You will recall that in a few recent posts (below) I have looked at the Newcastle Emlyn-based Cantref housing association, which seems to have gone through a rocky patch of late and, following an ‘investigation’, is to be taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A bit of digging combined with election dirty tricks has turned up some rather disturbing connections.
The investigation into Cantref was carried out by a company called Campbell Tickell, of London. So who are Campbell Tickell? They seem to be a company that has all the bases covered in the social housing and charities sector.
They are, in their own words, ” . . . an established multidisciplinary management consultancy focusing principally on housing, regeneration, charities and social care, and with a growing involvement in sports and leisure. Our services extend across: strategic and business planning; governance and regulation; performance management; procurement; asset management and development; growth and new business; regeneration and stock transfer; customer services; communications and public relations; human resources and recruitment. Alongside our central team of 18, we have a network of nearly 150 associate consultants, both generalist and specialist”. Phew!
Well, Greg Campbell has a long career in social housing, local government and the Labour Party. (The three often intertwine.) And as his Linkedin profile tells us, for three years he was a full-time employee of the Labour Party.
Linkedin tells us that James Tickell has a somewhat similar career history to Campbell; that is, after attending prep school, Westminster School and Cambridge. (Sub, check if he’s the son of Sir Crispin Tickell.) And while I’ve found no direct link with the Labour Party we can be fairly certain he’s no Conservative.
Campbell Tickell it was that recommended Cantref be gifted to Wales and West Housing. The chief executive of Wales and West is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Anne Hinchey herself has worked for Cardiff city council.
If the name Anne Hinchey sounds familiar, it may be because she’s been in the news recently for ordering Plaid Cymru election placards to be removed from Wales and West properties in Cardiff (2:05). Mrs Hinchey is of course a paid-up member of the Labour Party. In fact, there seems to have been a coordinated effort by ‘Welsh’ Labour and its offshoots – especially in Cardiff – to engage in lies, vandalism, intimidation and other tactics. This is nothing new.
Perhaps one of the weirder incidents thus far reported (for I have no doubt there will be others) is the pub that was visited by council officials after putting up Plaid Cymru posters . . . so now they’ve put up placards!
But as we know, this is how Labour operates. Labour, and especially its ‘Welsh’ branch, is corrupt and anti-democratic. It now begins to look as if canvassing returns in some areas are giving Labour activists the heebie jeebies, and panic is setting in.
But enough of this visual banter, let us return to Cantref, and Wales and West, and of course, Campbell Tickell. This is how they are connected:
The Labour regime down Cardiff docks went to a Labour-supporting company in London and asked it to look into a (non-Labour) housing association in west Wales. The unsurprising outcome was that the company in London recommended that said housing association be handed over to a housing association in Cardiff run by a Labour Party member whose husband is a Labour councillor.
Perfectly normal behaviour . . . for a one-party state.
I don’t doubt that things went wrong at Cantref. But nor do I doubt that those involved in the ‘investigation’ had a vested interest in transferring its operations to Wales and West Housing.
A cynic might wonder if the decision to gift Cantref to Wales and West wasn’t taken before Campbell Tickell got involved; and that they were brought in as an expensive cosmetic exercise, given the desired result, and told to manufacture ‘justification’. But as I say, only a cynic would think that, and there’s no place for such people on this blog. Oh no.
What I will say is that this whole business stinks. And until there is an independent investigation into how best to resolve Cantref’s difficulties it must not be taken over by the Labour Party Wales and West.
COMING UP: In my next post I’ll tell you how I’m voting on May 5th, and try to explain why.
I sense that changes are taking place in our housing associations. Maybe someone, somewhere, has at last realised that pouring obscene amounts of public money into fifty or so bodies, many of them overstaffed and / or inefficient may not be the best way of meeting the need for rented accommodation.
In England, the process of Registered Social Landlords merging is steaming ahead. So we can expect more mergers here because it’s basically an Englandandwales system, the main differences being of scale and the fact that concessions are made here to faux socialists over sales of social housing and other matters that might drive them to the barricades . . . or to their iPhones to put out an indignant tweet.
For various reasons set out below, mergers are to be encouraged, but here in Wales they seem to be things of great mystery, perhaps because housing associations are allowed to behave like secret societies. For despite receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This cannot be right. I defy anyone to argue that it is right.
Despite being confronted with a culture of omerta a few dogged individuals have persistently asked the awkward questions, but some of the ‘answers’ from officialdom have come direct from the Ministry of Bullshit.
Let us start by reminding ourselves of recent developments at this housing association in Castell Newydd Emlyn, and try to figure out what these changes might mean because, predictably, the findings of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s investigation into Cantref will remain secret. For those who missed it, here’s a link to my previous post, Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named.
The ‘Favoured Suitor’ is the Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A curious choice, some may think. Much of its business is in the care home sector, not only in the south but also in towns like Brecon, Llandrindod, Newtown, reaching up to Flintshire and Denbighshire where many of its clients come from over the border.
Between 2008 and 2015 Wales and West received almost £65m in Social Housing Grant alone. (There are a number of other ‘funding streams’ for RSLs or, given the amounts involved, raging torrents.) Why is Wales and West – or any ‘Welsh’ RSL – allowed to use Welsh public funding to ease the care bill of Liverpool and other English authorities?
The announcement of Cantref’s proposed connubials with Wales and West was made in this press release, in which we see the name of mystery man Kevin Taylor. He turned up in 2014 after a career spent in the hotel business in Bermuda and now – in his role as ‘Interim Chair’ – he’s deciding the fate of a Welsh housing association. So I’ll ask again: Who the hell is Kevin Taylor? And who forced him on Cantref?
The only real development since my previous post is that another press release was issued late on Friday afternoon, this one by the propaganda bureau at Carmarthenshire County Council.
Having given the matter of Cantref’s fate some thought, I have concluded that while there are almost certainly better options, if it comes to a straight fight between Carmarthenshire County Council and Wales and West Housing, then I shall support Carmarthenshire. And let’s not rule out Tai Ceredigion. Now I’d better explain my reasoning.
