Dec 272014
 

Despite fierce competition from Channel 17 in Albania and the Nova Scotia Parrot Breeders’ Monthly Jac o’ the North is delighted to have secured exclusive rights to First Minister Carwyn Jones’ end-of-year Review. Enjoy!

                                *Carwyn Jones 9

Hello there, I’m Carwyn Jones, you may not know me, but I’m the First Minister of Wales. More importantly, I also run the local branch of the Labour Party (along with Owen Smith MP and a few other people). I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas, I know I did. It gave me a chance to put my feet up and relax for a change, after another hectic and hugely successful year in Wales. Let’s go through it month by month.

P.S. Jac has kindly added some pictures showing me at work, so click on them to make them bigger.

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JANUARY: The Dylan Thomas Centenery Year got off to a wonderful start when documents were found at Transport House showing that Dylan was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party, joining the party in 1938 while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Not only that, but a previously unknown poem also came to light. Here’s a brief extract showing both his mastery of pomes and stuff and also his commitment to the party he loved: ‘I’ve always been ronk Labour / Its meeCarwyn Jones 2tings are never missed; / Its nostrums are adhered to, / Even when I’m pissed’. The second verse is playfully romantic: ‘I love the Labour Party, / It’s meetings are such fun, / The branch secretary’s a honey, / I wouldn’t mind giving her one’. Chokes me up, it does. And I bet it brings tears to the eyes of all poetry lovers.

FEBRUARY: It was brought to my attention that some foolish people are campaigning to re-open the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line, possibly even go on to Bangor. It should be obvious to everyone that if you’re travelling by rail from north to south (or even south to north) then the existing route via Norwich is clearly the best option and gives people hours, days even, of extra working time. As the old English saying goes, ‘East to west is always best (especially in Wales)’. Who can argue with this tried and tested legitimisation of colonialism?

MARCH: I was surprised to receive from Mr Sargeant and his friends in the Planning Inspectorate a report saying Wales needs one million new homes by 2025. In fact, I said to him, “This seems like a lot, Carl”. But then it was explained to me that this number is due to our soaring birthrate fuelled by the booming Welsh economy which can only be attributed to 15 years of wonderful WelshCarwyn Jones 3 Labour controlling the Assembly. So when you look at it like that it makes perfect sense. In fact, a million may not be enough. (Which is what the Planning Inspectorate is already suggesting.)

APRIL: The London media, at the behest of the Coalition government, said terrible things about the Welsh NHS, so let me put a few things straight. The reason Mrs Rhian Evans of Llanrwst’s baby was delivered by the men re-possessing her three-piece suite was not because we had no ambulances available, it was because she tried calling for one in Welsh! Another calumny (a posh word taught to me by Mrs Hutt) being bandied about is that people have to wait ages before being seen by a doctor. Mr Bowen Owen of Ystradgynlais – fleeting cause celébrè of the right-wing English press – would not have spent three weeks in the waiting room if he’d told staff he was deaf. (And it goes without saying that patient confidentiality is our watchword.)

MAY: No, not Mrs May up in London, over whom certain men fantasise. (Ych a fi!) I’m thinking of the European elections, which Labour won with a stonking majority when almost 10% of those elligible to vote in Wales voted Labour. There’s no arguing with a victory of that mCarwyn Jones 4agnitude. Though of course some nit-pickers did try, saying that Ukip got nearly as many votes as us. But that’s to miss the point, because – and I’m not talking about Europe here – on the issue that really matters, Labour and Ukip are gobbing into the same spittoon.

JUNE: Unkind things were also being said about our higher education sector, so let’s put the record straight. To suggest that some of our universities are lowering entry requirements and cutting corners in pursuit of money is both insulting and incorrect. The fact that Aberystwyth now accepts students with two F grades and a new toothbrush should not deflect from the excellent work being done there by the very popular Ms April McMahon and her loyal and supportive staff. As for Glyndŵr university, degrees were not – as was alleged – being sold in Turkmenistan, far from it. The truth is that a Welsh university broke into new markets by respecting local traditions. In this case, courtesy demanded that certain local dignitaries be allowed to take away examination papers and return them at a time of their own choosing. When it was accepted that the fruit of the potentates’ loins Carwyn Jones 7had completed the papers unaided, with everything above board due to the process having been overseen by invigilators provided at said potentates’ expense. How could anyone question such an arrangement?

