Feb 272014
 
(What I argue in this post in no way invalidates my assertion that Wales is, in reality, run by civil servants answering to London; a sitution that reduces ‘Welsh’ Government spokespersons to mere mouthpieces. In this post I am dealing with perceptions, and for the vast majority of people in Wales the country is ‘run’ by the Labour Party government in Cardiff.)

 

In a piece I posted on February 18th, Polls and Donkeys, and in other posts, I may have given the impression that I view the Labour Party in Wales as a bunch of unprincipled, self-serving, dim-witted and traitorous self-abusers. This is still my view. However, in the post referred to I should perhaps have expanded my interpretations of the opinion poll that formed the basis of that post, as I subsequently did in answer to certain comments.Labour Performance

What the poll told us, among other things, was that despite the abysmal performance of the Labour Party its vote in Wales is holding firm. Looking at the approval ratings we see from the table that the highest rating was 41%, this from Labour supporters who believe the ‘Welsh’ Government is doing a good job with the economy. (I kid you not!)

Yet when we consider voting intentions, in the rather colourful table below, we find that support for Labour is little changed from earlier contests. In any normal society this would be regarded as very odd, even perverse; perhaps an indication of endemic or congenital masochism within the population. A condition possibly resulting from centuries of being kicked around and exploited. Yet while history may play a part in shaping attitudes in twenty-first century Wales there’s a much simpler explanation. For too many Labour supporters there is no credible or attractive alternative to Labour.

Now, clearly, the Tories are never going to be that alternative. Perhaps because there has never been a coherent and recognisably Welsh Tory voice; by which I mean a patriotically Welsh, but Unionist, position prepared to argue Wales’ corner. I had hoped we might be moving towards such a party, but the recent split over income tax, and the Uriah Heap-like behaviour of David Jones tells me that the Conservative and Unionist Party in Wales still contains a majority of politicians wanting a party that represents the interests of England, and the English within Wales; often done by promoting the view that our best interests are served by ‘smoothing out’ all differences with England, done for our own good of course, because whatever makes us different is just ‘ugly, intolerant nationalism’ – ach y fi!

Then there are the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens, BNP, Monster Raving Loony Party and other, even more outlandish groups, unlikely to ever over-work ballot-counters and Returning Officers. Which leaves only Plaid Cymru. For despite the fact that Labour’s ‘Donkey’ voters belong to the most deracinated and, um . . . ‘uninformed’ (that the word?) elements of the nation, there still resides within most of them a spark of Welshness. This spark flickers into life for sporting events, and on those occasions when someone reminds them they’re just a ‘Welsh bastard’, but not when Plaid Cymru comes knocking. Telling us that Plaid Cymru, Voting Intentionsa ‘national’ party, is failing on the most basic level.

Partly because being a Labour Party Mk 2 will make no headway with Labour supporters. They will ask themselves why they should vote for the imitation when they can vote for the real thing. Equally pointless is pathetically struggling to win the approval of Guardianistas and the scroungers and shysters of the poverty celebration industry. Also worth remembering is that for every Mike Parker there are a dozen or more English in Wales who resent being reminded they are even in Wales. (To verify that, just pop in to your local golf club.) What I’m trying to say is that the only hope for Wales, and the only possible threat to the Labour Party, lies in Plaid Cymru appealling to the ‘Donkey’ voters on a different level. Which will have to mean Plaid reasserting itself as a Welsh party, rather than continuing to posture as some kind of lefty Brit regionalist party.

To achieve this will mean standing up for the Welsh, rather than for the cop-out of ‘Wales’. Because if you restrict yourself to ‘Wales’, and divorce it from Welsh nationhood, then you are left with nothing but a geographical expression, or an empty shell. It then becomes possible to argue – as with tourism – that something is ‘good for Wales’ while working against the interests of Welsh people and Welsh nationhood. Plaid has to face the reality that distancing the party from perceptions of ‘nationalism’ has paid no electoral dividend. Plaid Cymru must re-unite with the Welsh nation, all of the nation. Demand that Welsh people, those with roots in this country, have priority claim in employment, social housing, training, grants – everything ‘Wales’ has to offer.

Plaid must no longer avoid the inescapable truth that its existing and potential electorate is almost entirely restricted to those who regard themselves as Welsh. So unashamedly target this electorate, speak up in its defence, demand measures that specifically benefit Welsh people. Done effectively this will allow the party to take votes directly from Labour, which will obviously damage Labour far more than by taking votes from other parties. There is no other way for Plaid Cymru to become the major political force in Wales other than by attacking Labour head-on. (As the SNP has so successfully done in Scotland.) Given that the two parties are so close ideologically, the only hope of victory lies in appealing to people’s innate Welshness.

