Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Pro-Russian thugs attacking pro-Ukrainian protesters in Donetsk on Monday
The Russian State, whatever its ideological cloak, was always capable historically at least (or so we thought) of unleashing so pretty grim strains of thought and actions in its name. The inhabitants of the Kremlin have been historic advocates of state sponsored terror for want of a better phrase. Whether it was the Black Hundreds pre 1914 or the NKVD / KGB in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950’s or the extreme ‘Russian nationalists’ of the 1990s, 2000’s and 2010’s – the end results have often been pretty grim from pogroms, deportations, state terror and even in recent years illegal killings of its opponents.

Monday, 28 April 2014


To say that our countries interests are often taken for granted by some our MP’s is no understatement. There are more than enough MP’s who represent geographically Welsh constituencies who do little to further the interests of our country or even to call for far funding for Wales. Plaid Cymru Westminster Transport and Treasury spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP is spot on when he says that any MP based in Wales voting for HS2 without fair funding for Wales will be committing an act of political betrayal. 

The UK Westminster Government commissioned detailed economic analysis by accountants KPMG which shows that hundreds of millions of pounds will be lost from the Welsh economy each year as a result of the proposed HS2 rail link project which plans to link the North of England to London. Yet the figures were only released after a Freedom of Information request by the BBC 2’s Newsnight.  The report indicates that Cardiff will lose £68m per annum; Swansea £16.5m; Bridgend £11m, and Neath Port Talbot £6m and that Wrexham would only gain marginally from HS2.

England-only infrastructure developments should result in Wales receiving its fair share even under the deeply flawed and outdated Barnet formula.  Yet, as transport infrastructure remains not devolved and the HS2 project has been designated by the UK Government as a UK wide project this means that Wales won’t receive 5% of the total costs of the project in compensation.  Last summer the UK Government up-rated the expected cost of the development by £10bn to over £40bn.

Plaid Cymru Westminster Transport and Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP said:

“The last time I looked on a map, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, and Leeds were all in England.  I find it difficult to see how the UK Government can claim that this is a UK-wide project.  In reality what we are seeing once again is a UK Government using Welsh taxpayers’ money from the general pool of taxation to fund an infrastructure project which will disadvantage our economy.

“The Budget for HS2 is spiralling out of control and construction hasn’t yet begun.  The budget for HS2 will inevitably increase and it will be the only game in town for generations in terms of rail infrastructure spend, meaning that there will be less money to invest in Welsh transport infrastructure. 

“Wales historically only gets a fraction of infrastructure investment - far less than what our population share would demand. We can ill afford to not receive our fair share from HS2.

“Following queries from the Financial Times as to why the Labour Welsh Government was not supporting Plaid Cymru’s position, it belatedly performed a U-turn.  However it was revealed in a recent Parliamentary question I tabled that the Welsh Government had made no representations to the UK Government on securing a fair deal for Wales.  Wales cannot have a Labour Government that is unwilling to stand up to Westminster on this issue.

“Based on UK Government projections, Wales should receive £2bn as a result of HS2.  However with predictions that the total bill for HS2 could easily double, we could be looking at nearer £4bn.  Either way this is a huge sum of money which could revolutionise transport infrastructure in Wales.

“Together with the published negative impact on the South Wales economy in particular, it would be an act of betrayal by MPs representing Welsh constituencies if they didn’t oppose the HS2 Bill today without cast iron guarantees that we were not going to be short changed again by the UK Government.”

Sunday, 27 April 2014


Plaid Cymru has long championed the importance of local economies when it comes to generating national wealth. Every £1 spent in a local business selling local produce is worth twice as much to the economy as £1 spent in a supermarket, due to local reinvestment and spending. As noted by the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, every £10 pound spent in a local business circulates at least three times before it leaves the local economy rather than vanishing when spent in the branches of chains. 
Jill Evans MEP, Plaids lead European candidate
Jill Evans MEP, The Party of Wales’ lead European candidate said:
"The importance of town centres is often underestimated. They have been allowed to wilt under successive governments in both Westminster and Cardiff and it’s time the Welsh Government produced a strategy to turn the situation around.
"Plaid Cymru has called for the business rates system to be completely reformed, levelling the playing field for small town centre businesses to compete with large out-of-town retail parks.
"In terms of business rates, Wales is the most expensive country in the UK for small businesses and the cheapest country for large multinationals.
"The system is clearly wrong and a Plaid Cymru government would make levelling the playing field a priority.
"We can’t turn the clock back, though, so we will need different models of town centres for a best-fit approach. This will involve a range of local strategies to create new stores and more pleasant places to shop so that we can increase the number of customers and people using those centres.
"We need the Welsh Government to produce a much more comprehensive plan to take on that challenge and lift town centres back to their rightful place as economically vibrant community hubs."
It is vital to ensure more people have the opportunity to economically support their local town centres across Wales, so we making them the vibrant heart of the community they once were. Over the last 30 years in Monmouth constituency (and elsewhere) we have all seen the damaging economic and social effects of bad short sighted questionable planning decisions on our small towns. The Welsh Government needs to actively support our town centres and create a more level playing field for small to medium sized local businesses. 
Our town centres should be the economic heart of our communities, generating local wealth and jobs for our people. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have noted that the UK loses 2,000 local shops every year and that of this rate of loss continues then there will be significantly fewer independent retailers left in business. This is something that will seriously hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace and lose potential job opportunities.

