Friday, 29 June 2012


Local residents have a last chance to voice their opinions, concerns and objections against the proposed extra M4 Tunnel at Brynglas. The closing date for submitting a form as part of the Welsh Government Consultation Process is Friday 6th July 2012. The Campaign Against Additional Tunnel (CAAT) has real concerns about the flawed consultation process, but has been making residents aware of the deadline. CAAT held a very successful and well attended surgery for residents recently but is concerned that many residents still appear unaware of the deadline for submissions. So CAAT is holding a final surgery to give concerned residents a last chance to take part and too submit a consultation form, at the Christchurch Centre, Old Malpas Road (behind the Fire Station) between 5pm and 7pm on Monday 2nd July 2012.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Under pressure?
The Chancellor's announcement that the proposed fuel duty rise of 3 pence (which was set to be introduced in August) but has now been scrapped should be welcomed for what it is - a U-Turn. George Osborne's decision comes after a long campaign jointly led by Plaid Cymru and the SNP which put sustained pressure on the government to act over the issue which proved to be another 'elephant in the room' as far as the latest Budget was concerned.

Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Leader Elfyn Llwyd MP said:

"I am very pleased that the Chancellor has finally seen sense and scrapped this damaging proposal which would have put even more strain on businesses and ordinary people's pockets during a time of financial crisis.

"This was the elephant in the room as far as the Budget was concerned, with the Chancellor repeatedly ignoring the fact that soaring fuel prices were the main drivers of rising inflation.

"Rising fuel costs impact the daily lives of the majority of ordinary people, particularly in rural areas such as my Dwyfor Meirionnydd constituency where efficient transport is essential.

"This latest in a string of government u-turns will offer people some relief as they struggle to make ends meet - at least until the end of the year as the Chancellor has noted.

"However, it is a shame that it took until this morning for the Labour Party to declare its support for this hugely important campaign. Had they acted sooner, a full cross-party campaign may have pressured the Chancellor into changing his mind months ago.

"Sadly, Labour's lethargy and the Coalition's complacency has yet again left many people suffering unnecessarily.

"Plaid Cymru alongside the SNP have been calling for a genuine fuel duty stabiliser for nearly a decade and that is yet to be achieved, but at least this further damage has been avoided.

"We can only hope that in future, campaigns which put people before politics will be met with greater enthusiasm from all parties."

Sunday, 24 June 2012


In Scotland, Rail transport is seen as being a vital component of Scotland’s success, with improvements to the rail infrastructure being seen as important to helping to supporting economic growth, strengthening connections and providing sustainable alternatives to road and air travel. Here in Wales, if might as well be an afterthought.

The SNP Government has invested record levels in rail – opening 2 new passenger lines and 7 new stations; it has provided 38 new trains and increased train services by 10%. Since 2004 rail freight traffic has grown substantially and passenger numbers have increased by 30%.

At the moment, rail services in the UK are provided through a flawed (in my opinion) private sector model. The Scottish rail network is however, entirely funded by the Scottish government and Scottish Ministers, and despite this infrastructure of rail remains a reserved matter.

The SNP Government has several times written (as recently as February and May of this year) to UK Ministers, making clear that the Scottish Government could achieve better outcomes for Scottish passengers if Scotland had overall responsibility for rail. The UK Westminster Government has chosen not to respond to the repeated approaches from the SNP Government.

Last week the Scottish Government announced a £5 billion programme of investment in Scotland's railways (between 2014 and 2019), which will support the delivery of franchised passenger services and enable Network Rail to operate, maintain and enhance the network. The programme will also continue to deliver the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) and the Borders Railway project.

Here in Wales... the Labour in Wales Government will...hmm, argh, yes - the defining silence speaks volumes does it not. The only thing that the Labour in Wales Government has tried to do in the last year is to try to link the valleys electrification project with plans to electrify the main line all the way from London (Severn Tunnel) to Swansea.

This is of course is one way of avoiding having to do anything. Little else has been suggested or hinted at, the people of the Ebbw Valley and Newport may have to wait a long time before the final bit of the Ebbw Vale line to Newport is approved, let alone gets a start date.

