Friday, 12 September 2014

TIME FOR A LIVING WAGE

Plaid Cymru has unveiled its first signature policy for the 2015 General Election Campaign - a Living Wage that would secure a pay rise for more than 250,000 Welsh workers. A Living Wage would improve living standards, help create jobs, and boost local economies due to people having more money in their pockets to spend. 

The policy was just one of many Plaid Cymru proposals to help businesses and employers alike such as cutting VAT in the tourism sector, offering SMEs lower business rates, and developing a Welsh Bank to lend to small business. 



Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Social Security spokesperson speaking ahead of the policy launch said:

"Plaid Cymru believes that nobody in Wales should be paid less than they need to live upon. That is why we pledge to give more than 250,000 Welsh workers a pay rise by making the Living Wage a key commitment for the 2015 General Election campaign. 



"In a time when City fat cats are rewarded for failure, and ordinary families are suffering a slump in living standards, this is a policy aimed at tackling the UK's "most unequal state in Europe" status. 



"Currently the UK Government subsidises big business to pay poverty wages by setting the minimum wage too low and then topping them up with tax credits to enable people to afford basic provisions. 


"By raising the minimum wage to be in line with the Living Wage, we will be able to raise living standards and boost local economies as people will have more money in their pockets to spend. 



"Analysis shows that it is more commonly women, the under 30s and part-time workers who suffer most from low wages. A Living Wage would ensure that none of these groups are left behind and improve the lot of entire households, not just individuals. 



"This is just one of a wide range of Plaid Cymru policies designed to help employers and workers alike. These include cutting VAT for the tourism industry, cutting business rates for SMEs, and establishing a Bank of Wales that would lend to small businesses. 



"While Labour, Tories and Lib Dems join in the desperate scramble to save the Union and putting Wales' best interests on the back burner yet again, Plaid Cymru is getting on with the job of delivering a more just and prosperous Welsh nation."

Thursday, 11 September 2014

HE’S BEHIND YOU…


He's back...
Back on the 13th June 2013 I wondered whether of not we had seen the last of Leighton Andrews AM, former Education Minister, who was sacked for opposing his own governments policy? I thought probably not, as the pool of talent (and I used the term very loosely) in Labour in Wales obviously left a great deal to be desired. Sadly it was an easy win, but, I and no doubt many others predicted that much rather like a pantomime villain or former popular public enemy number one Dr Fu Manchu, we shall hear from him again? Some 18 months or so later he’s back

Sunday, 7 September 2014

SAVE OUR NHS FROM EU-US TRADE DEAL

Plaid Cymru has called for the UK Westminster Government to explicitly exempt the NHS from US private buy-outs, which the questionably beneficial new free trade deal between the EU and US could enable. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) which is aimed at opening up the EU market to the US and vice-versa. Some Member States have already ensured exemptions; from initial negotiations e.g. France has protected its film industry from the free trade deal.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Minister for Health Elin Jones, after meetings with EU officials in Brussels last week said:
"Negotiations relating to this US trade deal must ensure the NHS is protected from potential private interference. The NHS is a treasure and is rooted in social considerations. As such, it should not be subject to the principles of a free market. There is no place for profiteering in our health service.
"The French have ensured protection for an important aspect of their public life and the UK government must do the same for the NHS. If Westminster refuses to do so, it would be reasonable to suspect that this is part of their wider privatisation agenda that we see in England. We should be very concerned that the financial implications of this would have huge consequences for Wales and could threaten the way health services are delivered.
Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans MEP added:
"EU governments, including the UK, of course, gave the European Commission the power to negotiate this trade deal with the USA on our behalf. But even the European Parliament hasn't seen the negotiating mandate. Discussions are all taking place behind closed doors. We know that the TTIP as it stands, contains the Investor State Dispute Resolution or ISDS, a provision that allows private companies to sue governments if their profits are affected by actual or even proposed legislation. Because of widespread objection, the Commission has held a consultation on this and I very much hope the Welsh Government has responded on our behalf.
"We must ensure that the NHS is exempt from the TTIP in the interests of all the people of Wales and the Welsh Government is seriously failing in its duty if it has not called for this.
While most people have probably never heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) – an agreement between the EU and the USA, which is being promoted as the biggest ever free trade agreement. The devil may well lie in the detail, as the TTIP, if it is agreed, contains a number of highly controversial proposals which could seriously undermine workers’ rights, affect agriculture, weaken food hygiene, lower quality standards and affect digital privacy laws.

International trade is an important component part of our economy and if we want to a strong and vibrant Welsh economy then exports of quality Welsh products around the world will play their part. TTIP, however, won’t help us much because in its current form it is little more than a charter for multinational corporations to make more money at everyone else’s expense. The problem is that the plans for a free trade zone between the EU and the USA are based on cutting costs, something that will be achieved by lowering quality standards and rolling back hard earned workers’ employment rights.

Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans, has noted that probably the section of the agreement that should seriously worry most people are the plans for ‘Investor state dispute settlement’ which would allow foreign (basically US) companies to take governments to court if they act in a way that could reduce investors’ profits. Understandably a whole variety of concerned groups including Friends of the Earth Europe have warned that this clause in particular could be invoked by US companies if European governments introduce legislation to improve workers’ rights, including pay, or to improve health or environmental legislation.

The impact could be far reaching, for example, if at some point a future Welsh Government improved workers’ rights by securing a living wage or ending zero hours contracts or if they enacted strong environmental legislation to combat climate change - then they could be liable to be sued by multinational companies. Already the free-trade agreement in North America, NAFTA, lead to legal threats to Canada because of a moratorium on fracking in Quebec. It is unacceptable for democratic governments to end up in a position where multi-national companies can take them to court when they have acted in the best interests of their own people, rather than simply acting as agents to assist corporate profits to be ramped up to the max.

What perhaps is most disturbing, aside from the fact that, not untypically, that most the discussions and negotiations have been carried out behind closed doors, when what’s needed is an honest and open debate about what TTIP should include, based on what is best for people, not just for multi-national companies and US trade. We should all be concerned that US senators have already begun to call for an end to European specialist product definitions which act a mark of quality, in Wales they include Welsh beef and lamb, as well as Pembrokeshire Early potatoes and Halen Mon.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

STOP THE WAR IN UKRAINE DEMONSTRATION

Stop The War In Ukraine Demonstration - 11: - 19:00 Open Market Area Newport City Centre - 4th September 2014

Saturday, 30 August 2014

STOP THE WAR

The NATO road show is here the helicopters and wall to wall parked up riot vans might have been a clue and the fact that there are more coppers on the streets than in New York. NATO is firmly dug in the centre of Cardiff and on the north eastern fringes of Newport in and around the Celtic Manor (in the historic Vale of Usk). 

Anti-War protests - Ukrainian style (AP)

In Newport and Cardiff people are understandably complaining about the disruption caused by the NATO summit. The disruption is ironically a result of other people making decisions on our behalf – ‘Let’s give put the summit in Wales, it will keep them (the Welsh) happy and quiet, make them feel important, etc.’ – hence the farcical arguments over the logo - this has that patronising Westminster attitude to the periphery written all over.

Many people in the south east will have little choice but to live with any disruption and any traffic chaos. I suspect that the people of eastern Ukraine would prefer columns of VIP limos rolling through their towns and along their highways to columns of Russian tanks. People might moan about NATO but I suspect that it has always been relatively easy to leave NATO by way of comparison with leaving the old Warsaw Pact.

Hordes (according to the Police, not that many according to the protestors) of noisy protestors are apparently coming to protest in Newport. We even have the added joy of hosting a probably unwanted (by most of the people of Newport – as if they were ever going to be asked) so called ‘peace camp’.  All this inconvenience in truth pales into insignificance by way of comparison with what is going in eastern Ukraine and Syria and north western Iraq.

NSATO satellite photos (REUTERS) 

I suspect that some of the older former fellow travellers who will be happily protesting on successive Saturday’s in Newport against NATO would I suspect have been quite happy for the Soviet Union – that prison of peoples - to have survived. They tend to self-selecting when it comes to causes and probably would have remained silent (had they been around) when the old USSR invaded Hungary (in 1956) and Czechoslovakia (in 1968) yet raised their voices over Vietnam.

It’s the selective silence of some of the demonstrators that’s quite interesting, silence over the slaughter in Congo (formerly Zaire), silence over the genocide in South Sudan (and little support for their struggle to achieve independence), the silence over East Timor during the long murderously brutal Indonesian occupation and a continuing silence over West Papua. Not to mention the silence over Tibet, which continues to endure a brutal occupation at the hands of the Peoples Republic of China.

My sympathies are with the victims of Russia’s blatant aggression in the Ukraine and the victims of IS (formerly ISIS) in Iraq and Syria rather than the anti-NATO protestors. Few of the protestors will I suspect offer any support to the people of the Ukraine or those trying to fight of IS (ISIS). NATO might have its faults but public collective security did the job and prevented the western half of Europe form being overrun by the Soviet Union in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

Human Rights Watch has incidentally announced that pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine have been (and are) "regularly" detaining and torturing civilians. Human Rights Watch reports that fighters supporting rebel strongholds in the region have "captured hundreds of civilians" including journalists, pro-Ukrainian political activists and in some cases their family members since they took control of the region back in April 2014. Over 2,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Ukraine should understandably be a key issue on Friday, as NATO released satellite images showing Russian forces inside Ukraine and has suggested that more than 1,000 troops were operating there. US President Barack Obama has accused Russia of being responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The President said the fighting was not the result of a home-grown uprising but of "deep Russian involvement".

