Saturday, 31 March 2012

Friday, 30 March 2012


Afghanistan's top religious council has said women should not mix with men in school, work or other aspects of daily life. The Ulema Council has also said that women should not travel without a male relative in a statement outlining the rights and duties of women under Islam. The comments by senior clerics have been welcomed by President Hamid Karzai. Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns that Ulema Council statement as been backed by President Karzai. Human Rights Campaigners suspect that the timing of the statement is no co-incidence, merely part of the president's outreach to the Taliban. This statement may be part of a push to do a peace deal with the insurgents, activists fear that the Afghan leader may be willing to sacrifice women's rights, as part of a policy of placating the Taliban as part of the negotiations. One result is that Afghan women may end up losing out in any deal with the insurgents and the limited progress made in recent years in relation to women's rights could soon be rolled back as part of a peace deal.

Thursday, 29 March 2012


In many ways watching the growing pasty and petrol related crisis develop over the last few days has been a bit like watching a car accident in slow motion. Cameron's ill-thought out suggestion that everyone top up their tanks provoked a run of fuel and drained petrol stations and all this at least a week in advance of any potential strike by tanker drivers.

Pastygate, as it has been dubbed, which involves the introduction of vat on pies and pasties amongst other things, in the budget last Monday. If it does nothing else has clearly shown most people how entirely cut off from ordinary people this Con Dem government is, despite Cameron's publicly stated love of pasties.

Incidentally for the record while not averse to the odd pasty my personal preference is for oggies. That aside I suspect that this fiasco could partially be put down to the loss of Andy Coulson, who if nothing else may have given Cameron and Osborne a faint understanding of how the rest of us live and think.

If you had thought that it had become slightly surreal when Francis Maude (currently a Cabinet Office Minister) suggested motorists might store petrol at home in "jerry can" as well as topping up their tanks – which no doubt helped to feed the panic buying frenzy in some areas and as you can imagine did not go down particularly well with the Fire Brigade.

No Petrol
Incidentally the Retail Motor Industry Federation said that petrol sales rose by 45% and diesel was up 20% amid talk of a strike bringing disruption to forecourt supplies on Tuesday.

Then the footage of the chancellor struggling to remember when he last bought a pasty from Greggs, or perhaps quite exactly who was this Gregg is or what he does was pretty tortuous. As no doubt will be the argument about whether you can eat them tax free if they're served cold.

Who's Greg?
The chancellors memory problems may pale into insignificance when compared no doubt to Cameron's future loss of memory when it comes to any questions in relation to what exactly you get for a quarter of a million pounds donation to the Conservative Party apart from a place at a dinner (sorry donor) party with the Camerons. Part of the problem with the Pastygate problem is that it shines a light on the current Cabinet which is largely if not exclusively made up from the ranks of the wealthy.

Twenty nine ministers are entitled to attend regular Cabinet meetings, of those some twenty three have investments and assets that are estimated to be personally worth more than £1 million each. Dave and his ilk (including formerly New Labour’s Milliband) can claim to chomp as many pasties as he likes but that chasm is one between the elite and the voters that will never be bridged.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Despite all the budget day bluster from Labour, when it came down to the actual vote (on Monday evening) Labour politicians failed to oppose the cut to the 50p tax rate. The vote was forced by Plaid Cymru and the SNP, some 22 MPs voted against the cut, with only two Labour MPs voting to keep the top rate at 50p. The vote took place after both Labour Leader Ed Milliband and Carwyn Jones (Welsh First Minister) made much of their party’s opposition to the cut from 50p to 45p proposed in last Wednesday's Budget.

Plaid Cymru's Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP said:

"Having heard Labour's alleged objection to this regressive taxation policy time and again last week, the inaction of its party members last night showed astonishing hypocrisy.

"Over the past few months, we have seen Labour abstaining or voting with the ConDems on important issues such as privatisation of the NHS and cutting Welsh farming subsidies. Labour of course introduced regional pay in the public sector and are now advocating a regional cap on benefits. What we saw last night was the Tory-Labour tag-team at work yet again.

"Plaid Cymru has always maintained that progressive taxation is a principle, not an option, and those who are most able to afford to pay must make a fair contribution.

“Cutting the 50p income tax rate for the mega rich who earn more than £3,000 per week whilst continuing to slash support for the needy and vulnerable shows once again that the Coalition only cares about the rich and wealthy.

"Labour's failure to vote last night clearly shows that their priorities are much the same.

"First Minister Carwyn Jones's inability to influence his MPs in Westminster reveals a crisis of leadership for the party in Wales.

"His Treasury spokesperson, Owen Smith MP, was quoted last week as saying that cutting the top rate of tax for the rich would show how out of touch this Government is, yet when it came to the crunch last night, Labour failed to deliver.

"The Labour Welsh Government as always is more interested in serving its masters in London Labour HQ than serving the people of Wales."


An advisor to Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, has admitted that Labour had made a “screw-up” on Monday night by not voting with Plaid Cymru and the SNP to oppose Con Dem plans to cut the top rate of tax for the highest earners. The admission reveals embarrassing efforts by Labour staff to claim their abstention had been planned, and also reveal that Carwyn Jones was only belatedly told what was going on in Westminster rather than being part of Labour Party discussions. The Labour no-show followed some pretty vocal opposition and several pledges from shadow chancellor Ed Balls to vote against the Budget measure. The Con Dem Government won the vote on the 45p rate by 319 to 22, a majority of 297.

Monday, 26 March 2012


One unanticipated side effect of the recession is that the tolls on the two Severn bridges may continue to have to be paid for almost a year longer than planned due to combination of excessively high fuel prices and the economic downturn which means that less traffic crossing the Severn bridges. The Severn Bridge tolls, rise by inflation every year, something that appears to be set in stone by the exceptionally poorly worded or ill-thought out legislation passed by John Major’s Conservative government some 20 years ago which allowed a private company to construct the new crossing and to manage the original crossing.