JULY: Even though I was on holiday with Mrs Carwyn and the kids I couldn’t stop thinking about the job. One day, whilst sipping a mint julep (with shaved ice, natch), I was forced to concede that there are ‘issues’ in local government. That said, all the problems in Caerphilly were clearly the responsibility of the previous Plaid Cymru administration. If they had paid the chief executive a decent whack then there would have been no need for him to conspire arrange to have a massive salary increase from Mr Gezwell Kirby and his Band of Bruvvers in the incoming Labour administration. While down in Carmarthenshire the Independent Party and Plaid Cymru made a terrible mess of things. Later in the year, the leader of Swansea council had my full support . . . until the coup, after which the new leader had my full support. The bottom line is that everywhere you look around Wales you see the same problem – everything going to pot because people won’t let the Labour Party run things unhindered. (Or the chief executive, whichever applies.)Carwyn Jones 8

AUGUST: I went to the National Eisteddfod, held this year in Llanelli. As you can see from the photograph, I was mobbed by hordes of young Labour activists. (Phwoar!) While there I made a firm commitment to defend the Welsh language at all times . . . unless it meant contradicting the Planning Inspectorate, annoying the Secretary of State, pissing off Labour MPs, interfering with the colonisation strategy, damaging the profits of Wimpey, Redrow, Persimmon, etc., or alarming anyone in London. Those minor caveats aside, let there be no questioning of my firm resolve to do everything I can to ensure that Welsh-speaking communities survive and prosper.

SEPTEMBER: First, I summoned all the world’s leaders to a NATO summit in Newport so I could tell them how to deal with ISIS, Putin, Salmond and assorted threats to our perfect Western system. (Thankfully, no one realised there were any ‘protests’ in Newport because they were sabotaged organised by Ms Bartolotti of MI6 the Green Party.) Next, I flew (from Bristol) to Scotland to confront the aforementioned Alex Carwyn Jones 1Salmond and frustrate his dastardly plan to make Scotland democratic, fair and wealthy. (Jesus! think of the trouble that would have caused!) Due to some very nifty work backstage and in the wings (by those I dare not name) the referendum vote was an emphatic and overwhelming No. It was so emphatic and overwhelming that support for the Scottish National Party has now collapsed as Scots have come to their senses and flock to join the Labour Party. Mr Salmond himself is a broken man, and has abandoned all political ambitions to open a barber shop in Kirriemuir.

OCTOBER: Due to the thousands of new businesses that were created by Welsh Labour with the first two rounds of EU Structural Funds, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that came with them, those nice people in Europe wisely gave us another two billion pounds to continue with our wonderful work. We are open to imaginative suggestions on how to use this money. Applications containing words or phrases not unlike those here listed stand a good chance of scuring funding: ‘eco-‘ / ‘community space’ / ‘CVs’ (as in ‘help with completing . . . for non-existent jobs’) / ‘enviro-‘ / ‘Labour Party’ (as in, ‘I am a member / supporter . . . ‘) / ‘self-esteem’ / ‘Green’ / ‘multicultural’ / ‘holistic’ / ‘LGBT’ / ‘social enterprise’ / ‘England’ (as in, ‘recently moved frobucket 3 am . . . ‘) / ‘raiki’ / ‘not-for-profit’ / ’empowerment’ / ‘real job’ (as in, ‘never had a . . .’).

NOVEMBER: After reading that every Norwegian is now, theoretically, a millionaire, due to the success of Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, I decided we must have one in Wales. (Though I have reservations about using the term ‘sovereign’.) Starting in January, groups of highly-trained financial analysts will be touring the country with state of the art buckets taking up a national collection. So give granny a good shake, slash open the sofa and chairs, and give whatever you can find to Welsh Labour because, deep inside, you know we’ll use it wisely.

DECEMBER: Mr Vincent Tan has made such a favourable impression on Cardiff City fans that we decided to capitalise on his popularity and fast-track him into the Assembly. He’ll be taking over Vaughan Gething’s seat of Kerdiff South and Penarth. We haven’t told Vaughan yet, it’ll be a surprise! . . . a hell of a surprise seeing as we’ve spread a rumour that he’s my annointed successor! (Well, laff!!)

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2015: I look forward to 2015 with great optimism. Due to the wonderful work of the Welsh Government’s Bread and Circuses Division our boys will either win the Rugby World Cup or fail heroically; either way, if celebrated properly (with the help of our wonderful Welsh media), it should then give us a majority in the Assembly elections of 2016. As if that wasn’t enough, a string of blockbusters will be filmed at Valleywood: cruise liners will make their first, serene appearance on the Llangollen canal; the roar of F1 cars will be heard at the Circuit of Wales; Cardiff International airport will enter an exciting partnership with Bristol and be re-named Bristol (West); thousands of jobs will be created at the Margam Superpit; Llanelli town centre will become the favoured location for post nuclear holocaust movies; and Rhyl will be twinned with any other shit-hole desperate enough for the connection.

