something we had tried to arrange several times in recent years, and this time it worked!

The conference itself was well-organised. I had some minor gripes about the length of the talks (contributed talks had 15 minute slots (too short), and invited talks had 1 hour slots (too long)), but otherwise I had no complaints. The chairs generally did a good job, helped by a timer that counted down the time for each talk and was clearly visible! Most of the talks were recorded, and I will add a link here when it is made available.

The science discussed was good and of a high standard, showing that there is still a place for a conference of this kind with a relatively wide remit which now includes materials closer to semiconductors in their properties, while still mainly covering insulating materials. Battery materials, fuel cell materials and old stalwarts like LiNbO3 all had coverage. I talked on dopants in SrAl2O4, inspired by a talk by Philippe Smet given at EURODIM2014 in Canterbury. I did my best in the time available, but 10 minutes is really challenging! However, it was useful to discuss my work with Philippe and others following the talk. Mário and I also presented posters on the work performed by Giordano Bispo while at Keele, and our suggested new method for analysing EXAFS spectra of doped materials (in this case, Zn doped LiNbO3).

The organisers tried hard to include lots of social functions, and there was some kind of event every night. This certainly helped with networking, and I spoke to everyone I needed to. The conference dinner was on a boat (moored, I should add), and we had an excellent tour of old Lyon. We were in Lyon on 14 July, so were able to experience the Bastille Day celebrations, including a short but spectacular fireworks display.

The return journey on Eurostar was good, except that because there is no passport control at Lyon, we had to get off at Lille and go through security and immigration there. This worked OK, but I do wonder if there may be a better way!

Finally, at the conference I was given responsibility as International Advisory Committee Chair for the next few EURODIM conferences, and my first task is to sort out the location of EURODIM2018. This is going to be interesting, but I will report on it separately!

Brexit thoughts

It’s ironic that I should be sitting here in Lyon writing this. I’ve been too upset and horrified by the Brexit vote to write anything in the 2+ weeks since the vote. But travel enables one to be slightly detached, and now I feel able to say a few words.

First, it is clear that the vote was mostly not about our EU membership, but it was a protest against many people’s perception of how life had become for them, and who was to blame for what they saw as negative changes. The government, in fact the past few governments, should take a share of the blame. Under-investment in social housing and infrastructure has meant that immigration has put a strain on  local resources in some parts of the country, while much of our press has continually put out the message that the EU is responsible for immigration (in spite of the fact that, as I mentioned in a previous post, most EU immigrants get well-paid jobs and contribute to the economy through taxation). Then there was the nonsense about the mythical money that could go to the NHS if we left the EU, and scaremongering about Turkey joining (which won’t happen for years if at all).

Second, the government has made it quite clear that it will respect the verdict of the referendum. There will be no second referendum, in spite of the widely supported petition. We are where we are, and have to move forward as best as we can.

My greatest concerns are those that affect my work, namely what will replace EU research funding, and will free movement of staff and students within the EU be adversely affected. I have discussed these concerns at length before.

One thing is clear, and that is that nothing will happen for some time. Until we have a new Prime Minister, the exit and negotiation process cannot even begin. And Labour’s likely split is not helping as we have no effective opposition either. We just have to sit tight and see what happens. Writing this in Lyon naturally makes one think about the possibility of moving to an EU country. But attractive though that sounds in theory, it’s simply not a practical proposition. We live in worrying times.

Are we sleep walking ourselves to Brexit?

When I wrote this back in December 2015 it was in the spirit of a ‘worst case scenario’. Sadly, how true it turned out to be ):

Rob Jackson's Blog

As far as I am concerned, there is no question that the UK should remain an EU member, for a multitude of reasons. These include trade, security, freedom of movement as well as educational opportunities and research funding. And I don’t know anyone who disagrees with this.

Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership are both unnecessary and doomed to failure. The only reason he’s doing this is to pacify the right wing of his own party (and to minimise the threat from UKIP), but he won’t achieve enough ‘concessions’ to change their mindsets. Added to this is the undoubted effect of the Murdoch press.

The worry is that many of the benefits of our membership are not understood or appreciated by a majority of the electorate. Instead they will respond to Cameron’s likely failed negotiations and the screaming newspaper headlines by voting No. And before we…

View original post 54 more words

Chemistry, Academia, Travel, Technology, Politics and Music