This fix only comes to an end when Severn River Crossings Plc, has collected a set target total income from toll charges. The UK Government In 2005) calculated that this target would be reached in late 2016. The reduction in bridge traffic means however, that the target figure won’t probably be reached until the autumn of 2017. Welsh Government figures, part of the consultation on motorway capacity, show that traffic on the busiest section of the M4 (near Newport) began to drop off in 2005 as oil / fuel prices began to rise due to oil shortages.

It is surely no coincidence that amount of rail freight containers moved by rail into South Wales doubled last year, and in February, Tesco launched a rail service carrying supermarket products to its Wentlooge distribution depot near Cardiff, something that will replace around 22,000 lorry trips per year. If we are serious about cutting carbon emissions and congestion then we need to get heavy goods back onto our railways. This won’t be a quick fix and it may not be cheap but it can be done if the political will is there, as has happened in Scotland, where there is a useful combination of the will, the funding and interested private partners.

For some time now Plaid has wanted to see the transfer of powers (to Wales) so that tolls on the bridges can be reduced, this would have a considerable impact on Welsh businesses and our economy. With control over the bridges devolved, Plaid has suggested reducing the cost of the tolls to under £2 a car and would also introduce new collection techniques so that people crossing the bridge would have an alternative to paying by cash. Any profit that is made could be used to maintain the bridges and upgrade Welsh infrastructure.

Back in October 2010, an independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls, by Professor Peter Midmore, recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. It noted that Welsh businesses are unfairly penalised by the tolls and that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport. It is a matter for the public record that, once the cost of the Second Severn Crossing has been for then the revenue stream will revert straight to Treasury coffers in Westminster.

The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses found the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area. While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the study found that transport, construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings had suffered (and continue to suffer) increased costs and reduced competitiveness. The bridges are of such importance to Wales that it is only right that control, or at least shared control, over them is in the hands of the Welsh people.

Let’s be honest the day when the Severn Bridges come back into public ownership and the day the tolls are reduced cannot come quick enough. In the meantime, there may be a few other things that would be worth examining. In 2011, the Welsh Affairs Committee chair David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, noted that due to "the inflexible provisions of the 1992 Severn Crossings Act, neither the government nor Severn Crossings Plc is able to freeze or reduce the toll without incurring significant costs." More recently, Alun Cairns, Conservative MP for Vale of Glamorgan, said that amending the legislation wasn’t an option and that “Sadly, we’ve got to live with it between now and the end of the concession.”

Personally I have often thought that if there is a pressing problem then you find away to fix it rather than wait around for it to go away. I have also wondered whether it would be worth enquiring as to how come the Act was so badly written? And also whether or not any individuals (elected or not) directly or indirectly benefited (financially or otherwise) with a seat on the board or with contributions to Party funds? Now that might well be worth a freedom of information request or some investigative journalism – now there's a thought?

Friday, 23 March 2012


A report on the future of Abergavenny livestock market, commissioned by Abergavenny Civic Society, suggests that it would be cheaper to redevelop the existing site than build a new livestock market elsewhere. The report says redevelopment of the existing site would cost about £2.25m, but the council's plan would cost closer to £5m.

Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) has agreed to sell the site, and plans a new market 10 miles (16km) away near Raglan. Back in January, the Labour Welsh government rubber stamped MCC’s request to repeal 150-year-old laws requiring it to provide a market in the town centre. MCC which owns the land, backs plans for the replacement and claims the development of the current town centre market site would help regenerate the town.

Conservative run MCC’s desire to dispose of the livestock market site in Abergavenny (and other assets across the county of Monmouth) to boost the local authorities coffers had come up against the original parliamentary legislation (dating for the 19th century) which give Abergavenny the legal right to hold a market within the town. MCC has long struggled to balance the books for many years having suffered from poor financial settlements over the years, is seeking to dispose of its assets for short term financial gain.

Our planning laws are certainly in need of a serious review, especially when one of the key beneficiaries (Conservative run MCC) ran the whole planning process. MCC was literally the judge, jury, jury selector, executioner and main financial beneficiary. The silence and virtual invisibility of locally elected National Assembly and Westminster representatives (who also coincidentally happen to be Conservatives) on what has been for a number of years a key local issue is worth noting.

The opposition of the loss of the livestock market has never been about nimbyism, people in and around Abergavenny have never been opposed to balanced well thought out development, merely the lack of it. The potentially profound implications of the redevelopment of Abergavenny and the livestock market is one of those cases where there was (and still is) a pressing need for the proposed development to be called in by the Welsh Government and its Ministers.

Yet they have consistently failed to step up to the mark on behalf of the people of Abergavenny. This failure may come down to a combination of poor advice from civil servants to ministers, and an indifference on the part of elected representatives of Labour in Wales towards any other parts of the country that fall outside what they perceive to be their territory.

The new report commissioned by the Abergavenny Civic Society, suggests that re-developing the existing market would cost approximately half of the council's new site. The report states that “improving the market facilities will enable greater agricultural trade which will lead to the introduction of new jobs within the market for local people.” The report also suggests that “increasing parking capacity on non market days will increase the attraction of Abergavenny as a shopping destination which in turn will create jobs in the small retail outlets within the town.”

The report also notes that allowing a new supermarket to develop the site would be "damaging to the community", and that "There are other sites available in the town that could provide for a supermarket without the need to decrease the heritage of the town." Even at this late stage it is not too late for MCC to think again and to take a longer more sustainable view.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Energy Independence

As most of us will have noticed by now when it comes to fuel (energy) prices they can go up and down a little in the short-term, but the longer term trend is always (at least for hydro-carbons) upwards. This is unavoidable due to increasing demands for more energy (particularly from energy hungry India and China), a growing planetary population and the short term nature of our planet's hydro carbon fuel reserves. This trend is easy to plot (even in the short term) and the medium and long-term consequences of being dependent upon energy resources that you don't actually control is pretty self evident.

