Daily Wales

May 272014
 

Now that the dust has settled let’s see who’s still standing, who counts as walking wounded, and who might be deserving of a coup de grâce. Below you’ll find a table I’ve compiled giving a breakdown of the results. (Click to enlarge.) For comparison, the 2009 results can be found lower down. (Again, click to enlarge.) Further statistics and tables for 2014 can be found at the Pembrokeshire County Council website or at Welsh not British, where young Mr Evans has produced yet more easy-to-read graphics. (Though I got confused!)

Recent posts may also be of interest. First, my Wales Euro Election 2014: Runners and Riders and then my brief, pre-election biography of Nathan Gill, Ukip No 1 in Wales. Finally, bear in mind that the results were declared by local authority not by Westminster or Assembly constituencies. So while Anglesey council is the same as the constituency, this is rarely the case elsewhere, with some authorities containing more than one constituency and some constituencies straddling local government boundaries.

First, let’s get some of the minor parties out of the way. I cannot understand why NO2EU, Socialist Labour and the Socialist Party of Great Britain bothered standing. These three hard Left parties got a total of just 1.2% of the vote. I suppose it’s a platform, and a way of advertising themselves, but beyond that . . .

Moving over to the other extreme of the political spectrum we find the British National Party and its former members in Britain First. Their combined total was 1.9%. A great disappointment for the BNP, which got 5.4% of the vote at the previous Euro elections. I shall return anon to the BNP.

The performance of the Greens was patchy, ranging from 2.3% in Blaenau Gwent to 8.0% in Ceredigion. Nationally the party got 4.5% which was down on the 5.6% of five years ago. With all the environmentalist brainwashing going on in our schools I would have expected the Green vote to be rising. Then again, maybe many Greens ‘lent’ their vote to Plaid Cymru this time round to save Plaid’s skin. (Something else I shall return to.)

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Young Liberal badge

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One of the shocks of this election was of course the near-annihilation of the Liberal Democrats. Now you know my views on the Lib Dems, but I’m not a man to gloat, so (putting aside the party hat and champagne bottle) I will stick with the facts. Nationally, the Lib Dem vote dropped from 10.7% in 2009 to 3.9% last Thursday. The candles in the gloom were where you’d expect to find them: 12.9% in Powys and 11.4% in Ceredigion. But even these were poor figures considering that we are dealing here with areas containing (or until recently containing) Liberal Democrat AMs and MPs.

Elsewhere, the picture is one of unrelieved bleakness: votes of less than 3% in Anglesey, Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Torfaen. The centre ground is obviously overcrowded, and being in coalition with the Tories has its price. This result is part of a decline also found outside Wales, and when we add in the findings of opinion polls, it could be that the Liberal Democrats are coming to the end of the line as a serious political party.

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Euro election 2009Given the result achieved by Ukip, and the added factor this time round of having been in government at Westminster for four years, the Conservatives will be quite satisfied – if not relieved – to have hung on to 17.4% of the vote, down from 21.2% in 2009. The Tories’ lowest vote was 6.2% in Blaenau Gwent, and they got votes below 10% in three other Valleys authorities; with the highest vote, unsurprisingly, being 33.2% in Monmouthshire. This year’s vote was just two percentage points down from 2004.

As for Labour, 28.1% looks excellent when compared with 20.3% in 2009. But 2009 was an election influenced by Gordon Brown being PM and leading an unpopular government heading for defeat in the general election of 2010. To put Labour’s result last Thursday into a longer term perspective, their 28.1% takes them closer to the 32.5% they achieved in 2004. Labour’s lowest vote was 10.3% in Ceredigion and the highest 46.5% in Blaenau Gwent. Which leaves us with just Ukip and Plaid Cymru to consider. Plaid first.

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Plaid scraped home to retain its MEP by just a few thousand votes and a share of 15.3%, compared with 18.5% in 2009 and 17.4% in 2004. The percentage share varied wildly, from 43.5% in Gwynedd to 6.3% in Monmouthshire. Only four local authorities (out of 22) gave Plaid a percentage share above 20%. I have made my views on Plaid Cymru / The Party of Wales known in many previous posts: they are a party that reached a ‘plateau’ of support under Dafydd Wigley from which they have been falling back steadily since he was deposed. And if, as we were being told prior to the voting, many Greens, Liberal Democrats and other ‘progressive elements’ were voting Plaid in order to stop Ukip getting a second seat, then the result is even worse.

