Friday, 15 December 2017

A week is certainly a long time in Welsh politics

The political week in Wales started encouragingly with the publication of a report which could see the vote extended to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales and PR introduced for local elections. Both of these measures should be welcomed as they could only serve to increase turn outs and political participation in Wales. The report also made the case for an increase in the numbers of AMs, and while the prospect of more politicians wont be met with universal support in this age of austerity it must be recognised the workload and responsibilities of Assembly members has increased markedly since the Assembly was established in 1999 - and is set to increase further with more powers coming to Wales and the numbers of MPs Wales sends to Westminster set to be significantly reduced. While it hardly seems fair that while Scotland has 129 MSPs in its Parliament and Northern Ireland has over 100 members of its Assembly Wales own Senedd has just 60 members. No surprise the only voices of dissent should come from UKIP and their fellow travelers like Rachel Banner - they of course did their utmost to prevent the people of Wales having a greater say over their own country by campaigning for a NO vote in the devolution referendums of 1997 and 2011. 

But what began as a promising week for politics in Wales took a distinct turn for the worse on Wednesday with UKIP's Gareth Bennett making what must rank as probably the most hate filled speech ever uttered in our young democracy. Glyn Morris on the excellent National Left blog has covered the sorry episode in some detail here - suffice to say i think Glyn was spot on when he likened Bennett to the disgraced US right wing bigot Roy Moore. Readers of this blog would know i was opposed to brexit - i feared the damage brexit might inflict on the welsh economy and i feared for the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK after brexit, and sad to say 18 months after the vote my fears have not been assuaged by anything the UK government has subsequently done or said. But one positive by product of brexit is that it will likely see the swift demise of UKIP and see them lose all their seats in Wales in the next elections to the Senedd. Course Gareth Bennett was at the centre of a race storm last year when he questioned the hygiene of people from eastern europe living in the Welsh capital city.

Its been a source of considerable embarrassment to ardent devolutionists like myself to see half a dozen kippers in the Senedd since May 2016 and to witness the likes of Bennett this week using language of the kind to attack ethnic minorities and transgender people you'd expect to hear from neo fascists like Britain First was sickening. But it's hardly surprising UKIP AMs should behave in such a disgraceful fashion when you consider that their own leader in the senedd (Neil Hamilton) has previously likened Welsh female politicians to prostitutes and urged political opponents to commit suicide

And sorry to say the week in Wales deteriorated further with the announcement on Thursday by the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation that they had approved Horizon's design for a nuclear reactor at the proposed Wylfa B on Anglesey. And while Wylfa B will need the final approval of the British government to go ahead - sad to report Wales has no say on whether or not large scale energy projects like nuclear power stations are foisted upon us - the prospect of a new nuclear power station in Wales has moved a big step nearer following thursday's announcement. Meanwhile the UK government has sat on proposals for a tidal lagoon in Swansea bay for what seems like an eternity

Ive written previously of the significant problems associated with nuclear power and why we should oppose the proposed Wylfa B but to briefly recap : it's a prohibitively expensive process, the waste it produces is hazardous and remains poisonous for thousands of years and has to be stored underground or arguably even worse at the bottom of the oceans. The safety aspects of nuclear power stations is patchy to say the least - we all know about the horror stories of radiation leaks at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima but last year Panorama raised real concern about safety at Sellafield while the respected academic Chris busby has produced a lot of research linking cancer and leukemia rates in children to proximity to nuclear power stations. Furthermore if a Welsh government is saddled with the clean up costs when Wylfa B closes it would certainly bankrupt a future Welsh government (the clean up costs for Sellafield for example will cost the uk government tens of billions of pounds). And the links between nuclear power and the nuclear weapons industry cannot be overlooked either -  plutonium being extracted during the production process for use in nuclear warheads.

With the development of renewables as an increasingly viable source of energy the UK should join the growing trend across the world of moving away from nuclear power and invest more and more in renewables. Germany has phased out nuclear power completely and even the US has not built a new nuclear power stations in decades. While an increasing number of countries - including Denmark, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Nicaragua -  now produce almost all their energy from renewable sources. While closer to home more of Scotland's energy now comes from  renewables than all other sources put together

The UK government should reject proposals for Wylfa B (and ditch the proposed new nuclear reactor at Hinckley point to). And it simply cannot be stressed often enough that it should really be Wales own Assembly that makes decisions on important energy matters - like whether or not a new nuclear power station should be built in Wales.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Why are ITV trying to cut out the Dragon's tongue?