If Plaid Cymru is unwilling to change direction, to speak in defence of Welsh people, then it has no purpose, and no future. By refusing to fulfil its obvious role it guarantees its continued impotence and takes up space that could or should be filled by a genuinely Welsh party . . . while also gifting the Labour Party – and England – unchallenged hegemony over our homeland.

Feb 222014
 
Most of these images and illustrations appeared in Ein Gwlad (2002 – 2005), of which I was co-founder with Henry Jones-Davies and Basil Thomas. I say, ‘most’, because some did not appear, having been held back for future issues that, alas, never materialised.
Some of the pictures are obviously dated, which may give them a certain charm. Some may be obscure, referring to events now almost forgotten; while others retain their impact – or carry the original captions – and require no further explanation.
To read the caption, and any description, click on the little ‘i‘ in the small box in the top left of the image. Further options can be found in the bar at the bottom. Each image appears for 15 seconds unless a further option is selected. To leave full screen mode press the ‘Esc’ button on the top left of your keyboard.

 

Ein Gwlad 1

Most of these images and illustrations appeared in Ein Gwlad, 2002 – 2005, of which I was co-founder with Henry Jones-Davies and Basil Thomas. Though some did not appear, being held back for issues that, alas, never materialised.

Some of the illustrations in this gallery are obviously dated, which may give them a certain charm. Some may be obscure, referring to events now almost forgotten; while others retain their impact – or carry the original captions – and require no further explanation.

ABERCYNON
ABERCYNON
ABERGELE MARTYRS
ABERGELE MARTYRS
ANTI-INVESTITURE
ANTI-INVESTITURE
BRITISH RAIL NETWORK 1961
BRITISH RAIL NETWORK 1961
BUS STOP
BUS STOP
CAPTION COMPETITION
CAPTION COMPETITION
CYMUNED
CYMUNED
DENNIS COSLETT
DENNIS COSLETT
DEWI PRYSOR
DEWI PRYSOR
EIN GWLAD 5 COVER PHOTO
EIN GWLAD 5 COVER PHOTO
SIR HENRY MORRIS-JONES
SIR HENRY MORRIS-JONES
LLANGELYNIN CHURCHYARD
LLANGELYNIN CHURCHYARD
MORTAGNE-SUR-GIRONDE
MORTAGNE-SUR-GIRONDE
INVESTMENT
INVESTMENT
NINNAU ADVERT
NINNAU ADVERT
PENNAL
PENNAL
EISTEDDFOD GENEDLAETHOL
EISTEDDFOD GENEDLAETHOL
PLAID TURBINE
PLAID TURBINE
WILLIE WALES
WILLIE WALES
WRU JOB ADVERT
WRU JOB ADVERT
Feb 182014
 

That nice man from ITV Wales, you know, the one who’s on Sharp End, Adrian Masters, well he tweeted yesterday that the results of a recent poll were available over on the ITV website, so I went to check on the findings. Some of them are, quite frankly, difficult to believe. Others, disturbing for the lack of engagement displayed by respondents.

One part of the survey asked people for their views on the performance of the current Labour Government down Cardiff docks. On the NHS, schools and the economy Labour’s approval rating was 24 and 25 per cent for non-Labour voters, but not much higher, only 36 – 41 per cent, among their own supporters. Perhaps more worrying from a neutral perspective was that the Don’t Know / Don’t Care / Ew Wha’? response ranged from 31 to 44 per cent!

Despite this lack of support for, or interest in, the Labour Party the YouGov poll nevertheless predicted that in the 2015 UK general election Labour will gain eight seats, five from the Conservatives, two from Plaid Cymru and one from the Liberal Democrats. Seeing as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are the parties of the current UK coalition government, this is not entirely surprising, but why should Plaid Cymru also suffer? The seats the poll suggests Plaid will lose are Arfon and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

While the Arfon prediction is difficult to fathom, but plausible, the prediction for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr seems impossible. Let us consider the facts. Plaid Cymru had a majority in 2010 of 3,481. The seat lies wholly within the county run by the most dysfunctional council in Wales. A council in which Labour is in coalition with a gang of so-called ‘Independents’, many of whom are Tories, others just in it for themselves, SI Exifplus a few flakes. Yet the council is actually run (or was until very recently) by the chief executive. The poll was conducted 10 – 12 of February, two weeks after the publication of the damning Wales Audit Office report into spectacular and expensive wrongdoing at the council. A resident of Carmarthenshire would have had to have been abducted by aliens not to have known about this report. (Though I bet even aliens would have been talking about it.) So does anyone seriously believe that Labour is going to take this seat next year?