Friday, 22 June 2012


Prime Minister David Cameron’s criticism of some of the tax arrangements of some of the rich and shameless as "morally wrong" certainly caught the headlines. Perhaps it can be put down (from a Conservative perspective) to the PM going off on one again. it was certainly a bizarre ‘Conservative’ moment - what’s next Japanese whalers endorsing the virtues of Greenpeace? Certainly from where I have been sat, this side of the bridge, ‘Conservative’ and ‘tax evasion’ have been happily juxtaposed for many years in the public perception.

I noticed that David Cameron appears to have rapidly clammed up, after his unexpected outburst. Perhaps he is now engaged in managed withdrawal (aka ‘retreat’) following his condemnation of celebrity tax avoiders yesterday, no doubt after less than coded warnings from Tory donors that his attacks on Jimmy Carr could open a world of tax avoidance related hurt.

After further thought DC may have decided to cut his losses and keep his head down, certainly the PM has declined to criticise the tax affairs of Take That star Gary Barlow (a recent recipient of a gong), happens to possibly involved in a similar tax evasion scheme to the one Carr used to cut his liabilities. No doubt some pretty senior Tories are fearful that Cameron’s comments could lead to an unwelcome media spotlight on the tax affairs of senior party donors and government (and not doubt former New Labour) ministers.

The Daily Telegraph (no great lover of Cameron admittedly) says that DC under mounting pressure to pay back cheap loans of £1.2 million to the Conservative Party from companies registered in tax havens before the last election. One £250,000 loan apparently came from Juniper Trading (which is registered in the British Virgin Islands). It was given in 2004 at 0.25 per cent below the base rate, to be repaid in 2029. Another £950,000 loan was apparently made by the Medlina Foundation, (based in Liechtenstein), at the base rate plus 1 per cent in the same year. Oops!

Now it does seem a bit rich for the Conservative Party to be taking advantage of loans from offshore firms, while the PM slags of celebrities, for using a tax avoidance scheme in Jersey. Most reasonable people accept (by now) that there is a real need to deal on a global basis with the problem of off-shore companies and those individuals who are actively engaged in tax avoidance, tax evasion and / or money laundering. The problem is that the UK is at the heart of the problem as it has consciously chosen not to regulate some of its crown dependencies.

The scale of the off-shore problem takes your breath away. The Cayman Islands; are currently home to some 12,000 corporations and have a population of 50,000, yet are home to 70% of the planets hedge funds. The British Virgin Islands (population 22,000) is home to 823,502 registered companies. General Electric paid no tax in 2010, yet made a $14.2 billion dollar profit. Barclay's has 181 subsidiaries registered in the Cayman Islands and paid little UK tax on its worldwide profits. The Dirty Digger's News Corp has 152 subsidiaries in tax havens across the planet (according to the US Government) and paid no UK corporation tax between 1998 and 1999.

US President Obama was absolutely right to suggest that the governments of the world should jointly tackle the issue of tax evasion and tax havens. The US President was spot on, if we actually tackled the tax havens, the tax avoidance and the questionable dealings of the derivative traders, hedge funds and the off balance sheet trading then we might go so way towards dealing with the consequences of the worldwide financial crash. I suspect that rhetoric aside hell might have a better chance of freezing over before that nice Mr Cameron and the other 18 millionaires in the cabinet actually do anything to close the tax loopholes – were that to happen then perhaps we would all be in it together?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


The news that Wales is missing out on up to £140m more per year more than was originally thought because of the unfairness of the Barnett Formula, should not shock anyone. Back in 2010/2011, our country missed out on up to £540m, this makes Plaid’s call for the implementation of a needs-based system, or a short-term solution to make up the shortfall, more urgent than ever. The publication by the UK Government of the public spending figures for 2010/2011, revealed that the funding shortfall for Wales for that year came in at some £540m. This figure is substantially more than the £400m figure that was estimated by the independent Holtham Commission back in July 2010. This should make the case for overhauling Barnett pretty water tight and more urgent than ever. I hope I am wrong, but, I suspect that a combination of a financially challenged Tory driven Westminster government and an inert, inept Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff Bay will means that the problem of the underfunding won’t get sorted anytime soon. So any sound of silence near us in the future will be the sound of Unionist’s working hard for for Wales then...