Cardiff airport

Take my word for it, 2015 is going to be a great year in Wales. Everywhere you go you’ll hear shoe-shine boys and beggars, bailiffs and food bank staff, whistling that old Harry Secombe number, Every day when I wake up, I thank the Lord I’m Labour.

Dec 172014
 

The ‘Welsh’ Government has just announced the first allocation of the 2014 – 2020 EU structural funds. Twenty million pounds is to go towards a new £40m innovation and enterprise centre at Aberystwyth university, to be built next to IBERS (Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences).

Writing in Monday’s Wasting Mule self-styled ‘Finance and Government Business Minister’ Jane Hutt waxed lyrical about this project in an article headed ‘Vital that we make most of EU investment to transform Hutt pieceWales’. (Click on image to enlarge and click here for online version.) A headline that is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who appreciates why we – almost uniquely in Europe – are now receiving a third round of structural funds. The reason is that the ‘Welsh’ Government squandered the first two rounds of funding on projects with no chance of success or wasted it on Labour’s right-on cronies in the Third Sector, who have flocked to Wales since devolution to get their noses in the trough. Let me spell it out. The reason Wales is getting a third round of structural funds is because the ‘Welsh’ Government, ‘Welsh’ Labour, and the London-answering civil servants who run Wales, have all screwed up. And it may have been deliberate.

Let us all understand that simple fact before proceeding, because as someone once said, if we don’t learn from past mistakes then we are almost certain to repeat them. Seeing as all the mistakes with EU structural funds have occured within recent memory no one should have forgotten what went wrong. Moving on . . .

As I’ve already said, the new centre is to go up alongside the IBERS complex at Gogerddan, making it reasonable to assume a connection, so here’s another chance to link with the IBERS website. You will note that the Wasting Mule piece mentions alongside IBERS the ‘Beacon Centre of Excellence for  bio-refining’, so I also checked out their website. It was no surprise to read that this partnership between the universities at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea “is backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government”. But to do what exactly? Well, it seems that the academics and students at IBERS and Beacon experiment with crops, animal feed and the like, the idea being that some of them will come up with a good idea that can be marketed and make oodles of money. As, I say, that’s the hope. The Beacon website provides a list of companies with which it is in partnership. Let’s look at them one by one.

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ABER INSTRUMENTS seems to be a partnership between Aberystwyth university and the Centre for Alternative Technology in Corris and sells to the brewing industry. Given the partners, Welsh involvement is predictably minimal. The company seems to be in reasonable financial health.

AGROCEUTICAL PRODUCTS is based in Glasbury on Wye, close to the border, which might raise queries about the use of EU structural funds allocated to west Wales. Its claim to fame appears to be that “Agroceutical Products’ work on the production of Galanthamine from daffodils grown in Wales was featured in the BBC’s Countryfile program which was broadcast on Sunday 24th April 2011.” Which seems to jar with what we read elsewhere on the website about the company not being formed until 2012.

AXIUM PROCESS Ltd is certainly based within the ‘Objective One’ area, in Hendy, just outside Swansea. Axium’s business is stainless steel fabrication, so it’s not immediately obvious what links it with academics in Aberystwyth specialising in biorefining. Financially, Axium appears to be up Shit Creek, with DueDil suggesting net assets of -£624,000. The major shareholder, with some 76% of the shares is Moda Systems Ltd of the same address, and with the same directors. Moda appears to be in better financial health than Axium with net assets (at June 2010) of some £200,000, but the company does not appear to trade.

CLIFFORD JONES TIMBER GROUP appears to be an established Welsh company based in Rhuthun with a net worth of over four million pounds.

COMPTON GROUP is a property development company based in Swansea which “invests in biotech research at Welsh universities”. This munificence is explained thus on the Compton website: “Compton Group’s interest in research projects is primarily financial; we look to out-license the intellectual property at an early stage . . . “. Phew! thank God for that; for one terrible minute I thought the ugly lovely town was producing philanthropists!

DTR Medical is another Swansea company, formed in 2005, this one produces medical and surgical instruments. The company is owned 100% by its managing director John Richard Salvage, of Surrey, and is part of his Medsa Group Ltd. Mr Salvage is quite the entrepreneur, though some of his ventures, such as Saifer Hygiene Ltd, are among the departed, while others struggle on through this Vale of Tears, including the Medsa Group itself which, if DueDil is correct, has liabilities of £1.5m.