In January 1985 what was then HTV Wales screened a tv programme called 'The Dragon Has Two Tongues'. An epic 13 part series the show looked at the history of Wales and the Welsh people from the earliest times right up to the early 1980s. Its two presenters were Professor Gwyn Alf Williams and the broadcaster Wynford Vaughan Thomas - quite different characters with quite different views on Wales and its history. Gwyn Alf was a marxist and advocate of welsh independence who argued the history of Wales was one of bitter national and class struggles invariably conducted against great odds, indeed at the show's conclusion he was very fearful for the prospects of Wales survival as a nation and the Welsh language and feared for the Welsh working class with Thatcherism in the ascendant in British politics.While Vaughan Thomas was a staunch British monarchsit and fiercely opposed to any notions of self government for Wales and he offered what could best be described as a British establishment view of Wales - certainly any view of welsh history which highlighted class struggle or promoted welsh nationalism was anathema to him.

Gwyn and Wynford clearly couldn't stand each other on screen - and by all accounts couldn't stand each other off screen either, but the tensions and contrasting opinions on Wales and Welsh history between the two made for compelling viewing. But so far as i'm aware the programme hasnt been broadcast for around 30 years and can only be seen in small excerpts online like this one here :

So recently there was genuine excitement among quite a few people when the Wales in the Movies Youtube channel announced they would be showing the series in its entirety for us to enjoy once again. It would also mean of course a whole new generation of people would get the opportunity to see the programme for the first time. I was horrified to learn then yesterday that ITV Wales contacted Youtube and had the show taken down and that they have requested Wales in the Movies pay them £142,000 in order to allow them to show it on Youtube. Needless to say this huge fee is way beyond the means of the enthusiastic volunteers behind Wales in the Movies.

So far as i'm aware ITV Wales have no interest in broadcasting the show again - indeed i gather a representative of the company has informed the owner of Wales in the Movies that there are rights issues which have prevented ITV from broadcasting the programme on television again. So their decision to stop Wales in the Movies making it freely available to watch on Youtube makes no sense and seems very mean spirited at the least - a mean spiritedness that means people in Wales continue to be denied the chance to see a programme which was a major landmark in Welsh broadcasting history.

Of course when i refer to ITV Wales that is something of a misnomer, ITV Wales are a franchise of the broadcaster ITV whose headquarters is in fact outside Wales in London. So it may be the case that the decision to effectively nobble the Wales in the Movies Youtube channel in this way was taken at ITV's HQ in London. And this illustrates a problem which springs up all too frequently when the subject of broadcasting in Wales crops up ie much of the tv, radio, print and online media people watch, listen to or read in Wales is in fact owned or controlled outside Wales.This is an alarming state of affairs and certainly a good way of beginning to address this unacceptable situation would be for the UK government to devolve broadcasting to the Senedd in Cardiff at the earliest opportunity.

I would urge anyone reading this who shares my concerns with ITV's heavy handed behaviour on this matter to contact the company to complain and to ask them to reconsider their decision to block its broadcast on Youtube (see link below). I've also posted links to Wales in the Movies Facebook page and Youtube channel so that people may contact them to offer their support.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

When Fascism becomes 'mainstream' start to panic

Imagine the scene. You put the news on one day and the lead story is that the UK prime minister has been retweeting materials online promoted by the notorious American racist group the KKK. In such a scenario it's likely Theresa May's tenure as British PM would come to a swift conclusion - i'd be surprised if she'd survive 24 hours. Alas there's no likelihood of her American counterpart Donald Trump suffering a swift end to his presidency because he retweeted materials promoted by the British neo fascist group Britain First.

Trump was elected after a campaign which demonised muslims and which pandered to the racist tropes of America's Alt Right and his presidency has continued accordingly - he singled out muslims in trying to implement an air travel ban and he pandered to american neo nazis during the events at Charlottesville. Trump tries to justify his bigotry on the grounds these are 'national security' issues yet he overlooks the fact the biggest acts of domestic terrorism to have occurred during his presidency - at a church in virginia and on music goers in las vegas - were nothing to do with Muslims or immigrants. In fact those massacres highlight the issue of the easy availability of gun ownership in the United States - but Trump of course is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and will do nothing to make it more difficult for anyone to buy a weapon. .

The British Far right group Britain First must think Christmas has come early. The most powerful individual in the world has paid them the compliment of promoting their lies and propaganda - it's the kind of publicity obscure neo fascists could only dream of. And in a sign of their new found fame their deputy leader Jayda Fransen was interviewed on channel 4 news last night, and doubtless we can expect to see this loathsome bigot making further appearances in the media as a result of Trump's despicable and brainless actions. The odious Fransen has become infamous for among other things terrorising worshipers trying to attend mosques and participating in marches with neo nazis in Poland and France. Britain First have also been cultivating links with former loyalist terrorist groups and she was arrested following an inflammatory speech she made in Belfast last week.

