Tuesday, 26 June 2018

So what's changed for Wales since Tryweryn?

Even if they were not around to witness the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965 many people in Wales will have heard of that infamous event. For people around at the time the flooding of the Valley - and the destruction of the welsh speaking village of Capel Celyn by the Liverpool corporation to create a reservoir - summed up Wales seeming second class status in the British state. A private members bill introduced and passed at Westminster enabled Liverpool corporation to get the go ahead for its plans without having to gain the consent of any local authorities in wales. And the fact that not a single MP from Wales voted for the bill on its final reading counted for nothing - communities, civic and religious leaders and politicians from Wales at local and parliamentary level were powerless to prevent the valley's flooding.Tryweryn was a grim reminder to the people of Wales that when it came down to it they were powerless to stop forces at Westminster doing whatever they liked with regard to Wales.

Fast forward over 50 years.There's a credible proposal to build the world's first tidal powered lagoon in Swansea Bay, a scheme which would have given a massive boost to the economy of south west wales and powered hundreds of thousands of homes with clean energy. And cheaper than nuclear power to, with the lagoon adding just 30p a year to people's energy bills compared to £12 a year for the Hinckley Point nuclear plant. The local Swansea council supported it and surveys of local public opinion showed strong support for the lagoon among people in the area. The Welsh Assembly supported it and so did Politicians from right across the political spectrum in Wales, the Welsh government even offered to put up £200 million to help finance the scheme.

But it has counted for nothing because under the terms of the existing devolution settlement large energy projects in Wales are still decided at Westminster. So just as Westminster has decided to plonk a dirty great new nuclear power station in north wales (they've still no idea where in Wales the hazardous waste it will produce is going to be buried incidentally) Westminster yesterday decided that the Tidal lagoon wouldn't go ahead in Swansea Bay, meaning the huge support the lagoon enjoyed among politicians and the public in Wales ultimately counted for nothing. Worth remembering too the Swansea Tidal lagoon wasn't going to cost the UK government a single penny - it was privately financed (contrast this with the 5 billion pounds the UK tory government are forking out to shore up the failing Wylfa B nuclear scheme).

But while the events in Tryweryn and Swansea Bay may be over 5 decades apart and involve a different set of circumstances there's one striking and very important similarity between the two - in both events a few people at Westminster were able to ride roughshod over the clearly expressed views of the welsh public and our elected politicians. Course when the shocking decision to flood Tryweryn was taken there was no Welsh devolution to speak of and the Post of Secretary of State for Wales had only just been created - yesterday's disgraceful decision was taken despite 20 years of devolved government for Wales. 

And i wont waste to much time commenting on the abject role played in this snub to Wales by the joke of an individual currently masquerading as the Secretary of State for Wales. Suffice to say after this debacle - and his recent bout of extreme forelock tugging over the renaming of the Severn bridge - Alun Cairns is a strong rival to the revolting George Thomas for the title as the most obsequious toadying quisling Wales has had the misfortune to see. So it was good to see that Swansea's 3 Labour MPs have called for Cairns resignation as secretary of state for Wales and that Plaid Cymru have tabled a motion of no confidence in him in the Welsh Assembly and also called for the abolition of the now surely completely redundant post of secretary of state for Wales. 

But of course as clueless and gutless as the likes of Cairns are it remains that the chief problem we in Wales face is that despite 20 years of devolution we are still as powerless to stop a Westminster government doing what it likes in Wales as we were when the decision was taken to drown Tryweryn 53 years ago. Now that really is a very worrying and depressing state of affairs.....and to which there is only one obvious solution ...... 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The tories have some nerve to cry foul over Gower

Yesterday - thanks to the help of an obviously planted question - the tory PM Theresa May used PMQs to imply that an erroneous tweet by a Swansea cafe manager cost the Conservative candidate the Gower seat in last year's UK general election.This of course is utter nonsense.The Conservative candidate - Byron Davies - lost Gower by over 3000 votes and the tweet referred to was only retweeted a handful of times. And rather than pursuing what appears to be a mean spirited vendetta against people for misusing social media Byron Davies would do well to reflect on the fact it was the tories disastrous general election campaign - and May's inept leadership of that campaign - which saw him lose in Gower. In fact Byron Davies himself said as much in a interview with Walesonline 3 days after the election

Byron Davies of course is the Chairperson of the Welsh Conservatives and last year the Welsh tories were in the news for all the wrong reasons following questions that arose about their use during the UK general election campaign of a call centre on Byron Davies doorstep - Neath. Following an investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office the tories received a formal warning with regards to their use of the Blue Telecoms call centre during the campaign, with the Commissioner's Office reporting that parts of scripts used by canvassers crossed the line from legitimate market research to unlawful direct marketing. So in other words the Conservatives in Wales were guilty of carrying out unlawful direct marketing.

