Wednesday, 26 February 2014


Reform of the law on Domestic violence is vital because at the moment less that 7% of reported incidents end up with a conviction. The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:
  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional
There has been a 40% decline in incidents since 1995 yet 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse last year in the UK, including half a million victims of sexual assault. To make matters worse 50% of Refuge services have been hit by funding cuts since the introduction of austerity measures. In the last year, 7.3% of women and 5.0% of men reported having experienced domestic abuse (estimated 1.2 million female victims and 800,000 male victims). The UK government’s own grim statistics reveal that overall, 31% of women and 18% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16. For women who had been victims of serious sexual assault since they were 16, the most common perpetrator was a partner or ex-partner (52%).

Today (Wednesday) Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Leader Elfyn Llwyd MP, will present a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons that, if passed, would criminalise all aspects of domestic violence – particularly those aspects which are not currently criminal offences, including coercive control. Back in In March 2013, a new, cross-government definition of domestic violence was adopted to encompass psychological, physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, but at present not all of these behaviours are criminal offences. The bill is sponsored by the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group and Napo.

Mr Llwyd will state that the bill would give the government’s definition of domestic violence statutory underpinning, offering victims greater protection and place duties on the police in respect of investigations into domestic violence incidents. Mr Llwyd hopes that the bill will go some way towards emphasising the prevalence of domestic violence in society and prompt a fundamental change in the way that allegations are treated by the police.

Speaking ahead of presenting the bill, Mr Llwyd said:

“Domestic violence is pervasive in our society. Every minute, police across the country will receive a domestic violence-related call.

“These are not trivial incidents, yet according to Women’s Aid, only 6.5% of reported domestic violence incidents result in a conviction. Many domestic violence cases which are passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service result in no action being taken. This cannot be right.

“This bill not only seeks to criminalise all aspects of domestic violence as defined by the government thus broadening the scope of legislation but also prompt a change in which reports and allegations are treated by the police.

“The flaws in the current system create substantial costs to victims and to us as a society. The physical care of abused women costs the NHS £1.2 billion, while the cost of mental health care for these women is £176 million.

“At present, our criminal system is too focused on the physical evidence of violent crimes committed against a victim. Coercive control and emotional blackmail, on the other hand, do not leave scars or bruises – but they are every bit as debilitating.

“This bill provides that a person could be found guilty of an offence if they display behaviour which is covered by the government’s definition of domestic violence.

“Any progress on strengthening the law must be informed by the experience of victims of domestic violence and organisations such as Paladin, Women’s Aid and the Sara Charlton Foundation among others must be commended for their tireless work.

“I’m hugely grateful to those members from all parties who have lent their support to this bill to date, and hope that many more names will join us in securing this vital reform.”

Sunday, 23 February 2014


On Monday, citizen Cameron will be in Scotland, on some exceptionally dodgy ground, repeating the big lie about oil. He will basically say that the Oil and Gas industries in the North Sea (and elsewhere) will be stronger if Scotland stays within the UK. The Brits lied in the 1970's about the potential economic impact of oil on Scotland (think Norway) - they have been lying ever since whilst draining the revenue to fund their post imperial delusions and to pay for tax cuts. Just exactly how long DC can keeping repeating this lie and whether or not he will convince the Scots that it is a truth remains to be seen.

Saturday, 22 February 2014


Revolutionary times in Kyiv
The flight of President Viktor Yanukovych (and his government) from Kyiv may bring some momentary satisfaction in many quarters, the resultant power vacuum will, I have no doubt, be rapidly filled by a new Ukrainian government.  These developments may not however bring an end to Ukraine’s crisis as there is a great deal of unfinished business. 

The emergence of the Ukraine and Russia as independent states back in August 1991 was the decisive factor in bringing about the collapse of the much despised former Soviet Union. In Ukraine the demise of the USSR saw the start of a period of political and economic instability which saw politics and big business become deeply entwined and the emergence of supper rich oligarchs (something that also took place in Yeltsin’s Russia). The former dissidents, democrats and the Ukrainian people lost out. Ukraine today has a significant number of mega rich MP’s who have significant business interests (not to mention control of large sections of the country’s media) who have close links with the much hated oligarchs.