Monday, 18 June 2012


PLAID is right to call for any banking reform to benefit small businesses. It is very important that the Banking White Paper does not water down proposals for the separation of retail and investment banking interests which will protect ordinary customers money.

That said, few outside the Westminster village will be shocked to discover that the wealthy banking lobby have successfully in persuaded the Con-Dems to relax recommendations from the Independent Commission on Banking. These recommendations related to enforcing a separation between retail banks, which hold savers deposits, and investment banks which use investors funds to make money (casino banking).

Plaid also called for an end to credit default swaps for businesses, warning that small companies have been mis-sold complex financial products by banks and then have found themselves in financial difficulty afterwards. A complete separation of retail and investment banking interests should provide significantly better protection for customers and small businesses and should take much of the risk out of banking.

We should never again allow ourselves to be in the situation where private sector investment banker's failures can effectively bring the economy crashing down on the rest of us. Retail banks where consumers, including families and small businesses, deposit their savings need to be protected thus ensuring their long-term sustainability.

All pretty sensible stuff, the bad news is that the banking lobby already appear to have been busy persuading the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to water down the recommendations of the independent commission on banking. The problem is that weakened proposals may not protect small businesses who have been mis-sold complex financial products in recent years and some of whom may never see their money again.

Plaid Cymru has long argued that banks should not have interests and risks which could be to the detriment of the entire sector and to the wider economy. The problem is that when New Labour had their noses in the trough (between 1997 and 2010) the importance of the financial sector grew from 11% of the total economy to more than 18%.

This unbalanced the economy largely because New Labour (and the Conservative Government's before them) turned their backs on the manufacturing sector, something that hit the Welsh economy and our manufacturing sector badly and ensured that an even greater inequality between London and the rest of the UK. This is one of the reasons why the UK was hit so badly when the crash came and has been struggling to recover since.

Interestingly enough a recent poll in the Independent on Sunday (17.06.2012) revealed that 59% thought that George Osborne is out of touch with the public (20% disagreed and 21% didn't know), 25% thought that he is leading the country's economy in the right direction (46% disagreed, 29% didn't know). Some 52% thought he was arrogant (24% disagreed and 24% didn't know) and 48% thought that he had made too many mistakes to be taken seriously (25% disagreed and 26% didn't know).

Additionally 25% agreed that George was doing a good job in difficult times - some 46% disagreed and 27% didn't know. The final poll question asked whether citizen Osborne is too posh to understand the financial pressures on ordinary people – 55% agreed, 23% disagreed and 22% didn't know.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Plaid Cymru's Treasury spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP has repeated calls for greater responsibility within the financial sector as a report is published showing the bosses of FTSE 100 companies enjoyed an average 12% rise in their take-home pay last year.

Mr Edwards, who has consistently maintained that curbing executive pay and reforming the banking system are key to economic recovery, insists that the Coalition government must shrug off its complacency towards big bonuses and put the interests of the real economy ahead of the City elite.

Responding to the survey conducted by Manifest/MM&K, Mr Edwards said:

"In recent years, the financial sector in Britain has created an unacceptable culture of rewarding failure and neglecting responsibility.

"The Coalition government is also complicit in this negligence. While ordinary people are feeling the squeeze, those earning more than £3,000 a week are enjoying tax cuts introduced by the Chancellor's latest Budget.

"Plaid Cymru have always maintained that big bonuses must curbed if we are to tackle the UK's widening wealth gap - the largest in Europe - brought about by the Coalition's complacency and the previous Labour government's lethargic approach to financial management.

"Only yesterday (Monday), we warned that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill currently going through Parliament, could become a 'Bad Bosses' Charter' if it limits employee rights, and lacks strength in sections which deal with directors' pay and bonuses.

"Plaid Cymru would look to address the weakness of certain sections of the Bill through introducing a maximum wage and allowing employees' representatives to be included remuneration committees.

"These latest statistics serve as a reminder of who's really 'in it together'. While the majority of the population are dealing with soaring food and fuel prices, the FTSE 100 bosses are benefiting from soaring salaries.