Primary energy is energy supplied without being transformed e.g. crude oil, natural gas, and coal. Around two thirds of UK primary energy demand is met from domestic production. Coal accounted for barely 4% of final energy consumption by fuel in 2010. Virtually all UK oil and gas production occurs under the seas surrounding the UK. UK oil production peaked in 1999, and gas production peaked in 2000. Since then the UK has moved from a position of self-sufficiency to one of increasing dependence on imported oil and gas.

By 2009, imported gas accounted for around 32% of the total gas used. 58% comes from Norway, 25% from liquefied natural gas (LNG) from various different countries, some 16% came from the Netherlands, and 2% came via the Belgian inter-connector pipeline. The increased reliance on imported oil and gas leaves the UK more open to supply risks associated with global supply constraints and price volatility. The UK Government plans to reduce the need for oil and gas imports, by pushing primary energy production, and by developing low-carbon alternatives such as electric vehicles, biofuels and fuel efficiency.

Sadly this is a case of better late than never, as the previous New Labour Westminster Government and the current Con Dem government should have been working with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to develop an energy strategy to end these isles dependency on unstable overseas energy sources and dubious suppliers and lead to energy independence. In recent years, Vladimir Putin's periodic squeeze on gas exports to the Ukraine, through which 80 per cent of Russian gas exports to the EU flows, should have highlighted the real dangers of relying on imported energy from unreliable sources.

President Putin's Russia with full coffers and rode out the consequences of fluctuating oil prices and appears to have managed to avoid any real consequences of declining cash reserves and having its economy is heavily reliant on oil and gas exports. Some countries subsidise their fuel prices (how sustainable that is over the medium to longer term is open to debate), in the UK this does not happen, everybody wins, Government gets vastly more tax revenue, the oil companies get more profit, and us the ordinary punters get regularly fleeced.

When it comes to gas, some countries made efforts to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; France was able to store 122 days of gas and Germany able to store 99 days worth (2009 figures). Here in the UK the almost entirely market driven approach turned out to be entirely inadequate, in the UK had a storage capacity which would have lasted for only 15 days (2009 figures). Some countries discuss the issue of energy independence at the highest level here I get the impression that here in the UK it is best avoided, with the occasional exception.

The New Labour Government took the best part of a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity and the UK has been playing catch up ever since. One consequence of the lack of storage capacity was that UK had to sell gas during the summer and purchase gas again when it is needed in the winter. The Conservatives headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s was compounded by an abject failure in strategic energy planning. The situation has been made worse by the current Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources.

The last New Labour Government and the current Con Dem Government largely ignored repeated warnings that the lack of sustainable energy has set the UK on a path towards higher prices and blackouts. Over the next four to six years almost all of our old nuclear reactors, along with nine major coal and oil-fired power stations, will be run down and closed, with nothing ready to replace them. We are now in the situation where we will become even more dependent upon imported gas from either unstable regions or dubious suppliers.

The Con Dem’s solution to this is to rush to go Nuclear and to effectively hand the Nuclear industry lock stock and barrel over to French energy companies who are busy paying off large loans to the French government. Since 1997, what successive Westminster Governments should have done was to work with the devolved governments and the Irish Government to make these islands entirely self sufficient via renewable non market driven energy resources run by not for profit companies. They should have developed a flexible self-sufficient energy development strategy that encourages decentralised micro-generation. This could create jobs, useful skills and bootstrap the economy out of the recession as well as helping consumers by delivering community beneficial energy schemes.

Wales needs real direction not Carwyn's platitudes when it comes to the development of safe and secure energy resources and full control of energy planning. The renewable energy sector can play an immensely important role in creating more green energy jobs. We need to create sustainable long-term jobs for local people, not damage the environment and to provide our communities with a long-term viable economic energy future, that's the real future dividend for our communities rather than the shareholders in the City.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


It can be said that New Labours "ethical foreign policy" expired in the House of Lords in the early hours of a dark and windy night in 2005 at around 2am,  any idea that "we are all in it together" expired in broad daylight live on television something between 12.30pm and 13:30pm  today. In many ways the Conservative dominated Con Dem Government’s decision to scrap the 50p tax rate for high-earners should not been much of surprise, they have in many ways simply reverted to type.

One principle that George Osborne clearly does not subscribe to is that of progressive taxation. The Con Dems plan from 2013 onwards to cut a further £10 billion pounds worth of welfare. Rather more alarmingly it can be said that cutting taxes for high earners whilst slashing support for those less fortunate has merely highlighted the fact that the Westminster seems to have become a plaything of the rich elite and their friends.

We live in one of the most unequal societies in the developed world as a direct result of thirty years of Tory-New Labour government in London. One of the main reasons why the 50p tax rate hasn't worked is because enough of those who should be paying it have been able to use various tax dodges. If you believe in a fair society then everyone needs to pay their fair share. As a society we need to crack down on tax havens, tax avoidance and off-shore finance so that everyone pays a fair and correct amount of tax, not to mention cutting back on pension perks for high earners. .

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


While Wales and Scotland are quite different countries they do share a slightly similar problem with absentee landlords. A new report has been produced by the Scottish Affairs Committee (in Westminster) has said the Crown Estates management of the marine environment around Scotland lacked transparency and public consultation. At the moment the Crown Estate's controls approximately 50% of Scotland's coast and almost all the seabed, as it does around Wales.

The Crown Estate owns the rights to the sites of fish farms, renewable energy developments, ports and marinas. The Crown Estate is owned by the Queen and managed by an independent board known as the Crown Estate Commissioners. The estate's revenues do not belong to the monarch and surplus revenue from its £7bn-worth of business is paid each year to the Treasury for the benefit of all UK taxpayers.