Recent and bloody developments in the Maidan (Kyiv’s main square) may have swung the political balance away from the increasingly autocratic pro Russian party that surrounded the possibly soon to be former President Yanukovych. Even as President Yanukovych revealed the terms of the peace deal (signed on Friday) the rats (so to speak) had been jumping ship, unhappy at the prospect of facing some potential consequences for their actions. 

Yanukovych stalwarts were spotted fleeing to Kyiv's Zhulyany airport, where aircraft records indicate that as many as 180 charter flights have been registered since February 19th. On Friday 21st February, a roll call at the parliament session on February 21st revealed that only 131 of the President’s Party of Regions' 204 deputies were in attendance. A flight log, published online, revealed flights to international destinations as well as locations in Ukraine's Russian-speaking south and east. The destinations include Moscow, Frankfurt, Budapest, Istanbul, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Simferopol.

Unfinished business
The recent debacle over the EU deal may turn out to have been the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. The reality is that other more pressing issues like institutionalised corruption, in the courts, the police and state organs, problems with the banking system, secure land tenure and difficulties many ordinary encountered while trying to make al living, run a small business or simply to get through the winter have been feeding growing discontent for years.

All of this, along with two partially successful revolutions and some very public violations of people’s human rights has contributed to this revolution along with unfinished business dating back to the country's Orange Revolution in 2004-05. What happens next may depend on where President Yanukovych has gone and whether or not he plays the Russian card and if that happens much will depend on how the EU and the West reacts. Ukraine needs to be free and the Ukrainian people themselves need to make those decisions not outsiders.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


I was in the gym on Monday evening, lost in a world of my own on the rowing machine, when I happened to glance up and caught sight of Alastair Darling being interviewed on the Channel 4 news. At first sight he looked particularly rough; it actually crossed my mind that perhaps he was actually quite ill or unwell. After a moment’s reflection and taking the interview in the political context of the day, what struck me most was that this perhaps was quite possibly the face of defeat. Somewhere unconsciously the cumulative effect of being the whipping boy of a largely conservative driven and funded (at least from a Welsh perspective) campaign to stop Scotland securing its independence was beginning to take its toll on Citizen Darling. After months spent trying to scare the Scots into voting 'No' and offering next to nothing by way of a positive message perhaps the campaign is beginning to take its toll on Alistair Darling. From a Unionist perspective, Scottish independence would unravel a state that was largely created by a combination of bribery and financial and political opportunism on the part of corrupt 18th century Scottish politicians (who wanted in for pretty much personal financial reasons) as much as political, economic and religious reasons to join the Union. Any call to save the union should be framed with 21st century concepts in mind, not 17th century political, economic and religious arguments, pretty much all of which no longer matter. Europe is at peace (pretty much), the divine right of Kings is history and the markets and economic possibilities of Empire are history. Any serious debate or discussion about the political union should be framed for the 21st century not wrapped up in 18th century concepts, rose tinted sanctimonious sentimental rubbish and simply trying to scare the Scots into staying in the Union. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Remembering anniversaries is always difficult, some you may struggle to forget, others you may choose not to remember. Exactly twenty-five years ago today, on May 15, 1988, Soviet troops began a nine-month process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. Around 100,000 troops left the country by February 15, 1989, after nine years of war which saw the death of more than 14,000 Soviet soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Afghan combatants and civilians. 

The Soviet Army withdraws from Afghanistan - 25 years ago today.
It can be said that history by and large never repeats itself, the geography may remain constant, the same place names will keep cropping up and there may be similarities of circumstance and similarity of outcome – but that’s about it. By way of coincidence NATO, who it must be said have behaved with significantly more restraint and significantly less brutally than the forces of the old Soviet Union,  is also in the process of winding down it’s Afghan war and Afghan commitments, after nearly 13 years.

When the dust settles, at least the as far as the Western political leaders are concerned the Afghan problem will go away and drop out of the headlines. The spin will be spun and it will be laid on thick this spring and summer as success in Afghanistan will be brazenly redefined. The harsh reality is that military success, however dearly bought has not necessarily delivered political victory or political stability.

Cameron and Obama’s inherited war will end, hopefully, with a whimper rather than anything else, save for a faint whiff of imperial hubris. Military and political success have become intertwined in Afghanistan, now they will be separated. Our soldiers will finally come home, hopefully with the absolute minimum of casualties and what began in the autumn and winter of 2001 will come relatively peacefully to a conclusion.

