Thursday, 24 May 2012


News that the next Welsh assembly election could be fought with different constituencies with a slight change to the current voting system won't excite many people - save for the elected representatives of the Labour Party in Wales that is and some political anoraks. A Wales Office consultation includes a proposal to reduce the number of constituency assembly members from 40 to 30, and to extend the numbers elected on the regional list from 20 up to 30. Providing the fair votes element remains unchanged, being a democrat I have little or no problem with this, but, naturally the Labour Party does.

The Labour in Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones naturally kicked off saying: "There is no mandate for this. The electoral system for the assembly is a matter for the people of Wales and no one else. "The Prime Minister has assured me that there would be no change to future electoral arrangements without the agreement of the Assembly."
 Now the irony is that increasing the proportional element (via list seats) would make the system more democratic and peoples votes would actually count far more. Labour in Wales has a long history of putting self-interest and party-interest before the interests and needs of the Welsh people. In November 2011, they proposed 'a reform' of the electoral system that would give them around 70% of the seats in the National Assembly with barely 42% of the vote.

At the time an Electoral Reform Society report shone a little light on Labour in Wales's dubious proposal to tweak the electoral system to their benefit. Labour in Wales has long looked for an opportunity to make a change to an electoral system that mostly fails to guarantee itself a permanent majority. Having failed to get away with it, they now, as a consequence of the Con Dem Westminster government's plans to cut the number of MPs from 40 to 30, they face being put in a situation where they actually have to go out and actively campaign for votes.

Labour in Wales publicly opposes reducing the number of assembly constituencies to match the boundaries of new parliamentary seats. The ERS report suggested that Labour could win "disproportionately" more seats if all Welsh Assembly members were elected via the first-past-the-post system. Scrapping the semi-proportional elections would have denied thousands of voters a voice. Naturally Labour in Wales accused the ERS of "misrepresenting" its position - actually they exposed the dubious truth of their position.

At the moment, 40 constituency AMs are elected via first-past-the-post contests and the remaining 20 are elected from regional lists based upon the percentage of votes cast. Labour in Wales (after the National Assembly elections in May 2011) was left with a bare majority in the National Assembly, holding 30 seats.
Now reducing the number of contituency seats to 30 and having the remainder elected on the list would balance things out and make our electoral system far more democratic - obviously Labour in Wales would not want that...would they?

Monday, 21 May 2012


Now David Cameron made much of being a ‘green’ environmentally caring Conservative when he was busy re-branding the pretty toxic Conservative brand, his government's publicly stated that it wanted to almost completely de-carbonise the electricity industry by the 2030s. All very well and good, yet, in the Draft Energy Bill, due to be published on Tuesday, no guarantee such a target will oddly enough appear nowhere in the bill.

The UK’s unhealthy expensive obsession with its expensive, heavily subsidised and floundering nuclear industry will ensure that the UK gas-dependent for many decades to come. To get out of this hole the UK may well be reduced to purchasing emissions permits on the European market to try to keep to its much publicised medium-term emissions reductions targets.

A well publicised failure to de-carbonise electricity will end up diverting the UK from its plan to reduce CO2 by 80% by 2050 - unless the gas-fired power stations were made to run with carbon capture and storage, a technology that is unproven on a large scale. Actually increasing these islands dependency on imported gas from unstable areas of the world at a time of rising energy costs is hardly the brightest thing to do.

The draft Energy bill is being introduced so the proposals can be fully scrutinised by parliament should appear as a fully fledged bill sometime this autumn. The final decision, no doubt subject to some discreet nudging from Cameron and the pro nuclear lobby will end up before the Westminster Energy and Climate Change Committee. The pro nuclear lobby may even find itself nudging the Conservative PM to persuade the EU that a public subsidy for nuclear power is fine.

The 2030 plan was publicly endorsed by the PM back in November 2010 may be quietly added to the too difficult in tray. So it may literally be a case of exit stage left pursued by nuclear subsidy for any fleeting Conservative aspiration to de-carbonise electricity in the 2030s. One way of the other we have been paying (and will go on paying) for Conservative and Labour failures to develop sustainable and secure energy resources for many years to come.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


It is time for a renewed debate on how we can harness the renewable energy potential of the Severn estuary. We need to consider a wide range of options to develop as much energy as possible without wrecking the environment. Now as I have said before, when I was a child there Fantasy Island was on TV, now it appears we will have Fantasy Barrage, which promises all things to all people all the time – but at a price - financially for starters we are now talking about up to £34 billion pounds.