The Scottish Affairs Committee has said that the UK government should commit to having the Crown Estate's marine responsibilities and rights related to Scotland devolved to the Scottish government, on condition the powers were further devolved to local level. MPs in Westminster took evidence from local communities in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Argyll and the Western Isles. The MP’s noted that they received responses that were highly critical of the Crown Estate which included criticism of the organisation which behaved like an "absentee landlord" and "tax collector".

The MP’s considered the nature and extent of the problems in relation to the marine and coastal assets in Scotland, and concluded that the Crown Estate Commissioner should no longer be responsible in these areas. The MP’s concluded that when it comes to the conservation of these maritime assets and the benefits to the island and coastal communities most closely involved with them should be maximised. Something that can only be done is by devolving as much of the responsibility - and benefit - down to the level of those local communities as much as possible.

In March 2011, a Plaid Freedom of Information request revealed that the existing offshore wind farms in north Wales at North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats generated income to the Crown Estate of almost £400,000 in 2009-10. And that is set to multiply many times with the development of other sites. Construction of the Gwynt-y-Mor wind project is due to start this year and the Crown Estate told Leanne Wood it also had a zone development agreement with Centrica to develop up to 4.2 gigawatts, covering both Welsh and English waters.

The FOI request revealed that the Crown Estate has onshore options for three wind farms at Lys Dymper with Wind Power Wales, at Llanllwni with RES Renewables and Cilfaesty with RWE Power. Planning applications have been submitted for the first two. The annual report of Crown Estate showed its Welsh holdings generated a gross surplus of £2.3m in 2009-10 with capital receipts bringing in £1.8m. It owns more than 3,000 acres across Wales, principally agricultural holdings. Profits earned by the Crown Estate are paid to the Treasury, according to them, for "the benefit of the nation".

Last year it was revealed that the Con Dem Government and the Royal Family had signed a lucrative deal that will earn tens of millions of pounds from the massive expansion of offshore wind farms. The Crown will net up to £37.5 million extra income every year from the drive for green energy because the seabed within Britain’s territorial waters is owned by the Crown Estate. A nice little earner if you can get it, especially for an absentee landlord!

Monday, 19 March 2012


Despite the thin layer of ‘caring Conservatism’ and the ‘green wash’ Cameron’s Conservative Party and its government are true heirs to Thatcher, being as ideologically committed to ‘privatisation and dismantling the structures of the state government as she ever was. David Cameron’s Conservative Government is now considering private investment in England's road network . The PM in a speech today will amongst other things call for tolls for new roads as a way of attracting more money from pension funds and other investors for infrastructure investment and development.

Cameron has noted that more work is needed to relieve gridlock by widening "pinch points" and allowing traffic to use the hard shoulder on motorways. His call for an innovative approaches to finance road improvements, and road tolls are only one option. In plain english what we are talking about is the privatisation of the major highways. Cameron’s speech comes as a poll suggests that only 2% of people think he is living up to his "greenest government ever" pledge.

A YouGov poll commissioned by Greenpeace and the RSPB, suggests that the coalition has not persuaded people that it is living up to Mr Cameron's pledge to be the "greenest government ever". The opinion poll with a sample of more than 1,700 adults across the UK found shows that barely 2% of people asked (and incidentally no Lib Dem voters) thought that the government was meeting the promise, and only 4% believed current rules and regulations protecting the environment were too strong. A majority of people - 53% - believed its green credentials were about average, while 7% believed it was the least green government ever.

The news that Cameron’s government may also be planning to take over the liability for the Post Office pensions, potentially a first step to a further privatisation of the Post Office, along with Cameron’s NHS England reforms; may alarm some. It may also bring a comfortable warm glow to members of Labour in Wales who are more than happy for Cameron to push ahead with his privatisation agenda, so they can make hay by verbally opposing it.

Public sector regional pay variations may be just around the corner, something which could result in nurses, teachers, police officers and civil servants being paid less because they live and work in Wales. The real danger here is that this could damage the Welsh economy, it could bed in the already pretty rampant inequality that exists between Wales and the south-east of England. This is something that Mr’s T contemplated but never actually did, it should come as no real surprise though as ideologically the current government is being driven by David Cameron and George Osborne the masterminds of Michael Howard’s failed Westminster campaign in 2005.

This is perhaps part of some bizarre public manifestation of an ideological battle between the different but fundamentally economically interdependent sectors of the economy. As for trying to unravel the interlinked public and private sectors of the economy... let me know how that one goes. As for pitting private and public sector workers against each other – it is pretty pointless, as it is a game that no one can win. When it comes to supplying services to local government private sector employers (and their workers) may end up being the ones who bite the bullet as the full impact of public sector cuts roll on through

The problem with basing you positions and your decisions on and around ideology is that you tend to get trapped in the past. I have no doubt Labour in Wales will moan, groan and cry crocodile tears, the reality is that if New Labour was in power in Westminster they probably would have privatised the Post Office by now and be well on their way to expanding competition with the NHS in England (and probably Wales). I have little doubt that any changes would have been happily voted through by the Labour in Wales lobby fodder with scant if any thought on their part.

Friday, 16 March 2012


Stars: Red = Gas, Green = Oil
Ever since I was a child there has been off and on talk about exploiting the potential oil and gas in the Celtic Sea and the western approaches. Work has been quietly carrying on to explore and exploit the resources in Irish territorial waters for many years. Now what drives oil exploration is commercial viability, Esso first discovered oil of Ireland in the 1970s, but at the time it was perceived not to be a realistic commercial prospect, as oil prices were pretty low at the time. As the oil price has rocketed from around $10 to $15 a barrel to around $125 a barrel and demand has risen this is now longer the case.

