May 252017
 

TURF WARS

When the SNP began rising to prominence in Scottish politics a very strange thing happened – Labour and Tories realised they quite liked each other really, to the extent of forming coalition administrations on some local authorities just to keep the SNP (majority party) out of power. It’s still happening.

Following the council elections earlier this month Labour in Scotland got itself into a bit of a tizzy due to its councillors in Aberdeen agreeing to go into coalition with the Tories . . . and then being suspended by the party. Because it doesn’t look good for Labour to be slagging off Mrs May and her gang on one level while jumping into bed with them in Scotland’s third city.

It reminds us that the ‘fight’ between Conservatives and Labour is often a very contrived affair, especially when constitutional issues are introduced. Tories and Labour stood shoulder to shoulder in the 2014 independence referendum and told the same lies. Labour paid the price for that in Scotland with certain sections of the electorate deserting the party, and Labour is now losing support from a different element which realises that if they wish to maintain the Union then they should put aside all other differences to back the Conservative and Unionist Party.

I’ve headed this section ‘Turf Wars’ because in some respects Labour and Tories can be viewed as two gangs fighting over a turf (Britain) in order to protect their rackets: riding the gravy train, promoting and aggrandising themselves and their friends, and of course reaping the rewards in peerages and consultancies/directorships on leaving office, if not before. The introduction of the threat from a third party, especially one offering radical change, makes them realise that they have more in common than they had previously wanted to admit.

On a practical level, it results in people belonging to either of these parties happier to see the other party win than have the outsider, the threat, succeed. Which gives us the reason for Labour’s current tribulations in Aberdeen. And many in Labour are quite open about preferring to see the Tories win, as this snippet from Labour Uncut reminds us.

But how far might this cynical co-operation between Labour and the Tories go? Could it happen in Wales?

Going back to the recent council elections, there might have been some jiggery-pokery in Neath Port Talbot. The Labour Party there was going through a difficult time, with many de-selections resulting in former Labour councillors standing as Independents, and to add to Labour’s woes there was a stronger than usual threat from Plaid Cymru.

All of which might explain the arrival of the cavalry in the form of unknown Conservative candidates, who seemed to do little or no canvassing, and most of whom didn’t bother to turn up at the count. What they did achieve in a number of wards was to split the anti-Labour vote and ensure a Labour victory. Some tell me there were paper candidates like these in other areas.

Then there was the Llangennech school dispute where people close to the Labour Party were more than happy to link up with UKIP in order to attack the Welsh language – ‘education’ and ‘choice’ being mere fig leaves. You might argue this was not strictly political, but Labour used the dispute, now being supported by UKIP, to attack Plaid Cymru. So we see a similar pattern at work.

Anti Welsh language campaigners outside Llangennech school with UKIP AM Neil Hamilton

And going back to my previous post, the people behind that obnoxious leaflet had a clear objective, which was to cause maximum damage to Plaid Cymru and hopefully loosen Plaid’s control on Gwynedd council. I mentioned that the leaflets had been seen in Blaenau Ffestiniog (in the Co-op store, to be exact), perhaps I should also have told you that in the Diffwys and Maenofferen ward of the town the Plaid Cymru candidate lost by just 3 votes.

With a margin that small it’s reasonable to assume that the leaflet was decisive.

MEDIA

One reason that Tories and Labour are allowed to get away with such practices is of course because, by and large, the UK media is on the same wavelength, even otherwise liberal outlets tend to line up with them when ‘ugly nationalism’ is introduced to the mix.

A case in point would be the BBC, which still wields incredible influence due to so many people relying on it for their news. People trust the BBC, but that trust is often abused. Because I am in no doubt that the BBC has done a deal with the Conservative Party to follow the required line on most issues in return for keeping the licence fee that guarantees its survival. Though on Scottish independence, for example, the Beeb might not need to be leaned on.

One recent example of the Corporation’s Unionist credentials was the televised Scottish party leaders debate on Sunday when, to believe most of the media, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was floored by a nurse who claimed she had to use food banks. Here’s a more balanced view of that new low which exposed the BBC for the state propaganda agency it is, and always has been.

The Scottish nurse, Claire Austin, who attacked Nicola Sturgeon during a live TV debate, claiming that because of low pay she had to use food banks, photographed earlier this year dining at the Plaza Hotel in New York. She lives in a nice part of Edinburgh, dines at the best restaurants, her daughter attends a fee-paying school and has a horse. Oh, yes, and nurses in Scotland get paid more than their counterparts in Wales. Did the BBC put her up to it?                      (Picture courtesy of the Scottish Sun.)

And the BBC also proves what I said earlier about liberal outlets. For within the Corporation certain programmes – often with small, left of centre audiences – are allowed to stray from the official line in the hope of maintaining the image of impartiality. Newsnight, for example, supported Remain, Clinton, anybody but Le Pen, etc, yet when it comes to discussing the SNP or Scotland Newsnight could have Nigel Farage as its producer.

Here in Wales, supplementing the BBC’s output we have Trinity Mirror which, in addition to publishing the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror (and the Daily Record in Scotland) also owns in Wales: Western Mail, Daily Post, Wales on Sunday, the Evening Post, the Echo, Llanelli Star, Caernarfon Herald, Neath Guardian, Flintshire Chronicle, Cynon Valley Leader, Glamorgan Gazette, Gwent Gazette, Merthyr Express, Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer, Rhondda Leader and the Rhymney Valley Express.

With all the previously separate websites now merged into WalesOnline, and controlled from Cardiff.

Trinity Mirror supports the Labour party. And with the BBC supporting any party that can maintain the Union the combination of Trinity Mirror and the BBC goes quite some way to explaining why a party as utterly useless as ‘Welsh’ Labour can hang on to power.

But Trinity Mirror’s loyalty to the Labour Party can take many forms, much of it distasteful. Further details on one such case were brought to my attention just a few days ago.

JENNY LEE CLARKE

You will recall the case of the Swansea East Labour MP Carolyn Harris’s attack on a co-worker in the constituency office of Harris’s predecessor Siân James. It made the London dailies. No charges resulted only because the complaint was made beyond the six-month limit for charges of common assault.

As might be expected, when Harris became MP for Swansea East in May 2015 things got very difficult for the woman she had assaulted, Jenny Lee Clarke, who was still working in the constituency office. It was no surprise when Harris – once ‘cleared’ – took her revenge by accusing Clarke of theft. Equally unsurprising was the fact that WalesOnline gleefully reported the baseless accusation.

Ms Clarke lost her job and was put through the mill. Here’s her timetable of events:

15.01.16 – Raised a grievance

27.01.16 – 8 hours giving a statement about the verbal, emotional and physical abuse 

28.01.16 – Sacked

26.04.16 – Discovered from broadsheets I was being investigated

24.06.16 – Arrested – bail

19.09.16 – Re-bailed

07.11.16 – Re-bailed

17.02.17 – Still on bail whilst case went to CPS for a charging decision

17.05.17 – No action taken and released with no bail conditions because process had not been adhered too

When Ms Clarke attended Swansea Central police station on May 17th she was told that she was being released with no charge . . . but was also told, “You may in future be asked to attend voluntarily to be re-interviewed”. Though an apology was made “for the length of time this has taken”.

It has been suggested to me that this nightmare only ended when it did because of the ‘no extension of bail without fresh evidence’ provision in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, brought in due to the constant re-bailing in the Cliff Richard fiasco.

As we’ve seen, the Labour-supporting Trinity Mirror Group was quick to exonerate the Labour MP and equally quick to put the boot into her victim. Though, fair play, Richard Youle, senior news reporter for the Evening Post did promise to report the outcome of the investigation, as the e-mail reproduced below tells us.

The problem is that despite being told of the outcome, and reminded of his promise, Mr Youle and Trinity Mirror seem to have lost interest in the case. I wonder why?

Labour supporters reading this – and I do get them! – will be shouting, ‘Trinity Mirror’s reluctance to report the Jenny Lee Clarke case has got nothing to do with saving Labour embarrassment, Jac, cos Carolyn Harris is safe in Swansea East’. And indeed she is, bless her . . . but the Post covers the Bay and Carmarthenshire, so what about another Swansea seat, Gower, where Labour is hoping to overcome Byron Davies’s majority of just 27? And then there’s Llanelli, where you wouldn’t bet your house on Nia Griffith being returned.

This is a case that again exposes the links between the Labour Party and Trinity Mirror, and how they are prepared to combine in destroying anyone who threatens them. For Jenny Lee Clarke is now heavily in debt, she has lost her car, her telephone has been disconnected, and – unlike the stooge-nurse in Edinburgh – Jenny really is using food banks.

And what of South Wales Police? Their role in this does their reputation no favours. I hope there’s no connection between their treatment of an innocent woman and the fact that the PCC for South Wales Police is the odious Alun Michael, former Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth who, once elected, stuffed his office with Labour apparatchiks in the time-honoured way.

Having said that the Evening Post and WalesOnline couldn’t find space to tell us that Jenny Lee Clarke was not going to be prosecuted, Trinity Mirror still found space to insult our intelligence with a truly ludicrous story about how Harris had been affected by the Manchester bombing.

Courtesy of WalesOnline

Of course, she was nowhere near Manchester on Monday night, but she had been in Westminster for that attack in March – but she was never in any danger there either. While we expect politicians to exploit tragedies for their own advantage this is still one of the more contrived and disgusting examples I’ve come across.

But it’s what happens when you have a country where the dominant political party enjoys an unhealthy relationship with the company controlling most of the indigenous print media.

Anyone considering a ‘progressive alliance’ with these bastards needs a good talking to, with the kind of implement we shall encounter in the next section.

There is nothing ‘progressive’about the Labour Party.

STOP PRESS!

I am informed by the legendary Ian Bone, founder of Class War, that on Sunday July 16th there is to be a ‘Dress Like Leon Atkin Day’ in Swansea. The message went on, “There will be a perambulation from Jimmy Wilde’s to St Paul’s Crypt followed by speechifying and singing”.  For those now staring at the screen in bewilderment, let me explain.

Leon Atkin was a man of the cloth who used to give shelter to vagrants in the crypt of his church (now a curry house), which stood on the junction of St Helen’s Road and St Helen’s Avenue, opposite the legendary Joe’s ice cream parlour. The Jimmy Wilde referred to was not that Jimmy Wilde, but the old heavyweight boxer, who’d briefly been Welsh champion until losing his title to Tommy Farr. And he had even known the immortal Marciano who, as everyone knows, started his fight career in Swansea.

By the time I knew Jimmy he looked what he was, a beaten-up old heavyweight straight out of central casting, but you knew not to mess with him. He ran a drinking club not far from High Street Station. To describe Jimmy’s place as ‘rough’ would be an understatement on a par with saying Leo Messi’s a pretty good footballer.

Image reproduced courtesy of Google

You must remember that back then the pubs closed in the afternoon so, unless you knew a friendly landlord – or landlady! – if you wanted a drink you had to go to a club. Don’t get me wrong, there were some very tidy clubs, but these tended to be more discriminating than Jimmy about who they served. They expected you to be able to stand upright without swaying, or it would be some other irritating qualification.

Even so, you couldn’t always walk straight into Jimmy’s, there was often a certain film noir element to gaining admittance. For example, you’d knock on the door and a voice from within would ask, ‘Are you a member?’ You’d answer ‘No’, and the voice would come back, ‘Oh, never mind’, and the door would open. It was a strange ritual that served no real purpose.

The link between Jimmy Wilde’s and St Paul’s was of course that many of Jimmy’s customers made a regular perambulation to the Crypt. It might be worth adding that Leon Atkin was a drinker himself, in fact, he’d sunk a few pints with Dylan.

Back in the ’70s Ian and his crew did fantastic work with their underground magazine Alarm, exposing the corruption on Swansea council. Labour Council leader Gerald Murphy eventually got sent down, and then his Ratepayer successor Sid Jenkins got done for accepting ‘favours’. As we used to say – ‘Swansea’s got the best councillors money can buy’.

I recall one night in 1980 drinking with Phil Henry in the Queens on Oxford Street (run then by the Necrews family). Ian Bone was there selling ‘Paul Ringer is Innocent’ badges. The story as I remember it was . . . he’d pissed off some local heavies who’d bent an iron bar over his head, so with the compensation money he bought himself a badge-making machine!

Happy days with unbelievable characters. When did people become so boring?

♦ end ♦

Mar 242017
 

Swansea Labour Party

I have it on good authority that the all-conquering Swansea Labour Party is raring to go in May’s council elections. Well oiled, with palms greased and muscles flexed from Clydach High Street to Caswell Bay. Even as you read this leafleting teams – each member carrying a 90kg rucksack – will be training by racing up and down Kilvey Hill. Platitudes are being practised and – should honeyed words fail – brass knuckles polished.

Well, perhaps I exaggerate.

It is at this point I must apologise to whoever sent me interesting information about the line-up for May . . . information I’m afraid I’ve lost, sorry. The problem is that I’m still trying to get straight after my recent computer disaster. But never mind, I shall press on with what I’ve got.

It seems that things are not well for the bruvvers on my home patch, and even worse as we look around the Bay.

First, the Clays, Bob and Uta, have upped sticks and gone. They drifted into town a few years ago, he’s English and a former MP for Sunderland North, she’s Austrian. They were immediately accepted as candidates by the Labour Party, yet they’ve spent their brief time in the city playing left wing politics and plotting against ‘colleagues’, now they’re moving on having done sod all for Swansea, their only contribution being to keep up Labour numbers on the council.

One of those hoping to replace the Clays in the Llansamlet ward is Maureen ‘Mo’ Sykes, who has appeared in this blog afore, due to her connection with the YMCA. See here, here and here.

Like the Clays and so many of the city’s recent Labour councillors Sykes is not native to Swansea or to Wales. But what the hell! Labour is an internationalist party . . . or was until it realised that most Labour voters went for Brexit due to concerns over immigration. So if Labour don’t fall into line, then those voters will switch to Ukip (even if they remain sceptical about Paul Nuttall’s claim to have scored the winning goal in the 1966 World Cup Final).

Plaid Cymru

‘But, surely’ you cry, ‘Plaid Cymru must be strong in Swansea, and putting up a raft of of inspiring candidates?’ I fear not. The last time the Jack electorate was offered credible Plaid candidates with whom they could identify was when me and my mates stood back in the ’60s and ’70s. You want to know why Plaid Cymru is almost invisible in Swansea?

First, there’s the widespread perception that Plaid is a ‘Cardiff party’. In other words, part of the ‘bubble’ that sees Cardiff get a disproportionate share of investment and everything else. This may be felt in other areas, but is more keenly felt in Cardiff’s only rival.

Second, and another reason that the party has difficulty connecting with ordinary people, is because of its obsession with ‘progressive’ politics and other bollocks that makes it hostage to single-issue obsessives and outright charlatans. Here’s an example.

Mynydd y Gwair

The long saga of Mynydd y Gwair is drawing to a close. A windfarm will soon rise on an unspoilt landscape on the edge of Swansea. Local graziers – all Welsh – will lose out to the German energy company erecting the turbines, and the Duke of Beaufort, who owns the land, much of it acquired in confiscations from Welsh landowners (among them, it is suggested, Owain Glyndŵr). Yet Plaid Cymru has done nothing to help the people of the area.

