GE2019: runners, riders and early fallers

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

There’s to be a general election on December 12 (haven’t you heard!) and already the parties are stumbling, mainly over their selection processes, or lack of them.

Looking beyond candidate selection, I can honestly say that none of the four established parties in Wales has emerged with any credit.

THE CONSERVATIVE AND UNIONIST PARTY

Things got off to a bad start when news leaked that the Assembly candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan, Ross England, had sabotaged a rape trial involving a friend by regaling the court with details of his own relationship with the complainant.

This prompted the judge to say: “You have managed single-handed, and I have no doubt it was deliberate on your part, to sabotage this trial . . . get out of my court.”

Now even though England was the candidate for the Welsh Assembly his behaviour impacted on GE 2019 because the Conservative Party had endorsed him as a candidate knowing what he had done.

Image courtesy of BBC Wales. Click to enlarge

When the facts became known, the furore resulted in England being suspended by the party, and his sponsor, Alun Cairns, standing down as Secretary of State for Wales. Though Cairns dug in his substantial heels to remain the candidate for the Vale.

Things didn’t get any better for the Tories.

I don’t always trust what I read on Nation.Cymru but I’ll accept that a third of the Tory candidates in Wales are domiciled in England. It could even be more, with one or two hiding behind accommodation addresses. But there’s nothing surprising about this.

For this is the old imperial way. Send some promising young chap off to a far-flung corner of the empire, and if he survives the mosquitoes and doesn’t start a bush war then mark him down for advancement. BoJo himself has been through the system, standing for Clwyd South in 1997.

I can imagine the scene in Tory Central Office. ‘Now then, Fothergill, I hear you want to be an MP, eh. Well we’re sending you to this place in Wales . . . nice scenery, I’m told. If the natives don’t eat you and you make it back then, who knows, we could find you a nice little seat in the shires or some agreeable suburb’.

Which is why we have a number of ‘Fothergills’ every election.

Sometimes of course, the party just gets overtaken by events and has little alternative but to parachute in a candidate who’ll need a trusty native guide. This is what has happened in Ynys Môn.

For reasons that may never become clear the Tories on the island initially selected Chris Davies as their candidate. Superficially, it makes sense, because the man was MP for Brecon and Radnor . . . until his conviction for fraudulent expenses claims. There was a successful petition to recall him and he lost the subsequent by-election.

When Davies was forced out from Ynys Môn Central Office had to come up with a replacement pretty damn quick. And so they produced Virginia Crosbie, who knows Wales like the back of her hand, having previously been parachuted into the Rhondda in 2017.

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You’ll see that according to this bio (from which the panel above was extracted), she did very well in the Rhondda, increasing the party’s vote by 58%. Though I can’t help thinking that the way that’s phrased is designed to mislead, because most people like to know a party’s percentage share of the total vote, which is something entirely different.

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What Virginia Crosbie did in the Rhondda in 2017 was to increase the Conservative vote from 2,116 in 2015 (6.7% of the total vote) to 3,333 (10.1%). With most of the increase coming from post-referendum, ‘job done’ Ukip; whose vote dived from 3,998 (12.7%) in 2015 to 880 (2.7%) in 2017. And there was also a higher turnout in 2017.

Which tends to put things into a rather different perspective. But never mind, for Virginia Crosbie might still be worth a punt in Ynys Môn where the Tories came second in 2017, and with Labour MP Albert Owen standing down it’s a wide open race.

Then, just when the Conservative and Unionist Party must have thought the worst was over, their deputy chairman, Lee Canning, defected to the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party. Here’s Canning’s resignation letter – the boy been bullied!

Let’s finish this section with Francesca O’Brien who’s standing in the target constituency of Gower, briefly held for the Tories by Byron Davies until he was defeated – in a dirty campaign – by shrinking violet Tonia Antoniazzi of Labour. Francesca believes that poor people should be ‘put down’.

Small wonder that senior Tory AM Nick Ramsay felt there were ‘lessons to be learnt’. Amen to that, brother.