"We should be asking serious questions about what sort of society we want to create as a result of the recession. A return to business as usual for the economic elite favoured by the Labour-Tory tag team is not acceptable.

"The UK Government needs to curb executive pay and reform the banking system so that it works in the interests of the real economy rather than a self-serving cash machine for bankers and others.”

Monday, 11 June 2012


Save the Welsh Cavalry
The Conservatives (sorry Con Dems) have a bad habit of making defence cuts at moments when it would be better strategically to pause for thought. As part of the package of public sector spending cuts, to bail out the banks, the army is now going through a process of downsize to meet the new budget cuts. One result of these cuts is that a number of army regiments will be amalgamated or disbanded. Now there is nothing wrong with cutting ones cloth to match reality, that is something that the UK should have been done years ago.

Hasty ill thought out defence cuts have a tendency to come back and bite you further down the line. These defence cuts, at a time of significant military commitment overseas, should be properly thought out and balanced with a realistic medium to long term assessment of potential future strategic needs. That is sadly not what we have, any defence cut or reduction in military strength should be well thought out and any cuts should be balanced regionally rather than being over focused on Wales.

Our country has and continues to provide some of the finest soldiers for the Army in numbers which are greater than the population of Wales would indicate. Wales has four Regiments and only one Cavalry Regiment, 1st The Queens Dragoon Guards (the QDG). This Regiment recruits some 75% of its solders from all parts of Wales. Welsh families have a long tradition of serving in the Regiment and the consequent benefit for employment in Wales.

Losing the QDG is not a sensible option, aside from the fact that no one in Wales will be able to serve in a Welsh Cavalry Regiment. The loss of the regiment will have significant economic knock on effects, with redundancies, something that will not help in these grim economic times. Once if these cuts go ahead then once again Wales will lose out, tradition will wither, and potentially 500 jobs will be lost.

The UK Prime Minister, faced with a well organised and focused Scottish response has apparently indicated that he does not want to see any of the Infantry or Cavalry regiments in Scotland removed. When it comes to Wales, which is often out of sight and out of mind as far as many Westminster Governments are concerned, there has been no clear answer as to the fate of the QDQ. This is clearly unacceptable.

Friday, 8 June 2012


Ed's new friend!
Ed (Miliband) and the Party formerly known as New Labour have decided to embrace the political elephant that is Englishness and they have admitted that they (Old and New Labour) have apparently been somewhat reluctant to talk about the sleeping elephant (in the room) at the heart of the UK - Englishness. There is more, apparently they have decided that the issue of national identity (English or British perhaps?) should not be a closed book. In snippets from the speech released before yesterday's event, it appears that Miliband has managed to hit his thumb squarely rather than the head of the nail, saying that Britain should be a country "where it always possible to have more than one identity" and people should not have to choose between being British, English, Scottish or Welsh. Yet at the same time acknowledging that "multiple allegiances" raise serious questions about national identity and accepting that that Labour has avoided trying to articulate a vision of Englishness. Apparently the released draft of Miliband's speech contained no reference to the thorny issue of a separate English Parliament. Plaid has long called for a partnership of equals, but it is pretty clear that Ed's position on the English (question) is that they do not deserve their own Parliament. He has also entirely ignored the thorny matter of the West Lothian Question and English votes on English laws. In a typical old Labour fudge. that may remind older participants in the devolutionary process of not so long ago, Labour sources suggested that although Ed was keen to continue devolving powers to local authorities, he believed that calls for an England-only parliament to balance those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were "simplistic constitutional symmetry". By my reckoning, based on the way labour plays the devolutionary game, I predict that this means that in about 10 to 15 years Labour will embrace the cause an English parliament....

Thursday, 7 June 2012


As a historian / archaeologist and someone who has more than a passing interest in politics I have to find a happy medium between living in the past and living in the now. It is important that we remember what has been done (for good and for bad) and to use that knowledge to make intelligent sensible choices about our future. I am a big believer in ‘rememberance’, by that I mean we should never be selective when it comes to remembering history.