FARMACEUTICAL INNOVATIONS is a new company, Incorporated July 2011, based at Llanfair P G and involved in “the clean extraction of phytochemicals from sustainable sources”. Financial health would appear to be shaky, with liabilities climbing and assets dropping. The company is run and owned (33.33% each) by Richard Douglas Henry Potterill (aged 29), Dr Kevin Wall (58) and Jennifer Helen Wall (29). The two younger partners seem to haFruiting Bodiesve no previous business experience but Kevin Wall is also a director of Ingenious Extractions Ltd and Zun Energy Ltd, the first based at an address in Holywell, Flintshire, the latter in Rhuthun.

FRUITING BODIES deals in fungus extracts and is part of the Red Pig Farm, a hippy venture located in Bethlehem, near Llangadog. A 100ml bottle of fungus extract will set you back £17,50. (Though you can get 6 bottles for £100. Click on image to enlarge.) I could find no company number for either Fruiting Bodies or Red Pig Farm, suggesting they are not registered companies. Maybe they deal in cash, or barter.

MDF RECOVERY is another very small enterprise, a two-man band by the look of it. The website is odd in that it does not divulge where the company is based, nor does it give a company number. Though the STD code given locates the company in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and I was about to leave it at that before another line of enquiry presented itself. This told me that the company is in fact registered at 36 Castle Street, Beaumaris, which is an office of the Letterbox Recruiting agency. I suspect Letterbox lives up to its name by providing a Welsh address for MDF Recovery. Financially, MDF is not a well outfit.

PENNOTEC is another company that does not provide either a postal address or a company number on its website. Pennotec is almost certainly part of the Pennog group, with which it shares a phone number and, despite the Welsh-sounding name, the ‘phone number suggests that Pennog is based in Huddersfield. Yet, here again, despite the telephone number suggesting an operation in England, the company is actually registered at a private residence in Nefyn. And once again, I must report a company with assets dipping and liabilities on the rise.

PHYTOQUEST provides the welcome opportunity for me to tell you that this is a Welsh company, with an Aberystwyth address and an Aberystwyth telephone number. In fact, the registered company address is c/o IBERS. Though when I say ‘Welsh’, I mean it’s located in Wales, for there don’t seem to be any Welsh people involved with the company. Unlike some of the other companies I’ve looked at I’m pleased to be able to report that Phytoquest is in reasonable financial health, though these things are relative. By which I mean that between May 2013 and May 2014 Phytoquest’s net worth dropped by 75.11% and its liabilities increased by 1,177% in the same period.

PLANT FIBRE TECHNOLOGY was Incorporated in 2005 but the website is still under construction! Based in Bangor the company is wholly owned by a Gary Newman, who may not be an academic, whereas the company secretary glories in the name of Dr Mary Anne Pasteur. Mr Newman is involved with a few other companies, all of them unlikely to ever trouble the Stock Exchange. Plant Fibre Technology itself leads a precarious financial existence with net assets of £88 at March 2014 and total liabilities of £11,616.

SPENCER ECA is based in Penrhiwllan near Llandysul and is definitely a growing company . . . unfortunately liabilities seem to be growing as fast, if not faster, than assets. That said, Spencer ECA seems to be one of very few of the companies on the Beacon list that actually employs people, let’s hope they’re Welsh. Spencer ECA also has a presence in Ireland, Scotland, England, Swansea and Newtown.

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So those are the companies listed as ‘partners‘ on the Beacon website, and Beacon is linked with IBERS, the recipient of £20m of EU Structural Funds. Perhaps the kindest thing one can say about these companies is that they’re a mixed bunch. What we have in many cases is academics deluding themselves they’re entrepreneurs, but what the hell! it’s someone else’s money. And that’s a major problem nowadays, dream up any ridiculous project using the magic words ‘eco’, ‘bio’, ‘enviro’ and you can just hold out your hands and wait for the money to drop. Throw in a glossy new building and lots of publicity in the specialist press and civil servants and politicians can’t give out the money fast enough.

Though what are we to make of what appear to be English companies taking out letter-box addresses in areas of Wales qualifying for Structural Funds? That looks a bit iffy.

There is nothing wrong with universities co-operating with business, I support that, but the difference between what’s happening in Aberystwyth and what happens elsewhere is obvious. Real universities in England, Scotland and elsewhere have major corporations fighting to invest hundreds of millions of pounds, yet here in Wales there’s no queue of big companies, the money has to come in hand-outs of EU funding. Hardly surprising when we remember that Aberystwyth is a refuge for third-rate English students . . . with academics to match. Are these going to come up with world-beating ideas? No; so why waste money on them?