LABOUR PARTY

The Labour Party’s customary talent for shooting itself in the foot remains undiminished, and as much as I enjoy putting the old size 9s into ‘Welsh’ Labour the cock-up I’m about to relate may be attributable to HQ. (If indeed cock-up it be.)

On Sunday news broke that the party’s candidate in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Maria Carroll, had run a Facebook page advising Labour Party members who had been suspended or otherwise disciplined over anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and other issues currently bedevilling the bruvvers.

There seemed to be genuine concern over this. Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent, hoped that ‘Welsh’ Labour would deal with Ms Carroll. Some hope! It was referred to London, who responded with ‘Nothing to see here, move along’.

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Which got me wondering about Maria Carroll. So I tried to find out more, but apart from non-specific references to the NHS, trade unions, charities (i.e. third sector), there was very little. I dug up this Linkedin profile, which might be her. If so, then it appears she still works for the NHS in England.

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Though I seem to recall reading somewhere that she had bought a little shop in the constituency, possibly in Cilycwm. Which might suggest that she has either retired to or is planning to retire to this village north of Llandovery, an area suffering a high level of English colonisation.

Making the ‘local’ Labour Party about as local to the area as I am to Chelsea. For Labour in rural Wales is increasingly reliant on the local college or university, an influx of 1960s generation retirees (still playing at being radical), transferred trade unionists, meme sahibs who’ve gone ‘rogue’, assorted freaks and exhibitionists, etc.

Exemplified by the protest in Haverfordwest last week, organised by Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly (PPA) and Momentum West Wales, against local MP Stephen Crabb. The convener for the PPA quoted in this report is Jim Scott. In a different guise Scott is a leading light in the Green Party of Englandandwales.

Also at the rally was the Labour candidate, Phillipa Thompson. This co-operation between Greens and Labour explains why the planet-savers have stuffed Plaid Cymru by pulling their candidates in Sir Benfro and telling their supporters to vote Labour.

Anti-Tory rally in Haverfordwest. There may be no one in this photograph who was born in Pembrokeshire, for in addition to the ‘local’ Greens and other weirdos leftie activists were shipped down – it’s said – from Swansea. Note the old, ‘Space yourselves out so it’ll look as if there’s more of us’ tactic. Click to enlarge

But I’ve digressed, back to Maria Carroll.

It seems pretty obvious that she has been imposed on ‘Welsh’ Labour by their London masters. It’s equally reasonable to assume that she is favoured by Momentum. And she wants us to believe that while she herself is not anti-Semitic, she’s prepared to help those who are.

Other than that, Maria Carroll’s defence seems to be that it was all a long time ago . . . but perhaps it wasn’t, for she seems to have still been involved last month.

This case exposes yet again how impotent ‘Welsh’ Labour is, even in Wales. Labour Party HQ in London wanted Maria Carroll to stand in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, and that’s what happened.

Who is she? Where’s she from? What’s her background? Does she know anything about the constituency? Who cares? Certainly not those who’ll be out canvassing for Maria Carroll; for like her, most of them will be new to Wales.

STOP PRESS: Fingers are now also being pointed at Cardiff councillor Darren Williams, said to be the operator of the Welsh Labour Grassroots (Momentum) Twitter account, which rushed to Maria Carroll’s defence.

Questions are being asked by Euan Phillips, spokesperson for Labour Against anti-Semitism and AM Alun Davies.

While much of this can be put down to Labour in-fighting it nevertheless reaffirms that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism, one that won’t go away any time soon.

UPDATE: I now learn that Maria Rose Carroll stood for the county council in the Cilycwm ward in 2017, losing to an Independent. She is said to be into ‘herbal remedies’ and is given to impromptu dancing. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether there may be a connection.

When not paying homage to Terpsichore I’m told she deals out ‘personal advice and counselling’. Which I suppose we already knew.