Plaid Cymru may indeed be ‘the Party of Wales’ but in its pathetic attempt to avoid the ‘narrow nationalist’ slander it refuses to acknowledge the existence of a distinct, Welsh people, promoting instead something called ‘civic nationalism’ which, when used by Plaid Cymru, is just a cop-out.

On Mynydd y Gwair, Plaid’s desperation to avoid the slander, coupled with its support for environmentalist shysters, has led the party to support a German energy company and an English aristocrat against Welsh people.

What sort of a national party is this? Perhaps one for which ‘Wales’ is just a geographical expression.

Plod, Plod, Plodding Along

Before leaving Swansea I must return to the case of Jenny Lee Clarke who, you may remember, was a colleague of Carolyn Harris, now the MP for Swansea East, and claims to have suffered a homophobic assault at the hands of Harris. (An incident that Plaid Cymru, opposed to bullying and homophobia, chose to ignore.)

In what was almost certainly a tit-for-tat move Clarke was accused of stealing money by somehow paying herself more than she was due. I’m not sure when she was initially charged (lost documents again) but I know that she was bailed, and that this initial bail period was extended until November 7th . . . when it was extended again to February 17th . . . now it’s been extended again to May 17th.

. . . for Labour politicians?

If the police have a case then they should take it to court, if they don’t have a case then they should give this poor woman a break and put an end to her worrying. I cannot believe that it takes so long to investigate a single allegation against one woman – it’s not as if we’re dealing with a complicated conspiracy involving offshore accounts used by Russian hackers.

The way the police have treated Jenny Lee Clarke makes them look incompetent. An alternative explanation, seeing as the allegation against Clarke comes from a Labour MP, one against whom she had made a serious allegation, and remembering that the South Wales PCC, Alun Michael, is a former Labour MP, might be that political influence explains this woman’s appalling treatment.

Comrades Lost on the Port Talbot Front

Around the Bay, in Neath Port Talbot, there has been internecine blood-letting on a scale unrecorded since the Peloponnesian War. The ground in Port Talbot is said to be red with the blood of fallen comrades, knives protruding from their backs, with as many as half of the sitting Labour councillors deselected, and perhaps eleven of them planning to stand as Independents in May. This could get really nasty. (Rubs hands gleefully!)

A similar situation is reported from Bridgend council, especially up around Maesteg, and from other areas such as Caerfilli, and Cardiff. It would appear that in some local authority areas ‘Welsh’ Labour is fighting a – largely unreported – civil war.

Llandovery YMCA

Hesitantly now, I cross the mighty Llwchwr into Carmarthenshire, but give Sosban a wide berth, for Cneifiwr is doing a grand job there in exposing the manifest shortcomings of the oddballs, dissemblers and grotesques collectively known as Llanelli Labour Party. I shall instead hie me away to Llandovery.

Intelligence reached me that the con trick going by the name of Llandovery YMCA had closed its doors. I call it a con trick because its greatest achievement has been to pull in hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funding to create non-jobs for good-lifers. I suggest you read Ancestral Turf and The Impoverishment of Wales (scroll down to ‘YMCA Wales’). There you will encounter in a previous incarnation ‘Mo’ Sykes, would-be successor to the Clays.

put up on March 4th, still closed

Of more immediate relevance could be that the driving force behind this scam, one Jill Tatman, is being prevented from returning to work by other trustees after a period looking after her ‘sick’ husband. I’m told that her husband is not sick at all, but perhaps keeping his own company while on bail for – it is alleged – offences involving children.

A great deal of public money has been poured into Llandovery YMCA for the benefit of a small group of recent arrivals. Given that the whole project seems to have folded there should now be an investigation of the accounts and the wider running of this good-lifers’ benefit fund.

In my Ancestral Turf post you will see a video featuring Gill Wright who branched out by taking over the old North Western Hotel, near the railway station, to run as the Level Crossing bunkhouse. Public funding was secured, but again, the venture collapsed, after just two years.

The old pile has now been bought again, this time to be run as a commercial venture, with no public funding involved. How know I this? Because the new owners sent a message to the contact box you’ll see in the sidebar.

I get some very interesting messages through my ‘Contact Me Directly’ box. Oh yes.

Sweet Charity

News from the north, now.

Over the years I’ve dealt with countless examples of the ‘Welsh’ Government blindly throwing money around in the vain hope that this will be mistaken for an economic strategy. As we know, much of this money goes to Labour Party members and hangers-on in the Third Sector; Naz Malik and the family business AWEMA being a classic example.

When it’s not going to Labourites other ways are found to squander public funding, such as showering money on the grant grabbers of Llandovery and their counterparts across the land. I’ve often thought that this group seems to make up for the lack of a Labour presence in rural areas.

For the electoral map tells us that there are fewer opportunities to reward party loyalty when we travel west of Wrecsam and Llanelli, or north of Merthyr. But little outposts of bruvverdom can still be found. One such example would be the patch of Councillor Siôn Wyn Jones in Bethel, a village to the north east of Caernarfon on the B4366.

Now I’m sure that one-time estate agent Siôn is a conscientious councillor working hard for his community, for he never tires of telling people how hard he works and how much money he’s raised for that community. But questions are being asked about his running of the village hall, Neuadd Goffa Bethel.

Back in 2013 the Neuadd was given £294,811.88 in capital grants by the ‘Welsh’ Government for a revamp. Which gave Carwyn Jones the opportunity to venture into Plaid Cymru territory to remind locals how much ‘Welsh’ Labour was doing for them.

The revamped Neuadd is a fine asset for Bethel, but questions persist. Such as, why have no accounts or annual returns been filed with the Charity Commission for two years? And why is Siôn Wyn Jones the sole trustee of the Neuadd? Because the Charity Commission recommends at least three trustees. We know young Siôn is multi-talented, but is he serving as chairman, secretary and treasurer?

I’m sure there are simple answers to these questions and equally sure that Siôn Wyn Jones will ensure that everything is soon tickety-boo. For hark! I hear the returning officer call the candidates to the stage.

P.S. I should have mentioned that even though Gwynedd Council is controlled by Plaid Cymru the local funding agency, Mantell Gwynedd, is firmly under Labour Party control. Described to me as a “Labour closed shop”. Which means that even in an area where Labour is weak, ‘loyalty’ can still be bought and rewarded. An interesting insight into how ‘Welsh’ Labour manages to control the purse-strings even in those areas where it is rejected by the electorate.

‘J Jones’

Those of us who spend too much time on the internet, and especially on sites that deal with Wales, will be familiar with ‘J Jones’, an exceptionally prolific writer whose mission in life seems to be proving that we’d all be eating caviare in the backs of our chauffeur-driven Rollers . . . if only we killed off the Welsh language.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I believe that ‘J Jones’ is our old friend, that son of the Balkans, Jacques Protic. I say that for a number of reasons. To begin with, over the years Protic has used many aliases, he may even have been Bilingo, for what really brings down the red mist for Protic is kids being taught Welsh, or worse, being educated through the medium of Welsh.

A further link is that ‘J Jones’ claims to be living on Ynys Môn, which, by a strange coincidence, is where Jacques Protic lives.

Until quite recently, Protic and ‘J Jones’ seemed to work as a team, appearing on the same blog or website feeding off each other. But we seem to be reading less from Protic nowadays and more from ‘J Jones’, who may be trying to explain the Protic reticence in the comment below, made in December to a Cardiff University blog by Professor Roger Scully.

Significantly, the police doing “nothing” to protect Jacques Protic from nationalist lynch mobs is a refrain we’ve heard from Protic himself. It has even been taken up by Labour blogger Phil Parry. To savour his take on the persecution of Jacques Protic – and my role in it! – work back from (takes deep breath), If Third-Rate Journalism Reliant On Endless Repetition Was A Crime Then Phil Parry Would Have Been Banged Up Long Ago.

‘J Jones’ of course shares the Protic obsession with education, to the extent that towards the end of 2015 he even commissioned a survey with YouGov into attitudes to Welsh language education. How much does it cost to have your own survey? How much of an obsessive do you have to be to arrange one? Or is someone else paying?

I suggest that newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites, take rather more care than hitherto when dealing with comments and other contributions from ‘J Jones’, if only because he doesn’t exist.

Brexit

To finish, a little contribution from another source who tells me that Whitehall mandarins are in a tizzy because they fear May and her Three Brexiteers may be planning to do a runner so as to avoid the €60bn ‘divorce settlement’ and other punitive measures that Johnny Foreigner will seek to impose.

The scenario runs thus: Once the German elections are out of the way at the end of September a spat will be contrived that will see the UK raise two fingers to her erstwhile partners in the EU and walk away without paying anything.

I’m still trying to get my head around this, and figure out how it might impact on Scotland. Surely it would be a gift for the SNP? And what about us?

I’m sure my erudite and imaginative readers will have opinions on this and the other matters raised in this post.

♦ end ♦

Dec 082016
 

When the incoming Labour government offered us devolution in 1997 I didn’t get too excited, but still, if Kinnock and George Thomas are against it, I thought, then it might have something going for it. So I voted Yes, but only because I saw devolution as a step on the road to independence. Encouraged by Ron Davies calling devolution “a process, not an event”.

Once the Yes vote had been arranged everyone assumed that the new Assembly would sit in Cardiff City Hall, but a dispute over costs blew up that was never satisfactorily explained. I believe that this spat was contrived, dreamed up in London to compensate Associated British Ports for not getting the planned opera house designed by the late Zaha Hadid.

It was no coincidence that the driving force behind the opera house project – as head man at Welsh National Opera – was Nicholas Edwards (later Lord Crickhowell), Secretary of State for Wales under Margaret Thatcher, and chairman of Associated British Ports, the company that owned Cardiff docks.

With Cardiff City Hall ruled out we had a national ‘competition’ to find a replacement. The ‘winner’, in the sense that it was the only entrant to meet the requirements of price and immediate availability, was Swansea’s pre-war Guildhall designed by Percy Thomas. But in April 1998 Secretary of State Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be sited in Cardiff after all.

Swansea Guildhall (picture from 1991)

Everyone in Swansea – and indeed people in Cardiff and the rest of Wales – then realised that the ‘competition’ had been a charade, and that the Assembly was going to Cardiff even though there was no site for it. As late as 2001 Swansea politicians were still claiming a conspiracy.

Further, I have always believed that Ron Davies, being vulnerable to pressure, was ‘leaned on’. His justification at the time for ripping up the ‘competition’ rules and awarding the prize to Cardiff was that to have located the Assembly in Swansea would have undermined Cardiff’s status as capital of Wales. So why have a ‘competition’?

Without a building for the Assembly it was decided to lease Crickhowell House down Cardiff docks, named after Lord Crickhowell. The ‘Welsh’ Government is still leasing Crickhowell House, now renamed Tŷ Hywel. You might be interested in the figures.

From 1999 to 2012 the public purse splurged £40,654,093 on leasing, maintaining and improving the building. The current lease runs until 2032 at an annual cost of £2.3m plus VAT. When I submitted my FoI in 2013 the building was owned by Crick Properties, but was bought in March 2014 for £40.5m by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The final bill for leasing and maintaining this building will be well over £100m, after which it will still belong to whoever owns it at the time. We could have had a new, purpose-built building for a tenth of that figure. But of course, that would not have suited Associated British Ports and those linked to the company.

The squalid saga of how the public purse was abused in order to transform Cardiff docks into Cardiff Bay for the benefit of Associated British Ports is explained in the Corruption Bay document I put together in 2000-2001.

It’s well over 18 years since Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be located in Cardiff . . . somewhere. In that time Cardiff – which, incidentally, voted against devolution – has prospered greatly from hosting the Assembly, and gained from politicians and civil servants making decisions that talk of ‘Wales’ but benefit only Cardiff.

To the point where, today, it seems that all investment is focused on Cardiff while other urban areas are condemned to managed decline and our countryside and coasts serve as recreation and retirement areas for England. The north, certainly the north east, is, with the connivance of the ‘Welsh’ Government (acting on the recommendation of a Mrs Hain), being detached from Wales to become commuter territory for Merseyside and Greater Manchester. For some time now, dwellings around Wrecsam have been advertised by estate agents as being in ‘West Cheshire’!

The Mersey Dee Alliance is the plan for north west England to absorb north east Wales

This process of dismembering Wales is made easier by Cardiff’s distance from and indifference to the north east.

Few things illustrate the Cardiff-centricity of contemporary Wales – and more worryingly, how it has become accepted in official circles as the template for all development – than the Cardiff Capital Region project and its associated Metro system.

The City Region is nothing but a scheme for encouraging further investment in Cardiff but, by improving local transport links, it’s hoped that the Valleys and the M4 corridor from Bridgend to the border will feel part of this enterprise. In truth, it’s the formalisation of a city-commuter region arrangement. To dress it up as anything else is dishonest.

That this project has progressed so far with so few objections from those communities being reduced to dormitory status can be attributed to the malign influence of a Labour Party that may be losing its grip but still deals ruthlessly with dissent. Plus the fact that opposition parties seem to share the ‘Everything in Cardiff’ mindset.

To ensure that the focus remains on Cardiff major developments elsewhere in the region may be sabotaged, and this explains the recent attacks on the Circuit of Wales project at Ebbw Vale. These attacks came from the traditional mouthpiece of the Cardiff business community, the Western Mail, and BBC Wales which, as I remarked in Circuit of Wales Revisited“has as much claim to being our national broadcaster as the Mule has to being our national newspaper”.

Despite my criticisms, what I’ve dealt with thus far is understandable, even excusable, in that it’s the duty of the politicians and the business community of a city to promote the interests of that city.

Of course my absolution does not extend to Assembly Members from other areas who simply nod through every project to promote and enrich Cardiff. Nor does it extend to those who pose as our ‘national media’, or other institutions and bodies claiming to represent the whole country.

Cities, even capital cities, looking out for themselves is one thing, but we have now reached the stage in Wales where Cardiff serving its own interests, and being encouraged to do so by the media and the ‘Welsh’ Government, is working against the interests of the country as a whole.

Worse, we are now seeing the corruption that is almost inevitable when the public life of a country is concentrated in a relatively small city, and when this concentration sees those with the power of patronage and control of the public purse rubbing shoulders on a regular basis – and too regularly in social environments – with those wishing to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Two examples will help explain what I’m talking about.

First, a case that attracted much attention was the deal to sell off land on the outskirts of Cardiff to a very well-connected group of Cardiff businessmen at a knock-down, agricultural-use price, despite the fact that everybody knew the land had been earmarked for housing. I dealt with this in Pies, Planes & Property Development and Pies, Planes & Property Development 2. Let’s not beat about the bush, this was corruption, pure and simple.

Next, have you ever wondered why Wales – unlike Ireland and Scotland – does not have a national cricket team? The answer is that we are represented by England. No, honestly, and to be precise, by the England and Wales Cricket Board (though the ‘Wales’ bit is never used).

Swalec Stadium, home to England Test matches and the reason Wales has no national cricket team

In 2015 Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was an honour to welcome the Test match between Australia and England to Cardiff, adding: “Attracting major events not only boosts our international profile, but has clear benefits for our economy”. 

Two points: First, a national team would boost our ‘international profile’ far more, because many people around the world now believe that Cardiff is in England; second, how much of the money generated by the Test match did other parts of Wales see?