Most of Tai Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, ideal ‘retirement’ country that granny-farmers Wales and West would certainly exploit.
Carmarthenshire’s tyrannical chief executive Mark James will not last for ever. His days may already be numbered.
Council mergers are on the horizon, so the days of Carmarthenshire itself are also numbered.
Stop Press: You will recall that in my previous post we heard – from ‘Dai the Post’ – about Hilary Jones, chief executive of the Bro Myrddin housing association, who served as interim CEO at Cantref. According to ‘Dai’, she pressed Wales and West to take over Cantref and put her in charge. And of course, ‘Dai’ also told us that Hilary’s hubby served as interim head of finance at Cantref.
Another name ‘Dai’ mentioned was David Hedges. Those with good memories might recall that this man got a mention last July in this post of updates and tit-bits (scroll down). Hedges runs a ‘consultancy’ called Cyngor Da. I now learn that David Hedges has also served time recently with Cantref, presumably ‘consulting’, or rather, being consulted, or however it works. And that his time at Cantref coincided or overlapped with Hilary Jones’s.
Perhaps more importantly for the purposes of this post, I’m being told that David Hedges has also worked with Campbell Tickell, the English company called in by (London-loyal civil servants acting in the name of) the ‘Welsh’ Government to investigate Cantref.
P.S. When reading the Wales and West website I saw the name Anne Hinchey, Chief Executive, which rang a bell. She is of course married to Councillor Graham Hinchey of Cardiff Council. Yet another example of the troubling link between the Labour Party and the Third Sector.
A link that does so much damage to Welsh public life through nepotism and other forms of corruption. And in this case perhaps explains why Cantref is being gifted to a housing association in Cardiff.
The most high profile of those departures was CEO, Andrew Lycett, who left in mysterious circumstances in November last year, but soon took up a job with the Jehu Group Ltd, a construction company “operating throughout Wales and the West”. (The ‘West’ of where?) Jehu is just the sort of company that would recruit someone with inside knowledge of how housing associations operate and public money is splashed around. Here’s a video of Lycett bragging about RCT Homes’ labour being “locally sourced” . . . but obviously not for the top jobs.
RCT Homes lost a couple of other senior staff around the same time. One was Lycett’s deputy, Malcolm Wilson, who took ‘early retirement’. Wilson is yet another Englishman who slunk over the border to take advantage of the billions of pounds in public money sloshing about Wales with neither oversight nor monitoring. Wilson is said to have been “demeaning” to Wales and the Welsh language.
The third to jump ship, or be pushed overboard, depending on how generous you feel, was Finance Director Lisa Pinney. ‘Jolly hockey sticks’ is not a phrase I employ but it’s often used to describe a certain type of female; in the case of Pinney, a board member of Hockey Wales (not ‘Welsh Hockey’, note), it seems entirely appropriate. Ms Pinney also found lucrative employment, in her case with Pobl, a recent merger between the Seren Group and Grwp Gwalia.
It really is a jobs merry-go-round, giving free rides to people who would struggle to survive in the world of real business. And we pay to keep this ‘merry-go-round’ turning.
The consultant (that word again) called in to see what was going on at RCT Homes – and no doubt paid many hundreds of pounds a day – was an Adrian Barber. It should go without saying that he’s English. What else do we know about him.
From August 2010 until April 2011 Barber was Interim Head of Housing at the London Borough of Bexley. In September 2011 he joined the PSI Consultancy (UK) Ltd. This is an outfit that provides “Interim Management” to councils and housing associations in trouble – at extortionate daily rates of course.
He first came to Wales to join RCT Homes as Interim Housing and Repairs Director in February 2014, and was in that post until May 2015 – at consultant’s rates. In June 2015 he became RCT Homes’ Interim Director of Homes and Neighbourhoods, a post he still fills. That is, when he’s not being Interim Chief Executive as well, a position he’s held since last September. (Does he get paid two consultant’s daily fees?)
I’m told that despite holding two ‘interim’ posts at RCT Homes Barber is never available. Is he off moonlighting, being a ‘consultant’ to somebody else!
It’s easy to understand why we, the people who pay, are being denied the facts about RCT Homes, just as with Cantref. For a start, we’d be told how much has been paid out in consultants’ fees. (Because Barber may not be the only ‘consultant’ at RCT Homes.) We’d know what gross inefficiency or corruption caused the implosion. And we’d also learn how much public money had been lost. Our money.
Something obviously went very badly wrong at RCT Homes last year – and it might have been brewing for some time before that – but just as with Cantref, we are not allowed to know the facts. Nobody is to blame, public money doesn’t matter – so mind your own business!
Though information I’ve received suggests that the sackings – for that is what they were – may have been partly due to the manner in which Lycett, Wilson and Pinney administered grants from the Tower Fund, linked to Tower colliery, and Meadow Prospect, the charitable arm of RCT Homes. If you were ‘in’, then you got a grant, if not, well . . . There is also said to be an unaccounted for deficit of £10,000 in the Tower Fund.
Something else that might have contributed to the threesome’s downfall was the planned housing on Penrhys, above the Rhondda valleys.
A source has written: “Various deals were made to build more houses on Penrhys with dodgy firms some that didn’t even exist. One such scheme for several millions was fronted by a local builder who said he was raising the money on his mortgage for example”. Is this for real!
After reading this I delved into my archives (they can’t touch you for it!) and lo and behold! what did I turn up from September 2012 but Penrhys: What’s Happening?Regrettably, the comments were lost when those bastards at Google pulled the plug on my earlier blog due to some other bastard complaining about something I’d written – can you believe that!
Anyway, my guess is that there’s a lot more to be unearthed about RCT Homes, so please point me in the right direction, folks.
PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES
This content had to be removed under threat of legal action from Hugh James of Cardiff acting for Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Seeing as so much Welsh public funding is being used to build social housing in Wales (or at least, being diverted to housing associations) we, the people of Wales, have every right to be assured that the money is being properly spent. Here are some observations and recommendations:
1/ RSLs should do what it says on the tin – provide social housing for those within Welsh communities who need social housing.