Plaid’s support was concentrated along the west side of the country, as it has been throughout the party’s history, and even though 118,479 people in the south decided to stick two fingers up to the three main UK parties they chose to do it by voting Ukip rather than Plaid Cymru. Think about that – tens of thousands of working class Welsh people in the Valleys chose ex-public school ‘Frenchy’ Farage and his golf club bigots in preference to Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru has completely failed to break through in Denis Balsom’s ‘Welsh Wales’, among those who described themselves as ‘Welsh Only’ in the 2011 census; this failure, coupled with its heartland being colonised (without any protest from Plaid!) guarantees the eventual – and hopefully speedy – demise of this faux national party.

Yet there are those thankful for a ‘nationalist’ party as incompetent and unthreatening as Plaid Cymru. Given the fact that Plaid losing its MEP might have set in train events resulting in consequences unpalatable to such people, I can’t help wondering if, somewhere along the road to Abergwaun, Wales didn’t experience another deus ex machina moment to compare with what happened in Carmarthen back in September 1997.

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Now we come to the undoubted stars of the show, even if they didn’t quite manage to top the bill: Ladies and gentlemen – the United Kingdom Independence Party! Let me concede that this was a spectacular result for Ukip, so let’s consider where it might lead. But before that, let’s set the context by saying that Ukip’s share of the vote has risen from 10.5% in 2004 to 12.8% in 2009 to 27.6% in 2014. By any standards, quite spectacular; though it’s not immediately obvious where the votes came from.

By which I mean, between 2009 and 2014 the Ukip vote increased by 114,398, and in percentage share terms from 12.8 to 27.6. In other words, it more than doubled. Yet the Labour vote also increased from 138,852 to 206,332, or 20.3% to 28.1%. So little if any of Ukip’s vote came from Labour. We can also safely assume that few would make the switch from Plaid Cymru to Ukip. Which leaves the Tories, Liberal Democrats and the British National Party. Yet the Tory vote was down by less than 20,000 on 2009, so we must assume that many who had previously used the Lib Dems as their protest vote switched to Ukip this time. (While others went to Labour.) Another source of votes was obviously the BNP; something admitted by leader Nick Griffin, who says his lost supporters will be back when they realise Ukip can’t deliver on immigration. (And the BNP can!) Finally, while Ukip may have picked up the votes of the disenchanted and the gullible in the Valleys; in Powys, the north, and rural areas, we can safely say that Ukip had far more appeal to English residents than to Welsh.

If those are the sources of Ukip’s votes then these, I believe, are the factors that helped Ukip achieve its success. First, the desire among a large section of the electorate to use elections that don’t really matter to put the boot into established politics, and lazy and corrupt establishment politicians – so they voted for ‘Farage the outsider’. Second, genuine, but non-racist, concerns about immigration and how it affects the social life or character of communities. Third, a protest against something very few of them really understand called ‘Europe’ and its increasing control over their lives. Fourth, Lib Dem voters deserting to what they perceive to be another ‘protest’ party. Fifth, Ukip still has novelty value and has been promoted by large sections of the media, including the BBC, which made Farage almost a permanent member of the Question Time panel and other programmes. Which raises an intriguing question . . .

Many can see that the BBC has in the past few years has taken on the role of State broadcaster. Whether this was as a result of a decision taken within the BBC, or a role taken on at the behest of others, need not bother us here. This change has manifested itself in the plethora of programmes now prefixed by ‘Great British’ and the clear bias in reporting the Scottish referendum debate. So the question has to be, why is the BBC giving a free ride to this threat to the established order, portraying Farage as a good egg who enjoys a pint and a ciggie? I’m open to suggestions, but my belief is that we are witnessing here the ‘elastic theory’ in practice; by which I mean, Ukip is being used to legitimise certain issues that were previously taboo, or the preserve of extremists, and therby move political debate to the Right. From the confusion created by this shift will soon emerge – to steal Ukip’s clothes – a ‘repositioned’ Conservative Party. There may even be a place for the unquestionably popular Nigel Farage in the New Conservative Party. Either way, it will mean the end of Ukip as a major political force. Though of course, there were those who thought they could do something similar with Hitler in 1930s Germany.

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Looking ahead, I see that Mr Gill, our new Ukip MEP, is quoted as saying, “the Valleys are ours for the taking”, meaning that he expects to win Westminster and Assembly seats in this region. I have no way of knowing from which of his orifices these words emanated, but Mr Gill is an Englishman, living on Anglesey, who knows as much about the Valleys as I do about the Hindu Kush. Which is why I never talk of that region. Ergo he talks bollocks. For he knows as well as I do – or should – that Ukip is a protest vote for elections that people don’t take seriously. Which explains why the party has not a single MP, MSP or AM. Ukip has as much chance of winning Merthyr or Blaenau Gwent next year, or in 2016, as I have of winning the Kentucky Derby. And yet . . .