Of course, at one time, we did have a national cricket team, but that was before Glamorgan County Cricket Club and others surrendered to England in order that Cardiff could enjoy the publicity, the prestige, and the revenue, from hosting England ‘home’ matches. Another example of the counter-devolution strategy at work and another step towards Englandandwales.

Another way Wales loses out to Cardiff is in the exodus of too many of the brightest and best from other parts of the country. ‘Ah, but the same thing happens in Ireland’ shout Cardiff’s defenders. Not really. The fastest growing cities there are Cork and Galway, and perhaps more importantly, Donegal and Kerry, Sligo and Roscommon are not being overrun by tens of thousands of retirees, problem families, good-lifers, hippies, paedophiles, white flighters and tourist trappers.

The economic imbalance in Wales that makes Cardiff so attractive to our young people deprives many rural communities of their future leaders, their opinion-formers, those who might challenge the invasion taking place. Coincidence, no doubt.

We have reached the stage now where that economic imbalance is so severe, and being exacerbated year on year, that those who direct things in Cardiff – including those who not so long ago would readily display their contempt for ‘Welshies’ – are quite open about their long-term strategy of positioning the city as a medium-sized provincial English city, in competition with Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle and others. Slowly but inexorably Cardiff is turning its back on Wales.

For Cardiff has the advantage that, as capital of Wales, it can always argue that projects in the city are ‘national’ in importance, and being done for the benefit of 3.2 million people. Which makes it odd that Plaid Cymru politicians get exercised over Crossrail 2 and HS2 being described as ‘national’, yet seem oblivious to the same thing happening under their noses in Cardiff.

Though sometimes the brew gets really heady and ambition stretches beyond competing with Sheffield, proven by an article this week by Siôn Barry, Business Editor of the Wasting Mule, whose brother Mark is the brains behind the Metro system. Barry quotes some estate agent – a profession renowned for its scrupulous avoidance of exaggeration and misrepresentation – who believes that Cardiff can become a “global capital”.

click to enlarge

Think about that. We are asked to believe that a city of less than 400,000 people can compete with Tokyo and Paris, Buenos Aires and Beijing. It’s laughable; with the laughter ratcheted up to hysterical level by the fact that Cardiff’s just a provincial centre, and the full idiocy is realised by remembering that those pushing this bollocks, at the Wasting Mule and elsewhere, oppose Welsh independence, without which Cardiff is not, and never can be, a real capital.

This kind of stuff gets hyperbole a bad name; it borders on the delusional. Young Matt Phillips of Knight Frank clearly needs help, but rather than waste money on some expensive treatment I suggest that he be slapped around the head with a freshly-caught halibut until he recants. (It never fails.) As for those who repeat such nonsense, well, they want to believe it, but worse, they also want you to believe it.

Welcome to the never-never world of devolution. An estate agent tells a journalist that Cardiff is about to go head-to-head with Paris, this is repeated as gospel by our ‘national newspaper’, yet it takes place to the backdrop of Wales being colonised and by other means having its identity eroded as the prelude to complete assimilation into England.

While it yet lasts, this fantasy I’ve described bears some resemblance to a corrupt Third World country where all the goodies are concentrated in the capital and the provinces are allowed to rot; what’s missing is the dictator and his extended family and friends ripping off the state finances, but standing in we have ‘Papa’ Jones and his Labour Party, plus Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector and gangs of well-connected businessmen.

As I said at the start; when I voted Yes in 1997 it was only because I saw devolution as the first step on the road to independence. Devolution has been a complete failure in that regard, and it has even failed as a devolved system – apart from the growth of Cardiff. And this week we were told that even the devolution some thought we had is worthless because Westminster can overrule the ‘Welsh’ Government any time it chooses.

To remedy the situation in which we find ourselves Wales needs to be ‘re-balanced’. I believe that the quickest and surest way of achieving that necessary objective is by moving the Assembly out of Cardiff. Which is why I have launched a petition urging that the Assembly be moved to Aberystwyth. Click here to sign that petition.

end ♦

UPDATE 20.12.2016: Well, bless my soul – Plaid Cymru agrees with me!

Dec 052016
 

I am indebted to Brychan Davies, a regular visitor to this blog, for drawing my attention to this story and for doing a considerable amount of the initial research.

Featuring on the BBC Wales Sunday Politics show yesterday, and also topping the News was a report on the poor quality accommodation in which asylum seekers are being housed. There’s little doubt that the story was delivered, ready-written to the BBC by the Welsh Refugee Council.

Which is why I would caution against believing that the Welsh Refugee Council’s motives are entirely altruistic. For it could be that they’re a bit pissed off with an English company running the refugee/migrant/asylum seeker business on their patch. Knowing that the Clearsprings Home Office contract is up for renewal next year, the Council could be putting the boot in in the hope that it can take over.

Don’t get me wrong, if I believed that the Welsh Refugee Council was attacking Clearsprings for the right reasons, if there was anger that 17 years into devolution the Home Office in London can still award contracts like this, allowing English companies to operate in Wales, then I would unequivocally support the Welsh Refugee Council.

But the Welsh Refugee Council is part of the Third Sector, and so I suspect that the ‘outrage’ might have something to do with the allocation of  public funding. Which would make the report on BBC Wales yesterday – and the story run last year about Lynx House – little more than a propaganda offensive in a turf war.

UPDATE 06.12.2016: A trip to the Charity Commission website and a scan of the most recent accounts available would appear to bear out my suggestion of jealousy and desperation motivating the Welsh Refugee Council.

Income for the Council fell from £2.48m in y/e 31.03.2011 to just £610,000 in y/e 31.03.2015. Perhaps more significantly, in 2015 staff costs were £355,944, down from £748,470 the previous year. So there must have been quite a few redundancies and the organisation’s future might be on the line.

So let’s examine the facts. The company named by the BBC as providing the sub-standard accommodation is Clearsprings Ready Homes, here’s the Companies House information. You’ll note that it’s a relatively new company, only Incorporated on Jan 24, 2012. The original name – used until Dec 12, 2012 – was Clearel Ltd. The company’s address is given as 26 Brook Road, Rayleigh, Essex.

If you go to the latest set of accounts, up to 31.01.2016 – under the ‘Filing history’ tab – you’ll read the following –

clearsprings-operates

It would be reasonable to assume that Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd was set up to run the contract with the Home Office that research tells us began in 2012. The contract is due for renewal in 2017 which, as I’ve suggested, almost certainly explains the timing of BBC Wales’ hostile coverage at the instigation of the Welsh Refugee Council.

If you stay on the Companies House website and type in ‘Clearsprings’ it will offer you a number of other companies, most of them sharing the same Essex address. Among them, Clearsprings (Management) Ltd. You’ll see that one of the directors is a Graham Ian King, whose address is also given as 26 Brook Road, Rayleigh, Essex. If you stick with Graham Ian King and bring up his other directorships you’ll see among them Kings Leisure Ltd, which I suspect is the original family firm, Incorporated back in January 1958.

The Kings are a family that seem to be involved in the entertainment and holiday industry, among their interests is a large caravan park on Canvey Island. A business that drew some adverse publicity last year when it was alleged that benefit claimants from other parts of England and ex-offenders were being ‘dumped’ there.

clearsprings-dumping

If we click on the ‘Charges’ tab of Clearsprings (Management) Ltd we see that this company – not Clearsprings Ready Homes – owns a number of properties in Swansea. In fact, despite what it says in the Clearsprings Ready Homes accounts about “London and the South of England”, and despite the Cardiff emphasis of the Welsh Refugee Council and BBC Wales, Clearsprings and Mr King seem to be very active in Swansea.

Here’s a list of the properties owned by Clearsprings (Management) Ltd in Swansea (according to Companies House): 14 Kildare Street, Manselton, SA5 9PH; 26 Clare Street, Manselton, SA5 9PQ; 3A Robert Street, Manselton, SA5 9NE; 57 Courtney Street, Manselton, SA5 9NR; 406 Carmarthen Road, Cwmbwrla, SA5 8LW; 16 Colbourne Terrace, Waun Wen, SA1 6FP; 42 Llangyfelach Street, Dyfatty, SA1 2BQ; 9 Portia Terrace, Mount Pleasant, SA1 6XW; 41 Landeg Street, Plasmarl, SA6 8LA; 359 Neath Road, Plasmarl, SA6 8JN; 5 Ramsey Drive, Clase, SA6 7JD; 13 Lon Hafren, Morriston, SA6 7EH; 59 Pentre-chwyth Road, Bon-y-maen, SA1 7AN; 162 Peniel Green Road, Peniel Green, SA7 9BE.

I was only able to find the title documents for four of these fourteen properties on the Land Registry website: 57 Courtney Street, 42 Llangyfelach Street, 41 Landeg Street, and 13 Lôn Hafren. You’ll see that they were all bought in 2007 and 2008 with loans from Barclays Bank. Interestingly, the last two properties named have a link with the Beaufort Estate, which will soon be dumping a wind farm on common grazing land at Mynydd y Gwair, and not so long ago demanded (and got) £280,000 for allowing the council to put a footbridge over the Tawe. (The Marquess of Worcester is the eldest son of the Duke of Beaufort.)

clearsprings-marquis-of-worcester

Another curiosity is that the Companies House website gives a title number, CYM66501, for 59 Pentre-chwyth Road, but when I entered this into the Land Registry search box it was refused. I suspect it’s a typo by Companies House, for I’m reasonably sure there should be six digits; but even when I tried to type in the address I still got nowhere.

As for the other properties identified as being owned by Clearsprings (Management) Ltd, and assuming these were also bought in 2007 and 2008, why haven’t they been registered with the Land Registry?

But then, Mr King is a busy man, what with everything. For he also got himself involved in the strange business of the Aquarius Film Company which, not to put too fine a point on it, was a tax scam reminiscent of, and perhaps inspired by, The Producers.

Another frustration I encountered was that even though the ‘Welsh’ Government is now supposed to maintain a register of private landlords, it’s less than useless.

It’s here on the Rent Smart Wales Website. Go to the ‘Check Register’ tab and you’ll be offered four options – Property Address, Landlord, Agent, Reference Number. Type in ‘Clearsprings (Management) Ltd’ and it brings up a list of other companies that have no connection with Clearsprings. ‘Clearsprings Ready Homes’ gets the same frustrating result. So I typed in the post code for 59, Pentre-chwyth Road, SA1 7AN, and the site came up with addresses in SA10 – Neath!

In my experience, searching for anything on a ‘Welsh’ Government website is like trying to conduct a conversation with an old and very deaf person, the ‘answer’ never matches the question: ‘It’s cold out today, Auntie Glad’. ‘Oh, thank you, two sugars please, and a couple of Digestives . . . I likes Digestives, I do’.

This post may be no more than an introduction to the King family and the various Clearsprings companies, for I suspect that there’s a lot more information to come. Some of which might be encouraged out of hiding with the following questions:

1/ Who at the Home Office thought it a good idea to give a contract to house asylum seekers to companies and a family whose main line of business seems to be a down-market caravan site on Canvey Island?

2/ Can we assume – as the Welsh Refugee Council is obviously hoping – that the contract will not be renewed in 2017?

3/ Who owns the Lynx Hotel on Newport Road in Cardiff, used by Clearsprings, for the ownership appears not to be registered with the Land Registry?

4/ Why does Clearsprings own houses in residential areas of Swansea which are clearly different to the Lynx Hotel in Cardiff in that they are not Houses of Multiple Occupation? Who is being housed in these Swansea properties? Why is the ownership of most of them not registered with the Land Registry?

5/ Does Swansea council know who lives in these properties? Does Swansea council care? Has Swansea council even been consulted? (Maybe people living near these properties can tell us who lives in them.)

6/ What is the ‘Welsh’ Government’s role in a system that sees the Home Office in London award a contract to an English company to house people in Wales? Does the ‘Welsh’ Government have any role at all? Was the ‘Welsh’ Government even consulted?

7/ Are the ‘Welsh’ Government or any of our local authorities contributing financially to the Clearsprings operations in Wales?

8/ Given the allegations made last year against the King family at their Thorney Bay caravan park, are benefit claimants and ex-offenders (perhaps others) being brought from England into Wales?

9/ If we are talking of genuine asylum seekers, then some of them will be the opponents or enemies of ruthless and bloodthirsty regimes. Regimes that may seek revenge. So is it wise to locate these asylum seekers in residential areas of Welsh cities?

10/ If what we are discussing here has been done without any input from the ‘Welsh’ Government, then what is the point of devolution?

♦ end ♦

Nov 282016
 

PART 1: ‘THE BEAUTIFUL GAME’

This autumn has seen a succession of spats between the football associations of the ‘home’ nations and FIFA the international governing body of the game over displays of poppies, which FIFA deems to be a political symbol. These disputes reached something of a fever pitch last week when FIFA laid a number of charges against the Football Association of Wales (FAW) linked to the game against Serbia on November 12 (which I attended).

Press reports suggest that one of the charges was that fans had worn poppies in their coats! Which, if true, is insane. For not only would such a charge infringe personal liberty but also open up a vat of worms for those having to decide what qualifies as a political symbol. (At the game I wore a discreet Glyndŵr flag lapel badge.)

serbia-ticket

Consider Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the world, intertwined with Catalan identity and the independence movement. Everywhere at their stadium you will read it spelled out for you – Mes que un club (more than a club). Their big rivals are of course Real Madrid, the club of ruling Castille, the club of the monarchy, and the multi-ethnic – but definitely unified – Spanish state.

Last week Barcelona played in Glasgow against Celtic, an intense, occasionally tetchy, but nevertheless enjoyable game that saw the magnificent Celtic fans waving their Irish tricolours and singing their Irish rebel songs. Across town you’ll find arch-rivals Rangers, whose fans wave union flags and sing ditties such as The Billie Boys (‘Up to our knees in Fenian blood, etc’).

There are hundreds of other clubs in the world with an intensely partisan identity that is overtly and unmistakably political, or even ethnic. Until very recently only Basques were allowed to play for Bilboko Athletic Kluba and even though that rule now appears to have been relaxed Athletic Bilbao and the other Basque clubs retain an intensely nationalistic ethos. (Though Celtic and Rangers may be unique in that the fans are animated by the history and politics of another country.)

Come to that, what about international games, such as the one between Wales and Serbia that caused FIFA’s representative such concern? As with every competitive international game there were national flags, and national anthems – aren’t they ‘political’? Come to that, national teams, the raison d’être for FIFA, are obviously political because they represent nation-states or, in the case of Wales, a nation without a state.

Whereas on the other hand, the Serbs might argue that Serbia is a nation-state but too many Serbs are stranded outside the homeland, in Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo. And yet, Kosovo, a breakaway province of Serbia, handed over by NATO to Albanian gangsters was, in a blatantly political decision, admitted to both FIFA and the European governing body, UEFA, in May 2016. Too late to qualify for the World Cup Finals in Russia in 2018, which is just as well, because Russia doesn’t recognise Kosovo.

In other words, football at club and international level has always been political. Whether it’s the England team giving a Nazi salute in 1938, the so-called ‘Football War’ between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, or German football fans welcoming refugees (last year). So for FIFA to try to punish Wales for individuals making the personal decision to wear a poppy is absurd. Worse, it could be dangerous; for does FIFA now wish to dictate what people wear to football matches?