The search for the ‘black gold’ off Ireland may now be about to deliver some tangible results. Now an Irish company has found the Irish Republic's first viable oil well. The oil exploration company Providence Resources plc has announced that it has made the discovery some 70km off the Cork coast. The exploratory Barryroe oil well has delivered double the amount of oil needed for future full-scale extraction to make commercial sense.

The exploratory well yield comes in at almost 4,000 barrels of oil a day. Providence Resources Plc incidentally also has drilling permits in Northern Ireland. The company is now seeking international investors to help it exploit the well and the surrounding field, which the firm hopes will contain many further viable wells.

At the moment the bulk of Ireland’s energy comes from imported oil. Oil accounts for over 60% of Ireland’s overall energy consumption, significantly above the EU average. As Ireland’s economy grew, so did their reliance on imported oil. Ireland is also heavily reliant on gas and Ireland’s consumption of gas is increasing rapidly. There is now a major international shift from oil to gas as a source for power generation.

With oil supplies expected to decline in the years to come and growing efforts to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, many see gas as the primary energy source for the 21st century. In Ireland gas is extensively used for heating and more than 60%of our electricity is also generated by power plants fuelled by natural gas. No wonder there is a degree of excitement in Ireland at this discovery.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Leanne Wood - Plaid's New Leader
Leanne Wood has been elected as the new leader of Plaid Cymru- The Party of Wales.

The result was announced this afternoon at a special event in Cardiff and Leanne Wood will now take over from Ieuan Wyn Jones who stands down after over a decade in charge of the party.

Plaid Cymru Chief Executive and Designated Officer for the election, Rhuanedd Richards said;

I’m delighted to announce that Leanne Wood has been elected to lead Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales.

“I also wish to congratulate both Elin Jones and Dafydd Elis-Thomas on running such energetic and inspiring campaigns. I know that they will both continue to serve both Plaid and Wales with commitment and passion.

“Our new leader has a crucial job to do for our nation over the coming years.

“Fighting for the future of Wales and our communities is very much at the forefront of people’s minds. Plaid is the only party which will ensure that the interest of Wales and its people will be advanced.

“I look forward to working with Leanne Wood as we continue the work of renewing the party.
“Plaid has a team of thousands of community activists and members who are already playing their part in moving Plaid and Wales forward. I know they too are looking forward to working alongside Leanne Wood over the coming years.”

Plaid Cymru’s new Leader, Leanne Wood said;

This campaign has not been about individuals. It has been about a vision - a programme, a set of connected politics. Our task now is to build on the work of all of those who have gone before us. We may be small, as a party and as a country, but we can stand tall if we stand together and we stand up for our principles.

"The election is over, now the real work begins. I may not be the leader of the official opposition, but I intend to lead the Official Proposition. The proposition that another Wales is possible. Our positive, ambitious alternative vision can only come from the party of Wales.

"So here’s my message today to the people of Wales: we are your party. The People’s Party, of Wales, for Wales. Join us. Help us to re-build your community. Help us to re-build our economy. Together we’ll build a new Wales that will be fair, a new Wales that will flourish and a new Wales that will be free.”

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


News that the Westminster Government is preparing to save billions of pounds from public spending on the railways. The McNulty review (last year) recommended that running costs should be cut by one third to bring them into line with other European rail networks, may make many people wonder as to whether or not this is a case of here we go again.

McNulty also recommended that ministers should conduct a full review of fares policy and structures, and aim to move towards a system that is seen to be less complex and more equitable. He also said that this would aid the management of peak demand and the more efficient matching of demand with capacity. The devil will no doubt be in the detail, but, no amount of spin can hide the fact that rail privatisation was a  disaster and a chronically underfunded British Rail was broken up into different competitive contradictory rail companies, which much plundering and disposal of assets along the way.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) fears that we could be talking about the loss of as many as 12,000 jobs, the wholesale closure of countless ticket offices and the creation of hundreds of unmanned station around the fragmented network . Rather than putting their hands up and recognising that rail privatisation failed (New Labour also failed to do this) the Con Dems will try to reduce state involvement by enlarging the private sectors share.

Ironically, despite the failed privatisation, our railways are currently booming, as a partial result of high fuel costs, which have driven car users back onto the rails. At the moment taxpayers (but not necessarily some Conservative party donors) pay around 40% of the rail costs. In January 2012, we saw the usual annual rail ticket price rises, when the average cost of regulated fares, such as season tickets, rose by some 6%.

To be honest, if the UK government wanted to cut the costs of running our railways, then they could do at a stroke by removing them from the control of private companies, who are more concerned with shareholders dividends and profit that providing a decent service to rail customers. Transferring the rail franchise to not for profit operations would eliminate the profiteering that has bled money from the system, cut waste and reduce fragmentation.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


The beginning of a beautiful friendship?
Putting the desperate desire for 'special relationship’ related photo opportunities to one side, there are two or three pressing issues bubbling away in the background to David Cameron's visit to the USA. He arrives today to spend a few days, he will take in a ball game, a state dinner, the much prized photo shoot on the White House lawn and no doubt some pre-meetings before the NATO summit in May.

Whether or not this puts the so called ‘special relationship’ back on track is open is open to question. The US is certainly talking the relationship up at the moment and I have no doubt that Cameron will bask in the limelight. Whats not open to question is the continuing problem of the very public slaughter in Syria, which should provoke some debate about what to do next?

Yet, despite this for some UK Prime Ministers the special relationship can work both ways, it was disastrous for John Major (who's Conservatives activists actively campaigned against Bill Clinton), pretty good for Tony Blair and George Bush at least until the quagmire of Iraq began to undermine his premiership (strangely enough he took a long time to collect his Freedom Medal). The less said about Gordon Brown’s relationship with the White House the better. Yet from where David Cameron is currently sat, the ‘White House Photo opportunity' is practically priceless.