The new satellite images make Russia’s role in the crisis pretty clear. Heavy fighting continues near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Rebel forces are trying to capture the city but Ukrainian government troops are digging in. Since Thursday the insurgents (funded, directed and supported by Russia) have seized the south-eastern coastal town of Novoazovsk.

Much of the current crisis in Ukraine and NATO’s poor relations with Russia are a result of shortsighted bad decisions. Russia a few years ago was openly humiliated over Kosovo by the US (and NATO). The West failed to help Russia during the painful transition from a collapsed Soviet Union to the post Soviet economic reality.


Rather than help, support and assistance all Russia got was bad advice in relation to a brutal rapid privatisation process that shattered the old Soviet economy and paved the way for the rise of the Oligarchs. The most important side effect of this was that any prospects of the emergence of a stable democratic Russia were dashed the consequences of which we all have to live with now. As for the demo’s 10,000 people waving Ukrainian flag and calling for action might impress me…

Thursday, 21 August 2014

NOTHING QUITE LIKE IT…

It’s nice to see that finally there is a degree of consensus, in relation to the problem of the Severn bridge tolls, even if it took a while to develop. With the Lib Dem’s potentially facing electoral obliteration their pledge to abolish the Severn Bridge tolls should still be welcomed. Their record in Government curbing some of the baser Thatcherite urges of the Conservatives (or not) will I am sure come in for much scrutiny in the countdown to Poling day.

An unsubsidised toll bridge near us...
When it comes to the much-disliked Severn Bridge tolls, the often ignored literal elephant in the room is the subsidy that is regularly applied to the Humber Bridge. Samuel Johnson said amongst other things that there is nothing quite like the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. Perhaps the prospect of being hung out to dry electorally has prompted this sudden interest in the Severn Bridge Tolls and their impact on our economy and hard pressed commuters.

When last in office at Westminster, the party formerly known as New Labour chose to quietly (and regularly) subsidise the Humber Bridge tolls, yet, it made no move what so ever towards doing anything about dealing with the tax on jobs, businesses and commuters which are passed off as the Severn bridge tolls. This may go some way to explaining at least to some degree why our local Labour MP’s do little beyond trotting out the same old tired press releases bemoaning the failure of the Government to do anything about the tolls.

What’s Interesting is that the Humber Bridge subsidy has been continued by the Con Dem Coalition Government.  This is odd to say the least as this is one of the most ideologically driven governments that we have seen in recent years, having driven the post Thatcherite ‘free market’ ideology into wholly new areas.

Yet, this coalition government has shown no inclination to curb the Humber Bridge state subsidy or offer to help Welsh commuters and businesses out with a simular subsidy. It is worth noting that while in Government, the Lib Dem half of this largely Conservative coalition Government has also shown until now no inclination towards curbing the Severn Bridge Tolls, mitigating their impact or pretty much anything else in relation to the tolls. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

FINISHED WITH THE WAR

It’s important to remember that the First World War was divisive from day one, people had different opinions on the war then as well as now, both at home and at the front. While pacifists and some politicians opposed the war on principle (there were some well managed high level resignations and heated debate within the Cabinet in the days before the war began) they were not alone in questioning the validity of the war.

Save for Lloyd George’s barely concealed political opportunism there was a real possibility that Britain’s entry into the conflict might have been delayed or may well might never have taken place at all. For many people the principle of Belgium’s independence was enough, it was certainly enough for the Cabinet, combining both principal and political expediency. 

The war in Europe meant that the UK Government could avoid a civil war in Ireland over Home Rule. It also touched upon a genuine and historic English strategic necessity - that of preserving Belgium’s independence fulfilled a long term strategic necessity in relation to control of Flanders. The problem was that war of Belgium’s independence became almost inevitably war over other things especially other peoples Empires.  


The war that most of the volunteers signed up to fight in 1914 and 1915 was not the war they ended up fighting, it became something else, something that prompted Siegfried Sassoon (the Poet) and a decorated serving soldier (in July 1917)  to send  a letter entitled ‘Finished with the War: A Soldiers Declaration’ which ended up being published in The Times (and other newspapers) and read out in the House of Commons, he wrote:

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of agression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.

Sassoon (Who had been awarded the Military Cross) narrowly escaped courts martial, was declared unfit for service and treated for shell shock. Yet he returned to the front (as did his fellow poet Wilfred Owen) where he was wounded in August 1918. The letter, which is still powerful even today, should remind us that despite the image presented by the commemoration ceremonies people’s attitudes to the war were not uniform even amongst serving soldiers. 

We should not diminish or cheapen the memories of those who fought, who served, who survived and who died by simplifying them or hiding the reasons (both complex and simple) as to why people served and fought or chose not to. Neither should we gloss over the exceptionally poor statesmanship and the bad decisions made by the ruling elites that plunged Europe (and other parts of the world) into four years of bloody conflict the legacies of which are still with us today.