Friday, 8 July 2016


The question of consequences for the makers of bad or questionable decisions who sent our soldiers into harms way for political gain should be allowed avoid any lasting consequences is not a new one. Rudyard Kipling, wrote Mesopotamia in 1917 after a military disaster in Iraq – the last but one verse is particularly powerful and as relevant today as it was in 1917.

Mesopotamia (1917) – Rudyard Kipling

They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young, 
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave: 
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung, 
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave? 

They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain 
    In sight of help denied from day to day: 
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain, 
    Are they too strong and wise to put away? 

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide—
    Never while the bars of sunset hold. 
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died, 
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old? 

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour? 
    When the storm is ended shall we find 
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power 
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind? 

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends, 
    Even while they make a show of fear, 
Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends, 
    To conform and re-establish each career? 

Their lives cannot repay us—their death could not undo— 
    The shame that they have laid upon our race. 
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew, 
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

Thursday, 7 July 2016


To summarize the summary, the Chilcot Report (which covered the period from 2001 until 2009) has confirmed that the dossier prepared by Blair to make the case for war was deliberately distorted in order to convince Parliament to vote for an illegal war. The dossier did not reflect the evidence given to Blair by the security services. The report also confirms that Blair undermined the UN Security Council’s authority and that war was not a last resort.

It is now clear that when Blair was unable to secure a second UN resolution to legitimize the war, he pretty much handed over UK foreign policy to George Bush. Blair’s legacy is over a million dead, a failed state and a destabilized Middle East riven by conflict. The region as a whole in crisis, with people abandoning their homes and possessions and desperately fleeing their own brutal governments and equally brutal terrorist organisations, to seek sanctuary in Europe.

Basically the dossier that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq was based on a whole series of false statements (lies to the rest of us). Any judgements made about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were unsound or unproven. Yet statements about WMD were written up as established fact – something which they were not. The Intelligence material used to justify the invasion had "not established beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.

Additionally the Joint Intelligence Committee said Iraq has "continued to produce chemical and biological agents" and there had been "recent production". It never stated that Iraq had the means to deliver chemical and biological weapons and it did not say that Iraq had continued to produce weapons. And Blair’s policy on the Iraq invasion was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments – this was not challenged, and it should have been robustly challenged – but wasn’t.
Blair staked everything on the case for war – unfortunately for him (and the Blairites) - the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were "far from satisfactory". The invasion began on 20th March 2003 but it was not the 13th March that the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith advise that there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action. It is worth noting that aside from No 10's response to his letter on 14th March, no formal record was made of that decision and the precise grounds on which it was made remain unclear.
The UK's actions directly undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council, as the UN's Charter places responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security on the Security Council. The UK government made much of its false claim that it was acting on behalf of the international community "to uphold the authority of the Security Council". Yet it knew it did not have a majority supporting its actions. In Blair’s Cabinet, there was little questioning of Lord Goldsmith about his advice and no substantive discussion of the legal issues was recorded.
If the case for war was flaky, so was the preparation for war on the part of the MoD. Chilcot noted that the military had "little time" to properly prepare three military brigades for deployment in Iraq. For years soldiers who have served in the army in recent and not so recent years have repeatedly told me (`nd others) that they routinely bought their own kit.
The risks were neither "properly identified nor fully exposed" to ministers, resulting in "equipment shortfalls". Between 2003 and 2009, our soldiers in Iraq faced gaps in some key capability areas - including armoured vehicles, reconnaissance and intelligence assets and helicopter support.
Chilcot has noted that it was not sufficiently clear which person in the department within the Ministry of Defence had responsibility for identifying and articulating such gaps. Delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles (something that resulted in the deaths of our soldiers) and the failure to meet the needs of UK forces for reconnaissance and intelligence equipment and helicopters should not have been tolerated.
Despite repeated and explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were significantly underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were "wholly inadequate" – basically there was no coherent plan for the aftermath of the invasion. The UK government pretty much failed to achieve its stated objectives it had set itself in Iraq – and then in my opinion tried to spin its way clear of the consequences.
More than 200 British soldiers died as a result of the conflict. The Iraqi people also suffered greatly, by July 2009, at least 150,000 Iraqis had died, and more than one million were displaced. By 2016 this figure had grown to 1.2 million and the consequences of the invasion and destruction of the Iraqi dictatorship had destabilised the region and fed the war in neighbouring Syria.
The decision to go to war understandably should be the most difficult decision that any political leader ever has to make. To justify that decision, with falsehood and deceit for simple political expediency, is and will always be unforgiveable. Current and former political leaders who directly lied to the public to make the case for a war, which put our soldiers (without the necessary kit they needed and with ill-defined objectives) into harms way, should justly face lasting consequences for their actions.