They should not build student accommodation; they should not build properties for sale to ‘investors’; they should not enter into partnerships with the Probation Service and other bodies seeking to ‘relocate’ undesirables to Wales. In short, RSLs should not deviate from their raison d’être.
2/ There must be far better monitoring of RSLs by the ‘Welsh’ Government. More rigorous oversight would allow a ‘doctor’ to be sent in rather than an ‘undertaker’.
Though it must be a better system than the current one of importing ‘consultants’ at exorbitant fees, especially when those ‘consultants’ so often remain as ‘interim’ executives.
3/ RSLs should not be allowed to create ‘subsidiaries’ in the hope of using these to avoid legislation applying to RSLs or any other devious purpose.
4/ RSLs must be covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
5/ A RSL must demonstrate need for social housing from within a community before funding is awarded or planning permission granted for new social housing within that community.
6/ No tenancies are to be awarded to anyone who has not lived in Wales for the three years prior to the application or for five years at some earlier time.
7/ The existing system of Registered Social Landlords and the provision of social housing is unsustainable for the following reasons:
a) The vast amounts of public funding they absorb, too much of which is spent on salaries, pensions and administrative costs.
b) The inefficient or non-existent monitoring and oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government.
c) The fact that RSLs underperform, making little real impact on housing need.
8/ In the medium to longer term RSLs must either a) have their public funding withdrawn and become private companies or b) their housing stock – built with public funding – must be taken back into local authority control or some other form of public ownership.
Given the colonial relationship between Wales and England privatised social housing companies would inevitably be swallowed up by larger English companies; consequently (and reluctantly), I prefer the public ownership option. Not least because this course is more likely to create jobs within Wales and to keep money circulating within the Welsh economy.
Tai Cantref, the Newcastle Emlyn-based housing association has been in the news recently, but for all the wrong reasons. It has, I regret to say, found its way up Shit Creek, where it will struggle to find a berth due to all the other wrecks jostling for space.
For Shit Creek is now home port to a whole fleet of rusting hulks that have collectively ripped countless millions from the Welsh public purse in the devolution era, a period that has given us successive administrations believing that handing out billions to the Third Sector and assorted peripatetic shysters is a substitute for an economy.
The troubles at Cantref did not come out of the blue, they’ve been predicted for some time. They seemed to start with a few poor business decisions, such as trying to turn the old government building at the foot of Bronglais Hill in Aber’ into student accommodation.
Though, in fairness, Cantref may have been trying to do the right thing. For here, in the Annual Report 2012 / 2013 (page 16) we read, “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. Alternatively, Cantref was laying off one teat to start sucking on another.
The old government building though is quite impressive, as you can see . . . but then, white elephants so often are.
And then, when it began to be realised that Cantref was failing, it seems that a ‘What the hell!’ mentality took over and those responsible for Cantref’s demise decided to invest some of the remaining money in drowning their sorrows.
Or certainly, that’s the impression I gained from this comment to the blog last July. The ‘castle’ referred to is of course Chateau Tucker, the £15m B&B in Cardigan (paid for with public funding, of course), of which I have written many times.
Even though Cantref, a publicly-funded body, was subsequently investigated by persons answering to our democratically-elected representatives we, the public at large, we, whose money is used to fund these bodies, were not allowed to know what had gone wrong. And this from a Labour regime that preaches ‘openness’.
Once it became known that Cantref was in trouble the vultures started circling, among them Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, though how much the councillors knew of this bid is open to question. For Mr James believes in treating councillors as one would mushrooms. (Keep them in the dark and ply them regularly with shit.)
But there were others interested in taking over Cantref, as we were told by ‘Dai the Post’, in this comment from earlier this month. In particular, note Dai’s reference to “Hillary Jones, from neighbouring ha Bro Myrddin has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West ha from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony. Perhaps she has been getting advice from her (x Gwalia finance director) husband? More hostels anyone?”
Extra! Extra! You will note in the press release that the person speaking on behalf of Cantref, and in favour of the merger with Wales and West is, “Kevin Taylor, Interim Chair”. Now I mentioned Taylor in Social Housing Back to Council Control? earlier this month, and I wondered who he is. Here’s what I wrote in that earlier post:
Judging by this video and other information on the website Wales and West spends a lot of our money building retirement homes for English people, which obviously increases the load on our overburdened NHS and other services. Acquiring Cantref, which operates mainly in Ceredigion, could represent something of a bonanza for a company seeking to attract English retirees.
There is a distinctly ‘unWelsh’ feel to Wales and West that perhaps reflects its areas of operation in the south east and the north east. (Check out the Directors to see what I’m alluding to. This is clearly a business, but not a Welsh business.) No merger should be allowed unless – at the very least – there are firm assurances that Cantref’s existing Welsh staff in Newcastle Emlyn will be retained.
This is clearly a ‘merger’ of the kind that took place between Nazi Germany and Poland, or between Communist China and Tibet . . . or between England and Wales.
That’s all for now but I shall be back next week with more on our housing associations, including RCT Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. And there will also certainly be more to report on Cantref and Wales and West.
UPDATE 23.04.2016: Here’s a press release put out by Mark James Carmarthenshire County Council expressing disappointment at being kicked in the nuts rejected by Kevin Taylor Cantref. I suspect this story has more twists and turns yet.
JAC O’ THE NORTH PRODUCTIONS® PROUDLY PRESENTS ANOTHER CHAPTER IN THE NEVER-ENDING SWANSEA LABOUR PARTY SAGA – AN ONGOING BLOCKBUSTER OF SEX! VIOLENCE! CORRUPTION! BACK-STABBING! NEPOTISM! DUPLICITY! NAKED AMBITION! POLITICAL INTRIGUE! AND, INEVITABLY, MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS!
In recent years I have written many times about the thoroughly dysfunctional Labour Party in the city of my dreams, and now, with heavy heart, I must do so again. (Sob, sob, sob, sigh.)
