Thursday, 30 July 2015


It would be nice if the Severn Bridge tolls could scraped, as have all the bridge tolls in Scotland. The problem is not that the bridges span (mostly)  a border that lies between two administrative areas - handing control of both bridges to the National Assembly in 2018 could easily solve that problem. 

The real problem that hard pressed commuters face is that the Department for Transport is already (no doubt) looking at any toll revenues and thinking of milking the bridge tolls for all that it can squeeze out of them (less maintenance costs). The lack of a direct rail connection between the Ebbw valley and Newport also means that most (potential commuters to Bristol and beyond) have little choice but to drive to work. 

This oversight (if it can be called that) may reflect successive Welsh Governments ignoring the economic realities that drive a significant number of Welsh residents to make the long daily commute across the Severn Bridges. The day the tolls are significantly reduced or removed cannot come soon enough.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


The last time there was a great economic collapse, some major political and economic changes followed it. Now this was a combination of the legacy of failure to deal with the political, economic, and social consequences of the economic collapse, combined with a desire not to return to a grim pre war world and the positive legacy of the combined effort to win the war and defeat fascism. This 'economic revolution' was established or perhaps enshrined at the Bretton Woods conference (in 1944) and lasted until the late 1970's.

This time around following the greed and stupidity induced banking crisis which triggered economic collapse there has been no 'economic revolution', there appears to be no collective desire to make sure the same mistakes does not happen again – at least amongst the political elite. We are collectively stuck with the same old deeply flawed unregulated 'free market' theories that helped to contributed to the banking crisis in the first place - there is apparently 'no alternative' but simply to hope that the failures of the past don't come back to haunt us in future years.

Yet, the version of 'free market' unregulated capitalism, where the big banks pretty much hoovered up their smaller competitors in the years before the collapse (the one legacy of Thatcher that's never talked about is the eradication (with a few exceptions) of our building societies). The same thing happened with the electricity and gas companies, which were rapidly smothers and absorbed to leave us with the unpalatable, untouchable 'Big 6' cartel members - who continue to squeeze their customers and monopolise the so called 'free market'.

Somehow, while Westminster and Washington were distracted or disinterested we ended up with privately owned, privately funded institutions that had become 'too big to fail'. Their financial misdemeanours largely went unchallenged, un-investigated and unreported (save by a few honourable individuals at Westminster who did their level best to shine a light on the nefarious activities of an increasingly unregulated banking sector).

One take on this is that the Westminster elite (elected and non- elected) have for far too long been far too closely involved with the pernicious influence of the city. It has always been too easy for the Westminster elite to flit back and got into and out of lucrative employment in the City (and back again) with little beyond half-hearted ineffective scrutiny.

This was as true under the long Conservative period of governance between 1979 and 1997 as it was under the New Labour governments between 1997 and 2010 and to a great extent remains largely unchanged if not unchallenged. The questionable privatisations under the Conservative, New Labour and Con Dem governments certainly provided plenty of opportunities for cosy well salaried non executive jobs on the board. 

This combined with the blending of private capital with the public sector, begun under John Major, accelerated by Blair / Brown and continued by the Con Dens blurred the boundaries between the public meant that when the crash happened there was real panic, followed by the handing over of significant amounts of public money to private business (banking) concerns pretty much will little regulation of what was done with it (hence the continuance of the business as usual banking bonus culture even within those banks that ended up effectively under public ownership).

After the current crash, unlike after the crash in the 1930's there has been no period of reflection of reform and very little legislative or regulatory action to try to ensure that the circumstances that led to the crash don't happen again. The speed with which the current unrestrained Conservative government has moved to lighten the tax load on the big banks and to reduce corporation tax - something that a former New Labour government would have probably done - reflects the continued unhealthily close relationship between the City and Westminster.

When the crash happened governments and internal financial institutions stood blinking like rabbits gazing into the headlights of an oncoming car - the hard impact that followed left the rabbits stunned and in shock rather than dead. There has been no fix beyond collective wishful thinking that it won't happen again and perhaps a silent hope that some other financial rabbit will take the head on impact next time.

The 'free market' ideology that we have got lumbered with is perhaps the adoptive child of all those other financial experts who were proved so wrong by John Maynard Keynes (back in the 1940's). Certainly the 'free market' economists have re-shaped (shattered) or shaken our world since the late 1970's and unleashed a ‘free market unregulated capitalism' onto the developed, the developing and the former communist worlds - with some pretty dire consequences.

Whether you live in Russia or the old West by and large (although with a few healthy exceptions) former state / publicly owned enterprises and assets are largely no more. They were depending on how you see it, privatised (on the cheap) or plundered by a new class of carpet baggers who enriched themselves at our collective expense. In the East the process was more brutal and profits of the oligarchs larger and even more unregulated. Embedding and developing democracy was always secondary to making a profit - something that has not helped ordinary people very much at all – but has made the city traders very happy!

Friday, 3 July 2015


At least from this end of the M4 / A55 there appears to be more than a faint whiff of what could best be described as devo rollback in the air. As the new now unconstrained All Con Conservative government settles in at Westminster, what's in it for Cymru / Wales - potentially nothing good. Scotland, as far as the Westminster unionists may quietly (and honestly) admit over a pint of claret may be perceived as a lost cause (perhaps a literal case of 'when' rather than 'if' in relation to independence). Cymru / Wales on the other hand may yet offer far more constitutional room to meddle with, to tinker with or even rollback parts of our deeply flawed constitutional settlement. 

A weak 'badly' drafted Wales bill (which may well be on the cards) may be the green light to ramp up the rollback process. That's why Plaid Cymru's Lord Dafydd Wigley is absolutely right to seek urgent clarification about Westminster's pre-election hint that control of fracking would be devolved to the National Assembly rather than retained at Westminster. The rejection of planning permission for fracking in Lancashire, in North West England is significant as the active search by fracking companies for new locations is continuing. There is a need for complete acceptance by Westminster that that fracking cannot go ahead in any part of Wales without the express permission of the National Assembly. 

There certainly now appears to be a Westminster wobble in relation to the commitment to complete the electrification of the Great Western line to Swansea. This taken with the news that hard pressed commuters and businesses will face at least another five years of Severn Bridge tolls could be taken as a hint that our national priorities have been put on the electoral back burner by Westminster. Our constitutional settlement, such as it is is even to the disinterested should appear deeply flawed and simply unfair, not coming remotely close to either Scotland or Northern Ireland when it comes to powers which could be used to influence and shape economic matters. 

Now, at least from my perspective, the whole sorry laborious constitutional journey, has never simply been about powers for powers sake, it's been about trying to get the appropriate tools to change our countries economy for the better. That said in Cymru / Wales, when it comes to acquiring a degree of constitutional fairness we always seem to have to jump through hoop after hoop, again and again. This if nothing else should clearly demonstrate the degree of contempt with which Cymru / Wales is perceived and treated, not least by our Labour in Wales representatives in Westminster.