Monday, 4 July 2016


Remembering Mametz and the Somme.
Last Friday (July 1st) was the one-hundredth anniversary of the first day of the start of the battle of the Somme; there were 57,470 casualties, with 19,240 men being killed on the first day. The Somme battle would last through until it ended in November 1916. It was at Mametz Wood were the 38th (Welsh) Division, raised in Wales, would fight during the Battle of the Somme. Their attack was aimed German positions in the wood, between 7th July and 12 July 1916.

The Somme 1916 (Reuters)
On the 7th July the first wave, which was intended to take the wood in a few hours, ran into strongly defended fortifications, machinegun posts and shelling which killed and injured over 400 soldiers before they entered the wood. Attacks by the 17th Division on 8th July failed to improve the position. A full-scale attack planned for the 9 July was postponed until 10th July 1916. 

The attack on 10th July was on a larger scale, in spite of heavy casualties the edge of the wood was reached and some bayonet fighting took place before the wood was entered and a number of German machine guns silenced. Fierce fighting in the wood took place the Germans defenders stubbornly gave up the ground.

By the 12th July Mametz wood was effectively cleared. The Welsh Division had lost about 4,000 men killed or wounded in this searing engagement and did not see action as a division until July 31st 1917 at Passchendaele. The fight for Mametz was essentially a soldiers battle, one fought with great courage and endurance, in the most difficult of circumstances.

Welsh Memorial at Mametz
Despite the delay in clearing the wood, a volunteer citizen force recruited from all parts of Wales (Caernarfon, Ynys Mon, Swansea, Cardiff, Rhondda,  Gwent, etc.) achieved its objective, clearing the wood in the face of fierce resistance from what was probably at the time the most efficient well trained fighting force in Europe. They paid a terrible price suffering some 4,000 casualties – many of the dead and the missing still have no known grave, being commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Thursday, 30 June 2016


The end of a beautiful friendship?
I watched some of the post BREXIT coverage on CNBC on Sunday evening- it was quite interesting to get a US perspective on some of the consequences of the referendum. The gist was that the US elite was not happy (to put things mildly) with the Brit elite over the BREXIT result largely because the US had effectively lost its inside man in the EU tent. 

The Brits had pushed the EU into imposing economic sanctions on Russia because of Russian interference in Ukraine. Obviously with the Brits on their way out of the EU they are now irrelevant diplomatically within Europe as far as the US is concerned. So basically the US was now seriously going to ramp up its diplomatic contacts and efforts with Germany - in an effort to maintain the sanctions against Russia. 

Incidentally while European (and UK) farmers suffered as a result of the sanctions against Russia over the occupation of the Crimea and Russian support for the unrest in eastern Ukraine, the US farmers upped their production to access the potential new market, clearly true friends indeed. On another matter I wonder how long it's going to be before the next UK PM gets their White House lawn photograph.

Sunday, 26 June 2016


That's democracy, the people have spoken, the result should respected, you win some, you lose some - that's the way it works. Personally I thought that  it was lacklustre campaign from both sides, with a few honourable exceptions. There was a lot of emphasis on people's fears and much stoking of them by both sides. 