You may recall a news story from earlier this year in which Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris was accused of attacking colleague Jenny Lee Clarke, because – the victim alleged – of her sexuality. At the time of the alleged assault both women were working for Siân James, the previous Labour MP for Swansea East, succeeded by Harris in the general election of May 2015.
Bizarrely, shortly after the alleged assault Jenny Lee Clarke met with Carolyn Harris at the latter’s home – this was on December 14th 2014 – and came away with a quite remarkable document – a handwritten letter promising that if elected in the May 2015 election then Clarke was guaranteed a full-time job.
Here’s the Sun‘s account of the incident. Here it is in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and Wales Online. In a couple of the links I’ve given we read a Labour spokesman saying, “It is town hall politics from a little place in South Wales. It’s a nest of vipers.” A bit insulting to Swansea, but he was spot-on about the “nest of vipers”, which gave me the title for this post.
It is noticeable that WalesOnline puts a totally different slant on the story: the MP is the real victim and the accuser now stands accused. Clearly Shippo [as he insists I call him] had been briefed by his mates in the Labour Party. And not for the first time.
The truth is that the case against Carolyn Harris was not ‘dropped’ at all, the police took no action because the complaint against her 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.
Without inferring anything it’s worth mentioning that complaints against, or incidents involving, senior public figures such as MPs go straight to the chief constable’s office. And may then be referred to a higher authority.
I was not in that office when the incident occurred, but I am reasonably certain that the assault reported by Ms Clarke happened if only because there was a witness, a Paulette Smith, who is the Labour councillor for the Clydach ward on Swansea council. She is reported in the Sun as saying, “I heard a blood-curdling scream. I saw Carolyn pulling her hair. I thought she’d gone mad.”
So, for the time being, let’s take it as read that the assault took place, on November 24th, 2014, and the complainant’s statement – a copy of which I have seen – was timed by D C Ben Rees in Swansea Central Police Station at 13:24 on January 27th, 2016. The following day Jenny Lee Clarke was dismissed by Carolyn Harris MP.
As for the allegations of financial irregularity and Clarke being investigated, well, on the evening of Friday last, the 15th, I am told that Ms Clarke received a phone call from a female police officer at Swansea Central to tell her that she is indeed being investigated for fraud.
WHITEROCK AND HALF-FORGOTTEN MEMORIES
Seeing as fraud has been mentioned, I am indebted to the help I’ve received from ‘Stan‘ on the Neath Ferret site, who has considerable experience of digging through parliamentary expenses and the like. He it was who alerted me to money being paid to a firm called Whiterock, which seemed to be the biggest outgoing from the Swansea East Labour Party constituency office apart from staff salaries.
Making my own enquiries through other information received, the earliest invoice I could find was for July 2011. I reproduce it here (click to enlarge). You’ll see from the invoice that the company is called, variously, Whiterock Consulting (top right), White Rock Research and Consultancy (bottom right), and whiterock-wales.com (bottom left).
The name(s) may come from a place I recall from my youth. The White Rock copper works – established in 1737 and demolished in 1963 – was near to the site of today’s Liberty Stadium, and I believe there was even a petition to have the Swans’ and Ospreys’ new home named the White Rock Stadium.
Naturally, I searched on the Companies House website for a company by any of those names at the address given, 2 Princess Way, in the city centre, though at a different address I eventually I came up with this. And here is the website for Whiterock-Wales Ltd. A very basic website that is never updated and offers the barest details. For example, it doesn’t even say who runs this company, it list no clients, it’s basically nothing more than an ‘enter your details here’ template.
Companies House tells us that Whiterock Wales was Incorporated on August 11, 2015, and the Company Number is 09726831. It’s two directors are Lawrence David Bailey and Susan Bailey.
One obvious question is, ‘If this company was only formed in August 2015, what company was issuing the invoices going back to 2011?’. And it may be worth adding that all these invoices are unnumbered. The other question is, ‘Who are Lawrence and Susan Bailey?’ That’s another story in itself, so here goes.
ENTER LAWRENCE ‘THE LIBIDO’ BAILEY
Lawrence Bailey is a former council leader, and a former Lord Mayor. He came to grief about ten years ago when indecent images were found on three separate computers despite previous warnings. Private Eye bestowed on him the coveted Pornographer of the Year award. In his defence, let me say that this was all adult stuff.
In addition to the porn, computer engineers found “253 documents, mostly letters to the Swansea Evening Post“ under false names and / or from phoney addresses, or else using names and addresses of real people without their knowledge. Bailey argued that ‘writing letters to the press under pseudonyms “was widespread practice in political life in Wales”‘. What he meant to say was that it is widespread in the Labour Party. It obviously helped that his lover at the time was chief reporter on the Evening Post.
While Googling for more info on Bailey I came up trumps with this story linking him with the Swansea East Labour constituency office. Observant readers will have noticed that the Sun story, although undated, was obviously printed just before last year’s general election; Lawrence Bailey then went legitimate and registered his company with Companies House a few months later. This is no coincidence, it’s a case of cause and effect.
Of course, when Carolyn Harris was elected as MP last May she told Lawrence Bailey to sling his hook, and to stop embarrassing the constituency party . . . well . . . no – she kept him on and started paying him even more! The most recent invoice I have is dated August 2015 (for the month of July) but ‘Stan’ tells me there are more records to be found on the IPSA website, though it should be borne in mind that even IPSA is always a month or two behind.
So the first invoice from Lawrence Bailey back in 2011 was for £862.50 a month, and by July 2015 he’s getting £1,550 a month. That’s one hell of an increase. But what does he actually do for it? ‘Stan’ tells me it’s listed on the IPSA website under ‘Professional Services (Staff)’ – maybe he writes letters for Carolyn Harris!
Though cynics might suggest that the relationship between the Swansea East constituency office and Whiterock Wales is just another example of something the Labour Party does so well – circulating public money amongst its members with no discernible benefit to the public.