The ICO had become involved following an undercover investigation of the neath call centre by channel 4 journalists which was screened by the channel two weeks later and which can be watched online here : https://www.channel4.com/news/revealed-inside-the-secretive-tory-election-call-centre

The investigation uncovered underhand and arguably unlawful practices at the Neath call centre in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. Among the allegations the programme raised were that the Welsh Conservatives:

● Used paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates - banned under Election law (Representation of the Peoples Act) 
● Carried out political cold calling to prohibited numbers
● Made misleading calls claiming to be from an ‘independent market research company’ which does not apparently exist

South Wales Police also initiated an investigation into the the call centre's use releasing a statement which said "South Wales Police can confirm it is investigating allegations relating to the Representation of the People Act 1983".

On the 8th of June - the eve of general election day - callers at Blue Telecoms were told that they would spend the day making calls on behalf of Conservative parliamentary candidates contesting marginal seats in Wales. Channel 4 News obtained evidence of ten key marginal seats targeted by the call centre, and among these was the Gower constituency (Byron Davies had captured the seat by just 27 votes in 2015 - the first time the tories had ever won the Welsh seat).

The undercover investigation also revealed the Neath call centre was visited by a senior Welsh Conservative Party official on election day itself and the day before, and that official was revealed to be Richard Minshull the Director of the Welsh Conservatives. We don't know if any other senior Welsh tories visited the call centre or liaised with its head Sascha Lopez. But it is certainly legitimate for people to ask if any tory candidates in the Welsh marginals being targeted - such as Byron Davies in Gower - visited or communicated with the controversial neath call centre during last year's general election campaign? And to ask what knowledge he may have had of the call centre? and of its unlawful direct marketing on behalf of Conservatives in marginal Welsh seats. For some reason these seemingly obvious questions don't appear to have been raised in the Welsh media during reporting of the investigation last year. But in view of Theresa May's ill informed comment on the Gower poll yesterday it seems entirely fair to ask such questions now.

I do appreciate that Byron Davies and his family would have been hurt by the false allegation made in the aforementioned tweet, for which he has now received a public apology and been awarded what is being reported as a substantial financial settlement. Yet Byron Davies appears to be unconcerned by the hurt he caused the writer and broadcaster Mike Parker when labeling Mike a racist when he contested Ceredigion for Plaid Cymru in 2015. And nearly three years on Byron Davies has yet to issue an apology to Mike Parker for that hurtful slur.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Enoch Powell will be dancing in hell Tonite

If there is a hell then the poster boy of racists everywhere Enoch Powell will surely be among its residents. His 'rivers of blood' rant 50 years ago last weekend still ranks as one of the most hate filled and brazenly racist speeches ever uttered by a politician in a modern democracy. And to read it today it still has the power to both shock and appall. Powell employed a despicable racial slur to describe black children ('pickaninnies') and when forecasting imminent racial armageddon (which the bigot was hopelessly wrong about of course) spoke of 'the black man holding the whip hand over the white man'. No question if a politician made a speech like that today he would be arrested and prosecuted for hate speech. So just why the BBC chose to broadcast the speech in it's entirety for the first time ever - albeit recited by an actor - defies belief. It would be tantamount to allowing landlords to display posters saying 'no blacks no irish no dogs' in their windows once again.

Thankfully Powell didn't completely escape punishment for his revolting statement - he was immediately sacked from the tory shadow cabinet by Ted Heath, a principled act the tory right would never forgive Heath for. Indeed some of the deeply disturbing and unfounded allegations which have appeared about Ted Heath in recent times have their origin in a smear campaign against him began by the racist hard right of the tory party in this period.

Something which is often forgotten about Powell of course - and it's a huge irony given his subsequent career as the darling of British racists - is that during the 1950s when a minister in the UK tory government Powell went to the caribbean to implore people there to come to Britain and work in an NHS which at the time was experiencing a severe labour shortage. Indeed it's an established fact the health service wouldn't have survived it's early decades without the presence in its workforce of significant numbers of people from commonwealth countries. And the many people who responded to Powell's plea formed part of the so called  'Windrush Generation' - the tens of thousands of people from commonwealth countries who came to live and work in Britain during the two post war decades until 1971.