The threat of Ukip having some success in England at next year’s general election, and perhaps holding the balance of power, remains. (I have heard electoral pacts with the Conservatives mooted.) So put yourself in the position of someone in Scotland who has not yet decided how to vote in the independence referendum. Maybe you’re having a pint in an East End bar, or relaxing at home in Inverurie, when who pops up on the television but Nigel Farage. He says that you Scottish chaps (and he’ll use the word ‘chaps’) should be very grateful to be ruled by chaps like him; so you should forget all this independence nonsense because you’re ‘too wee and too poor’ (said in an appalling Scottish accent, an attempt at humour). Then he signs off with ‘Toodle-pip’. Do you think this intervention, and the possibility of a Tory-Ukip coalition after May 2015, might influence Scottish voters?Farage Salmond Tweet

We all know the answer, yet some Ukip people are urging Farage to get involved in the Scottish referendum debate, to put Alex Salmond in his place. (Telling us that Nathan Gill isn’t the only Ukipper struggling with political and other realities.) Which takes me back to the BBC. Why is the Great British Broadcasting Corporation giving an armchir ride to the man who could ‘lose’ Scotland? For no matter what some in Ukip may think I must believe that wiser counsels will tell Farage to stay out of the Scottish independence debate because, being so quintissentially English in a rather annoying way, he can only harm the Unionist cause. But will he listen? We shall see. Whatever the future holds the way Farage and Ukip have been handled thus far by both the political establishment and the mainstream media is perplexing. I can only assume that there is a longer game being played.

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In conclusion, let me just say a few things that might, hopefully, summarise what I feel about Ukip and the wider Welsh political scene. First, we should thank Ukip for exposing that the ‘socialist roots’ of the Valleys are, for many Valleys’ residents, as shallow as their own leader. When working class and unemployed Welsh people in some of the most deprived parts of Europe can vote for a party whose social policies come close to advocating sterilisation of the poor, then we know that the old certainties are gone, and it’s all up for grabs.

A Welsh academic, writing on Daily Wales, suggested that Ukip, by demanding that immigrants become fluent in English, had somehow released a genie that allowed language activists to demand that people moving into the Welsh-speaking areas of the west should learn Welsh. My comments can be found on the article. But he’s half right. The real lesson though is that by detoxifying the subject of immigration Ukip should have made it easier for us to discuss English immigration into Wales. Far greater in scale and effect than anything England is experiencing.

Finally, given the slow death of Plaid Cymru and other changes taking place in Welsh politics, I feel that the time is now right for nationalists to at least discuss setting aside their differences and uniting behind agreed Regional List candidates for the 2016 elections to the Notional Assembly. The advantages could be many. The elections would provide a platform to promote a more focused message than our people have heard for decades. It would also give the opportunity to challenge Ukip in the only route by which they can hope to achieve Assembly Members. And for Plaidistas reading this, it might provide the kick up the arse most of you know your party needs.

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

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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.

Mar 242014
 

I had intended writing something similar to this post a while back, when I heard that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) was launching a new campaign. For those who’ve missed it; the ‘campaign’ has started, but seems to consist of nothing more than small groups chaining themselves to the gates of out-of-the-way governmCyIGent buildings where the chainees are ignored, by the media and just about everyone else. As campaigns go, this exercise in futility is going nowhere.

Having originally decided that CyI and the non-campaign wasn’t worth the effort of a post, I have changed my mind over the past few days for reasons alluded to in the title. The bigotry is that exhibited by the sad git working in some Cardiff shop, who said on Facebook, “I love wales and it’s beauty, but the welsh language gets right on my fucking nerves. Two girls in the shop at the moment speaking to each other in welsh. I’ve had to turn bobby womack up to 8”. As the piece in Daily Wales, and the comments it attracted show, there were attempts to explain or laugh off the outburst. One comment even tried to justify the bigotry by claiming that Welsh is not a “mellifluous” language. In which case, neither is German, or Russian, or countless other languages. While on the other hand, French is very ‘mellifluous’, but that never stops those who share Shop Boy’s anglo-insular views from detesting Johnny Frog and everything about him and his culture.

So, we start with a clear and indefensible case of bigotry, which should have been followed by apologies all round, apologies accepted, end of story. But, no; for this morning, the radio station misrepresenting itself as BBC Wales put out a phone-in programme asking why so many people are upset by the sound of the Welsh language. (AvailaOliver Hidesble here.) Note that the ground of the debate has now shifted significantly. In less than forty-eight hours it has become an established fact that the sound of the Welsh language is irritating; and this elevates Shop Boy to the status of martyr, standing up to tyranny on behalf of the silent majority!