Before leaving the matter of the finances of the constituency office it’s worth mentioning a couple of other invoices. (Reproduced below, click to enlarge.) These are for £6,500 in total, both from April 2015, and both made out to DCG Property Services at a private dwelling in the Gendros district of Swansea.
This work was commissioned by Carolyn Harris just before she was elected MP. Siân James of course would have stood down by then, and Harris was running the show in anticipation of being elected the following month.
I’m told that DCG Property Services is run by an individual, DH, who has a mate who is also a builder, and that this fellow-builder mate just happens to be Carolyn Harris’ son. The word is they did the work together, and presumably split the money.
To conclude: My interpretation of events is that the assault took place as reported. Carolyn Harris may have offered her victim a job as a way of silencing her. The role of South Wales Police in all this is somewhat questionable. The role of the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party and its alter ego unions is despicable. I am also persuaded that Carolyn Harris is a rather unpleasant, bullying individual none too careful in her use of public money.
However . . .
SEEDS OF DOUBT
But, then, out of a clear blue sky, came other information, that in many ways contradicted this interpretation. This fresh information came in the form of e-mails with what looked like a genuine name attached. So what does this other information suggest?
Before I go into that let me theorise that for all I know this other source could be Carolyn Harris, or perhaps someone close to her. I offer the second possibility because the source couldn’t immediately reply to my questions and had to check with her “friend”.
Even so, what this source had to say makes a lot of sense because it ties up with other information in my possession.
INVASION OF THE TROTS
At the risk of repeating myself, let me say that nothing in this fresh information persuades me that Jenny Lee Clarke – or indeed Cllr Paulette Smith – has lied about the assault by Carolyn Harris MP.
What concerns me is how the assault might subsequently have been exploited by shit-stirrers with no commitment to Swansea and who, despite their age, still love to plot and play student politics.
What this new information suggests is that Trotskyist interlopers Bob Clay and his wife Uta – he English, she Austrian – are exploiting the situation in order to remove Caroline Harris and replace her with Andrea Lewis, Country music diva and a councillor for the Morriston ward. Morriston is also represented by current council leader, Rob Stewart, who is said to be unduly influenced by Bob Clay. (I thought I’d better cover myself by saying ‘current’ because you never know in Swansea.)
I have written about the Clays before, a number of times, and as I say, it now appears that they are seeking to use assault victim Jenny Lee Clarke and witness Paulette Smith to remove Carolyn Harris, though my mystery source argues that the assault itself is a fabrication and the beginning of the plot.
All very strange, but given some credence by this remarkable document headed “To oblige CH (Carolyn Harris) to retire”, almost certainly written by Bob Clay and signed by him, Jenny Lee Clarke and Paulette Smith. Note that Bob Clay was uncertain whether to move on Harris before the Assembly elections in May or whether to bide his time. It may be significant that this document was signed on January 20th, a week before Jenny Lee Clarke went to the police.
My mystery informant goes further, writing, “Lots of people think the assault story is something Bob Clay cooked up to get Harris thrown out. He is now shitting himself because the story backfired and ended up in the Sun and Daily Mail. His branch want him suspended and deselected as a the councillor. There is infighting everywhere and Wales Labour is pretending nothing is happening”.
So how did the story make the tabloids? Did someone deviate from the script?
TRADITIONAL LABOUR VALUES
I’d like to end on a lighter note, if that’s possible when talking about the Labour Party in Swansea. But I enjoyed this story because it reminded me of traditional ‘Welsh’ Labour values. And I am nothing if not a traditionalist.
A while back now an Indian restaurateur wanted permission to demolish a two-storey building on St Helen’s Road and replace it with a three-storey building with a restaurant on the ground floor and staff accommodation above. Planning officers recommended refusal, but it soon became clear that the Labour councillors had decided beforehand to grant planning permission, and so the application was allowed.
Soon afterwards, my mate, who was on the planning committee, and also voted in favour, got a phone call from the Indian restaurateur. He said, ‘Mr R——, you must bring your wife down for a meal’. Taken slightly aback my mate replied, ‘That’s very kind of you but councillors have to be careful about that sort of thing’. The disappointed restaurateur responded with, ‘But the other councillors have been! And (a leading Labour councillor) even had his wedding reception here!’ (I should add that this is a very upmarket Indian restaurant.)
Let me make it clear that I am not for one minute suggesting that this hospitality was not paid for in full. Labour councillors – as we all know – do not accept freebies.
This restaurateur is expanding his empire, and recently sought permission for a takeaway in Killay (where he already has a restaurant), and the property in question is on the busy Gower Road, which at that point has double yellow lines. Again, the Labour members on the planning committee nodded it through despite the obvious issues and some 25 individual objections plus a petition with a further 77 names.
The Indian restaurateur in question himself lives in one of the big houses further along Gower Road, here’s a photo of his home taken within the past couple of days.
The Labour Party came into being to fight entrenched and unrepresentative power, yet now, in Wales, it has become that very same thing itself; corrupt and representing nothing but the selfish interests of its members and hangers-on.
Because Labour can offer favours, jobs, sinecures, council seats, and positions as an MP or an AM it inevitably attracts chancers, crooks, careerists and just about anybody looking for easy money and a cushy life.
This contempt for the public at large is nowhere more evident than in Swansea where Labour is in a permanent state of civil war. Its members more concerned with plotting against each other than with running the city effectively.
But this is what results when any political party enjoys unchallenged power for too long. It gives us a corrupt and self-serving gang able to hang on to power because Wales lacks a party like the SNP to apply the coup de grace.
Worse, the party that likens itself to the SNP, the party whose leader loves to be photographed with Nicola Sturgeon, will be in coalition with Labour after May 5th. Which means that nothing will change.
~ § END § ~
COMING SHORTLY: In my next post (out perhaps on the 25th) I plan to look at what’s happening in our housing associations. There’s talk of collapse, council takeover, merger, incompetence and God knows what else. I shall be paying particular attention to Cantref and RCT Homes, so I would welcome any information on these, or indeed any other housing associations.