What must not happen is a demonisation of voting classes by the chattering classes who did not get the result they want. Democracy often means that someone else wins, it's not their fault, it's not because they made a bad choice, it's not because the electors are stupid (they are far from that) - that's the way democracy works. The one overwhelming thing that should be learned from the referendum is that the voters disillusioned or otherwise should never be taken for granted. 

There will now obviously be a period of blame, some soul searching and then probably a longer period of economic consequences for all of us. I am pleased that much of my former constituency (Monmouthshire) voted Remain, but am disappointed (but not entirely surprised) with the other Leave results in Wales.

There will be much speculation and column inches (electronic and otherwise) over the next few days, weeks and months about the result. The other 'I' word (immigration) was a key factor, but, I genuinely believe not the key factor in the result. The failure of the political elite to discuss this issue in a responsible way created a political vacuum into which UKIP (and others of their ilk) were able to step into and make the issue their own. 

This was clearly a massive mistake as a vacuum in both nature and politics is soon filled. There was the failure to argue a positive case on Europe (with some honourable exceptions, Plaid, the SNP, the Greens and some others) was another massive mistake with the Westminster focused political parties relying on a revamped 'Project Fear’. 

As a former parliamentary, national assembly and local government candidate the grow disconnect between the ordinary voters and their elected (and wannabe elected) representative has been (and is) increasingly palpable. I think that for the best part of fifteen years, a growing number of increasingly abandoned and disillusioned, but not necessarily all older (although many were) voters who had major reservations about Europe (and the European project) have been offered little by a whole raft of politicians from a whole raft of political parties who increasingly did not reflect their views on identity, the EU and immigration.

I think some of what happened revolves around the concept of bring 'British' and Europe's perceived threat to 'Britishness'. It does not matter that there was not and never has been a threat to it. In England to be 'British' and 'English' is the same thing. In Scotland and in Wales that is not the case, being 'Welsh' and 'British' does not necessarily mean exactly the same thing. I believe that a significant percentage of the leave voters in Wales are quite content to be both 'British' and 'Welsh’. 

I am very much reminded of something Gwyn Alf Williams wrote in his book When Was Wales? about the Welsh people being the first of the British and probably the last of them too [ “This history of the Welsh may close then with the intriguing thought that the Welsh, First of the British, look like being the Last.”].  As far the Europe of the possible and Wales’s place in it, we may politically be back to a near 1979 moment, save this time we have (or almost have) a Welsh Parliament (as flawed as it may be) to act as a shield and to give us a voice within the UK. 

In Wales some voters chose to buy into the Leave campaigns message which via a fractious and often vicious campaign that was tainted with more than a measure of racism and palpable deceit (the old adage about a simple repeated lie worked a treat). There was demographic split in the vote based on age - whether or not the referendum was used to give the elite a poke in the eye and to give vent to frustrations that have long built up is now largely irrelevant - we are where we are and there is no going back. 

Analysis of the vote may not be easy, the focus on immigration may well mask a far deeper disillusion. Some of the Leave vote may be about a rejection of the more socially destructive side effects of globalisation and despite the highly visible infrastructure investment people feel that little has been done for them or their communities. 

Some of the communities that voted 'Leave' have suffered from the impact of years of generationally destructive economic policies. Other communities that have a similar history of economic neglect and have also suffered from the effects of years of destructive economic policies voted 'Remain'. Ironically almost all of these communities that chose 'Leave' were also significant recipients of EU regional development aid.

Some things cannot be ignored - it is very likely that Wales will suffer significantly when the EU funding get runs out. Westminster will never invest in Wales to the same degree as the EU did. If Westminster had looked after Welsh economic and social interests then Wales would never have been eligible for EU regional aid in the first place and it would never have been needed. 

Wales at Westminster has become electorally and politically irrelevant in recent years. Our country will become even more irrelevant at Westminster when the number of Welsh MP's drops from 40 to 29 when the new parliamentary boundaries are implemented before the next Westminster general election. 

The UK is now effectively on its way out of the EU - Wales in its current state of political existence, will have within a few years no relationship with the EU save for a trading, geographical, cultural and sporting one. Within the national movement in Wales we need to work out what comes next, certainly our soon to be parliament will gain more powers (just exactly how Boris views the Wales Bill is an unknown) and a degree of control over taxation and energy - but what will future Welsh governments do with them? 