Early in the second paragraph I qualified my criticism of FIFA with “if true”, partly because I find it difficult to believe that anyone would try to dictate what football fans wear, and partly because it could be that what FIFA meant by ‘fans in the stand’ was the display organised by the FAW, not far from where I was sitting with my son and grandsons. (Being aware of this stunt in advance I was praying that our section of the crowd wouldn’t be involved. Taid being thrown out could have spoilt the night even more than the late Serbian equaliser.)

This stunt was arranged by placing cards on seats which, when held up, combined to give the image of a big poppy. This was rather naughty of the FAW, and very silly. Naughty because it forced people to be part of something about which they might have had reservations, and silly because it was sticking two fingers up to FIFA, which had already warned the FAW that the players should not wear poppies on their shirts, nor should there be other displays. But then, the Sun, the Daily Mail and other good friends of Wales said it should be done, so that presumably made it OK.

faw-poppy

Now if it is this display of poppies organised by the FAW that FIFA is objecting to, and if it results in points being deducted and Wales not reaching the World Cup Finals, then I believe that the officials of the FAW will have failed us all and should consider their positions.

I say that because the duty of the FAW is to manage the game in Wales in the best interests of the member clubs, the national team and the fans, not to jeopardise the best interests of Welsh football by falling into line with the cynical and engineered poppy frenzy.

Personal freedom is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society, and must be defended. And that’s why FIFA is wrong if it charges the FAW for individual fans choosing to wear a poppy in their lapel. But considerations of personal freedom also put the FAW in the wrong for forcing individuals to be part of that poppy display.

I think we’re entitled to answers, from both FIFA and the FAW.

PART 2: “SQUEAKY BUM TIME”

Demanding that everyone, including footballers, wears a poppy for the weeks leading up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is quite recent, maybe no more than a decade old. Here’s a photo from a Scotland v England game played on Saturday November 14, 1999, the day before Remembrance Sunday. There are no poppies. There was no one-minute silence before the game.

It’s fitting that the photo comes from 1999, and was taken in the home city of Sir Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United manager, because that year almost certainly marks the start of “squeaky bum time” (a period of nervousness and uncertainty) for those who were soon promoting the poppy and what they wanted it to stand for.

england-v-scotland-1999

Because 1999 was the year of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The SNP got 28.7% of the vote and 35 out the 129 seats in Scotland, while in Wales Plaid Cymru achieved 28.4% of the vote and 17 out of 60 seats. So even though Plaid Cymru did better than expected there was nothing for our masters to get overly concerned about in either country, yet within the establishment there were those who already feared where devolution might lead.

September 11, 2001 saw the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, soon followed by retaliatory US and UK air strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. To be followed by ground troops. January 4 2002 saw the first US soldier killed by enemy fire. The conflict dragged on.

The USA and UK invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein in March 2003. All kinds of reasons were proffered to justify this aggression but none were convincing. It was regime change linked to oil, and another ‘All be home by Christmas’ intervention that dragged on, and on.

Then, in July 2005, London experienced suicide bomb attacks that killed 52 people, and carried out by British-born Islamic terrorists. These bombings were the most extreme expression of the growing anger within Muslim communities in Europe and the USA at the West’s military interventions in the Islamic world.

The May 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament saw the SNP’s share of the vote climb to 32.9% of the vote, giving it the most votes, and with 47 seats (one more than Labour) it was now the largest party. Squeaky bum time was really upon us (or them).

By the end of 2007 it became clear that the Western world was entering a period of economic turmoil. It was equally clear that the recession had been caused by irresponsible lending by banks and mortgage institutions coupled with the imaginative trading of debts and other worthless packages. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the USA and the UK leading the way, with other countries quick to blame ‘the Anglo-Saxon economic model’ of quick-buck trading having no concern for the wider economy, let alone society as a whole.

By 2010 everyone knew that the UK was up shit creek economically, with the public purse bailing out criminally irresponsible banks. The public turned against banks and the City of London. The UK was still bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda had been overtaken by the much more ruthless ISIS, which had support from young British Muslims.

To cap it all, the Monarchy started losing what had been its 90+ per cent approval rating. I suspect this started with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, made worse by divorces and scandals, with the prospect of Charles becoming king viewed with concern in certain quarters.

So our elite consulted that well-thumbed manual, ‘Cunning Plans For When Things Go Pear Shaped”. And there, in among chapters headed, ‘Blame Somebody Else’, ‘Start A War’, ‘Scapegoat A Minority’, ‘Do A Runner With The Loot’ and ‘Pray For Divine Intervention’ they found ‘Whip Up A Frenzy Of Faux Patriotism’.

This explains why, in the mid to late noughties the largely neglected poppy saw the first drops of revivifying water and became the symbol not of sacrifice in war but of British identity and ‘pulling together’. The UK media played its role with an enthusiasm almost unknown in democratic societies.

Could it get any worse for the establishment? Yes it could, for in May 2011 the SNP took 44% (+13%) of the vote and 69 seats, giving it a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament. There would now be a referendum on Scottish independence.

Television companies responded by going into overdrive in promoting British unity. In the final year of the Labour – Lib Dem coalition in the Scottish Parliament (to May 3, 2007) there were just 25 television programmes with ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title. Between January 2013 and January 2014, with the SNP in power and the independence referendum looming, the number of ‘Britain’ / ‘British’ programmes had risen to 516!

Which brings us to where we are today. To the point where the now regular autumn hysteria has reached absurd proportions. Here are a couple of examples.

On the evening of Friday November 18 I watched a televised football game (Brighton & Hove Albion v Aston Villa) and I couldn’t understand why the players had poppies on their shirts a week after Armistice Day and five days after Remembrance Sunday. Then the commentator told us it was to commemorate the last day of the Battle of the Somme!

So are we now compelled to remember every date that someone, somewhere, deems significant? And if so, where does this end? Can anyone remember any other instance of poppies being worn after Remembrance Sunday?

Nowhere is the poppy cult more slavishly followed than at the BBC. It is now obvious that from mid or late October no one is allowed to appear on any BBC programme without a poppy. (Though Evan Davis on Newsnight held out longer than most.) So terrified is the Beeb of falling foul of the Sun and the other directors of the national mood that anything that moves is liable to have a poppy pinned to it.

But this fear of manufactured British patriotism can bring its own problems, such as when someone at The One Show pinned a poppy on the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. This outraged some for “trivialising the sacrifice of millions”, but as Dara Ó Briain suggested, it might have been satire, somebody having a pop at the poppy fascists. Here’s how the story was covered in Heatstreet, MailOnline, The Express, and the Huffington Post.

cookie-monster

As the BBC discovered with the Cookie Monster, when you’re dealing with poppy fascists it’s difficult to do the right thing. Perhaps the rule for broadcasters should be to pin a poppy on everything that breathes irrespective of whether it wants to wear one or not. Which might result in an apologist for ISIS appearing on Newsnight  or Channel 4 News wearing a poppy.

PART 3: CUNNING PLANS GANG AFT AGLEY

What I hope I’ve explained is that the past decade has seen a poppy cult engineered to engender a sense of Britishness, patriotism and unity, in order to counter threats from within and without; also to divert attention away from military blunders and other cracks in the façade of the British system that had led people to question the roles of the armed forces, the Monarchy, the City of London and other institutions.

To some extent this has worked. For example, the first referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 was ‘won’. Then, the prince who many would like to see accede to the throne instead of his father has knocked out a few sprogs, and the ‘Ah!’ factor always works for the House of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.

Yet the success of this strategy is now causing problems that the Elite had not foreseen. You’ll note that I’m talking now of an ‘Elite’, so let me explain myself. Perhaps the best way is to refer back to my post EU Referendum: Why I Want OUT! where I wrote of an Elite that opposes “nation-states, national identities, local governments, languages other than English, regional tastes and peculiarities. In fact, many of the things you and I cherish.”

Those behind the relentless promotion of the poppy are linked to that global Elite. They opposed Scottish independence and they were against Brexit, for they believe in the Elite’s agenda of globalisation and mass migration as these drive down wages and help destroy the national identities that are viewed as an obstacle to globalisation.

The problem is that for most English people ‘Britishness’ and ‘Englishness’, ‘Britain’ and ‘England’, are synonyms, and the English make up almost 80% of the UK’s population. Which has meant that by clumsily promoting the poppy and British nationalism as a short-term fix for assorted problems the Elite unleashed insurgent English populism that resulted in UKIP and Brexit, and may now take us on a journey no one foresaw.

This revolt against the Elite is not confined to the UK. Donald Trump is President-elect of the USA. François Fillon is the Centre-right’s candidate against Marine le Pen, and he will fight that election on a platform that Donald Trump would approve: making friends with Putin, cracking down hard on Islamic extremists, opposing same-sex couples adopting children, etc.

When the French go to the polls in April to elect a new president it will be a choice between a weak and demoralised Left on the one side, while the alternatives are the Hard Right and the Very Hard Right. Then, between Fillon and le Pen, attitudes to the EU could be the main and defining difference.

The liberal, globalist, ‘do your own thing’ consensus we’ve lived with since the 1960s is almost dead. Accidentally killed by an Elite that over-reached itself, assisted by a Left that had been allowed to dictate the social agenda (because it complemented the ambitions of the Elite) but so detached itself from the concerns of most people that ‘liberal elite’ is now a term of abuse.

For me, it’s one of the great political ironies that an annual propaganda exercise to defend established interests favouring the EU, centrist politics, globalisation and unrestricted immigration has breathed life into forces representing their very antithesis. But so fitting.

♦ end 

Aug 042016
 

LAWYERS

It’s been an interesting few months here at Jac o’ the North Towers, what with solicitors’ letters, getting mentioned in the London dailies, and generally pissing off those who so richly deserve it. So let’s recap.

The solicitors’ letters were, one to me, two to S C Cambria (which hosts my blog), and one to a third party who had suffered at the hands of Mill Bay Homes, the company on whose behalf the signatory of three of the letters, Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal, was working.

The second letter received by S C Cambria was from Capital Law, and on a different matter. (A rotund and blustering ex-AM.) But four solicitors’ letters in the space of a week is some going. To get a better understanding of what occasioned this deluge I suggest you read Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2.

CIVIL SERVANTS

My initial suspicion was that the spivs running Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes had gone to Hugh James demanding that their reputations be desullied, but after thinking about it, I wondered whether it might not have been initiated by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Because Hugh James does very well out the public purse, having received over twenty million pounds in the past five years. Significantly, £4.34m of that was in March this year from the Housing Supply Division. (And we can assume there have been further payments in the current financial year.)

Another reason for suspecting those working for the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government is that having dealt with them for a number of years I, and others, have reluctantly concluded that they’re a bit ‘slippery’. This is because those involved with funding Registered Social Landlords (housing associations) have a vested interest in pretending everything’s hunky-dory in order to protect themselves.

Just think about it – you’re a civil servant who gives Cwmscwt Housing Association £20m to build accommodation for anticipated Mongolian refugees, fleeing mad yak disease. The sons of Genghis Khan do not materialise (yaks have calmed down), which leaves Cwmscwt Housing Association in grievous danger of going belly-up and, more importantly, embarrassing you. To avoid this calamity, you either pour in more money in a desperate attempt to save Cwmscwt Housing Association or you have it quietly taken over by another RSL, with the details forever hidden from the public gaze.

Sometimes the attempts at obfuscation are just laughable, but again, it’s a case of doing anything to avoid having to say, ‘Oops, we made a mistake’. Here’s another recent example concerning the aforementioned spivs down in Pembrokeshire and the protection given by civil servants.

In our investigations into Mill Bay Homes we (i.e. Wynne Jones, A. E. and myself) soon realised that this outfit – an Industrial and Provident Society – had filed nothing after the accounts for y/e 31.03.2013. The FCA confirmed more than once that this was the case.

Mill Bay FCA

Yet an e-mail I received from Simon Fowler of the ‘Welsh’ Government on July 18th declared: “We have had sight of a confirmation from the FCA that Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes submitted all their regulatory returns by the given deadline.” Had we got it wrong? Should I give up blogging and go back to my former career as a bingo caller?

After a few days scouring local charity shops for my purple jacket and bow tie I was saved further traipsing when, on July 21st, Wynne Jones was told by Nazmul Ahmed of the FCA (‘Supervisions – Retail and Authorisations’) that the accounts for the two missing years (2014 and 2015) had finally been received by the FCA – on June 2nd. Remember the date.

I relayed this news to Simon Fowler, who responded thus: “We are satisfied that the evidence we have seen from the FCA corroborates Pembrokeshire Housing’s story. Pembrokeshire Housing have kindly allowed us to forward you a copy of the letter of apology received from the FCA.” Here’s the ‘evidence.

You’ll see that it merely tells us that Pembrokeshire Housing, the parent company of Mill Bay Homes, sent two e-mails on June 8th and 15th – because given the lateness of the returns it was desperate to see them shown on the public register as quickly as possible. But nothing changes the fact that the returns were not received until June 2nd. So the returns were eventually made, 19 months late, and 7 months late.

When I suggested to Mr Fowler that his ‘evidence’ exonerating Mill Bay Homes was nothing of the sort, he replied: “We now consider the matter of closed, and will not respond to any further queries regarding PHA’s submission to the FCA.” Which is par for the course. Catch them out in a lie, or prove them wrong, and one guaranteed response will be the shutters coming down.

And if you thought that was bad . . . 

To understand how far civil servants will go to avoid admitting that they, or anyone funded by them, has made a mistake, or broken the rules, then the next example I’m going to give is almost unbelievable. Breathtaking in its contempt for us, the public.

There is a scheme running now called Help to Buy, it’s a UK scheme but known here as Help to Buy – Wales. During our investigations into Mill Bay Homes we learnt that Nick Garrod, a head honcho at MBH, had built a bespoke house for a very good friend of his named Adam Uka. Not only that, but Mr Uka also availed himself of Help to Buy. All here in the title document from the Land Registry.

So A.E. wrote to those administering the Help to Buy scheme pointing out that according to their website, under the Builder Registration tab and the secondary tab FAQs, it says that builders, or ‘Providers’ – in this case Mill Bay Homes and Nick Garrod – “cannot sell to friends and family”.

MBH Friend 1

More questions were asked and a great deal of side-stepping, flim-flam and bullshit came from those entrusted with administering the Help to Buy scheme, but we were assured that no rules had been broken. Which was perplexing. Because the facts seemed indisputable. (And to top it all, Adam Uka had even grabbed a bit more land after the property was completed!)

So what do you think happened next, boys and girls? Did the ‘Welsh’ Government send down to Pembrokeshire a highly-trained team of finger-waggers and tut-tutters to tell naughty Mill Bay Homes they were breaking the rules?

No. What they did was change the rules to remove the reference to ‘friends’ and change it to something much vaguer. So that it now reads:

MBH Friend 2

Isn’t it reassuring to know that hundreds of millions of pounds are poured every year into social housing, that this is overseen by our wonderful civil servants, and spent by bodies like Mill Bay Homes, using public funding to build bespoke, four-bedroom, detached homes for friends of the company’s bosses?

‘WELSH’ LABOUR

It would be wrong to think of ‘Welsh’ Labour as being just another political party, like the Conservatives, or Plaid Cymru, because it’s so much more than that.