And that is what all of us who abhor racism and fascism have most to fear from this sorry affair - that far right and neo nazi groups and individuals like Fransen will be now be treated in the same fashion as mainstream political movements and given a ready platform in the mass media to peddle their lies and hate. If that starts to happen we should start to worry - because we know what happened the last time fascists and nazis were treated as part of the mainstream in the 1930s.

Monday, 27 November 2017

No sports man or woman should be afraid to Come Out

The picture above this post is the badge of the Welsh premier league football team Swansea City as it appeared over the weekend - changed by the club to demonstrate its support for the Rainbow Laces campaign, a campaign created by LGBT equality campaigners Stonewall to address the issue of homophobia in sport. And there were similar demonstrations of support for this excellent campaign at sporting events throughout the weekend right across the UK

Until recent years the issue of homophobia in sports - particularly in 'macho' type sports like football and rugby - has remained something of a taboo. So while incidences of racism are thankfully a rare event in modern sport, and largely confined to right wing football hooligan movements like the Football lads Alliance sadly the same cannot be said of homophobia.The game of professional football has existed for 150 years but you'd still struggle to name even a handful of gay players or managers. I'm a keen sports fan and about the only one i can think of is the late Justin Fashanu, who it has to be said was treated despicably

And there's been an equal dearth of Rugby players who have felt able to come out. The welsh referee Nigel Owens came out a decade ago but on the playing side i can again only think of one individual - the former Wales captain Gareth Thomas who came out it in 2009. Gareth is to be commended for his very brave decision almost a decade ago to announce he was gay and since then he's been a vocal campaigner against homophobia in sports, earlier this year making the excellent documentary for the BBC 'Hate in the Beautiful Game'. Worth noting however that Gareth was no longer a leading rugby union player when he came out in 2009, he'd retired from International rugby union two years earlier and would soon leave the game to play rugby league. You wonder how Gareth's announcement would have been received if he'd made the announcement a few years earlier when he was captaining Wales to a grand slam?

You'd like to think it would have been received as positively as it was when he did come out in 2009 but i'm not so sure. And it's the fact that here we are in the year 2017 yet so many sports men and woman feel unable to publicly discuss their sexual orientation which should concern us. To repeat it's quite extraordinary that it's difficult to think of any current players in major world team sports like football, rugby and cricket who are openly gay or bisexual. Of course people are under no obligation to make any public comments about their sexuality but given the absence of any high profile gay rugby players or footballers for example it's really hard not to conclude they do not do so because they fear the reaction they might get if they did - either from fellow players, managers and coaches or sports fans. This is a frankly unacceptable state of affairs and we need to create a climate in such sports and among both players and fans where people shouldn't feel they have to hide their sexuality for fear of abuse or discrimination. 

Clearly there's a long way to go before that happens, Gareth Thomas's documentary showed the continuing extent of homophobia on British football terraces for example. Of course homophobic chanting is a hate crime and you wonder why football clubs and the authorities allow it to go on in their stadiums? That said laws on their own are sadly not enough to change some peoples attitudes and behaviour. We've had anti racist legislation for decades but the alarming rise in hate crimes since brexit and the growth in activity online of the far right  shows that you have to also educate people if you want to change their hearts and minds. Hopefully campaign's like Rainbow Laces and the demonstrations of support we saw for LGBT sportspeople on the weekend are an important step in that direction and towards silencing the bigots.

Some useful links to campaigns promoting equality and inclusion in sport :

Friday, 24 November 2017

'Pop Culture' can tell us a lot about society

With the sad news this week that the actor Rodney Bewes had passed away my thoughts turned to the tv programme with which he is most strongly associated - the Likely Lads. Set in Newcastle and written by the brilliant writing team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais the show shone a humorous light on the lives of two working class men as they made their way in life in the changing world of the 1960s and early 70s. Have to say i was too young to have seen the shows early incarnation but caught it's 1970s reprise as 'Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads' and i enjoyed the show then and have when ive watched it numerous times since. But looking more deeply into the shows 1970s run out it's interesting to see that the changes that were taking place in the two principle characters lives reflected the changes that were taking place in wider society in general.

Bob's character had become a 'white collar' worker, bought his own home on the suburban 'Elm Lodge' estate and began to enjoy a lifestyle that a few years before would have been seen as middle class ie joining the squash club, holidaying abroad and dining out at 'upmarket' restaurants. Meanwhile 'Terry' (played by James Bolam) was an unskilled labourer finding it increasingly difficult to find employment as the post war industrial boom subsided and who lived at the top of a tower block on a sprawling Gateshead council estate. And what i liked about the show - and this was rare for a sitcom - it didn't pretend these issues of  emerging social class differences between the two old friends didnt exist. Furthermore and again rare for a sitcom it didn't ignore politics either. So while Rodney Bewes character Bob was still a labour voter as the show drew to a close in the mid 70s (Bewes was a committed socialist in real life incidentally)  you can see in the character he plays that in a few short years time he would be one of the many home owning, white collar workers (the C2s) who would turn to Thatcher and the tories in their droves in the late 70s and 80s.