As for our national project, Europe is pretty much off the radar, if not gone for the foreseeable future. This means that we need to map a new path to achieving our national objectives and our national ambitions for this nation, rather than redefining them and to take the people with us, or we are going no where. 

Friday, 13 May 2016


An all to familiar sight - a bank closure notice
Bank closures, often by stealth, are a fact of life for many communities across much of rural and urban Wales – back on January 11th HSBC announced that branches in Ruabon, Chirk, Amlwch and Menai Bridge will close in April. Back in June 2015 Natwest announced its plans to close 11 branches in north Wales in September (St Asaph, Denbigh, Corwen and Llangollen in Denbighshire, as will the branches in Abersoch, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tywyn in Gwynedd and those in Abergele and Rhos-on-Sea in Conwy, Buckley in Flintshire and Rossett in Wrexham).

The BBC noted that more than 600 bank branches have closed across Britain over the past year, with rural areas worst affected and that parts of Wales, Scotland and south west England lost the most per population between April 2015 and April 2016. The figures obtained revealed that five of the top 10 areas losing banks are in Wales: Powys, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Carmarthenshire. The data revealed by BBC Breakfast - came from the big six High Street banks: Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC, Santander, Barclays and the Co-operative.

Now sadly this is nothing new, at the end of October 2014 Lloyd’s announced that it would close 150 branches (7% of its 2,250 branches) and shed some 9,000 jobs (the bank has incidentally already shed 43,000 jobs since the largely bank driven financial crash back in 2008).  In October 2014, Vince Cable, the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was apparently going to write to UK banks to demanding that the banks commit to keeping ‘the last branch in town’ open. Sadly was probably a little late as a growing number of communities in Wales, which already have no bank (28 as of December 2015), and the forty-seven which only have one bank, as noted bthe Campaign for Community Banking Services.

The problem of closing banks affects all parts of Wales, while it is more readily identifiable in rural communities; but it also affects our urban areas as well – inconveniencing both personal and business customers. Bank closures proportionally hit older people harder as they may have problems with access to regular public transport. Age Cymru also noted that having a local bank that was convenient for older people was "vital" for ensuring they did not become socially isolated and that older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures.

More locally in Newport there has been a stealth-like closure of local high street banks -Caerleon’s HSBC branch in Backhall Street (closed on 2nd November 2012) – despite a campaign to save the small town’s only bank from closure, which had gained the support of hundreds of people who signed a petition against the closure.  HSBC had already closed the next nearest branch to Caerleon, on Caerleon Road, in St Julian’s (which was closed June 2011) – so much of listening to their customers. 

While Lloyds in 2011/2012 was in the frame for a raft of closures, HSBC had already systematically closed branches across much of Wales - Presteigne, (which closed on Friday 9th March 2012) despite over 500 people signing a petition against the closure), and Blaenafon, in Torfaen (which closed on the 11th May 2012) despite over a 1,000 people signed a petition against the closure of what was literally the last bank in the town). The excuse was that both banks had seen a significant decline in the numbers of customers using their services and the branches were no longer commercially viable.

Campaigners against bank closures rightly claim that businesses in an area where a bank closes suffer and that residents (especially the elderly) who are reliant on public transport to bank in a nearby town are disadvantaged. Just for the record HSBC had closed six branches in Wales between September 2010 and December 2011, including Llandysul, Ceredigion, and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys.

The company has closed 17 "under-used" banks in Wales (since 2009) in both urban and rural areas. HSBC, Barclays and the rest have been quietly closing small rural banks in recent years, and NatWest and Barclays have also reduced bank-opening hours. The British Bankers' Association says more customers now go on-line and banks must examine branch-running costs. 