Having run Wales for decades the Labour Party can reasonably be compared to the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It controls the funding and the patronage, it makes the political appointments, and then there’s Labour’s private army in the Third Sector, which provides the party with foot soldiers, mouthpieces and candidates, and into which deposed or disgraced politicians can be absorbed.

Labour logo

Labour being in control of the gravy train predictably attracts those who view the party as ‘the way to get on’. This explains why ‘Welsh’ Labour has always had its Brown Envelope Faction and its Troughing Tendency.

But just as with their counterparts in the old USSR these shysters can be relied on to unquestioningly toe the party line and mouth the slogans because they are not really interested in ideology or policies. It’s all about the gravy train. In fact, from the perspective of those running the show, the brown envelope brigade is less trouble than those who might actually believe in something.

Over the decades Labour has built up a formidable system of nepotism and patronage. And whereas that influence was in many ways restricted to areas or regions where the party was strong, devolution has given us national organisations over which Labour can exercise its baleful influence, and reach those areas previously protected by their rejection of Labour at the polling booth. Devolution, which promised so much, has merely served to strengthen Labour’s stranglehold on Welsh life and, paradoxically, this has been happening while Labour’s support among the electorate dwindled.

If you want to know why support for Labour is dwindling, then consider Swansea. The party there has been wracked by in-fighting and factionalism for years, it has attracted carpet-baggers and single-issue obsessives, to the point where it has almost become a world unto itself carrying on its feuds with neither regard nor concern for the city it is supposedly running. Here’s my most recent post on this shower, Swansea Labour: The Farce Continues.

The latest news is that the Clays, a Trotsyite couple, both councillors for the Llansamlet ward, he English, she Austrian, are stepping down ahead of next May’s council elections. The word is that he – possibly both – have been offered some position by Jeremy Corbyn. Bob Clay certainly seems to be running Momentum in the city. So who’s replacing them?

One is a young woman named Jordan Elizabeth Pugh (aka Jordan Elizabeth), who graduated from Swansea University this year in Social Work. I’m told she’s a single mother, 24-years-old, and originally from the Valleys. Whether she lives in the Llansamlet ward is not known, but even if she does, she can hardly know it well.

The other replacement is Mo Sykes, of whom I have written more than once. (Here, here and here.) Two years ago she left her job with the YMCA in rather mysterious circumstances. Many thought there’d be a court case, but apparently not. Sykes is from the Six Counties, and so she’s another with minimal knowledge of the city.

But that’s not the point, because Sykes and Pugh, ‘Len’ Summers in the Uplands, the student-councillors, the Clays and all the others are not there to serve Swansea – they’re there to keep Labour in power! But as Labour’s support evaporates, and the party gets more desperate, Labour’s representatives take on the appearance of a freak show.

As with similar regimes, ‘Welsh’ Labour must have control of the media, and in Wales this is just so easy.

UPDATE 06.10.2016: I am now informed that, following her appointment as a social worker in the city, Jordan Elizabeth Pugh will not be standing for the council next year. So Labour found her a job by another route.

‘OUR’ MEDIA

It goes without saying that the BBC, the state broadcaster, is a disseminator of all things British and – outside the sphere of sport – regards Welshness as a subordinate or regional identity. To understand how bad BBC Wales has become just think Jason ‘Jase’ Mohammad.

As for ITV, I can only repeat what I wrote in Wales Colony of England, last November: “ITV Wales continues to plod along, a curate’s egg of a channel ranging from the engaging Adrian Masters to reporters and newsreaders who look and sound as if they’d have trouble locating Aberystwyth if they were dropped on top of Constitution Hill”.

The immediate threat to S4C seems to have passed, but with the language’s heartlands being destroyed and no one defending them the language and S4C are doomed. A glorious colonialist irony at work here: those with access to the means of exposing and combating the destruction of the Welsh language are funded by the same power that directs the destruction.

In radio, for Radio Cymru read S4C. Radio Wales is Radio West Britain, which leaves only ‘local radio’, most of the output being about as local to Wales as it is to East Anglia.

If that’s not bad enough, then the print media is a true disaster area. We have just a few daily newspapers, most of them very local in their circulation. The biggest-selling Welsh-based newspaper is the South Wales Evening Post, covering the Swansea region. The others are the South Wales Echo (Cardiff and the central valleys), South Wales Argus (Newport and the Gwent valleys), the Wrecsam (or Chester) edition of the Leader, and the Daily Post, a morning ‘paper covering northern and central parts of the country.

The only newspaper available all over the country (if you can find it) is the Western Mail. Now I’ve said a lot about this rag down the years, I’ve referred to it as ‘The Wasting Mule’, ‘Llais y Sais’ (voice of the English). Much of my criticism has been almost good-natured but I now believe we’ve passed that stage, and the time has come to view it for the malevolent influence on Welsh life it really is.

Western Mail Russian

There have been worrying incidents in recent years that have seen the Western Mail go out of its way to defend the Labour Party, or attack Labour’s critics (including me), and one of the worst incidents came to light very recently, and concerned that scion of a famous Labour House, Stephen Kinnock.

Following a tip-off from ‘Stan’, I wrote about it first in, Labour: The End is Nigh (scroll down to ‘The Kinnock Family and Friends’). Then the baton was passed to ‘Anon’ and ‘Stan’, who delighted us with chart-topping A Fairytale Princess and a Web of Golden PR, following it up with, Stephen Kinnock: Another Clear-cut Clarification.

The bottom line is that Stephen Kinnock was selected as the Labour candidate for Aberavon in March 2014 by 106 votes to 105 because he withheld the truth about his daughter’s private education at Atlantic College. By deliberately asking the wrong questions, Martin Shipton of Llais y Sais was complicit in that deception.

This trickery was almost certainly done to please those multi-pensioned socialists and party legends, Baron Kinnock of Bedwelly and Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead.

If ‘Welsh’ Labour can be compared to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union then the Western Mail is surely its Pravda.

HOW FAR DOES THE INFLUENCE SPREAD?

I’ll finish with another example of how vindictive ‘Welsh’ Labour can be . . . though this case throws up deeply concerning possibilities. I shall have to tread carefully.

Back in April I wrote about the intriguing case of Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East and her reported assault on Jenny Lee Clark, in November 2014. The case made the London dailies, here’s the Sun‘s account of the incident, here it is in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and, finally, Wales Online.

Note that the London ‘papers came out with the story on March 7. Unable to ignore it the Western Mail ran it a day later – but with a totally different slant. It is now less about an assault, or a hate crime, and more an allegation against the victim of the assault. And who wrote this piece – why! it’s Martin Shipton again.

WalesOnline

Without I hope complicating this story too much, here’s the background. The (alleged) assault took place on 24 November 2014, when Clark and Harris were both working for the MP for Swansea East, Siân James. In May 2015 Harris succeeded James as MP. But the incident wasn’t reported to the police until 27 January 2016. The following day Lee was dismissed by Harris.

The police did not pursue the assault complaint because it was made outside the six-month time limit for common assault allegations. Or rather, no prosecution took place due to someone’s decision to class the incident as common assault. A more serious charge could have been laid and the six-month time limit would not have applied.

A charge of fraudulently increasing her salary then appeared against Jenny Lee Clarke. This offence is alleged to have been committed in August 2015, but no one heard of it until March 2016, when ITV phoned Carolyn Harris MP about the assault on Lee.

What is more worrying than Swansea Labour Party in-fighting is the possible role of the police. For example . . . Just after posting Swansea Labour: The Farce Continues, I e-mailed Jenny Lee Clarke to check on something.

Her reply, timed at 01:52 on July 24, said: “I’ve also still not had 1 phone call nor a visit from anyone remotely related to south wales police +their so called investigation against me. 6months +nothing.”

But then, in an another e-mail, timed at 17:55, she wrote: “How coincidental now I’ve just been contacted by Bethan Bartlett who is on her way 2 pick me up 4 questioning.” (Bethan Bartlett is a police officer.)

Jenny Lee Clarke was taken to Swansea Central police station, interrogated for an hour and, despite having gone voluntarily, was kept in the cells for five hours, getting home at 01:30 and is now on bail until September 19.

Which strikes me as a rather crude attempt at intimidating a middle-aged woman with little experience of dealing with the police, and none of being banged up. Or maybe the message was for somebody else.

It was obviously pure coincidence that Jenny Lee Clarke was whisked downtown after I had been in touch with her for the first time in months. I mean, no one’s reading my e-mails, are they?

Equally coincidental is the fact that I had just broken the news about Stephen Kinnock’s daughter being privately educated, forcing him to respond with his July 23 Statement in response to Jac o’ The North blog.

A coincidence, just like four solicitors’ letters arriving in a matter of days . . . none before, none since.

*

‘Welsh’ Labour corrupts everything it comes into contact with because it is a totalitarian party that must hang on to power at all costs. Power for its own sake, rather than exercising power for the public good.

Internally, Labour is a party held together – if that’s the right word! – by bullying and harassment, misogyny and anti-Semitism, nepotism and favouritism, plus all manner of corruption.

The price the party pays is in falling support at the ballot box and failing to recruit, or hold on to, decent representatives. The latest example came a few days ago in Cardiff, where councillor Gretta Marshall left “vicious” and “divided” Labour to join Plaid Cymru.

The price Wales pays is inefficiency and corruption resulting in deprivation. Money is squandered on white elephants by civil servants and Third Sector apparatchiks who are above the law, given free rein by ‘Welsh’ Labour politicians who are too busy engaging in feuds, or fighting each other on the greasy pole.

Thankfully, all is not doom and gloom. The Labour Party is splitting, and cannot survive in its present form. Before long, and for the first time in almost a century, we shall be able to breathe the clean air of a Wales no longer dominated by Labour.

Prepare for the fall-out!

     ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jul 032016
 

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before (as the actress said to the bishop), but this post is all about another post, on a faraway blog I was unaware of until a couple of days ago. To explain.

I received an e-mail from an anonymous source providing a link to a blog post said source thought might interest me. It certainly did, though I have to admit that the subject matter was beyond my normal interests.

Essentially, the story is about the deliberate poisoning of hawks and ravens on the Glanusk Estate using Bendiocarb, all done to protect the ‘game birds’ reared there. These have been ‘protected’ from their natural predators in order that they might be killed by Hoorays paying handsomely for the privilege.

Mark Coleman rates

killing birds don’t come cheap

Apart from the obvious wildlife crimes there are also safety concerns for those visiting the estate and, perhaps especially, those attending the Green Man Festival held there in August.

Before going any further I suggest you read the article I’m talking about. It’s to be found on the Raptor Persecution Scotland website and the post Mass Raptor Poisoning in Wales: Location Revealed.

*

The facts, certainly those that jumped out at me, are as follows:

1/ The poisonings took place in 2012/13 and the birds killed were ravens, buzzards and red kites, the latter having become almost the national bird of Wales since its recovery from near extinction was engineered in central Wales.

2/ As stated, the killings were committed on the Glanusk Estate of the Legge-Bourke family near Crughywel. I quote from the Raptor Persecution Scotland website:

Shan Legge-Bourke was appointed lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne in 1987, was High Sheriff of Powys in 1991, has been the Lord Lieutenant of Powys (the Queen’s personal representative) since 1998 and became Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2015 New Year Honours.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s daughter, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, was nanny to Princes William & Harry and worked as a personal assistant to Prince Charles between 1993-1999.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s son, Harry Legge-Bourke, is a partner in the management of Glanusk Estate and served on the Board of Natural Resources Wales (the Welsh statutory conservation agency) between 2012-2015 (the same time the mass poisoning of raptors was taking place on Glanusk Estate).”

3/ The ‘sport shooting’ element of the estate’s business is run by Mark Coleman Sporting & Game which also has involvement with the Stoke Edith estate just over the border in Herefordshire.

Though it’s not clear exactly what the arrangement is between Coleman and the owners of either estate. Is he employed directly? Does he lease land at Glanusk? While his relationship with the estate may be opaque the article I’m using as my source says that the gamekeepers are employed by Mark Coleman. Again, I quote from the original piece:

“Stoke Edith is a close neighbour of the Sufton Estate. Some of you may recognise that name. In 2010, an under-gamekeeper from the Sufton Estate was convicted of 17 wildlife crime offences, including the use of Bendiocarb to poison raptors (see here, page 25). In the same year, the Sufton Estate Head gamekeeper was convicted of running a cannabis factory on the estate and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment (see here).

Amazingly, according to this article published in Fieldsports magazine: glanusk fieldsport article-1, the Head gamekeeper now at Glanusk Estate, employed by Mark Coleman, is someone with the same name as that convicted Head gamekeeper from Sufton Estate. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?

But Mark Coleman employs another gamekeeper who also has a familiar name. According to this Fieldsports magazine article: stoke edith fieldsport article-1, a gamekeeper employed by Mark Coleman on the Stoke Edith Estate shares the same name as a gamekeeper convicted of killing raptors and badgers on a shooting estate in Herefordshire in 2008. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?”

Mark Coleman

I think it’s important to know the relationships between the Glanusk Estate and Mark Coleman if we are to establish the chain of responsibility and culpability. According to the panel above, taken from the Glanusk website, the shoot has been “passed” to Mark Coleman, but what the hell does that mean? I guarantee he doesn’t own the land.

UPDATE 04.07.2016: I am indebted to ‘STaN’ at the Neath Ferret for drawing my attention to the fact that Mark Coleman’s company is not in the best of financial health. The company’s net worth is over three hundred thousand pounds the wrong side of zero. Read the latest accounts for yourself.

4/ There was a statement put out by Dyfed Powys Police in March which read:

“Dyfed Powys Police take allegations of wildlife crime very seriously and investigates all incidents reported to us. Following information received in 2012 and 2013, relating to the deaths of raptors in Powys, a full investigation was carried out in partnership with the RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Wildlife Management Team in the Welsh Government. During the investigation a number of search warrants under the Wildlife and Countryside Act were executed and two people were arrested in connection with the incidents. A file of evidence was subsequently submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service who advised that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution.”

This statement claims that arrests were made but the Crown Prosecution Service decided against proceeding with a prosecution. We can only speculate as to why there was no prosecution.

5/ Irrespective of whether there were prosecutions there can be no doubt that crimes were committed, so why has the ‘Welsh’ media remained silent over “the most significant wildlife poisoning incident in Wales”, according to the RSPB? Would our hawk-eyed and diligent journos ignore a murder because there had not yet been a prosecution?

6/ And what of the ‘Welsh’ Government? Apart from doling out grants it doesn’t seem to take a great deal of interest in the Glanusk Estate. Grant funding in which Natural Resources Wales is involved, the same Natural Resources Wales of which Harry Legge-Bourke was a Board Member.

Otherwise, Harry seems to be involved in the world of intelligence and security, with the Chelsea GroupBox-It and something given on his LinkedIn profile as Seven Partners, a name under which I can find nothing other than this company in Lyon. He seems to be cashing in on the rise in global terrorism and concerns for security . . . for which shooting some of the stupidest creatures known to Nature may be ideal preparation. (Myself, I prefer fish in barrels.)

Dyfed Powys

Soon after the original post was published the Glanusk Estate made a statement that you can find here, accompanied by a pretty comprehensive demolition by Raptor Persecution UK.