So it's awful to report then that in the last few days we are seeing Powell's late 60s wet dream of the mass deportation of people of caribbean origin being fulfilled, thanks to a new and overzealous application of immigration laws by the UK tory government. It means people who came to the UK as children and who have lived and worked here ever since - raising families of their own in the meantime - face the real threat of  deportation to places that in many cases they havent lived since they were infants (lets face it even the likes of Powell or the neo nazi National Front could hardly have come up with anything more unjust or cruel) https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/15/why-the-children-of-windrush-demand-an-immigration-amnesty

So while it is comforting to imagine Powell is suffering eternal punishment in the fires of hell for the pain his hateful speech caused it's also profoundly depressing to reflect that this week he would be relishing the spectacle of the UK's major public broadcaster airing his hateful words in their entirety and that his twisted dream of the forcible repatriation from the British isles of thousands of black people might be about to be carried out.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

This is what a Nuclear War looks like

Thanks to the bellicose language of the buffoonish Trump the world presently faces what might be its gravest crisis since the cuban missile crisis, when we came within a whisker of nuclear war and the likely extinction of most of humankind. So a quick reminder what a nuclear war would mean 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Salisbury and deranged conspiracy theories

The attempted murder by poisoning of two people in Salisbury recently was despicable and should be condemned by all right thinking people. But almost as appalling in my view has been the response of some to the shocking events - namely the worrying number of people who seem determined to ignore all the evidence and identify another culprit, however bizarre or tangential their choice of 'culprits' is.

A brief recap on what happened in Salisbury : a russian defector who was branded 'a traitor' by a ruthless Russian politician who has a history of silencing opponents at home and abroad (with methods which include poison) is poisoned along with his daughter in their hometown of Salisbury. Now it doesn't require the reasoning powers of Albert Einstein to conclude from this that the most likely culprit for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter is ....er the aforementioned ruthless politician i.e. Vladimir Putin and his intelligence operatives. Indeed as the famous saying goes 'if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck'. But to judge from some of the things i've seen and read across social media in the last few days there are an alarming number of people who seem determined to exonerate the said ruthless politician and to pin the blame elsewhere.

Among the most bizarre of these alternative culprits have been claims that the EU carried out the poisonings. Favoured by kipper and brexit types the 'rationale' behind this ludicrous nonsense is that the EU dispatched a secret hit team (who knew the EU had such 'teams'?) to salisbury to snuff out the russian pair in the hope it would harm UK-Russia relations and therefore make the UK government re-think Brexit and leaving the security and solidarity offered by the EU. Thankfully however this insane nonsense hasn't gained much traction outside of the most lunatic branches of kipperdom and individuals with less than half a brain cell.

Just as bizarre perhaps, and certainly more insidious, are the claims that what occured in Salisbury was the result of a 'false flag' operation i.e. it was carried out by the british intelligence services at the behest of the UK government to distract people from some important event they don't want people thinking about, and from what ive been reading the 'event' in question seems to be their inept handling of the brexit negotiations. Deranged claptrap certainly but sadly believed by sizeable numbers of people to judge by the wide numbers sharing and posting 'false flag' hashtags all around social media last week.

And into this depressing mix comes Craig Murray's downright disturbing claim on his blog last week that the poisonings were the work of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. A former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan who resigned in protest at the illegal invasion of Iraq, and a powerful critic of other disastrous and criminal western escapades around the world, Craig Murray sadly seems to have succumbed to an unhealthy anti zionism which can result in people drifting into some extremely worrying areas 

Whenever the spectre of Mossad is invoked in order to explain some major world event people have to understand the worrying connotations which accompany such claims i.e. it fits into the racist and age old conspiracy narrative of Jews manipulating world events. 

Completely bogus of course this racist conspiracy theory manifested itself in its worst form in the shape of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and would reach its zenith in the horrifying shape of the holocaust. So for example it was no surprise that in the aftermath of the attack on New York's twin towers in 2001 that it wasn't long before claims began to surface online that it was Mossad that was behind the appalling events, often accompanied by specious claims that Jewish people didn't perish in the towers collapse (just for the record many Jews perished that day). So those who give credence to Murray's bankrupt claims about Mossad involvement in the events in Salisbury must understand that when they do so they help feed that despicable and age old anti semitic narrative. 

But perhaps we ought not to be surprised that when a major and terrible event of the type which occurred in Salisbury happens that people are eager to dismiss the 'official' narrative and to propose an alternative account of events - we do after all live in the frightening age of  'alternative facts'.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Would Jezza make a good leader of UKIP?