You will have noticed as we went through Beacon’s partners an almost total absence of Welsh involvement. So will the latest £20m create any jobs for Welsh people? No. Will it provide facilities or amenities that will benefit local communities? No. Will this money create infrastructure that will be of wider benefit than just for the university? No. Like the countless millions already wasted on Aberystwyth University this latest £20m will be squandered on academics’ playthings, hippy ventures and companies that will never employ a single Welsh person.

The first two rounds of Objective One / Structural Funds were wasted. Now, with this announcement it looks as if the third round of funding will also be wasted. This money has been given by the EU to raise living standards, to create employment, to build infrastructure, in the poorest areas of western Europe and the people living in those areas. If it is not used for that purpose then the EU should step in and withhold the funding. Seeing as we Welsh get no benefit from EU funding it would be better to go without it entirely than see it used to fund the colonisation of our country.

Dec 092014
 

Many people will hate me for saying this, but political parties of the Right are invariably more honest, and therefore more ‘comfortable’, with their supporters than parties of the Left. The reason for this is that they appeal to perfectly natural human sentiments such as patriotism, family, Mom’s apple pie, or even baser impulses such as prejudice and greed. Whereas parties of the Left pretend – even delude themselves – that their voters are motivated solely by the desire for a nicer, fairer world, where the sun shines all day and we’re all nice to each other, when the truth is that those who vote for them are motivated by the same self-interest as the most venal, cigar-smoking capitalist.

Or am I exaggerating? Well, consider this: Throughout history there has been opposition to organised religion, monarchy, the military, landowners, the aristocracy, industrialists, the bourgeoise, etc., not because of any deep moral or philosophical objections but simply because malcontents believed such institutions and groups disadvantaged them. What I suppose could be described as a combination of envy and greed, which some would argue is the true basis of socialism.

Occasionally this resentment flared up in events such as England’s Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 which, despite the best efforts of historians in subsequent centuries to portray it as such, was not a mass movement with a coherent ideology and long term plans for a better society . . . it was simply a spontaneous rising of people motivated by anger and envy. In subsequent centuries, such episodes of unrest played into the hands of radical groups and political parties using these waves of popular discontent for their own ends. France would certainly have seen disturbances towards the end of the eighteenth century, but these would not have amounted to the French Revolution had there not been clever and ruthless men on hand to exploit the public mood and reshape France.Decembrists

In the following century Russia knew her movements for liberalisation, all of which failed. Some were glorious failures, none more so than that of the young officers who made up the Decembrists. Others were almost farcical. I particularly enjoyed reading many years ago of the Narodniki of the 1860s and ’70s and their ‘Going to the People’, which meant moving to the countryside in order to educate the peasants and help them in their struggles against the kulaks and other oppressors. The conservative peasants were so terrified by these young idealists that they couldn’t hand them in to the tsarist authorities quick enough.

The problem in nineteenth-century Russia and elsewhere was that the radical intellectuals of the aristocracy and the middle-class might eulogise and idealise the peasants and the workers but they had absolutely nothing in common with them, which usually resulted in suspicion and hostility from those they were trying to help. Little changed when Lenin and his gang came to power. There was a massive disconnect between the underdogs and those who saw it as their mission to help make the world a better place, either for, or at least in the name of, said underdogs.

By comparison, those defending privilege and the established order almost always belonged to the class whose interests they defended. More than that, they also appealed to the aspirational, those with a foot or two on the ladder. And never forget that those who defended the status quo also had an audience among the poor, perhaps those of a religious bent, or others who saw the rabble-rousers as harbingers of chaos.

Within my lifetime, in the USA, I can recall the Democrats cobbling together ‘rainbow alliances’ of disparate groups that had nothing in common other than not being Republican, while, on the other hand, the GOP represented an almost homogenous interest of the prosperous, the relatively satisfied, the patriotic, the religious and others who were reasonably happy with America the way it was. Both may have involved a degree of consensus but one didn’t need to be a great psephologist to predict which was the more likely to fall apart.

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This gulf between the underprivileged and those who sought to speak for them has, at its best, been a kind of distant paternalism; at its worst, it has resulted in oppressive systems operated by fanatics in the name of those they very often despised. This has something to do with the fact that radical and anti-establishment parties can never entirely trust their constituencies. External enemies threatening war, or a rise in their living standards, could send the ‘oppressed masses’ flocking to the opposition. By comparison, the Right has always been able to trust its supporters.