No doubt Iran is also going to be fairly high on the agenda. Benjamin Nethanayu (the Israeli PM), was in Washington last week and there can be little doubt that there is an already existing Israeli plan to deal with the Iranian nuclear sites. How much of a role that the UK and the USA will play in the event of any conflict will also no doubt be much discussed?

The ongoing crisis in Afghanistan will also be high on the agenda, with one war unfinished, the prospect of starting another one might (you would expect) raise more than a few eyebrows. While I have serious concerns about nuclear proliferation I do think that both the US and the USA have ‘ramped up the rhetoric’ over the possibilities of Iran developing nuclear weapons for their own reasons. Certainly in mid February, Foreign Secretary William Hague was busy talking up the possibilities of a ‘new cold war’ with Iran.

The ‘special relationship’ such as it is passes through phases of warmth and uncertainty, certainly, with the mainland Europeans, from an American perspective are beginning to look decidedly flaky on Iran. The US will have a pressing need for ‘special friend' who happens to live on an unsinkable aircraft carrier (and who coincidently just happens to have leased you a pretty useful base in the India Ocean (Diego Garcia)) and may be willing to put some boots on the ground.

Historically from a ‘Brit’ perspective, it may well be all they have left – having lost the Empire, having effectively ditched the Commonwealth and almost but not entirely failed to get into the heart of Europe. If the first world War seriously damaged and undermined Britain's economic and political position in the world, then a combination of the second world war and US diplomacy (between the 1920’s and the 1950's) effectively did for Britain as a world power.

For Dave, it may well be worth the risk of an Iranian adventure, because the pictures and television footage that the media opportunity of the Prime Minister and the President (at the White House) represents is potentially an electoral goldmine. No doubt the Downing Street strategists should have identified by now that both ethnic minority and women voters are the two key groups of voters that David Cameron has simply got to win to secure a parliamentary majority in 2015 and they will also have noticed that polling tells them that both groups absolutely lionise President Obama.

Monday, 12 March 2012


Cofiwch Dryweryn
Water is going to be a valuable resource for the people of Wales in future years, and who controls it, I suspect one of the key issues. The issue of water understandably raises strong emotions and stirs long memories here in Wales, especially when the likes of Boris Johnson starts chattering on about a network of canals being needed to carry water from the wet North to the dry South (for the ‘wet North’ read ‘Wales).

Now Boris's brainwave, is not a new idea, back in 1973, the Water Resources Board, the government agency (now defunct) published a major report that advocated building a whole raft of infrastructure to aid the movement of water, not to mention constructing freshwater storage barrages in the Ouse, Wash and Morecambe Bay, using a network of canals to move water from north to south, extending reservoirs and building new aqueducts, not to mention constructing a series of tunnels to link up river basins to aid the movement of water.

The plan for water in 1973
Despite the demise of the Water Resources Board in 1974 (two years before the 1976 drought) and its replacement by regional water management bodies, which were privatised in the 1980’s the issue has never really gone away. The Environment Agency produced a report entitled "Do we need large-scale water transfers for south-east England?" (in 2006), in answer to its own question at the time it said no.

Yet faced with a prolonged period of drought in the South East of England, DEFRA itself held a drought summit on the 20th of February this year. The Con Dem Government continues to doggedly pursing its Water for Life agenda, as part of which the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill to be met. The Government has stated that it remains committed to the remaining legislative measures set out in Water for Life and fully intends to publish a draft Water Bill in the coming months.

Whatever Westminster decides to do, we (in Wales) need to have democratically control of our own resources, we could start with repatriating control of the crown estates transferring control of lands in (and off) to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. For the life of me I can see no realistic reason why this feudal anachronism cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history.

This should be followed up by taking a long hard look at our water resources and what we get for them and how we can develop them. I see absolutely no reason why the Welsh people cannot fully benefit from any future exploitation of Welsh resources, including our water. We need a whole Wales strategy to develop and to conserve our water supplies and our planning regulations will need to be tweaked or rewritten accordingly.

Most people will not be particularly shocked to discover that coincidentally that the Government of Wales Act specifically excludes the Assembly from making any laws relating to water supply – hmm – odd that isn't it? The bottom line is that our water resources should belong to the Welsh people, not to Private corporations or to the UK Government.

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Twenty One communities in Wales now have no bank, and forty seven have only got one bank, says the Campaign for Community Banking Services. The problem of closing banks affects all parts of Wales, while it is more readily identifiable in rural communities; it also affects our urban areas as well. HSBC is closing its branches in Presteigne, which closed on Friday (over 500 people signed a petition against the closure of the Presteigne branch) , and in Blaenafon (where over a 1,000 people signed a petition against the planned closure of the last bank in the town), Torfaen, on the 11th May. HSBC says that both banks have seen a significant decline in the numbers of customers using their services and are no longer commercially viable.

Campaigners in both communities rightly claim that businesses in the area will suffer and that residents (especially the elderly) who are reliant on public transport to bank in a nearby town will be disadvantaged. Just for the record HSBC HAS closed six branches in Wales between last September and December, including Llandysul, Ceredigion, and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys. While the company has also closed 17 "under-used" banks in Wales since 2009, but not all been in rural areas.

Both HSBC, Barclays and the rest have been quietly closing small rural banks in recent months, and NatWest plans to cut opening hours. The British Bankers' Association says more customers now go on-line and banks must examine branch running costs. Despite the spin this is about nothing more than cutting running costs, the banks have little (or not concern) for their customers or the concerns of the customers.

Saturday, 10 March 2012


The Western Mail (Saturday 10th March) carried an article about the selection for the Team GB football team for the 2012 London Olympics. They tried to pas sit off as some sort of debate over whether players from Celtic nations should be involved. Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative leader at the National Assembly, proved that he clearly does not get it or chooses not too. While Plaid AM for South Wales West, Bethan Jenkins got it spot on.