The Estate obviously felt they hadn’t said enough because a further statement was issued on July 3rd. Here it is, again with a robust response from RPUK. In this statement blame for the poisonings is attributed to “a third party” and assures us that there was never any risk to public health.

*

To sum up . . .

First off, you mustn’t think there’s anything unusual – other than the scale – about the poisonings at Glanusk, they happen all the time. That’s because there’s serious money in shooting game birds, and wherever we find an area of human activity where there’s big money to be made we’ll find persons ready to cut corners and break the law.

The reason for my interest in this case is due to the status and connections of those involved and the responses, or rather, the total disinterest, of officialdom and others.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that any member of the Legge-Bourke family laid poison to kill hawks and ravens. And I believe it’s perfectly possible for these crimes to have taken place on their land without their knowing. I suggest we need to start our search for the guilty parties lower down the food chain, with those who had both the motive and the opportunity.

But I am not suggesting that Mark Coleman himself laid poison to kill raptors or carrion feeders. I use the term ‘carrion feeders’ because a poisoned pheasant or raven could become food for badgers, foxes and smaller animals, perhaps even a domestic cat. Poisoning is indiscriminate.

pheasants

But what of those gamekeepers we are told already had police records over the border and, according to Raptor Persecution UK, were brought to Glanusk by Mark Coleman? Would it be reasonable to assume that these were the two arrested by Dyfed Powys Police? Though it may be significant that the police statement makes no mention of them actually being charged.

Do these gamekeepers still work on the Glanusk Estate?

*

Even though the Legge-Bourkes didn’t lay any poison they are the indirect beneficiaries of that act because whoever did it acted to protect the shooting run by Mark Coleman who, we can be sure, pays the family a tidy sum to arrange his £11,000+ a day shooting parties.

The poisonings being first noticed in 2012 suggests they may have been done to ensure the successful launch of the venture after shooting re-started at Glanusk in 2010. Also significant may be that Glanusk offers mainly driven pheasant shooting, with limited ‘walk up’ grouse on offer; yet it is suggested that the hope is to expand the enterprise to a driven grouse venture (the only one in Wales). This would allow Mark Coleman to charge his punters even more. And as I said earlier, we are talking big bucks here.

So even though I am not for one minute suggesting that Mark Coleman laid down poison, he too would have benefited indirectly from greater numbers of birds surviving natural predators for him to offer to high-paying shooters.

Then there are other considerations, such as visitors who come and stay but not for the shooting. And how can we ignore the Green Man Festival, which must be another nice little earner for the Legge-Bourkes, and great publicity for Glanusk. Yet this is the kind of event attended by hippies and Greens. (My kind of people!) I can imagine some malodorous and dreadlocked shit-stirrer starting an online petition to move the Festival somewhere else if these killings of buzzards, ravens and red kites had received the publicity they deserved.

The simple and inescapable fact is that a prosecution, and the resultant publicity, could have cost the Glanusk Estate, and the well-connected Legge-Bourke family, a great deal of money. This is why there was no prosecution.

This case is a damning indictment of Wales in 2016. We have a Labour government down Cardiff docks telling us it’s fighting for ‘equality’ and practicing ‘openness’ and yet here we have an example of privilege, deference and feudalism straight out of the medieval period.

If a story about the killing of birds can be kept out of the public domain to protect persons with connections to the English royals what else is being kept from us?

P.S There’s more to come on this story so I suggest you keep up with developments on the website  https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/

 

Apr 022016
 

Yes, I know, Port Talbot isn’t the only Tata plant affected by the company’s decision to put its UK operation up for sale, but it is the biggest, and serves as useful shorthand.

Rather than giving instant remedies or exposing my ignorance by trying to discuss EU regulations on state aid, or the impact of carbon tax and business rates, let alone the statistics on Chinese steel production and exports, I shall stick to my comfort zone by considering political responses and impacts, winners and losers, and also the possible outcomes.

But first, let me indulge in a little reminiscing.

*

I grew up just around the Bay from Port Talbot steelworks and I can remember the plant in the mid-’60s when it employed 20,000 men and the wages paid earned it the soubriquet ‘Treasure Island’. Much of its steel went on to the tinplate works at Trostre in Llanelli and Velindre on the north side of Swansea (where I worked for a short while). Velindre is long gone, but Trostre has struggled on and is now in the same position as Port Talbot.

And if you’ve driven past and think the smells and the smoke of Port Talbot are bad nowadays, then you should have seen it in the ’60s and ’70s. It wasn’t just that the steelworks produced more smoke and smells back then, there were other plants nearby making their contribution.

Just up the road, on the Swansea side of the steel plant, in Baglan Bay, we had one of the largest petrochemical sites in Europe, employing another 2,500 men. A couple of miles inland there was the Llandarcy oil refinery with the same number of employees. Then there was the Tir John power station taking us up to the eastern outskirts of Swansea, where the East Side made its contribution to the shit and the smell with the never-to-be-forgotten Carbon Black plant.

Llandarcy

This spewed out such filth that it resulted in regular protests by local housewives, who couldn’t put washing on the line to dry without it being covered in a dust that also got indoors and clung to everything.

My first-hand experience of Carbon Black came through a summer job I took when at Coleg Harlech. I was employed to sweep the floors inside the plant, where the filth lay inches thick. I was provided with a brush and a rudimentary face mask . . . and that was it. I handed in my brush after a few hours and went to a nearby pub to ease my throat.

The whole area from the east side of Swansea over to Neath and down to Port Talbot was a complex of heavy industry, a nightmare for any proto-Green. And yet, if we add in Swansea docks, the ancillary jobs in transport and other fields, this triangle of smoke and smells provided tens of thousands of well paid jobs for semi-skilled and unskilled men. Most of these jobs have gone, and will never be replaced.

I had many friends and family members working at these various plants, and of course at the steelworks, and not just for the then owner, the Steel Company of Wales. For example, there was a boy I met in Penlan school with whom I became good friends (after the introductory fight); his family had come down from Kilmarnock and his father worked for British Rail in the steelworks’ marshalling yards, said to be the biggest in the world after those at the Chicago stock yards.

Then there was a friend of ours in the post-school era working in the steel works. One night he went over to Port Talbot to hear a promising young singer named Tom Jones. On the way back into Swansea, driving along the Jersey Marine in his Wolseley 1500, he was somehow thrown from his car, which then rolled over onto him. I think Keith was the first close friend I lost.

*

THE POLITICAL DIMENSION

The Conservatives

I suppose the Tories’ attitude was summed up accurately and succinctly by Paul Mason when he wrote, ‘Steel Crisis; they do not give a shit’. There are a number of reasons for this being true beyond the Tories being wedded to a blind and unthinking neoliberalism.

The future the Tories envision for the UK is of smart people doing clever things and making lots of money in clean environments with the economy topped up by sheikhs and oligarchs investing hundreds of billions in property and other deals that can be accomplished with a signature. Fundamentally, it’s a fantasy world in which people make lots of money doing very little, certainly not from producing anything other than hi tech gadgetry or financial packages that no one can understand.

There is no place in this vision for steel works and towns like Port Talbot. Such places are alien to Old Etonian politicians. Not only are they distant in terms of miles, and in considerations of social class, they are also distant in time, because they belong to the past, they have no place the glittering future I bewitched you with in the previous paragraph.

Gold cars

Of course, one of the major problems with this vision is that it’s very London-centric, extending only as far as the Home Counties in which many of the new elite will be living. Because you can bet that Sheikh Mohammed bin Slaveholder al Head-chopper is unlikely to be looking for a £30m mansion in Llanelli or Scunthorpe any time soon. Which explains attempts to placate the increasingly resentful natives north of Watford with ‘beads’ like HS2 and talk of a ‘northern powerhouse’.

On a more pragmatic, electoral level, the Tories have nothing to lose in towns like Port Talbot or any similar community in Wales, Scotland or England. You can’t lose support or seats if you haven’t got any to start with. So the truth is, as Paul Mason says, the Tories don’t give a shit.

Unconvincing expressions of concern will be heard, money will be doled out – there might even be a short-term nationalisation – but this hiccup will not be allowed to interfere with the march towards the post-industrial Bright Tomorrow, in which the sons and daughters of today’s Port Talbot steelworkers will be City traders or internet tycoons . . . or, more likely, working just up the road at the vast Amazon warehouse, on the minimum wage, with one toilet break a week.

Though it will be interesting to see how the local Tories deal with the steel crisis in the Assembly election campaign. Who will they blame?

*

The Labour Party

For Labour the steel crisis is much more complex and worrying. Not least because it was the equally laissez-faire New Labour governments that helped get us into this mess by nodding through British Steel’s merger with Koninklijke Hoogovens of the Netherlands in 1999 to form Corus, and then twiddling their thumbs when Corus was bought by Tata Steel of India in 2007.

The New Model Labour Party of Citizen Corbyn seems rather more concerned than the party led by Blair and Broon, but there’s little they can do out of power. Though in fairness to young Owen ap Dai ap Smith he didn’t wait for the fat lady to sing before putting the boot in, here he is at the start of February accusing Cameron and Osborne of kissing China’s arse!

Another scion of an anti-Welsh Labour family, the Boy Kinnock, actually took himself off to Mumbai, where the Tata board was deliberating. Quite what he hoped to achieve beyond a little self-promotion is a bit of a mystery. But then, showboating was always part of his father’s political repertoire, though I advise the young ‘un to avoid beaches with incoming tides.

Labour logo

Closer to home, our self-styled ‘Welsh Government’ can only be compared to rabbits caught in the headlights. There are a number of reasons for this. One, they have no experience of business, let alone business on this scale. Two, they simply aren’t aren’t up to the challenge intellectually. Three – and for this they are probably thankful – they don’t have the power to do anything.

That said, this announcement comes at a good time in the electoral cycle for ‘Welsh’ Labour, with Assembly elections just over a month away they can blame the ‘heartless’ Tories for everything and hope that voters don’t remember their party’s role in this tragedy.

And as usual there will be a cynical appeal to the ignorance and confusion of many Welsh voters as Labour – despite being impotent in Cardiff and in opposition in London – urges people to vote for Carwyn and the gang so that Labour can ‘save Port Talbot’.

*

Plaid Cymru

The steel crisis should be Plaid Cymru’s Christmas, Easter and St David’s Day all rolled into one. It gives them the chance to attack both major parties, English rule, and foreign ownership of Welsh assets. Thus far, I can only assume that Plaid is waiting its chance, holding its cards close to its chest . . . or maybe it doesn’t realise it has these cards.

I would suggest that rather than asking for anything absurd or impossible – such as demanding that the ‘Welsh’ Government nationalises the steel industry – Plaid Cymru should gather the evidence on the merger and the take-over that Labour allowed to go through when in power, and the Tories’ opposition to the EU raising tariffs on Chinese steel, the refusal by both parties to reduce energy costs for plants like Port Talbot, and compare those betrayals of the Welsh people with what Plaid Cymru would do if it was in power down Cardiff docks.

And stressing a betrayal of the Welsh people should be Plaid Cymru’s approach, rather than going all socialist and linking arms with Labour and the trade unions. Because unless Plaid Cymru’s voice is distinctive, and distinctively Welsh, then there’s really no point to Plaid Cymru, in this debate, or any other situation.

*

Liberal Democrats

I know I’m normally harsh on the Lib Dems, but over the years it’s been difficult not to be harsh, and at times almost impossible to take them seriously. And then, in my more mellow moments (not always induced by alcohol!) I think, ‘Weeel, maybe they’re not too bad’. ‘What brings this on?’ you ask.

To start with, there’s Kirsty Williams, the LD leader in Wales. Things have been tough in recent years for her party but she’s stuck with it and deserves a break. She’s a gutsy woman who I’m warming to.

Another LD AM who’s impressed me is William Powell. For one thing, he turns up at Cilmeri in December, where we rarely see Plaid politicians and never Labour or Conservative. (Nor UKIP, come to that!) And then there was the petition I submitted to the Assembly asking that it do something to stop chief executives taking over councils.

Petitions Committee

It was clear that Powell recognised the importance of this issue but the two committee members who ‘discussed’ my petition, Labour’s Joyce Watson and Plaid’s Elin Jones, couldn’t dump it quickly enough. Powell might get my second vote on May 5th.

But I digress.

On the specific issue of the sale of Tata’s UK operations, the Lib Dems – in the shy, retiring form of Peter Black – have called for the Notional Assembly to be recalled. Which might sound like a good idea until we remember that the Assembly is impotent, and what calls itself the ‘Welsh Government’ is nothing but a collection of buffoons. A recall would be nothing more than a pointless gesture and a platform for narcissistic buggers like Black.

In many ways the Lib Dems’ position should not be a lot different to that of Plaid Cymru – ‘A pox on both your houses!’ So I would suggest that Kirsty leads her troops forward with all guns blazing . . . hoping few will remember that her party kept the Tories in power between 2010 and 2015, during which period the problems that have brought us to this crisis were allowed to build and build.

*

The Wales Branch of the Green Party of Englandandwales

They won’t like me for saying this, but I know that the Greenies were secretly jumping for joy when they heard that all those smelly, polluting steel plants are to close. But of course they can’t admit that.

What they can do, apparently, is write stupid letters to the press, such as the one below that appeared in Friday’s Wasting Mule. The writer seems to believe that the Port Talbot steel works can be powered by wind turbines, solar panels and fairy dust.

Then again, it could have been a piss-take, for Friday was April 1st.

Green steel

I issue these rebukes with a heavy heart, fearing that I might lose some of the many friends I’ve made in the Green Party over recent years. Oh yes.

*

UKIP

If any political party is crass and insensitive enough to make cheap political capital out of tens of thousands of people losing their jobs, then of course that party is UKIP.

Not only does the steel crisis give M. Farage et Co the chance to go nuclear on ‘Europe’, it also provides the opportunity to put the boot into Conservatives and Labour, with the cherry on top being the chance to have a go at the Chinese, the Indians, and just about anybody else they can think of.

UKIP will I’m sure argue that this steel crisis thingy would never have happened if everything was still managed by those splendid chaps down the clubhouse. Better decisions are made after six or seven drinks and a few cigars – everyone knows that! Don’t laugh, a lot of people will believe them.

A few months ago UKIP was predicted to win anything up to nine seats in May’s Assembly elections then, more recently, I’ve seen polls suggesting that support is slipping. The steel crisis could put them back to where they were earlier in the year, and the Tory-supporting media transferring the blame onto the EU might even take the UKIP vote in Wales to new heights.

However you cut it, UKIP is the party with most chance of gaining in May’s elections from the steel crisis.

*

SNP

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but bear with me.

There were a couple of steel plants in Scotland, admittedly much smaller than Port Talbot, that were saved from closure in the past few weeks thanks to decisive action by the Scottish National Party government. Here’s a report from the Guardian.

But this action didn’t please everybody. Here’s a more recent report from the Labour-supporting Daily Record (the Scottish version of the Daily Mirror) telling us that the Labour-controlled Community union is ‘questioning’ the deal.

To explain . . . there are elections in Scotland on May 5th also, and the SNP is almost guaranteed to win by a landslide. So one interpretation of this bizarre intervention by Community is that embittered Labour supporters are prepared to sabotage the Scottish steel deal for short-term political advantage.

Surely Labour wouldn’t do that?