Friday, 25 April 2014


A friend of mine summed up Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine perfectly, saying that it is important to remember that historically the inhabitants of the Kremlin have never tended to do subtle either externally or internally. When it comes to ‘Soviet / Russian intervention’ to suppress striking East German workers (in 1953), the crushing of the Hungarian revolution (in 1956), the invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague spring (in 1968), the invasion of Afghanistan (in 1979) and the invasions of Georgia (in 2008) and recent events in Ukraine most people would be hard pressed to describe them as subtle.  

The shadow of a gunman...
Orchestrated by the Kremlin Russian nationalist elements active in eastern Ukraine are busy throwing their weight around and the realities of President Putin rule in Russia are coming home to roost.  News filtering out from eastern Ukraine is beginning to suggest a pattern to disappearances as journalists, local politicians, and ordinary citizens have begun to go missing at an alarming rate. The Kyiv Post and the Committee to Protect Journalists have compiled lists of documented cases of kidnappings in the region.

We are where we are because of Russia’s long planned but hastily implemented occupation of the Crimea which followed the collapse of the corrupt oligarchic pro Moscow government in Kyiv in the face of a bloody but popular revolt. The US Secretary of State John Kerry has rightly accused Russia of "distraction, deception and destabilisation" in eastern Ukraine. In the strongly worded statement, he has called on Moscow to help defuse the crisis or face further sanctions.

The  continuing unrest of eastern Ukraine has more to do with deflecting public opinion in Russia away from the example of Kyiv than anything else. That said the unrest in Eastern Ukraine was stirred up after, from the Kremlin’s perspective, a pro western revolt succeeded. The key and as yet unresolved issue remains as to whether the Ukraine looks east to Moscow or west to the EU looms large in the Kremlin’s thinking.

Last month Russia annexed Ukraine's mainly ethnic-Russian Crimea following a questionable referendum in the region which ‘choose’ to that backed joining the Russian Federation. Both the West and Kiev have said that the referendum was illegal and have refused to recognise it. The problem is that the Kremlin’s concerns for ‘Russians in zones of legitimate interest’ posses potential problems for Moldova (including in the Trans Dniester region) and other eastern states with Russian minorities.

For a man originally brought in as a safe pair of hands to safeguard the interests of a clique of oligarchs who made their fortunes plundering the privatised assets of the former Soviet Union while ordinary Russians lost their savings, President Putin sits securely (and genuinely elected with a large popular mandate) in the Kremlin. The President’s popularity is higher than ever, state’s coffers are full of accrued energy revenues, former oligarchs have been tamed, the bear has roared, Russia has expanded territorially for the first time since 1945 and the West’s criticism has been dismissed.

To a great extent we are all still living with the consequences of the second world war and the cold war – parallels between President Putin and the dictators from the 1930’s and 1940’s have already been drawn.  The legacy and legacy of Stalin’s terror continues to overshadow modern Russia to the day. Communist tyranny died of apathy and inertia in the early 1990’s this meant that there were no real consequences for the former communists and the agencies of the communist state. 

There was no day in court to answer for terrible crimes and abuses inflicted on the Russian people. There was no equivalent of a post cold war Nuremberg tribunal to bring the former communist functionaries (including the KGB) to account for their crimes against the Russian people continue to haunt the Russian people and the rest of us. Unlike in much of Eastern Europe the former dissidents never inherited political power the former communist bureaucrats did.

The West preferred to work hand in hand with former communists to saddle Russia the inheritor of much of the former Soviet state with a dubious legacy of privatisations. Now while there are some in the West who are quite happy to admire President Putin’s values the problem with appeasement is not how it starts but how it ends. If the West accepts that eastern Ukraine President Putin’s final territorial demand then we will be on seriously unstable political ground for the foreseeable future.

Disturbingly the modern Russia’s ‘brown’ vote long targeted by President Putin appears to be the home to some extreme views long dispatched to the home of the extreme right wing.  The Crimean Tartars, who suffered deportation at the hands of Stalin and years of discrimination at the hands of the Soviet authorities, now find themselves back in Russia and like some other ethnic and religious minorities at risk.

When it comes to articulating the consequences and realities of appeasement these are the times when we seriously miss people like Michael Foot who would have stated in no uncertain terms exactly what Russia’s intervention in Ukraine actually signifies. That murmur of Munich that drifted through the West’s chancelleries in the 1990’s over Bosnia clearly has not gone away. 

A combination of increasing EU dependence on Russia gas supplies and potential loss of trading opportunities seriously threatens to put the skids under any EU diplomatic response to recent events in eastern Ukraine. If we in the West choose to do nothing , then what message does that send to Russian and Belarusian democrats and would be democratic movements across Eurasia and the rest of the world? 

Monday, 21 April 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


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

Thursday, 10 April 2014


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

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


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

Sunday, 6 April 2014


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

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

Thursday, 3 April 2014


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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