THE REMAIN ALLIANCE

This is the pact between the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens to fight Brexit and persuade people to vote for the candidate who opposes Brexit. Which is both absurd and insulting on a number of levels:

  • Without the Labour Party what is essentially an anti-Tory pact is pointless.
  • It’s anti-democratic in that the Lib Dems have said they want a second referendum on EU membership . . . and if the electorate votes to leave, again, then they’ll just refuse to accept that decision.
  • Wales voted to leave the EU in June 2016.
  • The Greens are a deeply un-Welsh if not anti-Welsh party or grouping. Last year members in Wales had the chance to set up a Wales Green Party, but they voted to stay part of the England Green Party. And as we’ve seen in Pembrokeshire, the English Greens in our midst would rather cut off their dreadlocks than vote for Plaid Cymru.
  • What’s more, Plaid Cymru, a party of the left, has done a deal with the Liberal Democrats, the party that was in coalition with David Cameron’s Tories, 2010 – 2016, and whose leader, Jo Swinson, is now doing deals with the Tories against the SNP and refusing to allow a second independence referendum.

This is Through the Looking-Glass politics, where nothing is what it seems, but those who’ve stepped through have chosen to immerse themselves in some alternative reality.

As you know, I write about the Lib Dems as little as possible, regarding them as unprincipled political whores and the worst possible advertisement for a multi-party political system and proportional representation.

Whereas the Greens in Wales are a colonialist excrescence on the Welsh body politic, so let us be thankful that they are largely irrelevant in the wider scheme of things.

Though this irrelevance has not deterred Plaid Cymru from becoming besotted with the Greens in recent decades. The infatuation can be traced back to Dafydd Elis Thomas’s tenure as leader in the 1980s. I remember one particularly ghastly Plaid conference where hippy chieftain Brig Oubridge was feted. Éminence grise Cynog Dafis was another who fell under the Green spell.

Oubridge has since relocated from Tipi Valley, like some latter-day bluestone he has made the journey from south west Wales to Salisbury Plain. Where he stood in the 2017 general election, coming a very distant fourth, but at least he beat ‘Arthur Pendragon’. (Though isn’t that lèse majesté?)

But now to focus on Plaid Cymru, a party that has given me a lot to write about.

You know things have gone to hell when one of the party’s most capable politicians says what you read in the panel below. Wales is one the poorest countries in Europe, yet rather than try to improve the lives of those who belong here Plaid Cymru prefers to play gesture politics by pretending that Wales can accept, take care of, and integrate, an unspecified number of people from God knows where.

For Plaid Cymru, ‘refugee’ is anyone who claims to be a refugee. It’s code for open borders. Click to enlarge.

I’m not sure if Sahar Al-Faifi qualifies a a refugee, but she’s certainly caused Plaid Cymru embarrassment in recent days. To explain . . .

Last Friday, Plaid Cymru put out a tweet using Al-Faifi to promote its party political broadcast later that day in which she appeared. This attracted the usual response from the usual suspects, but also more measured criticism from other quarters, for it soon emerged that she had an anti-Semitic past.

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I think it was @bubblewales that first broke the news she was a wrong ‘un with this piece. Expanded on here. It was then taken up by Guido Fawkes and others. On Monday, as her Plaid Cymru defenders began to fall silent, Sahar Al-Faifi issued an ‘apology’.

A very brief ‘apology’ followed by a wonderful example of whataboutery. Click to enlarge

You’ll note that she claims to have taken “anti-Semitism training, both formally through the (Jewish) Board of Deputies and informally with Jewish colleagues”.

But then things took another turn for the worse for her, and for Plaid Cymru, when the Board of Deputies issued a statement in which we read: “We met Sahar Al-Faifi to confront her over concerns we had over antisemitic social media postings . . . Ms Al-Faifi apologised to us and made some amendments to her social media output. However, we were clear that the situation still remained unsatisfactory”.

It seems there was no formal training in anti-Semitism. In the statement you’ll note mention of an organisation called MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development), to which Ms Al-Faifi belongs, being described as a “highly problematic organisation whose activity risks increasing hostility and suspicion between the Jewish and Muslim communities”.