We all know Jeremy Corbyn's political history when it comes to the EU i.e. he was among those on the british left who regarded it as a 'capitalist club' and who think that if the UK left the EU it would lead to the creation of a british socialist utopia. Complete infantile bunkum of course but unfortunately believed by people like Jeremy Corbyn, the tankies of the CPB and assorted british trotskyist groups. In truth there's more likelihood of brexit enabling the hard right of the British tory party to "finish what Thatcher started" as Nigel Lawson gleefully exclaimed the day after the EU referendum result. So given his longtime affiliation with the eurosceptic wing of the British left it was no surprise to see that come the EU referendum Jezza was at best lukewarm in promoting his own party's policy of staying in the EU, even to the extent of not participating in any major televised debates on the issue. Indeed two years on it's still astonishing to reflect that the leader of the Labour party in the UK didn't participate in a televised national debate on arguably the most important political decision of many of our lifetimes.

And no surprise either that in the two years since the referendum Jeremy Corbyn has to all intents and purposes lined up with the Westminster tory government to ease the passage towards a hard brexit i.e. not just leaving the EU - but ending free movement of workers and leaving the single market and the customs union also (in fact i wrote about this last June). And again it has come as no surprise to see he has used his position as UK labour leader to peddle falsehoods about the EU and its single market. His favoured untruth being that being in the single market prevents public ownership - which of course is simply not true. Furthermore in this apparent eagerness to see a hard Brexit Jezza seems oblivious to the massive importance of the single market to the economies of parts of the UK like Wales and Scotland (over two thirds of both countries exports are to the EU single market).

But while his support for a hard brexit shouldn't come as a shock to any of us who have followed Jezza's political career what has come as a shock was seeing and hearing a politician with a such long and good record of opposing racism trotting out bogus right wing propaganda about EU migrants at the recent Scottish Labour party conference. It's simply not true as Jeremy Corbyn asserted in Dundee that workers from EU countries 'undercut' wages in the UK.There have been numerous independent and academic studies showing such claims are a myth, among them a study published in the run up to the referendum by the London School of Economics https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/11/eu-migrants-had-no-negative-effect-on-uk-wages-says-lse. More than that misleading claims that people from other EU states drive wages down smacks of the kind of racist myths that were propagated in the 1960s by supporters of Enoch Powell about people from afro caribbean countries.

The satirical website Newsthump published a droll article yesterday declaring that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected the new leader of Ukip http://newsthump.com/2018/03/11/jeremy-corbyn-elected-leader-of-ukip/. That's probably being a bit harsh on Jeremy Corbyn, and i'm of course not seriously suggesting he would make a good leader of Ukip. But it has to be said that when you read his comments on EU migrants and on the single market (and his vitriolic attack on the Scottish government worthy of  'project fear' during the 2014 Scottish indy Referendum) you have to conclude the next leader of Ukip would have no problem in endorsing some of the things Jeremy Corbyn said in Scotland on Friday. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Time to end Period poverty in Wales

It was great to see this week that Rhondda Cynon Taff council has supported a proposal to provide free sanitary products to schoolgirls in the area. Recent reports have shown that the scandal of 'period poverty' is a growing problem. Last year a study commissioned by the charity Plan International found that one in 10 girls in the UK cannot afford to buy sanitary products. Their report revealing that :

  • 10% had been unable to afford sanitary wear
  • 15% had struggled to afford sanitary wear
  • 14% had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues
  • 19% had changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost

And the campaign group Freedom for Girls found that there were many cases of girls in Wales not attending school during their period as a result of not being able to afford tampons and sanitary towels. A spokeswoman for the campaign telling the Good Morning Wales radio programme "It's such a scary time, especially when you are at the teenage age, and it can make that person feel anxieties, extra anxieties have an affect on their wellbeing and they feel isolated, really."It's an awful thing to have that feeling and not want to go and get an education because you're having a period."

And sadly it's not just young girls who are victims of period poverty. The consequences of nearly a decade of austerity and the resulting steep decline in the living standards of the poorest people - coupled with swingeing benefit sanctions - means that tens of thousands of adult women across the UK are regularly struggling to pay for sanitary products (Ken Loach's brilliant film 'I, Daniel Blake' gives a stark portrayal of this hidden scandal). It's surely wrong that women should have to pay for items they need as a result of female biology. Surely it's time then that sanitary products were provided free to all women and girls? If this was done the scandal of period poverty would be ended at a stroke.

Great to report then that such a move is being seriously considered in Scotland with a pilot project in Aberdeen giving sanitary towels and tampons free to all women in the area who need them. And plans are afoot to extend the scheme across the whole of Scotland. So it would be great to see the Senedd follow the excellent example being set in Scotland and by Rhondda Cynon Taff council and introduce a programme that would see sanitary products provided free to girls and women across the whole of Wales. Meaning Wales would then join Scotland in being the first nations in the world to provide sanitary products free of charge.(and with Scotland and Wales making such strong efforts to end period poverty the Westminster government would come under enormous pressure to follow suit and provide free sanitary products for girls and women in England too).