Either use the contact box at the head of the sidebar or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I learn that our tribunes have received a strange e-mail in the past few days from a Gary Watton; that e-mail is reproduced for you below. I particularly like the jaunty ‘Hello, Sailor Councillor’ way it starts.
Politics Wales will, unsurprisingly, focus on Welsh affairs, and who but the rats scuttling about in the darkness could argue that we don’t need more light shone into the murky world of Welsh politics? But will Politics Wales provide the needed illumination?
In the hope of answering that question I decided to take a look behind the scenes, as it were, and ask a few pertinent questions, such as: Who is Gary Watton? Where by is he from? What’s he been up to before he launched the imaginatively titled creation?
It seems that Gary is from the Six Counties or, as I suppose he would prefer, ‘Northern Ireland’, or ‘Ulster’ (even though NI only contains 6 of Ulster’s 9 counties), possibly ‘the Province’. His politics are obvious from the bio he has written on his Amazon page.
The giveaways to his political orientation and loyalties are ” . . . county Londonderry . . . and “In September 2012, Gary lobbied a number of MPs regarding the need to fine the next of kin who permit the funeral of their loved ones to be hijacked by a firing of shots over the coffin, as practised primarily by Irish republicans”. (Whatever your political outlook you may think that fining grieving relatives is going a bit far.)
From the Amazon page we also learn that Gary has a number of self-published books to his name, many of them about sport; including rugby, cricket and football. He also writes about music. And despite his background it seems his passion is Chelsea not Glasgow Rangers. (The ‘Billy’ referred to in the link is William of Orange*, victor at The Boyne, after which the defeated Irish bestowed the sobriquet Seamus an Chaca [James the Shithead] on their Stewart leader.)
But let us focus on the exciting new magazine, which is published (if that’s the right word in this context) by Newsstand, which has been ‘Setting Magazines Free Since 1995’, and quite right too . . . poor things . . . caged up in W H Smith . . . Flipping through the Newsstand site soon made it clear that Politics Wales complements Politics Scotland.
Both are “ground-breaking”, both are “regional” (regional!) both are “neutral”. Though they differ in that Politics Scotland has “readable material from cover to cover” whereas Politics Wales has “readable material throughout from cover to cover”. (One up on the Jocks!) After this minor deviation it’s almost word for word again, with only difference being the formatting.
Mr Watton tells us that Politics Scotland” . . . is neutral in its outlook, featuring a range of individuals, from all corners of Scotland. Politics Scotland is a platform where people on the right of centre and the left of centre can speak out about subjects that matter to Scotland.” Now what’s odd about that?
I’ll tell you. A stranger reading that might conclude that political debate in Scotland is nothing more than the dreary old slanging-match between Left and Right. Which would be a gross misrepresentation, because as we all know, the issue in Scottish politics is the independence question, where we find the whole political spectrum represented on both sides.
So how can anyone launch a magazine called Politics Scotland in which – if the blurb gives a true picture – the independence debate is ignored? The clue probably lies in Watton’s own politics. And even though independence may not be a hot topic in Wales, devolution and other specifically Welsh issues are, because we certainly aren’t fighting over ideological differences.
I don’t know what to make of Politics Wales, partly because I haven’t read it, and I certainly have no intention of paying £5 to read the contributions of “three Assembly members and four councillors”. Come on, be brutally honest; given the calibre of our Assembly Members and councillors would you pay a fiver to read their inane wittering? And how did Gary Watton find these contributors anyway, because I bet he knows nothing about Wales?
Picture the scene, gentle reader: Gary is seated at his desk, which is dominated by his prized possession, the signed photograph of Princess Brunhilde of Humperdink, eleventh cousin (three times removed) to Her Glorious Majesty. There is a box stamped on the photograph that reads “Dear (fill in name), Get Well Soon / Congratulations On Passing Your Driving Test! / I Shall Write To The Judge On Your Behalf(Tick appropriate box).”
The Ballybigot Orange Lodge banner decorates the wall behind him as our hero tips back his bowler hat and begins Googling Welsh council websites. He soon alights on the intriguing and mercifully short name of “Dai Dwp, Labour, Cwmscwt”. An introductory e-mail is sent. Dai’s eight-year-old grand-daughter goes through the daily ritual of opening the Inbox for him on his council-issue laptop. Dai reads . . .
‘Dear Councillor Dwp, could you, in no more than 2,500 words (plus diagrams and tables), give me your views on how you believe the Russian military intervention in the Middle East might impact on the price of laverbread in Swansea market?’ (There will be no payment.)
Upon reading “no payment” Dai’s face contorts into an ugly mask, he gurgles his last, and the mighty brain that had cracked so many expense-claim forms goes into meltdown as he falls from his chair.
As he lies on the floor, the spark of life yet flickering, Dai smiles as he recalls that weekend conference in Llandrindod where he sank 47 pints, 18 whiskies, shagged the fraternal delegate from the Slovenian Workers Party – or was it Slovakian? – and still came away well in pocket. That’s what politics is all about!
So obviously there won’t be an article by Dai Dwp in Politics Wales (unless his grand-daughter ghost writes it), but joking aside, I’d still like to know who did write for this magazine, and what they had to say. So has anybody out there actually bought it?
But perhaps more than that, I’d like to know why an Ulster Unionist / Loyalist has launched a magazine about a country of which he knows nothing? (Maybe two countries.) What’s behind it? Or who’s behind him?
COMING SOON: In the next post (out on Monday or Tuesday) I plan to focus on Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, recently embroiled in a rather unsavoury business. Anyone who has anything to contribute should write to email@example.com.
Over the years I have written exhaustively on housing associations, I’ve explained the funding they receive, their staffing levels, and the fact that at a time when politicians argue our 22 local authorities must be cut to 8 or 9 those same politicians are quite content to see Wales lumbered with 50 or so housing associations, often with three or four operating in the same area, duplicating each other’s work and sometimes competing for clients and funding.