The spin will endeavour to hide the failure to tackle the underlying poverty and the blatant institutional corruption in Afghanistan. At a very basic level this has meant that the country has been largely left un-taxable, which aside from not been able to pay for its own occupation, its government has been (and will be) left dangerously dependent on foreign aid.

The financial costs of ‘policing’ this largely inaccessible land alone have been on a different scale and have been pretty much born by the occupiers. The financial costs of keeping two US marine battalions in Helmand has resulted in financial costs per year greater than all the US military and development aid to Egypt per year, some $100 billion dollars).

Much of the foreign aid fails to get where it is supposed to go, getting skimmed off along the way. Now none of this should surprise anyone very much as when you factor in weak and corrupt local political leadership and our very poor choice of allies it was pretty predictable.

The Transparency International in 2013 Corruption Index (CPI) currently ranks Afghanistan (at 175) as one of the (joint) most corrupt country with North Korea and Somalia. President Hamid Karzai in the United State for the NATO Summit in Chicago (back in 2012) was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about this rampant corruption issue in Afghanistan. As usual, President Karzai’s answer was “it is the contractual mechanism that the US applies in Afghanistan” that encourages bribery, fraud, and corruption.

The Afghan President continues to always blame the west for the loss of billions of aid dollars and the rise of corruption in Afghanistan. The reality is less simple as on a daily basis, ordinary Afghans are less concerned about the kinds of bribery that is (and does) occur when the US and Western  development agencies hand out big development contracts. Ordinary Afghans are more infuriated by the kinds of bribes that they often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to via “harassment bribes.”

Basically harassment bribes are like when a retired Afghan has to pay some cash to the pension officer to receive his retirement check. Or, when a young man or woman freshly graduated from college has to get his or her paperwork done in order to become a teacher. To accomplish this the prospective teacher will be asked to pay a hefty bribe. Or your Tazkira or national ID card is held up until you pay some cash to the officer in charge. These are all simple illustration of harassment bribes.

Harassment bribery is widespread in Afghanistan, and it plays a large role in breeding inefficiency and has a profoundly destructive effect on civil society. While President Karzai consistently wags the finger at the West for widespread corruption in Afghanistan, yet his administration has failed to take responsibility for banishing bribery on the lower level. The West, perhaps hoping for a compliant Afghan government has looked the other way, which means that local low level corruption gets written off as a fact of life – despite that it is something that indirectly may feed support for the Taliban. 

To this sorry mess you have to add what has pretty much been a complete lack of understanding of the real challenges in Afghanistan and not to mention regularly changing objectives. So it should be no surprise that there has been a real lack of a coherent or consistent planning and realistic objectives, so it is no wonder that the medium term future of Afghanistan is as yet undetermined.

The final telling factor that makes the Afghan situation so tragic considering the lives lost and changed forever not to mention the treasure spent, is that of mission creep. This has taken place on a heroic scale, with the war on terror becoming the war on drugs and the possibly fatal consequences of diverting resources to Iraq before the job in Afghanistan was even defined, let alone half done.  

Thursday, 13 February 2014


Aside from its people, Wales’ greatest strength lies with the potential of her natural resources – these are our most valuable sustainable assets, and they are need to be managed in a sustainable way that promotes fairness. Before we can develop a sustainable future for our country, the Welsh Government needs not only to get a grip but to make better use of its existing powers as well as achieving the devolution of powers over planning for renewable energy for Wales.
The Welsh Government needs to develop sustainable energy targets for Wales and to assume responsibility for delivering them. Hand in hand with this it is important  that local communities get a direct benefit from larger energy projects in their area and that they get an opportunity to participate in and also to develop small scale community beneficial energy projects.
All energy projects in Wales need to include community benefit clauses so that our communities get something back. We need to urgently establish of an arms-length, publicly-owned, not-for-distributable-profit energy company – Ynni Cymru – something that should directly benefit Welsh energy customers by helping them to pay a fair price for their energy. Energy bills in Wales have risen three times faster than wages since 2008, and the establishment of Ynni Cymru can help to tackle this issue directly.
Once we used to be a world leader in carbon-based energy and  we have the potential once again to be a world leader when it comes to developing sustainable energy projects. If this is going to happen then our Government needs to work to create the right environment so that everyone in Wales can benefit, rather than leaving it to disinterested Westminster based governments. Our country’s potential as a world leader in green industries needs to be unlocked and we need to create a stronger and more economically self-sufficient Wales.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