The continued existence of an independent Welsh international football team, especially through the temporary emergence of a Team GB football team, is non negotiable. The UK Government simply does not get it and is probably incapable of getting it. Why would an English sports minister have the slightest concern about the future of the Welsh national football team? FIFA's word is clearly not good enough, the organisation is tainted with a long and recent history of corruption and some very questionable financial dealings.

 Our Football Association of Wales is one of the world's oldest football associations and is an important symbol of our nation.The game in Wales is undergoing a renaissance at the moment and Welsh footballers and Welsh teams have a higher profile than for a while domestically and internationally - this should not be threatened under any circumstances. The football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have pretty clearly stated (on more than a few occasions) that they are not interested in a Team GB football Team, which bit of NO don't the London Olympic Organisers understand?

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Its no secret, but, I have never been one for elites, whether they be elective, self-selective, cultural, social or sporting (something which may explain a slight dislike of Manchester United on my part). I noted with interest that the trial of Iceland's former Prime Minister Geir Haarde, who is accused of negligence in his handling of the 2008 financial crisis that severely undermined the Icelandic economy, has begun in the capital, Reykjavik. How refreshing for an elected politician to face real consequences for his actions?

Iceland fell into recession when the country's major banks, including on-line bank Icesave's parent company Landsbanki, crashed in the autumn of 2008. The Icelanders woke up to find that they owed six times the island's total gross domestic product (GDP), the world's credit markets promptly dried up, they were left high and dry unable to refinance loans. The county’s three big banks, who's business web stretched across Europe (with customers that included some of our local authorities), collapsed under billions of dollars of debt.

The country's economy had largely been based on and around fishing, but through the 1990s, the country's banks boomed and expanded abroad and Icelanders benefited from cheap credit just like the rest of us. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the country's unemployment rate and inflation in Iceland sky-rocketed, and on the domestic political front all hell broke loose. A huge wave of angry public protests followed and the then Prime Minister Geir Haarde’s government fell in 2009.

The ex Prime Minster has been accused of negligence because he had not ensured financial safeguards were in place. He has denied the accusation, saying he was only doing what he thought was best for the country at the time. The ex PM could face up to two years in the slammer if convicted. Ironically he was one of four politicians blamed in a 2010 parliament-commissioned report for contributing to the country's financial collapse, yet is the only one on trial.

In September 2010, the Icelandic Parliament decided that only the ex Pm should be tried on charges relating to the financial crisis, the trial is expected to last until 15th March. The former PM was left carrying the can as two current ministers (Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir and Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson) were not referred to the court, along with some of his former colleagues including the former foreign, finance and business ministers.

In the March 2010, Icelandic voters rejected overwhelmingly via a referendum the proposal to pay the UK and the Netherlands 4 billion euros (£3.4 billion) they lost when the Icesave bank collapsed. The Icelandic citizens view was that they should not be made to pay so much for their banks' bad decisions. Now this is a feeling that I suspect is shared by most of us, save for our elite who are busy making the rest of us pay off their mistakes and the mistakes of their friends.

Back in December 2010, Iceland the UK and the Netherlands agreed a new repayment deal. The country's parliament (in February 2011) voted yes to a new plan to repay the UK and the Netherlands for reimbursing 400,000 citizens who lost their savings in the collapse of Icesave's parent bank, Landsbanki. Iceland's president, Olafur Grimsson, put the deal to a public vote. Back in April 2011, the voters of Iceland once again rejected the repayment deal in a referendum.

Now Iceland has been through one of the most severe recessions anywhere in the world when the markets crashed in 2008. The country's economic output fell by about 12 per cent in two years. Yet the latest report on Iceland by the International Monetary Fund shows that growth is resuming. GDP is expected to increase by a relatively healthy 2.5 per cent in 2011. The Icelandic public finances are on a sustainable path too with government debt projected to fall to 80 per cent of GDP in 2016.

Iceland's output is still more than 10 per cent down when compared to pre-crisis levels. The country's unemployment level is around 6.7 per cent, this is considerably higher than it was pre 2007. The Icelandic standard of living is also well down and there is limited access to foreign currency. The risks to recovery still remain and Icelandic Central bank interest rates are currently going up in order to curb inflation, something that could have an impact on growth. Yet despite all of this the outlook for the Icelandic economy looks much healthier than other distressed economies across the water in Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Closer to home, there are plenty of people across the Celtic Sea who are less than happy with the choices made by the Irish elite and the fact that they have largely got away without punishment for their crimes, misdemeanour's and bad decisions. Some have called for a fresh start and new republic literally writing off the past (and the debt). In recent history in Ireland (and elsewhere on the European mainland) referenda have produced the wrong result, at least as far as the elite are concerned.

Peadar Kirby and Mary Murphy exposed the winners and losers from the current Irish model of development and related the distributional outcomes of the use of power by Irish elites, in their book Towards a Second Republic. The authors analysis of Ireland's economics, politics and society, and draws some important lessons from its cycles of boom and bust. They also look at the role of the EU and compare Ireland's crisis and responses to those of other states. The book includes a proposal to construct new and more effective institutions for the economy and society, I suspect that it won't be on the summer reading list of any elite near here any-time soon.

Even closer to home there have been no real consequences (or punishments for that matter) for the banking crash for the inhabitants of the Westminster village or the bankers (other than the loss of the odd bonus). The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) intended to reward its chief executive Stephen Hester a bonus of £1.4 million despite a fall in share prices. The announcement came days after RBS effectively pulled the plug on profit-making fashion retailer Peacocks who went into administration leaving thousands of livelihoods at risk, only serious public criticism led to the rejection of the bonus.