‘Counter-extremism’ organisation Quilliam International had more to say on MEND. The article was advertised with the hard-hitting tweet below. Had Plaid Cymru been ‘mainstreaming’ Islamist extremists?

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Sahar Al-Faifi has now been suspended by Plaid Cymru, but how did they get themselves into such a mess in the first place? I think we can go back to Liz Saville Roberts’ wish to turn Wales into a nation of ‘sanctuary’.

Plaid Cymru is up on the moral high ground where the air is too thin to allow clear thinking. So when someone like Sahar Al-Faifi shows an interest in the party they see a woman in a niqab who must be a victim of something or other, and who will make Plaid look good to those they’re anxious to impress. So she’s accepted without question.

More cautious minds might think that an educated single woman living in the West choosing to dress like that might be making a political statement. A simple enquiry would then have established that she is the local representative for MEND, and someone who has expressed anti-Semitic views . . . at which point alarm bells should have rung.

And consider this. At the same time as party leader Adam Price was getting stick for quite rightly stating that Wales is a colony of England (though I disagree with him about reparations) others in Plaid Cymru were laying out the red carpet for a woman who clearly believes that there can be no white victims of colonialism.

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Another mystery is why certain influential grouplets in Plaid Cymru rushed to her defence. What sort of treatment do gays, transsexuals and others think they’d receive under the rule or influence of Al-Faifi and her friends?

Plaid Cymru has now reached the stage where we Welsh, needing decent housing and jobs, being marginalised by colonisation, living in the poorest country in Europe, are a distraction from the more important things in this world – a world that Plaid Cymru must save!

Plaid Cymru has betrayed the Welsh nation in order to be regarded as ‘progressive’ by our enemies. I hope they get humiliated in GE2019. Because that’s what they deserve.

Though my fear is that Plaid’s self-destruction may be disguised by the upsurge in support for independence and the lack of an alternative for nationalists. At least Gwlad Gwlad is standing in a few seats.

CONCLUSION

A lot of what I’ve written about is faux outrage in the fevered conditions of an election campaign. Social media just adds fuel to the flames. Something silly said years ago after a glass of two should not be used to destroy a reputation today.

Yet anti-Semitism is something altogether different, not least because I see a bizarre and disturbing parallel between anti-Semitism today and what has gone before.

Hitler hated the Jews because he believed they controlled the economic life of Germany. Today’s socialists use Zionism and the West Bank as fig leaves but much of their animosity towards the Jews is attributable to the same, age-old perception of the usurer Jew’s role in the hated capitalist system.

This also helps explain why extreme variants of Islam get such an easy ride from many Western leftists.

Both the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru must learn that anti-Semitism is no more acceptable when mouthed by an educated woman of colour in a niqab or a business suit than when it’s barked by a thuggish white man in jackboots wearing a swastika armband.

♦ end ♦

 

Cymraeg needs power in the West – Arfor can deliver it

A guest post by Aled Gwyn Jôb

‘Tri chynnig i Gymro’ (Three tries for a Welshman) is a very old and much-loved Welsh saying.

Where Leighton Andrews and Mark Drakeford ultimately feared to tread, the Welsh Government’s own inimitable attack dog, Alun Davies, is now all set to get his teeth into Local Government re-organisation.

But, if this to mean anything other than a tokenistic tinkering with the map of Wales once again, surely the process has to involve meaningful change this time round.

It’s an opportunity to look afresh at what local democracy should actually mean today, and how it can manifest itself anew in different parts of Wales. The long neglected link up between health care and social care should definitely be on the agenda, as well as democratic control of social housing, a sector which has grown exponentially over the past few years with little or no local scrutiny attached to it.

With Cardiff having a disproportionate slice of the political and economic cake, there is also a strong case for the creation of perhaps no more than 6 regional authorities to counter-balance the Cardiff-centricity of modern Wales, and those authorities imbued with real powers. Which could even perhaps include some element of tax-varying powers of their own, as is the case with local authorities in the thriving Basque Country.