Which meant that while the Right represented a coherent ideological continuum, from the richest in the land to the poorest patriot or the widow crossing herself before a picture of the tsar, the self-appointed saviours of the downtrodden always struggled to find common ground with those they spoke for. As the Narodniki and others found this can be very frustrating, tFarage bogeymeno the point where educated and motivated radicals look at those they’re trying to help, and ask, ‘Is it worth it?’ . . . before pulling themselves together and remembering that these drunken, slobbering, superstitious oaves are their hope of power.

This gulf was almost unbridgeable in tsarist Russia, and it’s still there in today’s Western democracies. With a small number of exceptions the modern UK Labour Party is made up of middle-class people and professional politicians, that is, those who studied politics in university then went on to become political assistants – perhaps doubling up as councillors – before making the logical step up to becoming an MP. How do these really feel about beer-swilling, Sun-reading, Reality-TV-obsessed Labour supporters who think Jim Davidson is a great comedian? The truth is that many Labour politicians would sympathise with the Narodniki who came to loathe the peasants who handed them in to the police.

But ‘Ah!’, you say, ‘what about those Old Etonians running the UK government, aren’t they out of touch?’. Out of touch with whom? Certainly not with their friends and relatives in the City, nor with the great English middle class, nor with those lower down the pecking order who feel it’s perfectly natural to be ruled by toffs. Consequently there is no great disconnect between Cameron, Osborne et al and those who support them.

Yet this disconnect on the Left goes a long way to explaining Labour’s fear and loathing for Ukip, and Nigel Farage in particular. The rise of Ukip has exposed another fundamental truth I touched on earlier – many people vote Labour out of pure self-interest, believing that Labour in government will raise wages and benefits, lower taxes and do all manner of things to benefit them. Altruism and a better world have nothing to do with it. As I said in a recent post. ” . . . your average working class, Labour-voting, tabloid-reader is very often a conservative and even a racist. Not a violent, Hitler-worshipping nutter, but a person who undemonstratively shares almost all the prejudices of the far Right. The identikit Ukip voter (as the May Euro-elections showed). We all know them. We work with them, we talk with them down the pub.”

What Labour – and socialists in general – will not admit is that Ukip has out-bogeymanned them. Whereas Labour has traditionally scapegoated capitalism, the banks, international finance, etc., Ukip has come along and said ‘No, no, the real problem, the reason you’re having a hard time, is “Europe” and immigrants’. What makes it worse for Labour is that during the Blair – Brown ( – Mandelson) years Labour got as close to big business and international finance as the Tories, so the traditional bogeymen can no longer be attacked.

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Due to the reckless behaviour of these traditional but now inviolate bogeymen the Western world has just gone through – or may still be experiencing – the worst Recession since the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the UK has a national debt of 1.4 trillion pounds, the Chancellor’s autumn statement last week will lead to public service cuts on a ‘colossal scale‘. . . so where are the massive protest marches behind the banners of socialism? One answer lies in the preceding paragraph. In addition to believing in Ukip’s ‘bogeymen’ we alse see an illustration of what I said in my opening paragraph: “parties of the Right pander to perfectly natural human sentiments such as prejudice and greed”, and gain the rewards.

What of Wales? Surely here, in this fastness of fraternity, this citadel of comradeship, this bastion of brotherhood, this . . . (ah, bugger it!). Surely here socialism still courses through the veins of our people, the Internationale still rings out at the end of ballet performances in the local Institute? Well . . . no. The truth is that in the most recent elections in May Ukip, with 27.6% of the vote, came damn close to beating Labour, on 28.1%. But of course Labour isn’t the only socialist party in Wales, we also have Plaid Cymru (15.3%), which is probably more socialist than Labour, and still moving Left. I don’t wish to be too cruel, but from where I’m sitting, becoming more ardently socialist in 2014 is the political equivalent of buying Confederate Bonds in 1865, or seeking a title in 1788 France.

Having turned its back on the Welsh people and given up almost all hope of success Plaid Cymru is now desperately looking for allies among other ‘progressive’ elements’. (Don’t you just love the labels these Lefties attach to themselves!) This of course is in addition to its long-standing policy of not jeopardising any future coaltion by being too hard on Labour. The ones being courted most assiduously, and unwisely, at the moment are the Greens.

This I have dealt with in a number of recent posts, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of Englandandwales and More on the Green Party of Englandandwales. From reading assorted blogs and other sources I have picked up on references to a proposed eco-socialist alliance which seems to be welcomed by Plaid Cymru luminaries going out of their way to assure English Greens in Wales that Plaid has nothing to do with nationalism (scroll down to comments). Which must raise the question: What is Plaid Cymru for if not for defending and representing Welsh nationhood, this being my understanding of nationalism? I can see why such an anti-colonialist stance might offend those of a colon disposition, but not why Plaid Cymu candidates should have to pander to such susceptibilities.