Oh, yes, and remember, the Boy Kinnock was chaperoned on his trip to India by representatives of the same trade union. Whose interests were they looking out for – the steelworkers or the Labour Party?

*

EU Referendum

Speaking of the EU reminds us that on June 23rd we have the referendum on whether to stay in or to leave. The fate of the steel industry is bound to influence the way many people vote, especially in Wales. And seeing as Wales gives us the paradox of many Labour voters reading English Tory newspapers then prolonging the crisis can only help the Brexit cause.

Thinking more obliquely, this realisation that the steel crisis could decide a currently too-close-to-call referendum might prompt the EU into action; and if Cameron is serious about staying in the EU, then he might have to discreetly explain to his Chinese chums that – until the referendum is won – he might need to sound a little ‘hostile’, even agreeing to raise tariffs on Chinese steel imports.

When you consider all the possible ramifications you realise that, serious as the crisis in the steel industry is for those directly – or even indirectly – involved, the closure of Port Talbot and the other plants could have long-term and far-reaching implications that overshadow the loss of jobs.

In many ways Prime Minister Cameron is the one to watch, because with the EU referendum complicating things, him not wanting to be seen as a callous toff, yet having to protect the interests of his mates in the City by not offending the Chinese, the next few weeks could be interesting for those who like to watch nifty footwork.

As the Chinese themselves are reported to say, ‘May you live in interesting times’. (Though some say it’s delivered as a curse, not a blessing.)

 

Nov 082015
 

HOOKED ON FUNDING

Drugs is big business, as this recent case reminded us, and drugs generates lots of money for people other than drug dealers. Even the UK government has acknowledged that drug dealers buy cars, houses, boats, bling, foreign holidays, etc., etc. On top of that, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ keeps cops, lawyers and prisons in business. And as if that wasn’t enough, we then have all those who’ve found jobs ‘helping’ drug addicts.

There must now be thousands of agencies, large and small, operating locally, at Wales level, UK level, which often overlap and duplicate each other’s work and, in total, receive billions of pounds in funding from various sources. The only losers in this situation are of course the drug addicts – but ‘it’s their own fault anyway’. A strange attitude to take towards those who keep this ship afloat.

Of course, the only other blot on this landscape of economic win-win is that those involved in manufacturing, importing and distributing drugs tend to keep their assets offshore, or under granny’s mattress, and therefore pay no tax. But since when have such practices ever troubled UK politicians, of any party?

If you wanted to be utterly cynical, you could argue that there are now so many people dependent on the drugs trade that if the ‘War on Drugs’ was, by some fluke, won, then it might have a seriously detrimental effect on the UK economy.

Drugaid

I am indebted to Brychan for reminding us that among the big players in Wales in the ‘helping drug addicts’ racket is The South Wales Association For Prevention Of Addiction Ltd (Charity No 265008), more usually known as Drugaid. Its four trustees are Professor Neil Frude, Miss Sylvia Diana Scarf, Mr William George David Smith and Mrs Linda Hodgson. As well Prof Frudeas being trustees of the charity these four are also the only directors of the cash-rich Newport-based company of the same name (No 01073381).

Professor Frude appears to be a somewhat unorthodox psychologist and one-time stand-up comedian, who runs the Happiness Consultancy in Berkshire. He is also an external professor at the University of South Wales and has some connection with Cardiff University. Though his main income is said to be from his work for BUPA, which no doubt contributes greatly to Frude’s personal happiness.

Miss Sylvia Diana Scarf is a retired lady of 79, who may live in Newport, or she may live in Oxford. I’m told that she recently got an OBE for her work with the Girl Guides. (When I tried to ‘work’ with Girl Guides during my Sea Scouts days all I ever got was ‘Get lost, you dirty sod’!) Miss Scarf is also said to be ‘big’ in the Anglican Church. When I read that it made me think of John Major’s old ladies cycling to Evensong after a skinfull of warm beer. Ah!

William George David Smith seems to be a chartered accountant in Cardiff and Linda Hodgson may, or may not, live in Porth, in the Rhondda. The contact and director for Drugaid is a Caroline Phipps from God knows where but currently domiciled in Caerffili. All in all, a typical ‘Welsh’ Third Sector outfit, made up of willing locals and those who can sniff out easy money from 500 miles away.

Drugaid first saw the light of day in Cardiff, in 1972, brought into this cruel world by the Reverend Peter Keward, and christened South Wales Action to Prevent Addiction (SWAPA). Since when it seems to have moved to Newport and concentrated its activities in the central and eastern Valleys, even into prosperous Monmouthshire. And despite what the outdated ‘About Us’ page says, Drugaid is also spreading west, yea unto Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. In fact, the organisation now covers the whole of the south, from the border to the Irish Sea . . . apart from Cardiff and Swansea Bay, perhaps having been warned off the two main cities.

In figures submitted to the Charity Commission Drugaid had income for the year ended March 30, 2014 of £2,727,668 and expenditure of £2,789,439. It had 78 employees and 30 volunteers, so we are dealing here with a sizeable operation, and it’s still growing, currently advertising to fill 8 vacancies. (Here in screen capture.)

What does Drugaid actually do?

This is the tricky bit. Drugaid seems to work with ‘partner’ bodies, these include GPs, health services, various other Third Sector bodies, and the ‘National’ Probation Service (for Englandandwales). The latest available accounts show that these ‘partners’ (excluding local health boards and councils) put £1.74m into the Drugaid pot y/e 31.03.2014, with a further £606,397 coming from our wonderful ‘Welsh’ Government. So where does it go?

Drugaid income

Well, £1.83m went on wages and salaries, then there was ‘Hire of equipment and services’ (£211,870), ‘Motor and mileage costs’ (£88,151), ‘Light and heat’ (£80,287), ‘Telephone’ (£42,249), ‘Other operating leases’ (£162,854), ‘Sundries’ (£160,807), ‘Depreciation’ (£91,902), etc., etc. Apart from ‘Needles’ (£31,949), it’s difficult to identify any direct spending on those the charity is supposed to be helping, but let’s remember, this is a major employer, pushing towards 100 employees. (The two columns show y/e 31.03.2014 on the left, 2013 on the right.)

Drugaid spending

If one wished to be unkind it would easy to dismiss Drugaid as yet another charity where almost all the funding goes on salaries and administrative costs. A grotesquely bloated organisation, currently expanding beyond its ability to cope with this expansion and, as a result, not achieving a lot. Hardly surprising perhaps for a charity overseen by a stand-up comic.

I say that because in searching the Drugaid website I could find nothing boasting of ‘outcomes’, that word so beloved of Third Sector organisations, used in describing successes, numbers of ‘clients’ helped. Then my hopes soared as I saw ‘Drugaid Annual Review‘ . . . but the last one was posted in 2011! How is anyone – funders, for example – supposed to know whether Drugaid is actually doing any good? Or is Drugaid just part of some Third Sector merry-go-round where ‘cases’ get moved on from one agency to another with each agency taking its cut?

Drugaid gobbledegook

Another indicator that all may not be well is something else I found on the website, an invitation to tender, worded thus: “Drugaid is currently reviewing the provision of Supervision to our employees.  Following feedback from staff, a review of our Supervision Policy and research into best practice in Supervision, Drugaid has decided to redefine the supervision that is offered to all staff to provide a more inclusive, productive and efficient means of providing this vital support to all who work for us.”

Oh sorry, the closing date for that tender was 20th of February 2013!!! This is getting worrying. If the website is anything to go by, Drugaid is in one hell of a mess – but remember, this is an organisation that’s still expanding! Here’s a screen capture of the 2013 invitation to tender, because I guarantee it won’t be on the website much longer.

What else do we know?

I’ve already mentioned that in addition to the charity there is also a private company, limited by guarantee, with the same directors as are trustees of the charity. The company has a net worth of £1.1m, and £1.2m in cash.

Having also mentioned the situations currently vacant, it may be worthwhile focusing on one of these, the job in Merthyr catering for veterans. This caught Brychan’s eye due to a difference in legislation between Wales and England. Here in Wales, the Homeless Persons (Priority Need) (Wales) Order 2001 specifies that anyone who finds himself / herself homeless after leaving the armed forces is categorised as a priority for social housing. The Homelessness Act 2002, which applies to England only, allows local authorities there to reject applicants on the grounds of ‘no local connection’.

Given what we already know about the operations of the Third Sector and social housing bodies, and how lax legislation allows – even encourages – the importation of ‘clients’ from England, it demands no great leap of the imagination to envision Drugaid bringing in English ex-service personnel with drugs problems. Does this go some way to account for the recent expansion, both in personnel numbers and geographical reach?

Whatever Drugaid is doing, or supposed to be doing, it doesn’t seem to do it well. Nowhere does it give figures for those it has helped, as a result there seems to be no way whatsoever of gauging its success.  The percentage of its income spent on salaries and administrative charges is ludicrous, and should be unacceptable to its funders. The website, Drugaid’s window to the world, is an absolute shambles, full of gibberish and out-of-date pages. There has been no Yearly Review posted since that for 2011. How the hell can an organisation in such a state be allowed, even encouraged, to expand?

Finally, and being guided by the latest accounts, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Drugaid is no more than a glorified needle exchange. As such, it does not deserve the excessive funding it receives. It is surely time for partners and funders to review their support for Drugaid.

*

NEIL WOOLLARD, ANOTHER UPLANDS COUNCILLOR GONE MISSING?

Following on the recent news of the departure from Swansea of Uplands councillor John Charles ‘John Boy’ Bayliss, which itself followed on the departure last year of his friend Pearleen Sangha, I now hear that another Labour councillor from that ward may have disappeared.Phil Tanner

The name I’m hearing is Neil Woollard, an interesting character, Woollard, for in addition to his day job, and his council work, Neil and some friends are the Rag Foundation, a popular folk ensemble. The group’s repertoire draws heavily on the songs of Gower folk singer Phil Tanner (1862 – 1950), a man whose life covered the ending of south Gower’s ‘island’ status, those centuries when it had more in common with Somerset than with north Gower. I’ve even read somewhere that Woollard is Tanner’s grandson, but to my knowledge Tanner had no children, certainly none are recorded.

What I’m hearing is that Woollard is employed by ‘a company involved with the Swansea tidal lagoon’, yet for some reason this means that he now lives in the Cardiff area. Though this might not be as odd as it sounds, for the company behind the lagoon is based in Gloucester, so maybe he’s chosen to live somewhere roughly half way between Swansea and Gloucester. But I’m only guessing. My source is however adamant that Woollard now lives somewhere in the Cardiff area.

While Woollard’s attendance record at council meetings has not taken the dramatic turn for the worse we saw with Bayliss (and why should it, for Bayliss is further away, in Bristol), there has still been a marked decline. In the period 14.05.2015 – 06.11.2015 his attendance record was 30%, but for the six-month period before that it was 60%.

So the question on Woollard is roughly the same as I asked for Bayliss.Is he still able to properly discharge his duties as councillor for the Uplands ward in Swansea? If not, then there must be a by-election, not another lengthy period – as we saw with Sangha – of the Labour Party staying schtum or, when pressed, maintaining that he’s still, ‘livin’ down by ‘ere, mun’ and that nothing has changed.

Dylan Thomas’s old neighbourhood is now an area of flats and houses of multiple occupation, with a largely transient population of students and drifters, but that is no reason for this transient and footloose lifestyle to extend to the Labour councillors elected to represent the ward.

UPDATE 19:25: I am now informed by one of my alert readers that Woollard is actually working on the proposed Cardiff tidal lagoon, as Head of Local Engagement. The Cardiff Tidal Lagoon bio blurb makes it clear why Woollard was recruited – his contacts within the Labour Party.

Neil Woollard Tidal Lagoon

Strangely, or perhaps not, there is no mention that Woollard is a Swansea councillor. What do the rules say about elected councillors canvassing other councillors, AMs and ministers on behalf of a private company? And how should people back in Swansea feel about one of their councillors working on what could be viewed as a rival project to the Swansea tidal lagoon? Serious questions here for Woollard and Labour.

*

SOPHIE HOWE, MORE LABOUR CRONYISM

Earlier this year I wrote about Sophie Howe, the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales. Well now her Labour cronies have given her another well-paid job, this time as Future Generations Commissioner, a flim-flam post created, it would appear, for no better reason than to pander to the Green lobby . . . and of course to create another cushy number for one of the insiderest of Labour insiders.

Howe is the daughter of a Labour councillor, who herself became a councillor at 22, she also worked as a Research / Casework Assistant for both Julie Morgan MP and Sue Essex AM, before moving up to do similar work for Julie Morgan’s husband and First Minister Rhodri Morgan, and then his successor in that post Carwyn Jones, before most recently becoming No 2 to former Labour MP Alun Michael in February 2013, after he became the PCC. She was hoping to find a safe seat for the May General Election, but failed, so this post could be viewed as a consolation prize. But I have no doubt that a safe seat will be found for her before 2020, so no one should expect her to see out the ‘seven-year term’ of this job.

Her father, Peter Howe, followed her into the office of Julie Morgan to, eventually, become office manager. A correspondent insists that Howe was a bully, a failing overlooked by his adoring daughter who was otherwise so interested in protecting women from male bullying. Though in this instance the suggested ‘trigger’ might have been jealousy, as the woman being bullied had been selected to stand for Cardiff City Council . . . whereas Peter Howe had been overlooked.

Sophie Howe

Reactions to the appointment varied. Tory leader Andrew R T Davies did his ‘Confused but Mildly Outraged of Cowbridge’ act while others were less charitable. Among them a rising star within Plaid Cymru, councillor Neil McEvoy. On a lighter note, Llanelli Plaid Cymru councillor Ruth Price made a Sharon Stone comment which unfortunately allowed Howe’s defenders to focus on this merry quip rather than on the appointment itself.

Howe’s boss, PCC Alun Michael, went into full feigned outrage mode and was quoted as saying, ‘There is no place for comments of this sort in a civilised society and it is particularly unacceptable in Wales.” What utter bollocks. A civilised society is judged by far, far more important things than an off-the-cuff remark like this. Among them, openness in public appointments. You sanctimonious little prick!

For her pains Ruth Price also took stick from her own party, including a Twitter DM from Llanelli Assembly candidate Helen Mary Jones. In fact, among Plaid’s big-wigs there seemed to be considerably more support for Sophie Howe than opposition. It even seemed to be decided by an individual’s attitudes to a Plaid coalition with Labour next year. Here’s what Plaid Cymru regional AM Jocelyn Davies tweeted almost as soon as the announcement was made public.

Jocelyn Davies tweet

Well, well, there was me thinking that this Sophie Howe appointment was about Labour cronyism corrupting the public and political life of Wales, a reminder that Wales is a one-party state, but no! – it’s a wimmin issue. And everything’s OK cos our Sophie is “a strong woman”. Is Jocelyn Davies standing again next year?

Using this rationale, perhaps it would have been acceptable for a misogynist communist to have sent Hitler a telegram in 1933, saying, ‘Good to see a strong man in charge, Mein Fuhrer‘ . . . before he was dragged off to the concentration camp.

It’s said that Sophie Howe is a lawyer, if so, she’s never used that training for anything other than political purposes. Every job she’s ever done has either been working directly for the Labour Party, or else was gained through her Labour Party connections. Consequently, there is no way of gauging this woman’s real ability because there has never been any politically impartial assessment. She should never have been appointed Future Generations Commissioner.