Another popular 70s sitcom which could be said to have anticipated major political change (and this may surprise a lot of people) was the Good Life. Indeed in many way Penelope Keith's character 'Margot' was the essence of what would emerge as 'Thatcherism' in the 1980s. It was the real life equivalents of Margot (in the shape of right wing grassroots tories like Teresa Gorman) who would play a key role in helping to break the famous strike at Grunwick in 1977. A defeat for the unions which signaled  that a power shift was taking place in british society and which encouraged the likes of Nicholas Ridley to draw up the anti trades union legislation thatcher would implement in the 1980s (much of which sadly still survives today). While the Leadbetter's next door neighbours 'The Goods' were even further ahead of their time. Husband Tom (Richard Briers) eschewed 'a good job', the consumer society and material wealth in order that he and his wife 'Barbara' could 'grow their own' and become 'self sufficient'  (an environmentally conscious anti consumerist approach to life which quite a few others might ascribe too now but which was virtually unheard of in mid 70s Britain). Certainly the modern Green parties which exist in Scotland, England and Wales were born in people like the Goods.

Also set in late 70s suburbia but also important in terms of anticipating social change was Carla Lane's 'Butterflies'.The principal character 'Ria' (Wendy Craig) was a married middle aged woman - what quaintly used to be called a 'housewife' - and her only function in life appeared to be maintaining a home and cooking (hilariously badly) for her boring dentist husband and two teenage sons. And while she certainly loved her husband and her two sons - rejecting the opportunity of love and another life with another man in heartbreaking fashion  - Ria longed for something more meaningful in her life than just being a 'housewife' and a mother (doubtless a feeling many women of that generation could identify with). Thankfully in the decades which have elapsed since Butterflies was first screened in 1979 the opportunities for women to have more in life than just being domestic chattels are far greater than they were then.

I've highlighted three tv shows from a single decade to illustrate how popular culture can sometimes anticipate change - i could probably have picked different shows from different decades to make the same point. So the next time you catch something on the telly it might be worth paying it some attention - it could be a glimpse of what's around the corner.  Let's just hope the mindless 'reality' driven trivia which seems to dominate contemporary tv schedules isn't a glimpse of our future.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

We should stop hitting children

If you or i or anyone living anywhere in the UK were to strike an adult it would be classed as an assault and we could be arrested and prosecuted for it. Yet millions of children throughout the UK have no such protection under the law. At present the UK is one of the few parts of Europe where it is still legal for parents and carers to hit their children. I say hitting and not 'smacking' because let's be clear that is what we are talking about here and it is revealing that dozens of states around the world have also outlawed hitting children

So i am delighted and proud that this week on International Children's day the Welsh Assembly began steps to outlaw hitting children in Wales The claims of dinosaurs opposed to this law change that it is unenforceable and would lead to thousands of parents in Wales being hauled before the courts are groundless, nothing of the kind has occurred in those many countries in Europe and around the world where hitting children is banned.


Friday, 17 November 2017

Even Scrooge might have balked at Universal Credit

If further evidence was needed what a disaster the British tory government's 'Universal Credit' is it came with a shocking report released yesterday which showed that tens of thousands of households -  40,000 children among them - will receive zero income over Christmas.The Peabody Trust estimated that 60,000 households will make new claims for Universal Credit in the run up to Christmas but because of the bizarre and cruel payments system which has been devised they wont receive a single payment for 6 weeks.

In his famous novel 'A Christmas Carol' the brilliant 19th century author and social reformer Charles Dickens gave the world Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly miserable and cruel figure who thought the poor were to blame for their own poverty and that the workhouse was too soft an option for them. But it's doubtful even someone with as little compassion as Scrooge would have thought up a system which means tens of thousands of people - many of them children - face the very real prospect of near starvation over Christmas (scores of food banks have warned they cant cope as it is). And the Peabody trust's warning is of particular concern to us here in Wales with Universal Credit seeing a roll out from this month in places like Cardiff, Newport, Neath and Swansea.

Course in the novel Scrooge undergoes a 'pauline conversion' and rushes round to Bob Cratchit's house with the biggest turkey he can find. But however entertaining and warm hearted an ending that was that it was fiction - no one will be rushing round to the tens of thousands of households who face surviving without any income in the next 6 weeks. Also worth mentioning this post is being written on the same day BBC television screens its 'Children in Need' programme - what are the odds the tens of thousands of children living in households presently applying for Universal Credit wont get a mention on the beeb's annual celeb laden charity fest?