I have asked it before and I make no apology for asking it again “How can a Welsh political party be in existence for ninety years without realising that its greatest – perhaps its only – selling point is its Welshness? Blame England! – play on Welsh grievances! – stir the passiChyba Bartolottions! – reap the rewards! Better to do that and fail than be a bunch of mealy-mouthed compromisers satisfied with crumbs.”

But, no, Plaid Cymru has refused to be a truly Welsh party for fear of alienating those ‘progressive elements’ with which it is so keen to form alliances. People like Pippa Bartolotti of the Green Party of Englandandwales who regards Welshness as a “regional identity”, she of the checquered past and the recent anti-Nato fiasco in Newport. Or maybe the spotlight will fall on Andy Chyba, who believes the Welsh language is “moribund”. The more one looks at some of these people Plaid Cymru wants to get into bed with the more one can see that they may indeed be progressive in their attitudes to logging in the Amazon and similar issues, but when it comes to Wales and Welshness their attitudes are most definitely nineteenth century and Rule Britannia.

As things stand, Plaid Cymru is of more use to the British system than it is to the Welsh people. All it does is fill the space that should be taken up by a nationalist party. Plaid Cymru mistakes being ignored (due to its impotence) as evidence of its ‘respectability’ (of paramount importance to a certain Welsh mind-set). Plaid Cymru’s taken-for-granted heartlands are being lost due to the colonisation Plaid Cymru is afraid to speak out about; the party has never connected with the anglophone Welsh; yet now it believes it can increase its appeal by linking up with colonialist-minded Greens and other oddballs! This goes beyond wishful thinking, this is self-deluding bollocks.

I hope that Plaid Cymru and its ‘progressive’ allies fail to get a single MP next year and suffer badly in the Assembly elections of 2016 because that’s what they deserve. More importantly, it’s what Wales deserves. Plaid Cymru today is little more than a ‘zombie’ party; not quite dead, but incapable of making any meaningful contribution to the life of Wales. Only when it becomes obvious to everyone that Plaid Cymru is finally dead can Wales start making any real progress.

Dec 042014
 

Few people seemed to have noticed the passing last Friday of the deadline for our 22 local authorities to submit their Expression of Interest (EoI) on agreed council mergers to the ‘Welsh’ Government. Only 3 EoIs were received, covering just 6 local authorities. It seems that Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen would be happy to tie the knot, as would the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend, while in the north, the only two to have taken the first, hesitant steps to the altar are Conwy and Denbighshire.Population density

To help you with what follows, and to give the current lie of the land, the map on the right shows the distribution of our population (this can be enlarged by clicking). It tells us that, in the north, the population is concentrated in Wrecsam, Deeside and the coastal strip; while in the south it’s Swansea Bay, Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys. The area in between the two, and further west, is more sparsely populated or, in some areas, almost uninhabited. You will notice a rough corellation between population distribution and the size and configuration of the existing councils.

It’s also worth remembering that certain constraints were put on the exercise by the Williams Commission. Which, as the BBC reported ” . . . recommends the new councils should be within current health board and police force areas and also not cross the geographical areas governing eligibility for EMap1 (eng)U aid.” So let us look at a few more maps showing. top to bottom, the EU aid map, which also shows the current council boundaries, the health board areas, and the police force areas. (Again, all can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

Looking at the maps we see that the highest level of EU aid does not cross local authority boundaries. The health boards also keep to local authority boundaries. However the police forces, while also observing local authority boundaries group them differently to the  health boards. (Though other than pandering to the ‘Monmouthshire is English’ lobby I have no idea what the justification is for retaining the Gwent Police.) Finally, just for fun, and to show how silly it is to stick rigidly to the existing boundaries of other organisations I have thrown in (below right) the fire and rescue service map. While also respecting local authority boundaries this shows yet another way of dividing ufire and rescue servicesp the country.

Also bear in minHealth boardsd that these divisions have not been handed down to us from our ancestors on tablets of stone. Take the seven health boards, which came into effect in 2009. These replaced the seven Local Health Trusts and the twenty-two Local Health Boards that went all the way back to 2003. (So are we due another reorganisation in 2015?) The point to be taken from these various maps is that for different purposes Wales is divided up in different ways, but each and every organisation dealt with here follows local authority boundaries, thereby establishing their primacy. So rather than screw up local government reorganisation, again, by being too restrictive with the ground rules, let’s be more flexible – get the new local authority boundaries right then – if necessary – let other bodies reconfigure their boundaries to fit the local government map, not the other way round.