The contradiction in the differing attitudes to local authorities and housing associations is obvious, with the result that it has become increasingly difficult to defend the generosity extended to so many housing associations. But rather than openly admit that the social housing system is a very expensive shambles, it now appears that our masters have chosen to make changes to the social housing system by subterfuge.
One housing association I have written about more than once is Cantref (formerly Tai Cantref), based in Newcastle Emlyn and operating mainly in Ceredigion, plus north Carmarthenshire and north Pembrokeshire, with an outpost in the Machynlleth area of north west Powys.
I haven’t been the only one training a beady eye on Cantref, others are the ever-watchful Wynne Jones, even the ‘Welsh’ Government! Though given the way the ‘Welsh’ Government cossets housing associations things must have been really bad for that lot to step in. But we aren’t allowed to know what ailed Cantref because the report will not be made public and FoI requests have been refused.
As is the way with such things, and just before it was publicly known that Cantref was being investigated, I received a revealing comment to this post alleging Bacchanalian excesses at Cantref’s expense in the grounds of Chateau Tucker. Read it for yourself.
As the writer states, one reason for Cantref’s woes was undoubtedly that it had invested in student accommodation in Aberystwyth at the very time Aber’ Uni began sliding down the various league tables, with the predictable consequence of student numbers dropping.
Though it has to be asked who funded this student accommodation. Presumably the funding originated with the ‘Welsh’ Government, which then raises the question: Should money allocated to social housing have been used for student accommodation? Perhaps not, so maybe the report is being withheld to save the blushes of Carwyn and his gang.
The good ship Cantref now appears to have at its helm a Hilary Jones, of the Bro Myrddin housing association. Ms Jones’ husband (sub fill in name) is said to be a former finance director at Grwp Gwalia HA. And according to ‘Dai the Post’ in a recent comment she, ” . . . has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West HA from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony.”
You’ll note from the Gwalia website that it has recently merged with the Seren Group of Newport to form Pobl. And this site seems to tells that Charter Housing is also part of Pobl. So mergers, or takeovers, whether voluntary or enforced, are obviously in vogue.
Another change in personnel that may be relevant to recent events at Cantref was the appointment in July 2014 of Kevin Taylor to the management board, where he now serves as interim chair. It may simply be a coincidence of timing, but the problems for Sacale and the others seem to have started soon after Taylor arrived on the scene. So who is he?
According to his Linkedin profile Taylor was employed by Forte Hotels between 1977 and 1987, then, from 1987 until 2013, he worked in Bermuda. More recently, from January 2013, he has been a ‘Hotel Financial Consultant’ for Taylor Accountants, a company for which I can find no record. (I do hope it’s not registered offshore!)
An interesting employment record that raises a number of questions:
Does he have any knowledge or experience of social housing?
Is he familiar with the social patterns and housing issues of rural Wales?
Assuming the answers to 1 and 2 are No, who appointed him, and why?
As I say, Cantref is now looking for a partner, and referring again to the comment from ‘Dai the Post’, there are said to be five suitors. One is Millbay Homes, the ‘Welsh’ Government-funded ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing that builds homes for sale to ‘investors’. Another is Carmarthenshire County Council, though whether the executive board knows anything about this is open to question, and we can guarantee that the common herd of councillors is completely in the dark.
Elsewhere in his comment ‘Dai the Post’ tells us that someone answering to Robin Staines, Head of Public Protection and Housing at CCC, has been parachuted in to Cantref, possibly to prepare the ground for a takeover. ‘Dai’ further suggests that this aggressive move is viewed within Cantref as a bit of empire building ahead of local government reorganisation. I think the suspicion is correct, and we could see more such moves, all done in the shadows with the connivance of a ‘Welsh’ Government committed to ‘openness’!
Despite not having seen the WG’s report into Cantref the executive board of Carmarthenshire County Council will, on April 19th, be expected to approve in principle the council taking over Cantref. Not for the first time, chief executive Mark James will present councillors with a fait accompli. Ain’t democracy wonderful!
Another source tells me that despite what are alleged to be its failings Cantref is the largest employer in Newcastle Emlyn, it employs locals and conducts most of its business in Welsh. The fear is that if the takeover goes through then the HQ will move to Llanelli and, given the recent recruitment record of the council, it will swiftly lose its Welsh character.
The James Gang
Thinking about Carmarthenshire County Council and the record of Mark James raises the obvious question – why is he still there? After using council money to fight a private libel case, after wasting council money to fund Christian fundamentalists in building a church and a bowling alley (yes, a bowling alley!), and after turning Sir Gâr into the Welsh equivalent of North Korea, why the hell hasn’t the ‘Welsh’ Government stepped in to remove him?
Let me answer that by taking a little detour. When inexplicable things happen there is very often a simple explanation, but one that the media and our political class would rather not touch. I have recently written about the land deals conducted by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales that might eventually lose the public purse as much as £200m. Let’s stop beating about the bush – this is corruption, pure and simple.
Many times we see things happen in public life that are difficult to explain; contracts given without a tendering process; people being promoted above their ability; wrongdoers escaping justice. In such cases Freemasonry or other secretive groups can often be behind such corruption. Then there are the instances where outright and obvious criminals are ignored by the police. Such persons may be police informers, or relocated witnesses.
I’m not suggesting that Mark James owes his survival to any of these explanations, but I believe he does have a ‘guardian angel’. It may have been pressure from this celestial quarter that persuaded him to carry on after ‘standing down’ in 2014 rather than the council panicking when they realised the size of his severance package.
Mark James may have been put in place as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, and has been maintained in that position, to oversee the anglicisation of the county.
Let me explain.
If you listen to Labour Party historians they will talk about towns or areas that are ‘iconic’ in the party’s history and development, Merthyr and the Rhondda come to mind. For those of a more patriotic bent, Carmarthenshire fills this role through Gwynfor’s 1966 by-election victory and the county delivering the votes that won the 1997 devolution referendum.