*

SAM WARBURTON, CAPTAIN CARDIFF

The Rugby World Cup circus has departed, the ball has gone from the castle wall, and despite all the hype and expectation, we didn’t win the bloody thing, again. Yes, I know, we had lots of injuries, and biased refs (no, sorry, that was Scotland), but what struck me was that even when it was all over the ‘Welsh’ media couldn’t stop being . . . well, the Cardiff media.

Soon after the Final final whistle two of Wales’ great rugby pundits weighed in in the Wasting Mule to tell us that Sam Warburton, the Wales captain, is the best player we’ve got, and the only one who’d make it into the World XV to take on the tourists from Mars. First, on October 29th, it was former Wales captain Gwyn Jones, and a few days later, on November 1st, it was the turn of rugby correspondent Andy Howell.

Don’t get me wrong, Sam Warburton is a fine player, it’s just that the Cardiff media is besotted with him. Sometimes it’s possible to pick up the Llais y Sais and find him on the front page, a few of the sports pages, and a couple of inside pages. It’s bizarre, because it’s quite obvious that on the field of play – and I suspect in training and elsewhere – the national team is actually led by Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar. Whereas Warburton, on the field, is almost silent, and certainly no captain. So is it a ceremonial role?

This adoration of Sam Warburton does not extend beyond Wales, or perhaps beyond Cardiff. Shown by another report I picked up around the same time, sandwiched between the two I’ve quoted, this being the six-player shortlist for the Rugby World Player of the Year. Who do we see on the shortlist – Sam Warburton, surely? No, the only Welshman there is Alun Wyn Jones. Suggesting that people outside of Wales have a better perspective on Welsh rugby than many inside Wales.Dan Biggar

This corrupted view of various players’ qualities is due to the fact that the Wasting Mule, and to a lesser degree the BBC and ITV, see a great part of their role in being to promote the city of Cardiff, and anyone or anything that can in turn be used to promote Cardiff. This can not be done with Biggar or Jones because both come from Swansea, which is the worst of all possible alternatives. So it has to be wall-to-wall Warburton.

Of course it was the Welsh Rugby Union not the media that made Warburton captain, and there’s little doubt in my mind that Warburton regarding himself as British rather than Welsh makes him the perfect captain for hard-line Unionists like WRU Chairman David Pickering, for whom Wales flickers into life only on the rugby field. A kind of sporting Brigadoon.

Why Wales coach Warren Gatland falls into line with this nonsense is no great mystery. He knows Alun Wyn will sing the anthem lustily enough for both himself and Warburton, and put himself about for the full 80 minutes; he also knows that Biggar will cajole and inspire his team-mates for as long as he’s left on, so if it keeps the WRU suits and the Cardiff media happy why not play along with the charade of a figurehead captain?

*

WHERE WOULD THEY BE WITHOUT US?

Lying in bed the other morning, picking my nose and flicking bogies around the yet-dark room, I got to thinking about devolution, as you do when engaged in activity so conducive to deep, analytical thought.

It occurred to me that devolution, coupled with EU poverty funding, higher education, local government and other fields, have created in Wales tens of thousands of jobs in management roles for English administrators and others of moderate or even dubious ability who would struggle to land jobs offering anything like the same salaries and pension benefits in the private sector.

I’m thinking here of civil servants attached to the ‘Welsh’ Government and its various agencies, so many of the officers in our twenty-two local authorities, those innumerable managers in our seven health boards (plus the hospitals, clinics, centres, etc), housing associations beyond counting, third-rate academics in a higher education sector that ceased serving Welsh needs almost half a century ago, third sector organisations and other bodies too numerous to mention that have either come into existence since devolution or else have set up a ‘Welsh’ presence by transferring in staff.

Looking at it this way, devolution has been of more benefit to perhaps 30,000 members of England’s middle class than it has to 2.5 million Welsh. And most of this generosity is paid for out the Welsh public purse. But hey! that’s how colonialism operates.

Apr 032014
 

I first came across the name Wales Weekly on the Syniadau blog, in a post about it and Daily Wales. The latter I knew about because I’d had some involvement, but Wales Weekly was new to me, so I followed the Syniadau link without thinking much more about it. Then, today, I picked up a tweet from Wales Weekly and followed it to the piece it linked with.

What I found was headed Wales tourism target Chinese traveler. I was struck by the title’s appalling syntax and US spelling, my mood lightening only as I recalled Robert E. Lee’s favourite war horse. Then I got to thinking that this was clearly a story about overseas visitors to Wales, yet it was appearing just two days after a report showed that the number of overseas visitors to Wales had actually dropped by 23% in a decade. So was the Wales Weekly piece good news in response to bad news? Naturally, this got me wondering about who’s behind Wales Weekly.

What I found in the ‘About us’ section was, “Wales Weekly is a weekly paper focusing on international news that will influence Wales, and breaking stories in Wales that affect the world”. (“Paper”?) Impressive claims, and while many external events impact on Wales, I can’t honestly think of anything that’s happened in Wales for a hell of a long time, if ever, that had international repercussions . . . apart from the Swansea Laverbread Riots of 1893. And there was a gmail conWales Weeklytact address. The next step was to see what kind of articles are published about “international news” or, more intriguingly, the Welsh news that will “affect the world”.

One quick way of checking what a site contains is the Tag Cloud. For a new site like Wales Weekly this is relatively easy to check, and this is what it told me. ‘Wales’ scored 40 topics, next was ‘Cardiff’ with 19 (and ‘Cardiff University’ with 10), followed by  ‘Sport’ with 8. Swansea did not figure, nor did any city, town or region other than Newport (4). Clearly this is the ‘Wales’ of the Notional Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ media. Next I checked on the articles and who’d written them, thinking maybe I’d recognise a name or two.

The article on Chinese tourists that drew me to the site was written by Xi Zhang. Unknown to me and presumably Chinese. Elsewhere on the site I found articles with the attributions Bing Li, Shuyu Guo, Ying Tian, Lee Ping, Chenxi Li, Olia Hu, Sherry Ye, which, when added to the tag cloud ‘evidence’, suggests that this site is the work of Chinese students(?) based in Cardiff(?). But I also came across contributors names that are not obviously Chinese such as Carla Guerreiro Santos, Sarah Weckerling and Charles Young, so are these also students? Another name was Andres Bandas who can be found under the ‘Culture’ heading with regular ‘Eating With Andres’ articles. Now the only Andres Banda that I can find on Linkedin lives in London – is this him? And are reviews of Cardiff eateries the kind of “breaking stories in Wales that affect the world”. I think not.

In fairness, further rooting unearthed a ‘Blog’ section and a ‘from the editor’ piece by Chenxi Li. But if she is the editor, why isn’t this stated on the homepage, or in the ‘About us’ section? Anyway, the article argued for devolution of major energy projects to the ‘Welsh’ Government, which some would welcome, but not me. If power was handed over to those clowns down Cardiff docks we would all be employed in polishing solar panels wearing wind turbine headgear (plugged into the grid) in a country attracting every eco-crook on earth with the promise of money for old rope funding for imaginative and environmentally friendly sources of energy. But if nothing else, the article shows an interest in Wales . . . even if it does resonate of cut and paste. In addition, she writes that Wales exports 13% of the energy she generates. Surely the figure is much higher, I’ve heard some argue that we produce two or three times what we need?

Young

Click to Enlarge

I’m not sure what to say about Charles Young. He wonders whether Wales would follow if Scotland voted Yes to independence. Presumably to strengthen his argument that Wales would not he reminds us that Scotland was a big player in the Industrial Revolution . . . but Wales, to judge by the inference, was not! Mr. Young is so well read on the subject of Welsh attitudes to independence that he can even quote that profound and respected political thinker Griff Rhys Jones; and there are other gems encapsulated in the panel (but read the full article for yourself). I suspect that, the name notwithstanding, Mr Young’s first language may not be English.

If, as I believe, Wales Weekly is produced by a group of foreign, mainly Chinese, students in Cardiff, then this should be made clear in a sub-header on all pages, and of course in the ‘About us’ section. Without this being made clear a website containing dubious or incorrect information, produced by people with little knowledge of Wales, and imperfect English could, because of its title, be mistaken somewhere in the world for a semi-official publication, and cause damage to Wales. Being reasonably sure that this is not the intention of those involved I would hope to see the recommended changes made before the next issue appears.

I also hope that this ill-conceived and poorly-executed venture has not received support or funding from any official quarter, governmental or academic. From within Wales or from outside.

Nov 212013
 

If you scroll down a bit on this blog you’ll find my earlier post about my local weekly rag, the Cambrian News, Media Lies and Propaganda. It dealt with assorted correspondence on the issue of council tax on holiday homes. In particular, the contributions of two English writers, both of whom raised the spectre of an arson campaign, with one suggesting that any increase in council tax would be “racist”.

I also recounted the curious tale of a letter published in the Cambrian News some years ago, a phoney letter comparing youngsters at the National Eisteddfod to the Hitler Youth! I made the point that this letter might have been published in the knowledge that it was phoney, or it could even have been written in the office of the CN.

Finally, I appended a copy of my latest letter to the CN. Without mentioning the ‘Hitler Youth’ episode, I drew attention to the fact that one of the English letters bore the inadequate address ‘Shropshire’, while the other writer was allowed to give the address of a caravan site where he has a mobile home. Which prompted me to ask in my letter: “Does he really live there? If not, why didn’t the Cambrian News publish his real address?”

I concluded my letter with, “Nor must the atmosphere for these debates must CN 1be polluted by desperate claims of racism, and slanderous allegations of arson. One way of helping ensure this would be for the Cambrian News to insist that no letter will be published unless it arrives accompanied by the home address and home telephone number of the writer.”

My letter, as published in today’s issue, along with other letters on the same subject, can be found on the right (click to enlarge). I believe the writer Ceri Jones belongs to a local farming family in Cwm Maethlon (alternatively known as ‘Happy Valley’), which runs up into the hills behind Aberdyfi. Andrew Currie is a Green – English, obviously – who lives just up the road from me and has a lot to say for himself. Far too much.

Now if you compare the letter I submitted for publication with what actually appeared in today’s issue, you will note that the CN chose to make a number of changes. Specifically, the reference to accepting a letter with the caravan site address, and also the final paragraph in which I suggested that before publishing any letter the editor should assure herself of its authCN 2enticity by insisting on the writer’s full home address and telephone number.

So why were these references to establishing the authenticity of letters submitted for publication edited out? The answer came with a letter published just below those shown above; it came from a Mrs Bowron of Aberdovey (sic), who complained that a letter published the previous week, bearing her name and address, was not in fact written by her!

What a predicament for the Cambrian News! After the fuss I made with the blog and the phone call they had little alternative but to publish my letter; but after their cock-up with ‘Mrs Bowron’s’ letter they were left with no alternative but to publish the letter from the real Mrs Bowron . . . and their apology! Which in turn meant the editor had little option but to redact from my letter criticisms of the CN being, er, careless(?), in establishiAndrew Currieng the genuineness of letters submitted.

Talk of serendipity! You couldn’t make it up. Priceless!

UPDATE 28.11.13: As might be expected, I was moved to reply to Andrew Currie’s letter (see above). My reply was not published in today’s edition. In fact, there were no letters at all on the subject in today’s Cambrian News, so I assume the editor has decided to end the debate. Even so, here is my response to Andrew Currie. Click to enlarge.

Aug 042013
 

I have always argued that Wales gets the worst of all possible worlds when it comes to tourism. Being a low wage activity, tourism drives down wages in other local industries. Leaving ‘tourism hot-spots’ poor areas where locals Self-cateringhave to compete in a distorted property market with people who liked the area so much as tourists that they want to settle, or buy a holiday home. Finally, the vast numbers of tourists put a massive strain on all manner of services such as hospitals and ambulances, the road network, litter clearance . . . for which we, who get no benefit from tourism, have to pay. Making tourism, for the vast majority of Welsh people, a lose-lose situation. And I haven’t even mentioned the cultural damage and the environmental degradation.

I made some of these points in a letter to the Wasting Mule last month. I argued that Wales could make just as much money from far fewer tourists, while also creating more jobs, if we closed off some of the avenues to holidays on the cheap. My letter was answered in Friday’s issue by ‘Alun Davies’, who gave us a little travelogue on what he claimed was his recent visit to Pembrokeshire. It’s a cleverly written letter that pretends to answer the points I made, but doesn’t. He tells us that Sir Benfro was full of continental visitors, while making no mention of English tourists, before wandering off to discuss, among other things, public lavatories!

The point to be made here is that if tourism is the economic activity we are told, then the priority has to be maximising the profit. Those overseeing tourism in Wales have only known one way of doing this – by increasing the numbers of low-spending tourists from over the border, with all the attendant problems I list above. Worse, I cannot recall anyone involved in tourism ever wondering out loud whether there might be a limit to how many tourists parts of Wales can cope with. Quite amazing that in 2013 sustainability should be such an alien concept.

The reason I bring this up again is that I’ve just run across some fascinating figures on global tourism (click to enlarge) on the BBC website, put out by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. France gets more foreign tourists than any other country on earth, but the spend per head of $646 compares badly with almost all other countries, as the table on the right will show. (For neighbouring Germany, the figure is $1,253.) The explanation suggested by the BBC is given below, and it makes fascinating reading, very relevant to Wales.

Tourism countries

Click to Enlarge

“Some 83% of France’s visitors come from other European countries, which may explain the relatively low amount spent per head. A lot of them come from neighbouring countries and often choose to camp and buy food from supermarkets, rather than filling the coffers of hotel and restaurant owners.”

The BBC website could have added, ‘Coming from neigbouring countries they may even bring food with them rather than buying in French supermarkets, thus further reducing the amount they will spend’. Even without this, what it does make clear is that tourists who are camping – and this includes caravans and other forms of self-catering, including of course, holiday homes – will spend far less per head than tourists staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts and other serviced accommodation. Self-evident, surely? That being so, why is Wales awash with ugly caravan sites? Why do we eulogise over sites like the Bluestone chalets?

There seem to be linked and unavoidable truths at work here. They can be expressed thus, almost as a syllogism:

1/ The further away your tourists come from, the more money they are likely to spend.

2/ To maximise the tourism income a country will keep to the minimum opportunities for low spend, self-catering holidays.

3/ It follows that the most economically beneficial tourists will come from far away and stay in serviced accommodation; they will also hire cars, they will eat in restaurants, they will create employment, etc.

So why is it that what passes for ‘Welsh’ tourism can think no further than Brummies and their caravans on Cardigan Bay? Or Mancs and Scousers on stag nights in Llandudno? Weekend breaks for Londoners in Pembrokeshire? This is not a tourism strategy, this is not any kind of strategy, it is simply a form of surrender, allowing things to continue as they have in the past. Unwelcome, undesirable and indefensible.

Tourism in Wales developed with the spread of the rail network in the nineteenth century to serve England’s needs not Wales’s interests. Over that we had no control. Yet now we are in the second decade of the twenty-first century and the second decade of devolution, surely time we had a tourism industry serving Welsh interests. Not least because the continuing failure to serve Welsh interests will only make more people suspect that attracting millions of English tourists to Wales every year serves an agenda that has little to do with economics.