The resurrection of the Severn Barrage scheme (yet again) could make you wonder about the sanity (financial or otherwise) of some of the usual suspects. I have no doubt that the usual glib fatuous statements about the project being the solution to all of South Wales’s economic and transport woes will be trotted. If it sounds too good because it simply is - it's a fantasy, yes we need to develop the renewable energy resources of the Severn estuary, we would be certifiable not too.

A combination of tidal lagoons, tidal fences, turbines based in tidal current rich areas and wave energy generation technology (currently being tested off Scotland) and some carefully situated off-shore wind farms could generate a significant amount of sustainable energy with significantly less environmental damage and jobs to boot. Perhaps if the Labour and the Conservatives had honoured their Welsh general election manifesto promise (in 2011) to increase the present 50 MW limit (which prevents the development of potential energy schemes above that threshold) as they are decided in Westminster rather than in Wales.

Back in January, Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards called for energy powers to be transferred to the Welsh Government, his bill would have given the Welsh Government powers over energy generation in Wales. The bill would also have ensured equality with Scotland and Northern Ireland and would have meant that Wales would have been better placed to fight fuel poverty with responsibility for our own resources.

Very fair and entirely reasonable you might think, but Mr Edwards motion was voted down by Labour MPs, who were more than happy to team up with Conservatives MPs to stop their own party in Wales taking these powers. The proposal was defeated by 239 votes to 44 after Labour and Conservative MPs teamed up together against the Bill.

I and more than a few other people have some serious concerns about any Severn Barrage, firstly is does not generate enough energy over a long enough period to justify the cost and it would be environmentally damaging. A more logical solution would be to build tidal lagoons, one in Swansea Bay would be ideal to test out the technology but has been repeatedly stalled and delayed by a hostile Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and previously powerless (but now vision-less) Welsh Government.

We need to maximise the period of generation well beyond the 3 hour energy pulse offered by previous incarnations of the barrage have offered. This is something that a combination of tidal lagoons and other energy schemes could offer release energy for a far longer period than 3 hours. By using a variety of options we could generate sustainable jobs and skills not to mention make Wales a world leader in developing the energy generation technology.

I welcomed the news that former Wales and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has resigned - perhaps jumped before he was pushed would have been closer to the truth - from the shadow cabinet - I for one won't miss him. The news that he plans to act as effectively a salaried lobbyist (for he remains paid by us as MP for Neath) to campaign for a barrage across the Severn estuary, did little to excite me. His desire for gainful employment should be welcomed, but, I would ask just exactly who he will be representing in the House of Commons? And should he not declare an interest?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Last time I checked we had four police forces in Wales: Dyfed-Powys, South Wales, North Wales and Gwent, I say that because with Cameron cost cutting agenda you never know if they will be merged or privatised to cut costs. From November there will be four elected Police Commissioners, nominally this should make Policing democratically accountable to local people but the speed and severity of the cuts and the creation of shared services (some very sensible) means that any new Police Commissioners may not have very much to do or manage.

The concept of elective police commissioners is very American, and may be no bad thing, but, is under the Con Dems little more than window dressing, a token gesture towards responsible and accountable policing. The actual reality is that, even with elected Police Commissioners, the people of Wales have less say over policing in their own communities than people in Jersey, Guernsey, and the inhabitants of the Isle of Man.

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 should 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.

The UK government is rigorously pursuing its ideologically driven public sector cost cutting agenda. They need to drop their proposals to make damaging cuts to our police service which has hitting officers' and support staff's morale hard. Last week we had the sight of tens of thousands of angry off-duty officers marching through London protesting about the cuts and the proposed changes in working practises.

A twenty percent cut to the policing budget will leave our communities and their residents much more vulnerable to crime, and put even further strain on our remaining police officers who already carry out difficult jobs, and the changes proposed by the Winsor Review will only make things worse.

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.