Yesterday’s news about the threat to some 650 jobs at Avana Bakeries in Rogerstone is a bad news for the employees, the company and for Newport. The loss of a multi-million pound Marks and Spencer cake order contract to a firm in Oldham (M&S basically just pulled the plug on its contract with Avana Bakeries) has left jobs and the even site under threat. The contract took up around 85% of what the Avana bakery produces – something which unfortunately left the company in a vulnerable position. It has been acknowledged that some of the more unscrupulous larger retailers and supermarkets have in the past thrown their weight around when it comes to allowing suppliers to chase contracts with other companies thus avoiding this dangerous dependency on specific contracts. This may or may not be the case with the Avana M&S contract. Despite the spin from M&S the main motivator for this action probably comes down to squeezing out extra profits than anything else. The contract, won by Avana in July 2002 was warmly welcomed bringing job security, investment and more jobs, after a bad fire at the site in December 2001 which left the bakery under threat of closure. The Welsh Government, local AMs and MPs, Newport City Council and the Secretary of State for Wales need to ensure that every opportunity is pursued to allow the company the opportunity to get back on its feet after this unexpected blow. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


The Welsh and Westminster Governments need to make rational long term sustainable choices when it comes to flood defence. We in Wales need to develop a comprehensive planning system for our country that hardens our communities and infrastructure against the effects of severe weather events.   We need to focus on flood prevention and develop flood preventative schemes rather than end up clearing up after the flood is over again and again.

This winter is proving to be hard one when it comes to sea and riverine flooding, the persistent bad weather has meant that some of our communities have had some pretty close calls and other communities have been inundated. There can be no blank cheque for flood defences so we need to make rational cost effective sustainable choices when it comes to flood defence whether for coastal or riverine flooding on the Gwent levels or the Wye, Usk or Monnow valleys. 

The debate taking place around flooding needs to focus on re-engineering the whole water system in Wales to ensure that water is retained in the uplands to prevent downstream flooding. Here in Wales, those agencies responsible for our environment need to take the lead and work to ensure that potential flood waters are retained our uplands for longer and flood prevention avoidance schemes are comprehensively built into our planning system.

Where possible we should avoid building in those areas that are particularly vulnerable to flooding or at least when building to take into account the possibilities of flooding. If we are going to build on flood plains or other areas that are vulnerable to flooding then we must use flood resistant or at the very least flood hardened modern intelligent design techniques to limit potential damage, loss and inconvenience as are used elsewhere.

Here in Wales there is a good example of what is possible, as one of the largest flood preventive scheme is being developed in Llanelli.  Welsh Water, a not-for-profit company, has developed the scheme because the town's sewerage system repeatedly flooded homes and polluted the River Lliedi. The scheme involves digging up stretches of tarmac and paving to create catchment pits for storm water, diverting water into the pits from gutters and then putting grass and plants on top of the pits.

This means that water is held in the soil and slowly seeps away or evaporates. The ideas have been praised by the water regulator Ofwat. If these ideas are built into the planning process then we may help to reduce runoff and flooding. Who knows, perhaps the major supermarkets will demonstrate their much trumpeted claims over social responsibility by breaking up their car parks and installing porous surfaces to catch runoff – personally I won’t hold my breath.

The Llanelli scheme is a good example of what is possible, but, we also need to work to ensure that our power network and our communities are hardened to the effects of severe weather events. Those coastal roads and railways that have been damaged by the recent combination of bad weather and high tides will be eventually repaired.

None of this is new, after the bad floods of 2007, which saw the loss of thirteen  lives and much devastation, the then Labour Government commissioned Sir Michael Pitt to undertake a thorough review of the UK's flood defences. The full report, which is now published, makes interesting reading and  contains 92 proposals need to be implemented if communities are to be better protected. It is a pity that the recommendations were not fully implemented.