RBS was bailed out with billions of pounds of taxpayers' money during the financial crisis, but showed a marked reluctance to lend to a profitable business during its time of need. The UK financial sector, on the back of Thatcher's plundering of state assets, created a culture of rewarding failure and neglecting responsibility, encouraged by the hands off approach of New Labour. The Conservative dominated Westminster government, shows a marked reluctance to regulate the excesses of the banking sector, perhaps it might cause a few awkward moments in the club...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Thursday is International Women's Day, which was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland – were one million men and women attended rallies to demand amongst other things voting rights and equal pay. On our planet women perform around 66% of the work, are responsible for the production of 50% of our planets food yet take home around 10% of overall income and own around 1% of the worlds property. When it comes to elected representation worldwide barely 19% of the world's parliamentary seats are held by women, around 16% of the world's elected political leaders are women.

Other statistics are grimmer - more women (between the age of 15 and 44) die as result of violence against them, than die of cancer, malaria, road accidents and war. One in five women will become victim of rape, attempted rape and one in four will experience domestic violence. Clearly a great deal needs to be done before women can enjoy the fruits of their labour, have personal security, and collect their long overdue financial and political rewards.

The United Nations theme for International Women's Day 2012 is "Empower Rural Women — End Hunger and Poverty." Even where political liberation is taking place and dictatorships are falling, women's rights are not necessarily secure, as this BBC Newsnight Report on the Egyptian revolution clearly shows:

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, who is preparing the ground to negotiate with the Taliban has commissioned the Ulema Council (Afghanistan's top religious council) to produce a statement which outlines the rights and duties of women under Islam. The council has said that women should not mix with men in school, work or other aspects of daily life and has also said that women should not travel without a male relative.

Outside observers and Afghan women's rights campaigners believe that the release of this statement is no co-incidence, merely part of the president's efforts to cut a deal with the Taliban. Clearly we have come long way from the days when Laura Bush spoke out against the Taliban's oppression of Afghan women, and for Afghan women we may be going nowhere good.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Rapidly rising fuel prices have prompted calls for the introduction of a fuel regulator. While we are all getting hammered by high fuel prices, the situation is worse in the more rural areas of Wales. The introduction of a fuel regulator who would cut fuel duty when prices spike unexpectedly, freezing the price at the pump. George Osborne, in the Budget later this month should introduce a genuine fuel duty stabiliser, something that is supported by motoring organisations and the Federation for Small Business, this would cap the price of petrol at the pump if it increases beyond expectation.

The Chancellor should also look at extending the rural fuel duty derogation which is currently being trialled in parts of Scotland where 5p per litre is cut from the bill. Plaid (and the SNP) have long recognised this problem and have been pushing for it in Budgets in 2005 and 2008 with widespread support from real people outside parliament. New Labour ignored the problems of rising fuel prices, the Conservatives simply lifted the idea, watered it down and re-branded it as their own.

We are all suffering from the consequences of the massive hike in the cost of fuel recently, not all of it down to the rising cost of oil. The Tory-led Government's VAT increase and fuel duty hike last year merely pushed the price of a litre up. Businesses and especially families in rural areas, where a car is a necessity not a luxury are facing the pain because of these choices. For the short-term we need to have a fuel duty stabiliser and a special price for fuel in rural areas, but we also need to diversify and invest in renewable energy alternatives to reduce our reliance upon oil and other fossil fuels.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


PM David Cameron (Left)                          Rebekah Brooks (Centre)                        Raisa (ex Police Horse) (Right)
In many ways it was a classic piece of distraction, a superb example of how the implications of a larger complicated offence can be hidden by a minor infraction. Previous life experience tells me that the general public can at times be pretty fickle especially when it comes to the Police,while they may not give two hoots (at times) about Police officers getting savagely assaulted by rioters, they will not under any circumstances tolerate cruelty to animals e.g Police Dogs or Police Horses. This in a roundabout way brings me to the strange tale of the Prime Minister, A former Police horse and Rebekah Brooks.

The distraction story started small with the news that Rebekah Brooks (former News International employee) had homed a retired Police Horse (named Raisa) this is actually something that happens quite a lot, as Police horses are exceptionally well trained and good mounts. have not doubt that Brooks jumped the waiting list though. This was followed by the news that said horse had been returned in poor condition (the unspoken implication here being that said horse had been ill-treated or thrashed on a regular basis).

This works out quite nicely, it blackens Rebekah Brooks (even more) in the eyes of the general public and distracts the collective eye away from the exposure of the Metropolitan Police Service's questionable relationship with News International. All well and good save for the fact that the distraction story now begins to run and run and now because of Cameron's ill-judged friendship with the Brooks it now begins to involve the Prime Minister prompting questions at the European summit, much to the PM's irritation.

However this pans out I suspect that this latest episode won't help any relationship between the Metropolitan Police and  Downing Street. I predict its now only a matter of time before the Met quietly admits that Rebekah Brooks periodically drowned puppies at the Police Dog Kennels in an increasingly desperate attempt to avoid the full glare of media coverage of the Leveson Inquiry.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


At the moment we have four police forces in Wales: Dyfed-Powys, South Wales, North Wales and Gwent, as of this November there will be four elected Police Commissioners. Yet despite this the reality is that the people of Wales have less say over policing in their own communities than people in Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man do. In Scotland, policing has always been a devolved function, it is time for it to be devolved here in Wales. Welsh government ministers in Cardiff will have a far greater understanding of local policing needs and the  expectations of our communities than some distant political appointee in the Ministry of Justice. At the end of the day, regardless of the reluctance of the current Welsh Government in Cardiff to do anything, the Welsh people have a fundamental democratic right to have a greater say in something so fundamental to civilised community life as policing. Policing is only one side of the coin, to make devolved policing work, there is also a need to devolve control of criminal justice.