I am convinced more than ever that now is the time is right to hold an open debate on devolving policing powers to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. Devolving policing powers would increase the accountability of the Welsh Government, strengthen the democratic process by allowing decisions which directly impact on the Welsh people to be made (and reviewed) here in Wales.

The Con Dem cuts may shape policing and set the policing agenda here in Wales for the next twenty years. Fundamentally policing decisions in Wales need to reflect the needs and concerns of our communities, not the cost cutting agenda of the current Home Secretary and the Ministry of Criminal Justice in London.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth Constituency
As a former Plaid Cymru Westminster and National Assembly candidate (for Monmouth constituency), it is not every day that I find myself in partial agreement with the mutterings and musings of David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth (South Wales Argus 10th May 2012, the BBC and the Western Mail 11.05.2012). Now like many people I share his frustration with the incompetence of the highest levels of the current Conservative driven Coalition Government. As for David's motivation for the latest outburst, perhaps the recent hammering that the Conservatives received in the county council elections in Monmouthshire is playing on his mind, that and perhaps the possibility that with boundary changes his seat may come into ‘play’ in the next Westminster Parliamentary elections. While David and I agree on the incompetence of the current government, I, however, note the almost malicious (if not gleeful) nature of the coalition attacks on the public sector. I (and plenty of other people) have also noted the failure to introduce proper regulation for the banks (who got us into this mess – with the able assistance of the last New Labour Government). Not to mention the failure to introduce a windfall tax to prevent excessive profiteering on the part of the Energy and Power companies and the near complete failure to deal with tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Friday, 11 May 2012


Somewhat understandably as Newport County fan I have Wembley on my mind at the moment and am looking forward to our appearance in the FA Trophy final with York City on Saturday. Wembley in the one hundred year of our existence should be a special occasion. Football tribalism aside I actually want success for the other Welsh football clubs (and Welsh football period). I am pleased that Swansea City will stay (somewhat comfortably) in the Premiership; I am disappointed that Cardiff City did not join them. Hopefully they will make it next season, preferably not via the play-offs). The County avoided the drop and things will be much better next season. I was disappointed that Wrecsam did not get promoted from the Blue Square Conference this season. I can see no reason why three clubs are not directly promoted from the conference into League two with a third place play-off. I was pleased to see that Colwyn Bay survived in Conference North and was pleased to see Merthyr Town get promoted this season.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


In true Westminster tradition, unless you actually knew what the bill contained, something you won’t necessarily get from its name, you might have been at loss about the significance of the Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill. While this bill is part of a fairly dull and unambitious mid term programme of legislation, much of which is, at first glace, irrelevant to Wales, as with many things, the devil is in the detail, as noted by Devolution Matters.

The Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill, which was an idea originally suggested by Plaid Cymru back in 2004, with its provision for an ombudsman, should benefit the thousands of people working within the agricultural sector. While this is an excellent if fairly belated idea, the ombudsman will only work if the Bill ensures that said Ombudsman has some real powers over the milk industry.

Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd MP has responded to the Queen's Speech by expressing disappointment at the lack of ideas to boost the Welsh economy, despite the inclusion of some welcome legislation such as a Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill and a Green Investment Bank Bill.

Speaking shortly after the State Opening of Parliament, Mr Llwyd said:

"While the Queen's Speech contained some measures that Plaid Cymru welcome, it is disappointing to see that Wales has yet again been largely overlooked.

"The Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill, an idea first suggested by Plaid Cymru back in 2004, will benefit the thousands of people working within the agricultural sector, but it's vital that this ombudsman has real teeth, including powers over the milk industry, in order to deliver positive change.

"The Green Investment Bank is also good news, but if it is to transform the green economy, it will require significant financial backing, not just fine words. The same is true of banking reform proposals which should take place as soon as possible.

"There were, however, some very concerning suggestions in the Queen's Speech, and we are very worried in particular about the Public Sector Pensions Reform Bill and proposals to reduce employee's rights at work.
"It is also very disappointing not to see any proposals relating to matters that would truly transform Wales' economy, environment and transport infrastructure.

"These include the devolution of consent over energy generating powers, a JobCentrePlus for Wales, the creation of a Welsh legal jurisdiction, and a bill to electrify the railways in Wales - all progressive proposals that would move Wales forward and ensure that our nation isn't left lagging behind the rest of the UK."