It’s also high time for some radical thinking where the Welsh language and local government is concerned.

It presents a golden opportunity to implement the idea proposed by Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru AM – i.e. to create ARFOR, a single authority for the Welsh-speaking areas of Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, and Caerfyrddin, which would operate through the medium of Welsh.

The much-maligned nationalist thinker, Saunders Lewis predicted that the Welsh language would decline faster with a Welsh Government in situ in Cardiff than it would under Westminster control, unless local government first conducted its work through the medium of Welsh in Y Fro Gymraeg.

With less than 5 per cent of deliberations at Y Senedd conducted in Welsh (well below the national 21 per cent of Welsh speakers), Saunders Lewis’ prophecy seems to have been borne out.

Every single party at Y Senedd (even UKIP) pledges strong support for Welsh in public: but the harsh truth after 20 years of devolution is that English has become the governing language in our national parliament. With the best will in the world, this is not going to change any time soon.

A cultural and political counterpoint is sorely needed to provide Cymraeg with real status and power- located in those areas where it remains an everyday living language.

Socio-linguists agree that a minority language requires some form of territorial integrity in order to thrive. Increasing use is now being made of environmental metaphors with a minority language imagined as a plant or flower which has to have a secure habitat in order to be able to breathe, grow and flourish.

If we continue with the environmental metaphor, most of us are all aware that Welsh’s natural habitat has been eroding on a frighteningly fast rate over the past two generations.

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At the time of the 1961 census there were areas within sight of Stradey Park and Llandudno promenade where over 80% of the population spoke Welsh, and the whole of the west apart from south Pembrokeshire was mainly Welsh speaking.

By the 2011 census however, this former solid bank of Welsh speakers across these western counties had dried up alarmingly with Gwynedd down to 64% of  Welsh speakers, Ynys Mon 59%, Ceredigion on 48% and Caerfyrddin down to 44%.

The calamitous retreat of Cymraeg in these heartlands since 1951, has been virtually ignored by all the political parties. Partly of course because of the thorny reality that this decline has been accelerated by an inflow of migration from England- with the vast majority of these incomers not showing any inclination to learn the language of their new country. Not one party, not even Plaid Cymru, has dared to challenge and oppose this hugely destructive process over the years.

But the decline has also been about an exodus of Welsh-speaking people, especially younger people in search of employment opportunities, not available in the traditional Welsh-speaking areas. Cardiff of course has been the main beneficiary of this exodus and although it’s comforting on one level that these people are at least staying in Wales, there can be no denying that this process has denuded their home communities of their  vitality, their energy and their creativity.

The habitat needs to be rewilded, and the best way to start is with an idea

ARFOR could operate with say 60 elected councillors( 15 from the 4 areas). The geographic distances between Caergybi on Ynys Môn and Llanelli in Carmarthenshire need not be a problem in an age of fast-developing video conferencing. Its nominal headquarters could be based, say, in Aberystwyth or even Machynlleth, but with specific departments located in all four areas.

Arfor should be able to draw up a strategic trajectory for its territory in terms of economic development, housing, planning, social care and other key sectors such as food and drink, tourism, entrepreneurship and language regeneration.

The overall plans could then be implemented at a more local level by beefing up the role of present day community councils. These could be re-imagined by reviving the old model of the rural/town district councils (with several local community councils coming together to form these new entities) employing staff to discharge the duties delivered downwards by the central Arfor authority.

This would allow both a regional identity and a local identity to co-exist and co-create a better future for the heartlands which have only known decline, despair and disillusionment for the past two generations.

Cyngor Sir Gwynedd has already pioneered the way, having operated successfully through the medium of Welsh since the mid 90ies. Ynys Môn has declared that they are now going to follow its example. Arfor is half way there already.