The predictions for Plaid are questionable, but what about the Tories, tipped to lose five Welsh seats in next year’s UK general election? They can surely expect wipeout in the Welsh Assembly elections of 2016. Well, no . . . because according to respondents to YouGov Conservative support at Assembly elections is up two points to 21 per cent! With Labour, predicted to almost sweep the board in 2015 remember, down one point for the Assembly elections in 2016!

So how do we make sense of all this? We could of course be dealing with a very sophisticated electorate, able to make subtle distinctions and different judgements for different contexts. Or, we could be dealing with people who know little and care less; an increasingly apathetic electorate that has given up on politics, which for me would be a more plausible explanation for the inconsistencies.

People who no longer give enough thought to politics and politicians to hold coherent views, so they’re confused, or they revert to the comforting default position of the traditional ‘Donkey Labour’ voter: ‘Don’t understand politics? – Vote Labour!’ Because even when pressed on specific subjects for a simple Yes or No over a third could still only offer ‘Dunno’, suggesting they knew absolutely nothing about Labour’s policies and performance in Wales. Did I say ‘disengagement’? I guarantee that some of those questioned could not have known less about Hungary’s agricultural policies.

The only caveat, and it’s a big one, is that I am suspicious of opinion polls in general, and YouGov in particular. I believe that many people – shall I say, the more ‘suggestible’ among us – can be influenced by opinion polls into joining the ‘winning’ side . . . which of course means abandoning (what the polls suggest is) the ‘losing’ side. In Wales, in order to promote a certain constitutional outlook, the winning side has to be Labour for the ploy to be credible.

Then again, I could be entirely wrong, and this is an authentic and accurate vox populii. In which case, Wales is in more trouble than even I had feared.

Feb 122014
 

Last night’s Week In Week Out on BBC 1 Wales, presented by Tim Rogers, dealt with long term problems posed by erosion or sea encroachment around our coasts, and came with the stark warning that some communities will have to be abandonded, largely because the cost involved in holding back the sea greatly outweighs the value of what is being protected. (Here is a link to the BBC iPlayer version of the programme.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the communities visited was Fairbourne, which is, like most of the others consigned to ‘managed retreat’, a somewhat artificial settlement, built on land reclaimed for the purposes of tourism and retirement. The Fairbourne Wikipedia page says it all: the area was previously known as Morfa Henddol (morfa = fen or sea marsh) and the outcrop on which today stands the Fairbourne Hotel was known as Ynysfaig (ynys = island). Clearly, our ancestors knew this land alongside the Mawddach estuary for what it was. (And will soon be again.)

Also investigated was that sinkhole for Welsh public funding, Rhyl. There we saw a couple who, to judge by the accents, came from the Birmingham conurbation, had been flooded out of their bungalow and were now living in a trailer home. Tim Rogers asked if anything had been mentioned about flooding when they purchased their property. “No, nothing”, was the reply. Which made me think to myself, ‘If I am a shifty developer or estate agent, selling properties I know are vulnerable to flooding – and almost always to people who don’t know the area – am I going to tell these prospective buyers that their dream home might one day be under six feet of water?’ Of course not. This is clearly a case of caveat emptor.

Down here, on our stretch of the coast, Tywyn’s new sea defences worked excellently . . . though there are some in Tywyn that will never admit this as they harbour an irrational hatred for Gwynedd council and all its works, because it’s a) too Welsh and b) run by the wrong party. They would rather gripe and snipe at everything the council does, however beneficial.

Speaking of gripers and snipers, I hear that part of Aberdyfi golf course has joined Neptune’s realm. Sad though this news may be, there can be no justification for spending Welsh public money to preserve what is a private and exclusive asset. Either the club itself pays for new sea defences or else Nature must Tywyn sea defencesbe allowed to take its course (‘course’ – geddit!), leaving the Ukipistas to find another rendezvous. Further south, Borth and Aberystwyth also featured in Tim Rogers’ investigation. Now, obviously, Aberystwyth must be defended, but how strong is the case for Borth? It certainly seems that land just north of Borth – curiously enough, another golf course! – is to be surrendered.

Though the bigger picture here, especially when we remember the Towyn floods of 1990 and similar events, is that for a century and more we have allowed, even encouraged, the building of new properties on inadequately defended coastal plains and salt marsh, land on which building should never have been allowed. So why did this happen? The fundamental cause is tourism. Since the coming of the railways over 160 years ago English people have visited coastal Wales for their holidays, and this led to the growth of resorts where little or nothing had existed before the arrival of the iron horse. Many of those tourists wished to settle permanently, perhaps retire to, where they had enjoyed their holidays, so new homes were built for them . . . with the inevitable consequences.