Proving yet again that whatever independence the BBC once had is long gone. What’s more worrying is that the Beeb isn’t even being run by Tory central office, it’s being run by the intelligence services. Alex Salmond has a lot to answer for. Keep it up, Eck!

I wasn’t able to hear the whole show but one woman I did hear made cogent points about expenditure on the Welsh language. Which I think is where language campaigners have got it very badly wrong. It boils down to psychology. Put yourself in the position of someone who does not speak Welsh, is not hostile towards the language, but one day – maybe low on funds – has a revelatory moment when he receives his bilingual council tax demand or electricity bill, and says to himself, ‘How much am I paying to have my bill translated and printed into a language I don’t understand?’ At that point he switches from ambivalence towards the Welsh language to hostility. And there are hundreds of thousands like him. And it’s all so unnecessary.

It happens because CyI has, for decades, pursued the strategy of recognition and visibility. In essence, this demands – in addition to pointless tokenism – that the Welsh language must have equal legal status with English, and must be seen and heard, everywhere in Wales on a par with English. Which is fine . . . up to a point. That point being that Gwynedd is not Gwent, Maenchlochog is not Manorbier. While the most virulent bigot living in Gwynedd cannot reasonably object to expenditure on a language he hears spoken all around him, no one should be surprised when an otherwise proudly Welsh anglophone in Abergavenny questions similar spending in his area. Without I hope sounding like an Adferwr I think we have to accept these differences.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s refusal to accept them has had two consequences. First, comprehensive bilingualism, across the country, in every aspect of life, does not establish a bilingual country – it just pisses off too many people unnecessarily, few of them bigots. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, by quixotically pursuing this policy of national bilingualism Cymdeithas has left Y Fro Gymraeg undefended, and seriously damaged the language’s chances of survival.

For where was Cymdeithas yr Iaith a few years ago when Tesco opened its new store in Porthmadog and shipped in an English workforce of over 100? And what of the other retail chains and businesses doing the same thing in Gwynedd and other Welsh-speaking areas? Are we to believe that this doesn’t affect people’s ability to use their mother tongue in their everyday lives? That this doesn’t deprive Welsh speakers of jobs in their own communities? How can anyone argue that the survival of the language is better ensured by demanding ‘Talu Yma’ signs in Cardiff stores, or insisting that the proceedings of Merthyr council’s sub-committee on rat infestation are published bilingually? This begins to sound less like a strategy to save one of Europe’s oldest languages and more like job creation for those CyIG members and former members with translation businesses.

And don’t answer me with the old nonsense about ‘dividing’ Wales along language lines. Wales was already divided, and enforced bilingualism across the board is only exacerbating the problem. Worse, by turning people against the language you risk turning them against all things Welsh and losing them entirely. (Plaid Cymru being a good example.) To the point where a cynic – no, not me – could argue that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has, over the past thirty-odd years, failed miserably at what it claimed to be doing, yet has successfully queered the pitch for many others.

What is needed is a strategy to, firstly, defend what remains of Y Fro Gymraeg. Then take the fight outside of the heartland to those who want it. For example, by getting involved in any struggle for Welsh language education; or any fight against the overdevelopment of a community where the language is still relevant. Finally, reach ouCyIG 2t beyond these areas and groups to those who identify with Wales and are proud to be Welsh, make them see the language, not as a threat, or a waste of their money, but as a vital and desirable part of our shared heritage.

From now on, campaigners for the language need to be more realistic in their ambitions, they need to understand contemporary Wales better (perhaps by moving outside their own circles a bit more), and they need to be a lot more hard edged in their approach. Forget the idiots on radio phone-ins, they are not the real enemy, they are just ammunition for the enemy. The real enemy is those you hope to persuade with the reasonableness of your demands, the virtue of your case. Those who smile and sound sympathetic but are not the reasonable and fair-minded people you want (and they want you) to believe they are.

That is because every survey ever conducted has shown that Welsh speakers are more likely to want greater devolution and independence than English speakers. That being so, only a simpleton would believe that the UK government (or its civil servants who run Wales) will allow – let alone welcome – an increase in the numbers and percentages of Welsh speakers; or think that an anti-Welsh Labour Party down Cardiff docks – knowing that Welsh speakers are less likely to vote Labour – harbours anything but ill-will towards the language and those who speak it.

Understand that the UK Government, the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party, and many, many others have a vested interest in seeing the Welsh language dead. With a nice headstone erected . . . in Welsh, of course. (Translation available from the nice English lady at the desk, her with the CADW badge.)