The Con Dem Government’s Draft Water Bill which aims to allow every business and public sector body in England and Wales to switch their water and sewerage supplier, yet makes no provision to bring in water meters for households. Both the RSPB and WWF-UK are reportedly disappointed that measures to reduce waste by domestic users were missing. I mention water meters because they would save most members of the public money, but, of course such a course of action would impinge on company profits and shareholder dividends (at least in England).

Water in Wales is likely to remain an understandably touchy subject for the foreseeable future, one no doubt that Labour in Wales whole heartily wish would go away. It is worth noting that the Government of Wales Act (passed by a Labour Government) specifically excludes the National Assembly from making any laws relating to water supply. One very firm bottom line has to be that our water resources should belong to the Welsh people, not to Private corporations or to the UK Government.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


Human rights groups around the world are putting pressure on the organisers of the Eurovision Song Contest to pressurise Azerbaijan, this year's host country, over its harsh treatment of political dissenters and ordinary citizens who are being evicted from their homes in Baku as the city gets an oil wealth funded pre Eurovision song contest makeover. Azeri authorities are imprisoning opposition figures and beating up journalists and they are now attacking (with only weeks until the competition) local musicians who have spoken out against the repressive Azeri president have become the latest target for repression and harassment. Last years parliamentary elections (held on 7th November) were described by the OSCE as “peaceful” but “not sufficient to constitute meaningful progress in the democratic development of the country.”

Despite the oil wealth, Azerbaijan is a deeply troubled country, with a troubled past. The flawed election took place against a backdrop of skirmishes along Azerbaijan and Armenia's ceasefire line and an increase in the defence budgets. Little or no progress has been made in the negotiations to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group). The country has around 600,000 people internally displaced by the war, who continue to suffer discriminatory registration requirements and inadequate housing. What price are the people of Baku playing for the Eurovision contest?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


Just in case you missed it - Irvine Welsh on Scottish Independence (from BBC 2 Newsnight on 17th April 2012) – well worth watching...

Monday, 7 May 2012


It was a strange election, the first time that I have not been a candidate at county level since 1999, not that I was not kept busy behind the scenes canvassing and dropping in different wards across the city. Results wise, it could have been much worse, but, it wasn't – the Plaid vote held up in many parts of the country and we retained (despite the losses) a healthy 158 county councillors, I have been around long enough to remember that not that long ago we held barely 50.  

Clearly things have changed; we are the second party in Wales at local government level. It is disappointing to lose some hard working community focused activists, many of whom have genuinely dedicated many years of service to their communities, their country and the party. Yes, Plaid took a hit in an election that was largely dominated by Westminster focused issues. The other parties took a much harder hit, which may in some areas of Wales have done lasting damage to their party machines and their activist base.

Labour set out to turn the election into a referendum on the UK government's austerity measures. This was much easier than having to deal with local issues on which they were decidedly more vulnerable, it was much less of a gamble to play the old and trusted 'keep the Tories out / send a message’ card and it worked, particularly well in some areas.  

In Newport and elsewhere, Plaid has much work to do to gain more councillors but we have a good base to work from and the hard work began today. I mean it's not like any resident of Newport will actually see or here form their newly elected / re-elected Labour city councillors out and about very much in the next few years.

Friday, 4 May 2012


Well that’s democracy for you, the people have spoken in Newport, with a crushing rejection of the Liberal Democrats for their coalition with the Conservatives in Westminster, rather than for anything they have done locally. Labour in Wales’s representatives in Newport are in back in charge after 4 years out of office. What remains to be seen is whether or not they revert to type...and the slovenly arrogance that was their hallmark from 1981 until 2004 makes a comeback.

There are plenty of questions to be asked? Will Labour in Newport oppose their Government in Cardiff's plan to build an extra tunnel at Brynglas? Will they allow the potential destruction of 150 homes and the blighting many more? Or will they say and do nothing? Will their government in Cardiff finally sort out the opening of the Ebbw Vale to Newport railway? Will the cities elected Labour representatives vanish from sight for anotherr five years?