A final consideration may bepolice forces that some of these other boundaries may not exist for much longer. For example, many people believe it’s only a matter of time before Wales has a single police force (like Scotland). Perhaps we’ll also have a national fire and rescue service. And as for EU Structural Funds, well, if the ‘Welsh’ Government uses this funding wisely, rather than squandering it on its sponging cronies in the Third Sector, then this will be another internal division that disappears. And even if ‘Welsh’ Labour does make the same mistake for a third time the 2014 – 2020 round is the last tranche of Structural Funds we’ll see. So it would be foolish to use boundaries that may be gone in three or four years time to determine the map of a local government structure we hope will last at least a couple of generations.

Even though the ‘Welsh’ Government only received three Expressions of Interest that doesn’t mean that other local authorities haven’t been discussing mergers and suggesting options. The most interesting proposal I know of is the paper put out by Swansea council, which stated as its preferred option a merger with Neath Port Talbot and, more surprisingly, linking with Llanelli, and also taking in part of Powys, presumably the area around Ystradgynlais at the top of the Swansea Valley. This would create a council with a population of some half a million and would obviously be the core for the proposed Swansea city region.Swansea Bay

Clearly, Swansea, Neath, Llanelli and Port Talbot is a ‘natural’ unit, already a contiguous urban-industrial complex. That Swansea should have made this proposal its number one option suggests to me that preliminary talks have already taken place with Labour councillors in Llanelli, who are known to be unhappy with their party’s leadership on Carmarthenshire county council and the coalition with the Independent Party. (Yes, it is a party.) For Neath Port Talbot the Williams Commission mooted a merger with Bridgend, yet Bridgend, as we know, has already agreed a merger with the Vale of Glamorgan, for which the Commission had Cardiff lined up as a suitable match. The full Williams Commission recommendations can be seen in the table below (click to enlarge).

Looking north, we see that the Commission suggests mergers giving us three authorities instead of the current six, yet others are calling for just two, or even a single authority for the whole north. If we went for two, then presumably Conwy would join with Gwynedd and Ynys Môn while Denbighshire would link up with Wrecsam and Flintshire (maybe the latter authority can be called West Cheshire). Though perhaps the biggest problem is what to do with Powys, currently our largest authority in terms of area but with a population less than that of Wrecsam or Bridgend. Though with the relentless policy of colWilliams Comm 12onisation now being implemented its population is guaranteed to rise faster than almost any other part of the country. Looking again at some of the other recommendations you have to wonder at the reasoning behind them. Why link Pembrokeshire with Ceredigion but leave Carmarthenshire as a stand-alone authority?

Another problematic authority is obviously Monmouthshire. For many of those living in Monmouthshire being part of Wales is bad enough, but having to link up with burger-eating oiks in Newport or the Heads of the Valleys is just too too much. For such people the preferred option would probably be to join Herefordshire or Gloucestershire, which is why I suggest linking Monmouthshire with Blaenau Gwent, Newport, Torfaen (and perhaps part of Caerffili) in a new authority with ‘Gwent’ as the sole official name.

The Williams Commission and the silly restrictions it imposed on the exercise – no crossing existing council, police or health bouundaries – made it impossible to come up with the best solution for Welsh local government. Another concern I have is that in asking for ‘voluntary’ mergers, who exactly is being asked? The answer seems to be whoever ruEight countiesns the council, be that councillors or officers, which means that we shall end up with political stitch-ups. For while I support the plan for the new Swansea Bay authority I am not blind to its attractions for the Labour Party. And where is the public consultation – or will the public be invited to give its views on done deals? Has there been input from business and other sectors of Welsh life? And isn’t the exercise somewhat undermined by Cardiff planning to leave Wales and join up with Bristol?

My view remains that the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 threw out the baby with the bathwater. Admittedly, the two-tier system of 8 counties and 37 districts introduced in 1974 was a confusing and expensive mistake. But another mistake was made in 1994 when we should have kept the 8 county councils as the new unitary authorities instead of ditching them in favour of 22 new unitary councils, including that unworkable sop to Labour sentimentality, Merthyr. Had it been done properly in 1994 we wouldn’t be discussing local government reorganisation again today.

That’s two huge and very expensive mistakes in the space of just forty years, and surely all the more reason to get it right this time rather than trying to do it on the cheap by sticking with existing boundaries we know will be changed, or even cease to exist, in the near future. So, my advice would be – with a few modifications, such as Swansea Bay – revert to the eight pre-1994 councils and have done with it.