We also need to take a longer sustainable view and seriously consider the possibilities of building railway lines, roads and key infrastructure projects away from those areas that are and may become more susceptible to flooding. In England recent changes in planning law oblige all new developments to catch water from their own site and prevent it adding to floods, although the full implementation of the law has been delayed by what critics claim is disarray as the government is under pressure from housing industry lobbyists.

The retention of water in upland areas is by cramming gorse into streams from peat bogs, blocking young rivers with fallen trees and creating low-level earth dams to contain water so it soaks into the soil. There has even been talk of changing policies to incentivise farmers to re-forest upland areas to catch water and stop soil running off into streams. Some (in including the World Wildlife Fund) think farmers should be obliged to change the way they farm in order to obtain their grants from taxpayers.

Trying to retrofit the decade’s long legacy of flood-inducing buildings in our communities, our towns and cities will be costly and challenging.  The legacy of building on flood plains (and on potentially vulnerable the Gwent levels (aside from people’s homes and businesses which has been estimated to contain £3 billion pounds worth of infrastructure) will be more difficult to fix in the short term, but, not perhaps as expense as repeatedly clearing up the chaos, misery and destruction that follows every flood.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


There appears to be a general political consensus that something must be done about reducing the Severn bridge tolls – which is nice – but not particularly helpful to motorists. Neither is the silence (ominous or not) from the Department for Transport on the eventual ownership of the bridge and the potential fate of the tolls is also not particularly helpful.

Back on January 1st 2014, the cost of crossing into Wales by car increased to £6.40 - a rise of 20p - small goods vehicles pay £12.80 (a 40p increase) and HGVs £19.20 (a 60p increase). The Severn Bridge operators rolled out the same old tired excuses for their greed saying that the tolls were agreed by a parliamentary order and in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI), etc, etc.

A non subsidised bridge near us...
Oddly enough, when it comes to the Severn Bridge tolls, one often ignored fact is that the tolls on the Humber Bridge are subsidized by Westminster. When last in office at Westminster, Labour chose to quietly (and regularly) subsidise the Humber Bridge tolls, yet made no move what so ever towards doing anything about dealing with the tax on jobs, businesses and commuters which are passed off as the Severn bridge tolls – and our local Labour elected representatives pretty much maintained their silence.  

To a degree this may explain to some degree what our local Labour MP’s who do little beyond trotting out the same old news releases bemoaning the failure of the Government (when in opposition) to do anything about the tolls. The Humber Bridge subsidy has been continued by the Con Dem Coalition Government, who have driven the post Thatcherite ‘free market’ ideology into wholly new areas, yet show no inclination to curb the Humber Bridge state subsidy or offer to help Welsh commuters and businesses out with a simular subsidy.

At some point in 2018 ownership of the two Severn Bridges will revert back to the Westminster Government ‘s Department for Transport, once the take from the tolls reach passes the magic figure of £ 996 million pounds (that is at 1989 prices). The Labour in Wales Welsh government wants to take control of the tolls when the Severn Crossings return to public ownership and would look to reduce them although it believes abolishing them would leave too great a hole in the budget.

Plaid has called for the transfer of powers (to Wales) so that tolls on the bridges can be reduced, something that could have a considerable impact on businesses and the economy. With control over the bridges devolved, Plaid would cut the tolls to £2 to cover maintenance costs. Maintenance costs are some £15 million per year, but motorists and vehicles using the crossings currently generate £72 million pounds per year. While the tolls would form a useful revenue stream for Welsh Governments, Plaid’s priority is to cut the tolls.

A consultants' report (for the Welsh Government) suggested that the abolition of bridge tolls could boost the economic output in Wales by £ 107 Million pounds. By the time the two Severn Bridges come back into public ownership in 2018, it has been estimated that this cash cow may have been milked to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds. What adds regular insult to regular financial injury is the fact that the old (M48) Severn Bridge continues to be periodical closed at weekends for routine maintenance, which are funded by the Department for Transport, from the public purse.

Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls recommended that the revenues from the tolls should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area.

The study noted that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the 2010 study found that transport; construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness. The 2010 study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport.

What concerns me is the possibility that the Department of Transport (and their Westminster based masters) may find the income from the Severn bridge tolls too useful to let go. The ownership of the Severn bridges should be transferred to the National Assembly in 2018, which means that a decision needs to be made now and preparations for the transfer begun  - what we in Wales don’t need is silence from the Department for Transport.