Despite the spin (about the growth in on-line banking and it’s use – if you have no choice what else are people going to do) this is about nothing more than cutting running costs, the banks have little (or no concern) for their relatively unprofitable personal customers or the concerns of their local business customers or our smaller communities. As has been noted by the US Senate, some banks have other more pressing interests than those of their domestic customers like helping to launder money for drug dealers, dictators and terroristsso much for being a local bank. 

Local banks are good for the high street and local communities, they help to promote vitality and vibrancy and make it easier for local businesses to operate.  Local businesses to a degree benefit from the existence of local high street branches by picking up passing trade from bank customers. Once local bank branches close, the impact will be felt locally especially by older residents and local business owners who have to trek further and further to pay in their taking and the subsequent drop in passing trade – this situation has been aggravated by the demise of many building societies.  It is of course important to remember that one result of the demise of the regional banks was the rise of the big 4 banks which led to the growth of the reckless casino banking and cheap credit that brought about the financial crash. 

When you factor in the ruthless Post Office closure programme that has been pushed through by the then Labour Government, and the Con - Dem coalition government prior to it’s privatisation of the Post Office which in turn was preceded by the rapid floatation and rapid demise of most of our building societies you can clearly see how we got here - sorting the mess out is not going to be easy. It is perhaps a pity that we don’t have some sort of risk free Post Office Savings bank – save for the fact that it was recklessly sold of by a previous Conservative government.

Friday, 6 May 2016


On the stump in 2010 
Well there we are then, the voters have spoken those who turned out to vote that is. It’s now the early afternoon after the night before and I am still awake after some three and bit hours of sleep. It was has a long day and night (27.5 hours of wakefulness). Perhaps it's time to get civilised and count the votes the following morning rather than on the night - we managed to do this in 1999 and life as we know it did not come to an end. 

Firstly a massive thank you to my agent and my campaign team and the electors of Monmouth / Mynwy for their support. Elections are not just about the voters and the candidates, a whole host of people work very hard behind the scenes to make things work smoothly, including the Retuning Officers, their staff, the council staff who man the polling booths and count the votes and the other council staff and our Police who work tirelessly to make the count function flawlessly.  

It has been as always, an interesting campaign, sadly overshadowed by the illness and passing of my already much missed father. As always the election campaign has given me the opportunity to talk to, to listen to and to meet with many and varied constituents during the course of my prolonged walking tour of (in my opinion) one of the more beautiful, interesting and varied of constituencies in Wales.

Transition towns hustings back in 2015
Now that the sound and the fury have faded, and the hustings blended into one former candidates can take stock. This is no glory in this, any dreams of political immortality should be doused with cold realism - a couple of election campaigns ago - having been featured on the front page of a local newspaper in relation to the campaign to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market I had the surreal experience of going to buy some chips in a local chip shop with a friend only to find myself literally being wrapped around them (Sic transit gloria mundi - or "Thus passes the glory of the world”.

In Monmouth constituency and across the rest of Wales for former candidates and the successfully elected life can return to a form of normality. For the next few days catching up on sleep will be a priority, that and resisting the strange desire to knock on the doors of perfect strangers and push leaflets through complete strangers letter boxes. 

Across Wales we now have to work with the new Plaid National Assembly members, and prepare the ground for future campaigns and future elections. The National Assembly is now an established fact, it is not going to go away, it needs a fully balanced portfolio of powers to shape our economy and sustainably develop our country and must become a proper parliament. 

Addressing a KALM rally back in 2009 - the revolutionary's leather overcoat did not survive the campaign.
I have fought Monmouth constituency five / six times - three for Westminster, twice for the National Assembly constituency and once on the list and it has been interesting and challenging every single time. 

Frozen at Severn Tunnel Junction back in 2010A.
All in all since 2005 it has been interesting and enjoyable with hustings, canvassing, leafleting and even the doorstepping of prospective voters on freezing mornings at various railway stations. That said, I have  reached the stage when I can recognise when the adrenaline is running out, and the point where coffee is no longer required or having any effect and the sleep of a seriously tired former National Assembly prospective candidate is more than beckoning. 

I wonder how Newport County AFC and the Dragons will do in Satiurday...