Their victory was hardly a swinging endorsement as the voter turnout was appallingly low in most wards (25% in some places), something that all democrats will need to look at. Former US Vice President Dan Quale once said: “A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls”. For those of us unhappy with Labour in power / office, the work begins today...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


As the scruffy mack wearing US TV Detective Columbo would say, one more thing? - before we cast our votes on Thursday. Newport is not in good shape, the current incumbents have tried their best, but perhaps the budgetary hand that they were dealt by the departing (and exceptionally bitter about it) former Labour administration in 2008 may have proved too much to deal with in a mere four years.

Just one more thing?
Now I pull no punches I grew up in the 1980’s in a politicised home in a town dominated by a self-serving arrogant Labour machine. Newport (and plenty of other places) suffered during the Thatcher years, with the rundown of the old heavy and manufacturing industries and jobs losses. Logically, from a Labour point of view I should be a Labour voter and supporter (and probably an active one at that) but having seen them in action in my formative years in various elections - I would sooner go the dentist for a filling with no anaesthetic rather than vote Labour under any circumstances.

Labour in Newport lost power in the last county council elections (in 2004) due to a combination of Blair, incompetence, arrogance, mismanagement and poor judgement. You would not have needed to be a detective to pick up on the quiet glee inside the civic centre on the part of ordinary hard working council workers at the prospect of the arrogant (in some cases bullying) Labour councillors getting a right tattering prior to polling day in May 2008. Even the particularly unobservant might have gleaned a clue or two as to how the Labour councillors had behaved towards the council staff.

Now let’s be honest Labour in Newport has not liked being out of power one bit, if nothing else Labour in Newport over the last thirty years has largely been about just being there and thoroughly enjoying the trimmings. They had previously lost power in 1979, having regained it they ran the shop from 1981 until 2008, presiding over a very visible decline of the town.

It is easy to forget, especially with a Conservative government in Westminster, from 1997 until 2010 Labour was in power, and they ran the show in Cardiff from 1999 until 2007 – so co-operating with their colleagues in Cardiff and London they should have been able to sort things out in Newport. Labour in Newport were either incapable of developing the vision or arrogant enough to think that they did not need to do anything to retain control.

They were in charge for so long that they thought that they had a god given right to be there. All sorts of people joined the Labour machine, some literally to get their snouts in the trough like so many elected gadarene swine. Periodically anyone who looked like they could pose a potential threat would get an invite to join ‘Plenty of room for nationalists in the Welsh Labour Party’ my mate was told after he ran a good campaign a few years ago – similar stories can no doubt be told across much of the south of Wales.

Opposition candidates who got elected (in the 1980’s) found that Labour prevented them from playing an active part on council committees, some slight revenge perhaps for getting elected in the first place. The Labour in Newport party machine itself could be pretty cynical when it wanted to, throwing an all women short list into a seat where they knew they were about to get electorally exterminated in 2008 being a prime example.

Politics aside, part of the problem in Newport has been the lack of any real coherent long term development plan (beyond the Council’s UDP)and the development of out of town shopping centres combined with (for much of the time) a chronic lack of parking has helped to hammer the hell out of the town centre over the years. City status, which owed more to internal Labour politics than anything else, including finding a safe seat (Newport East) for Conservative defector Alan Howarth, amongst other things, along with the much heralded Ryder Cup , have brought few lasting benefits economic or otherwise.

The impression often given is that people are almost entirely disinterested with local politics; they could not care less, etc. Personally I don’t buy this, people are disinterested in and disillusioned with the process of local politics – which for so many years in Newport was dominated by a cynical self serving Labour machine.

I have often wondered exactly what Labour has delivered for the people of Newport to engender such blind loyalty in the last thirty years? Not a lot as far as I can work out. In most seats in my home town we have reached the point where in all honesty there is no need for an election at all – the Labour block vote, enhanced by First Past the Post, will deliver the seats.

Perhaps if we eliminate the safe seats entirely then elected councillors regardless of party will be forced to actually go out and earn the votes of their constituents to get elected – the dead wood will get voted out. First Past the Post is fundamentally undemocratic and unrepresentative, if we change it and use Single Transferable Vote (as is used in Scotland and Ireland) then perhaps we may reinvigorate local politics, and people’s interest and sort out Newport’s problems as part of process...