If you want to wallow in nostalgia about the ‘British Empire’ or the ‘Soviet Union’ that’s fine, but, while remembering the heroic and principled stand against fascism in 1940 then you should also chose not to forget about the Bengal famine (which killed six million) in the middle of the second world war or the million or so who starved to death in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century.

For those who yearn for the strong man in Russian politics and days when the sound of ‘Soviet rockets made the world tremble’ don’t forget the millions who were murdered or imprisoned by Stalin and his cronies (not to mention the millions killed and imprisoned by the fascist regimes in Europe and Asia in the 1930’s and the 1940’s) and the repressive regimes that held sway across half of our continent until the early 1990’s.

The vast majority of the old brutal oppressive Communist dictatorships, save for Cuba and the People's Republic of China (PRC) have collapsed and been rightly cast into the dustbin of history. While both Cuba and the PRC have made real social achievements (particularly when it comes to health care and literacy) it is important to remember that these achievements have come at one hell of a price in broken Human lives and scattered bones.

In recent years the tide may well have finally turned against dictatorship, even though we may yet have some way to go before they are finally gone. Certainly the real courage shown by protesters against tyrannical (nominally Communist and other) regimes, particularly in the last 12 months has been impressive, it has however been matched by what can best be described as a failure of leadership on the part of the UN Security Council which appears tired, out of step and unfit for purpose.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


By the time the dust settles around the draft Energy Bill (rolled out at Westminster on the 22nd May) the best that can probably be said about it is that was a missed opportunity because of the failure to include the devolution of energy planning powers to the National Assembly. Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards MP, put forward legislation (Electricity Generation (Wales) Bill ) to devolve energy generation planning powers to Wales (last January), but that idea was voted down by Labour in Wales and Conservative MPs in Westminster – so much for standing up for Wales! At present, the Welsh Government only has powers to decide on energy proposals up to 50MW on land and 1MW on sea. One direct result of this state of affairs is that the recent decision to grant permission for the Pen y Cymoedd windfarm in south Wales (which will generate an estimated 250MW) was made by the Secretary of State in London and not by the Welsh Government in Cardiff. Another result is that all the hot air generated by the Welsh First Minister on energy infrastructure development is largely meaningless as along as his colleagues in Labour in Wales (in Westminster) and their Conservative friends in London continue to refuse to allow our country to make its own energy decisions.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


William Hague (the UK Foreign Secretary) has said that he is not ruling anything out in relation the situation in Syria - anything save any action to protect the Syrian people - that is. The whole situation reminds me in many ways of the early months of Bosnia in the 1990's - where the West made many pious pronouncements about Human rights, arms embargo's etc, yet did little. If you are the ones being shelled by the a government that has been stockpiling arms for the best part of forty years then Hague's words will bring scant comfort.

The UN and the Arab League are failing to halt the killing, the UN is stuck between a rock and a hard place, as both Russia and China will veto any moves to actually act to save lives. The days are gone when Russia and China will step back from supporting and protecting their somewhat bloodstained Allies at the UN.

How many more Houla style massacres will we see before anything is done? Back in February, the European Parliament backed a resolution calling on Russia to stop arms sales to Syria and allow the UN Security Council to take the lead in resolving the crisis and has actively condemned the "brutal massacre" in Houla , and repeated calls for the Syrian government to implement the UN peace plan. Yet still the bodies pile up.

In many ways it is entirely natural for the few remaining Communist dictatorships like Cuba and the Peoples Republic of China (itself a brutal repressive dictatorship) to side with the Syrian Government. Cuban repression is well documented and the PRC's behaviour towards dissidents and ethnic minorities (and the peoples of Tibet and East Turkestan to name but two) within its own border is a matter of record. China has other concerns and anxieties, spreading democracy definitely is not among them, and stability at any price may be a key factor here along with arms sales.

Yet Syria also has some fair weather friends who should know better, including Cuba, Venezuela, South Africa, Brazil and India (who have abstained on Syria related UN resolutions) who remain silent along with the old traditional ‘left’. There is some irony here in that some of the states supporting the Syrian dictatorship were themselves involved in liberation struggles, they might once had a degree of sympathy for the Syrian people who are laying down their lives for freedom and liberty or perhaps they are stuck in the vice like grip of the past or merely enjoying the trappings of power.