If I owned a home in an area being ‘surrendered’ to the sea, I think I would be asking a few questions. Principally, ‘Why was planning permission granted for my property and others when the risk of flooding must have been known?’ Then, perhaps, ‘Do I have a justifiable claim for negligence or culpability against the body that granted planning permission’? (With this of course extending, particularly in the case of local authorities, to successor bodies.) For no matter what we may think of communities like Rhyl, Towyn and Fairbourne, the people suffering from flooding in such places aPuppet show, captionre innocent victims and have, to all intents and purposes, been conned into buying the properties under threat.

So, in the hope of avoiding any repetition of such miseries, can the puppet show down Cardiff docks, and our local authorities, confirm that no more building will take place in areas that might in future be susceptible to coastal flooding or erosion? (This must also apply to trailer parks and other developments.) More, will these bodies also confirm that any outstanding planning approvals for dwellings in such areas will be revoked? And will the ‘Welsh’ Government also promise us that there will henceforth be a binding national presumption against building any more communities like Towyn and Fairbourne?

Oh, yes, something else that would be very welcome would be a promise from the Planning Inspectorate that in future it will not – in order to follow its over-arching policy of attracting English settlers to Wales – overrule planning bodies that turn down applications for housing in flood-prone areas.

Fairbourne 1868UPDATE 12.03.14: I am indebted to the person who sent me a copy of this 1868 watercolour claiming to be a view across the Mawddach from Barmouth, showing where Fairbourne would eventually be built. You will note that there is nothing there apart from what looks like a temporary structure, perhaps a fisherman’s hut. Suggesting that the locals had better sense than to try to build anything permanent there. (Click to enlarge.)

Feb 072014
 

I hope I can explain this without it getting too complicated. Here goes . . .

In a number of recent posts I have stressed the importance of household size / composition in determining how many new dwellings will be needed. So I thought I’d better check with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the correct definition, which is: “A household is defined as one person living alone, or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room, sitting room or dining area”. Which means that a group of students sharing a house would presumably be a household, but a retirement or nursing home for elderly people would be a “communal establishment”.

This is important because each household is a separate dwelling. It follows therefore that predicted household size coupled with projected population increase will be used to assess the number of new dwellings needed. The smaller the household size, then the greater the number of dwellings.Households

Returning to the ONS, that agency’s Table KS101EW, says that when the Census was taken in March 2011 the number of persons living in a household in Wales was 3,011,182. Table CH01, also ONS, tells us that at the Census Wales had 1,302,700 households. If we divide the number of persons living in households with the number of households we have a figure of 2.31 persons per household. Yet in its (2008-based) household size projections, Knowledge and Analytical Services (KAS), an arm of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in London, but based in Wales, predicted a household size for 2011 of 2.23.

This difference of .08 may seem unimportant . . . until you remember that it equates to 46,764 dwellings and (x 2.31) a population of 108,025. To put that into perspective, at the 2011 Census there were just 31,600 households in Ceredigion. Also bear in mind that, due to the ONS ‘outsourcing’ household size projections to the DCLG, it is KAS projections that are used to determine how many new homes will be needed in Wales in future years. Clearly, anyone wishing to make Wales plan for more new homes than she really needs has only to underestimate household size.

I understand that new household size projections covering the next 25 years are due out any day. These projections from the KAS will be invalid from the outset if they do not start at 2.31 in 2011, because this figure comes from the Census, it is not guesswork. The new household size projections must also take into account other evidence that suggests a slowing in the rate of household size decline, if not a static household size.

These new projections must then be used to revise Local Development Plans and all other housing need projections in Wales.

Feb 052014
 

There was a piece in today’s WalesOnline by Graham Henry telling us that Wales needs a few hundred thousand more dwellings than are currently planned. I don’t know who fed him the story, but I suspect the Wales-based statisticians of the Knowledge and Analytical Services, who answer to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in London. I say that because anyone doing serious journalism on housing projections and Local Development Plans would be bound to mention the Planning Inspectorate. Not mentioning this executive agency of the DCLG is rather like discussing the current upheavals in Welsh rugby and ignoring the role of the Welsh Rugby Union.

