Monday, 21 April 2014

UNDER ATTACK?

It was Peter the Pain (Hain) wittering on, on Radio 4's ‘Question Time’ from Chepstow the other week, that started me train of thought, he was having a go at the Lib Dems for not defending Wales. Naturally the panel contained no Plaid representatives but there would be Plaid representative the following week on the edition from Stroud. This sort of thing is now a simple irritant, perhaps you get used to this sort of sort of institutionalised not quite bipartisan behaviour from the BBC after a while.

I digress; it was the Pete the Pain’s behaviour that convinced me that this was the latest party attack / defence line from Labour Party HQ. Already the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, had claimed that the Conservatives by criticising the NHS and the education system in Wales were actually attacking Wales and Welsh values. While this is a less than subtle response to David Cameron's attacks on Labour in Wales it is potentially quite effective.

The basic principle of distraction is the substitution of a headline grabbing untruth, as with most blatant untruths it's simple and the more times it is repeated the more believable it will become.  What's actually occurred was in the run up to the recent Welsh Conservative Conference, DC was trying to score some political points at the expense of the Labour party in Wales (and Westminster).

Labour in Wales's less than subtle response to this was to suggest that the Labour Party in Wales is standing up for Wales and that it is the natural choice for Welsh voters. The problem is that this approach falls short of reality. Even the most disinterested observer may have noted that the Labour party in Wales (and Westminster) are split (if not downright dysfunctional) over their attitudes to devolution and to Wales.

Reasonably regularly Labour in Westminster's MP's who represent (electorally at least) geographically Welsh seats have put their own personal and Labour party self interest ahead of the Welsh national interest and the needs of the Welsh people. Part of the reason for this is that the transfer of more powers to the National Assembly will mean the call to reduce the number of Welsh MP's in Westminster will grow. The English electorate (and English MP's) will question the validity of Welsh over representation in Westminster and their influence on English only legislative matters.

One pretty predictable result would be fewer jobs for the boys - sorry fewer opportunities for Labour elected representatives to become geographically Welsh MPs. This is only a matter of time; the Con Dems have already looked at this once before dropping it as the coalition partners fell out of the democratically disastrous referendum on electoral reform. No doubt this lead too much relief on the part of our largely sitting Labour MP's in Westminster as this particular boundary commission bullet was dodged. This issue, is not however, going to go away...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

FOLLOW THE MONEY...

Barely a few weeks ago, President  Viktor Yanukovych’s authoritarian government fell to a popular revolution and hundreds of ordinary Ukrainians swarmed into  the 140-hectare grounds of the luxurious Presidential estate. Here they caught a glimpse of the stunningly luxurious lifestyle that their former President had been enjoying at their expense. Shocked Ukrainians found evidence of an extraordinary self  indulgent (if somewhat tacky) opulence came with gold bathroom fittings, marble floors, a private zoo and a full size galleon (for parties) in the grounds.  
In the chaos that followed the revolution a small but dedicated group of journalists have been chasing down thousands of hastily dumped documents that were found in the presidential estates lake. The recovered documents contained proof (of the former Presidents extravagant tastes) and also documented the systematic bribery, corruption, nepotism and state sponsored violence that have scared the Ukraine in recent years.
The paper trail continues to grow, stretching across Kyiv, the Ukraine and elsewhere (including perhaps to the doors of many large European banks) as other incriminating papers keep turning up. These waterlogged documents may provide crucial evidence for potential future criminal proceedings. Investigative reporters have been working around the clock to dry and sort out the mountains of damp paperwork.
The relatively rapid collapse of the corrupt  oligarchic regime in Kyiv no doubt set alarm bells ringing in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the other corrupt self serving oligarchies. Not so much for the loss of President Yanukovych and his ruling clique, but, because it provides an example of what is possible to people in Belarus, Russia and elsewhere when it comes to overthrowing their own oppressive and corrupt governments.
The revolution has triggered a no doubt long planned (but hastily enacted) series of events in the Crimea and delivered President Putin a convenient military and strategic success for Russia. The Kremlin sponsored events in Crimea (and now eastern Ukraine) have been augmented by a Russian media frenzy. This serves to distract the Russian people from making any potentially awkward comparisons between elite corruption in Ukraine and the systematic corruption that lies at the heart of President Putin’s Russia.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