In addition, Carmarthenshire is the geographical ‘bridge’ between the rural heartland (or former heartland) of Plaid Cymru and the urban south. Add to that the fact that Carmarthenshire’s seats at Westminster and Assembly level are either held by or are vulnerable to Plaid Cymru, and the county becomes a prime target for the kind of attention I’m suggesting.
Part of this ‘attention’ is the insane and unneeded housing developments being imposed on the county . . . yet welcomed by Mark James and his circle of senior officers, almost all imported from England. Despite being born in Merthyr, Mark James has no feelings for Wales or her identity whatsoever, and is actively working to see Carmarthenshire anglicised.
That may be the reason he was directed to Wales, and why he has been allowed to keep his job when anyone else would have been forced out years ago.
But of course this does not explain the woeful impotence of Plaid Cymru in Carmarthenshire.
NATHAN GILL MEP
News reaches me from an anonymous source concerning our much beloved UKIP MEP Nathan Gill of Hull and Menai Bridge. You may recall that I have written of Mr Gill more than once – about a dozen times in fact – so you may care to refresh your knowledge of the great man by starting here then working back from the links provided.
In particular, I would draw your attention to this post, Nathan Gill: It Just Gets Worse, because the information I have received concerns an incident mentioned in this particular post. Mr Gill owned a church in Hull that he was hoping to develop in some way, but on November 5th 2001 it caught fire, Mr Gill was quoted in the Hull Daily Mail as saying that ” . . . some residents had seen youngsters aiming fireworks at the church”.
Though a source I had in Hull a while back described the fire as “suspicious”, and insisted that Nathan Gill’s application for planning permission had been refused.
The information I received a couple of days ago says, “Before the fire in the grade 2 listed Hull church Gill had all the Oak paneling and benches stripped out, Brian Quilter sanded and reused them to Oak panel Lledr House and make window shutters.”.
Brian Quilter is one of Gill’s US Mormon brothers-in-law, married to Gill’s sister Melanie, and the couple lives in Lledr House, Dolwyddelan. Maybe the panelling referred to can be seen in this photo from TripAdvisor. Read more about Brian Quilter in Nathan Gill, Family Man.
Now there’s nothing wrong in what is described. Obviously Gill bought the church, planned to do whatever he planned to do, and in preparation for that – though perhaps in advance of receiving planning permission – stripped the building and let his brother-in-law have the panelling and the benches. All perfectly innocent.
Though less generous souls than what I am might suggest the possibility of foreknowledge.
JOHN BOY BAYLISS
I know you’ve been asking what our wandering boy has been up to lately, and the answer is, well, a bit more wandering. You will recall that last October I wrote The Case of the Disappearing Councillor in which I expressed deep concern for the whereabouts and welfare of Councillor John Boy Bayliss of the Uplands ward in Swansea. (In fact I have written quite regularly about John Boy and his friends, most of whom have now deserted him. Sob!)
At the time of writing the post just referred to, John Boy was giving his address as a property in Cambrian Place, in the city centre, a row of fine old town houses near the marina. In fact, where his friend and fellow-councillor Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Theaker had lived ere his departure to Araby. But now, I’m informed, he has moved again.
My concern for John Boy’s whereabouts last year was two-fold. After learning that he had taken a job in Bristol I was worried that the daily travelling between Swansea and Bristol might tire the poor boy. So I was almost relieved to hear that he was in fact living in Bristol, and merely using the Cambrian Place address as a letter-box. But then I thought, ‘Hang on, if he’s living in Bristol how can he remain a Labour councillor in Swansea?’
A message over the weekend directed me to updated information on John Boy’s council website bio (see below) which now has him living in Llangyfelach, still not in his Uplands ward, and as far from it as Cambrian Place.
‘But still’, I generously and paternalistically thought (well you know me), ‘it might not be in his ward, but at least he’s got a place of his own now’, but then I read the message I’d received again, and it suggested that this address is in fact the residence of one David Collins. So who is David Collins? Here’s his Linkedin profile.
Collins is clearly a Labour professional who appears never to have done a real job, having studied History and Politics at Brunel from 1992 until 1997 and then starting work in January 2000 as a Researcher and Political Assistant to Ann Jones, the former Labour AM for the Vale of Clwyd. (Leaving two and a half years unaccounted for on his Linkedin profile.) He now works as a Political Assistant to the Labour group on Swansea council.
So is John Boy shacked up with Collins, or is he engaged in a nightly tussle with the cat for the rug in front of the fire? I think we should be told!
Put both images from your mind, because further reading of the revised bio tells us that his correspondence address is “c/o Members Support Unit, Guildhall, Swansea SA1 4PE”, which suggests to me that he might not be living in Llangyfelach at all, and that this address doesn’t even serve as a letter-box.
The PR outfit John Boy works for recruited him because he is a councillor, and for no other reason. That being so they will of course give him time off to attend the important council and planning meetings, which in turn helps the Labour group on Swansea council maintain the fiction that their boy is still living in Swansea. Everybody’s a winner . . . except the people John Boy is supposed to represent.
This ‘Now you see him, now you don’t’ could be interpreted as a conspiracy on the part of the Labour Party in general, and certain individuals in particular, to maintain the deception that John Charles Bayliss still lives in Swansea and daily represents the interests of the people in the Uplands ward. If so, then perhaps the Local Government Ombudsman might be interested.
We know Councillor John Charles Bayliss does not live in Swansea. So my advice to the Labour Party in Swansea would be: Come clean, make John Boy Bayliss resign, and call a by-election in the Uplands ward.
P.S. I almost forgot to mention that John Boy is standing for the Assembly next month, he’s third on the list for Mid and West Wales, a region he knows intimately. His chances of being elected are slim, but of course Cardiff is nearer than Swansea to Bristol, so it would easier for Bayliss to commute from Bristol and turn his back on Swansea for good.
UPDATE 23:00: I am informed that David Collins no longer works for the Swansea Labour group, he has, I’m told, “been released” . . . into the wild? If so, will he be able to fend for himself, cut adrift from the Labour Party, all he’s ever known? I await reports that he has been spotted at night, scavenging in the back streets of Morriston.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)