What is perhaps worse is that this omission allowed the article to be read as if Welsh local authorities are solely responsible for deciding how many new homes will be built. They are not. That power rests with the Planning Inspectorate, which does not hesitate to regularly insist that councils increase the number of new homes to be planned for. Councils accept these diktats because they simply cannot afford to challenge them, with the Planning Inspectorate backed financially by the UK government.Household projections Carmarthenshire

As the WalesOnline article focused on Carmarthenshire let’s look at the county’s Local Development Plan (of October 2013). Go to section 5.4.7 and we learn that the council anticipates an increase in population from 175,063 in 2008 to 192,740 in 2021, and a projected increase in households in the same period (5.4.8) of 15,197. (The 2011 census gave Carmarthenshire’s population at 181,227.) That the number of new households is not much smaller than the projected population increase is due partly to new families forming, partly to in-migration but mainly to projected smaller household size. In fact, before I started investigating housing and planning in Wales I hadn’t appreciated the importance of the household size figure. Yet it’s difficult to make sense of LDPs and other demands for housing without understanding the relationship between population growth and household size. Put simply, a household means a dwelling. If the projected population increase for an area was 20,000, and average household size was four persons, then a council would need to plan for the building of roughly half the homes needed if the household size was only two persons. Smaller households = more dwellings.

The table above right (click to enlarge) is taken from a June 2011 document, Population and Housing – Revised Topic Paper 2, used to inform the Carmarthenshire LDP. It tells us that the statisticians predict massive increases in the following types of households: single people, couples, and single parents with children. The figures come from, Household Projections for Wales (2006-based), which sees household size in the county drop from 2.25 in 2006 to 2.04 in 2021. Though seeing as this Topic Paper was produced in 2011 it’s strange that it used the 2006 figures rather than those for 2008, which predict a slightly higher average in 2021. It should be pointed out here that the Office for National Statistics has “sourced out” household projections to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. This being the department to which the Knowledge and Analytical Services (KAS) answers.

Living at homeSo how reliable are these household size projections? Not very. The 2011 census tells us there were in Carmarthenshire 78,800 households of one or more persons. If we divide this into the population figure of 181,227 it gives us a household average size of 2.30. Obviously this is not exact, but even so, it is higher than the KAS estimate for 2011 0f 2.17. Other information suggests that, far from falling, household size may actually be rising. For example, this recent report tells us that an increasing number of young adults are living at home with a parent or parents, and that this trend was observable before the economic downturn. (See panel, left.) Then, the UK government plans to cut housing benefit for under 25s rather than reduce universal pensioner benefits. Both measures are bound to increase household size. And, as a consequence, reduce the need for new housing.

No one reading this must think that I’m talking only of private, open market, dwellings, for these projections also apply to social housing, which is covered in the Housing (Wales) Bill (see recent posts). This legislation, handed down by the Department for Communities and Local Government in London, will ‘harmonise’ the provision of social housing in Wales and England. In other weopposebedroomtaxwords, anyone qualifying for social housing in England will automatically qualify for social housing in Wales. Which, when added to the UK government’s welfare reforms (such as the ‘bedroom tax’), might explain the Carmarthenshire household projections in the table above . . . if Carmarthenshire is being prepared for an influx of single mothers and others from the Great Wen.

Before concluding I must return to private housing in order to bring to your attention the remarkable transformation that occurs between statisticians’ projections and housebuilders’ planning applications. As we have seen, statisticians argue for ever smaller household size, due to more and more people living alone and an increasing number of childless – usually retired – couples. One team of academics employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government (or someone) told us that, “Of the projected net increase of 269,000 households between 2006 and 2026, 66 per cent are one-person households and 21 per cent one-parent families. ‘Couple’ households contribute 16 per cent of the total increase in households”. (Numerate readers will have noted that these three categories alone add up to 103 per cent!) Which should result in the vast majority of properties built being one- and two-bedroom dwellings – but they’re not. The latest figures available, July – September 2013, tell us that 62.6% of completed dwellings in Wales were three- and four-bedroom houses!

Clearly, a deception is being practised. On the one hand, the UK government and its Wales-based statisticians predict – against increasing evidence – smaller households in order to bump up the number of new properties needed. But then, the Planning Inspectorate, working with housebuilders and others, takes the ‘new dwellings needed’ figures, transforms them into much larger dwellings, and forces Local Development Plans on our councils. We are being made to build social housing to meet an English demand, and also private housing, from Carmarthenshire to Denbighshire, to accommodate a wealthier English influx. All part of a wider strategy of colonisation.

The Local Development Plans for Carmarthenshire and other local authorities were rushed through before the underpinning ‘statistics’ could be invalidated by: a) the consequences of the economic crisis that began in 2008 and b) the 2011 census. Almost as if the Planning Inspectorate and the statisticians knew they had only a short ‘window’ in which to force their plans on our local authorities. Now that we have more reliable statistics the Local Development Plans thus far adopted are invalidated. They must be revised. From now on we must plan for Welsh need and Welsh need only.