THIS MAKES A PLEASANT CHANGE

There is an old saying along the line of if you stand in the same place long enough then eventually everything will go passed you again. The re-opening of several Gwent police stations by Ian Johnston, the local police and crime commissioner (PCC) , should be welcomed. This bold decision and effectively reverses cuts made  to front desk services at the seven stations (out of 17 stations) that were originally closed to the public back in 2012 (with the loss of 19 jobs). The package of cuts was originally aimed to save around £500,000 as part of £34 million pounds worth of budget savings (by 2015). Gwent Police are reopening Police stations in Caerphilly, Chepstow, Maindee, Monmouth, Pontypool, Risca and Ystrad Mynach. The changes mean that Abertillery police station will now be open to the public on Thursday and Friday from 09:00 to 17:00, with Brynmawr open Monday to Wednesday from 09:00 to 17:00, it is worth noting that previously both these Police stations had only been open for a few hours a week. In Monmouthshire,  Monmouth and Chepstow police stations are also now open to the public from 9am to 5pm, five days a week. Initially the station front counters will be staffed by community support officers (CSOs) until Gwent Police recruit station enquiry officers (SEOs). Front counter services are to be reviewed after 12 months and levels of us will also be monitoured. I for one, hope that this bold step works out, and some of our communities can retain their (open) police stations.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

MEANWHILE OVER THE BRIDGE...

Interestingly enough, while Labour has problems with devolution in Wales, it is beginning to look like this is not the case over the bridge. In England, Labour has promised English cities more powers over transport, housing and employment to help close the "productivity gap" with London. If elected at the next Westminster General election, the Labour Party has pledged to hand £20 billion pounds to councils to spend on skills, back-to-work schemes and infrastructure, so says current Labour leader Ed Miliband. Ed has suggested that the Con Dem government has missed opportunities to give English towns and cities the economic levers they needed to generate new jobs. This announcement followed a review by the former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, a future Labour government would invite every local authority, local enterprise partnership and university (in England) to work together in partnership with local businesses to bid for resources. Apparently the doubling of existing devolved funding would amount to the "biggest devolution of powers to towns and cities in a hundred years." Perhaps the party formerly known as New Labour is finally beginning to speak for England. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

I AM SO, SOO SORRY…

It came up a few times on the door step whilst I was canvassing on Saturday morning; exactly as it did in 2009, which did not surprise me one bit. To most indifferent observers, the current culture Secretary Maria Miller’s apology could be described as being an insincere apology at best. The public apology to the House of Commons, last week, came after a committee of MPs intervened to over independent investigators who had probed Maria Miller's expenses. The row over the culture secretary's expenses has dragged on since quietly since December 2012 when the Daily Telegraph reported she had claimed £90,718 in expenses towards mortgage payments on a house in south London that the MP shared with her parents. The parliamentary commissioner for standards, conducted an investigation into the culture secretary's expenses, and ruled she should repay £45,800 but MP’s on the House of Commons Committee on Standards, who have the final say on issues on ethics and disciplinary matters, reduced the amount that needed to be repaid to £5,800

An insincere apology at best...
The 13-strong committee which is largely made up of MPs has three independent members who are not allowed to vote. The authorisation of expenses was transferred to an outside body after a massive public outcry in 2009 about revelations about inappropriate claims made in the past. Despite the public anger, complaints about MPs conduct (including allegations they have abused the expenses system) are investigated by the parliamentary commissioner, who is overseen by the Committee for Standards. The Committee aside from ordering the culture secretary to pay back £5,800, also noted that Mrs Miller's submission of "incomplete" evidence to the inquiry had breached the MPs' code of conduct and said she should apologise to MPs "for her attitude to the commissioner's inquiries". The Committee also released emails which revealed Mrs Miller told the commissioner investigating her that she might go over her head to ask MPs to intervene. The row, if nothing else reveals that the public perception that their still appears to be one rule for some of them (MP’s) and one rule for the rest of us.  

Thursday, 3 April 2014

NO SURPRISE THERE THEN...

The debate surrounding the debate around the Wales Bill (and the important related issue of fair funding for Wales) which took at Westminster has flushed out some blatant contradictions within the party formerly known as New Labour both in Wales and in Westminster. So rather than bringing clarity to the Labour position on devolution in relation to further financial powers and fair funding for Wales we have ended up with an increasingly bizarre series of contradictions.

Differences of opinions (which have existed for some time) have now fully emerged between Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith MP (an individual with diverse and contradictory opinions on the tax lockstep as he is both for it and against it) in relation to devolution and how it should or should not develop. Whatever Labour in Wales and Westminster is or is not saying about devolution in Wales, they are saying something different in relation to Scotland.

People may well ask just exactly who speaks for Labour on devolution and just exactly who speaks for Wales. Some of this, I think, can be put can be down to simple ineptitude and some of it can be put down to  barely disguised self-interest on the part of Labour in Westminster MP’s. I suggest this as some of these peoples comfortable jobs will be on the line if Wales gains more powers and the number of Welsh MP’s are understandably reduced.

Most of the responsibility for this  confused and inherently contradictory Labour vision for Wales is down to the fact that Labour in Wales remains deeply split over devolution. The problem is that this shambolic situation does not help the people of Wales very much who are struggling with the effects of the Con Dem Government’s ill-thought out austerity programme. It also further strains the paper thin credibility of Labour in Wales's claim to be standing up for Wales.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

DYING TO VOTE

Yesterday (Tuesday), the 1st of April 2014, was the last day for Afghans to register to vote for the Friday 5th April presidential and provincial elections. Millions of Afghans have stood in long lines and defied the threat of attacks from militants to obtain their voter cards. A significant number of those Afghans who rushed to register to vote in this year’s elections have been women.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, has reported that around 3.8 million new voters have been registered for the 5th April elections. More than one-third of these new voters are women. That's a significant number in a deeply conservative country like Afghanistan, where women continue to face considerable obstacles in exercising their basic rights.

Many Afghan women are understandably concerned about the prospect of losing some of the real and hard-won gains that have been secured over the last 10 years. Something that may well occur once the majority of foreign combat troops leave at the end of this year. Already, a noticeable drawback has been noted when it comes to women's rights even before the foreign troops leave. Female lawmakers have been unsuccessful in their attempts to outlaw violence against women.

Conservative male lawmakers have looked to reintroduce stoning as the punishment for adultery, not to mention a law that prevents victims of violence and abuse from testifying against husbands and other relatives. At the same time, the number of seats reserved for women in provincial councils has been reduced, prompting criticism from local and international rights groups.

That said, for this set of elections, for the moment at least is different, a number of the presidential candidates have highlighted the importance of female voters in this election, with three of them choosing women as their second vice-presidential running mates. One of most high-profile woman among the presidential tickets is Habiba Sarabi, the second vice-presidential running mate for Zalmai Rasul, a former foreign minister who is one of the favourites to become the country's next president.

If the Rasul Presidential tickect wins the poll, then Sarabi would become Afghanistan's first female vice presidents. Sarabi, a 57-year-old pharmacist, has already made history by becoming Afghanistan’s first female provincial governor back in 2005. In a bid to encourage women to vote, Sarabi has attended many of Rasul's election rallies, telling women to seize their opportunity to determine their country's future direction.

At the same time, Rula, the wife of candidate Ashraf Ghani, has campaigned beside her husband. Rula, a Lebanese Christian, she has attended numerous meetings and rallies, previously an extremely rare occurrences in a country where the current first lady almost never appears in public. When compared to previous elections, thousands of Afghan women and girls have attended election rallies, participated in candidates' conventions, or worked as campaigners in# the 2014 vote.