As to the predictable concerns that Arfor would “divide” Wales, and re-ignite the old arguments aired in the 1970ies about such an idea, I would argue that the Welsh national identity is much more secure today than back then. That identity is secure enough to be able to live with the thought that different parts of Wales should perhaps be able to do things differently.

And there is no need to fret either that such a development would allow the other 5/6 regional authorities to ignore Welsh, because the Welsh Language Standards passed by Y Senedd recently will ensure that a modicum of bilingualism will remain in the others.

Associate membership of Arfor could also be provided over time to other Welsh-speaking areas, e.g Dyffryn Conwy, Parts of Denbighsire, Powys and Pembrokeshire, who wish to be part of the new entity.

Arfor has the potential to do more to develop the Welsh language than almost any other language success gained over the years, even arguably S4C – now a pale shadow of its former self and shorn of the clout it used to have in Welsh-speaking Wales.

It will give Welsh real political and economic clout in its traditional heartlands. It will provide employment opportunties and career structures for Welsh speakers from all over Wales. It will, at a stroke, make learning Welsh a real, economic and social necessity for incomers to these areas. It is quite literally, the golden bullet as far as language regeneration is concerned in Y Fro Gymraeg.

Cultural regeneration in the heartlands will undoubtedly lead to economic regeneration as well. It can be a magnet for Welsh speakers from all over the UK and wider afield. It can prove an inspiration to Welsh learners all over Wales and beyond to see that Welsh can thrive as a living, community language.

As Alun Davies weighs up his options, and perhaps even his legacy as far as the Welsh language is concerned as an enthusiastic learner himself, he might be tempted to bring that famous Bill Clinton slogan to mind, and re-phrase it to say : “It’s the culture, stupid” in seeking to effect change.

♦ end ♦

Jac chips in . . .

As persuasive as Aled’s argument is, I’m not totally convinced. For two main reasons. First, I’m one of those who believes it would divide Wales. Second, I look to Ireland’s Gaeltacht and I see no great success to emulate.

My fears on dividing Wales can be explained with an anecdote. My wife’s eldest brother lives in Crickhowell. About 20 years ago, with the Meibion Glyndŵr campaign still fresh in the memory, we were visiting and I got talking to my brother-in-law’s eldest son.

He brought up the subject of the campaign and made a forceful point that youngsters of his age in that area were experiencing a similar problem from retirees, good-lifers, commuters and others pushing up local property values – but nobody seemed to care about them because they didn’t speak Welsh.

The realisation of Arfor could result in those sentiments I heard in Crickhowell being raised again. And not just by sincere and sympathetic people like my nephew, but by the growing army of anti-Welsh bigots getting bolder by the day.

Which is why if Arfor does became reality I would like to see legislation introduced to protect anglophone Welsh identities in other rural areas. Otherwise Arfor could alienate people from Rhuddlan to Rhossili.

Now let’s turn to the Gaeltacht, as I guarantee many will do! It seems to be widely acknowledged in Ireland that the whole concept has been a failure. Everybody seems to blame everybody else, but the fact remains that the Gaeltacht is largely symbolic and kept afloat by a state reluctant to admit its abject failure.

The maps below tell their own story. (Available here in PDF format.)

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Maybe a Gaeltacht made up of small, widely separated areas was doomed to fail, and this might be Arfor’s advantage over the Irish model.

But let’s assume that the Arfor project takes off, how is it to be sold to the large, non-Welsh populations in Beddgelert, Betws-y-Coed, Barmouth, Tywyn, Aberdyfi, Borth, New Quay – even Aberystwyth? Will these communities be able to opt out?

Whether these settlements buy in or not to survive Arfor will need positive discrimination in favour of the indigenous population coupled with restrictions on who can move in . . . which would send the English media and its Welsh lapdogs into a feeding frenzy!

As I say, I would prefer to see all-Wales legislation that could protect all areas facing similar problems. A strategy guaranteeing that locals get priority in housing, employment, education, training, grants, and everything else, with nothing forced on these areas unless it is of demonstrable benefit to the local population.

But if we can’t have a national strategy, then I would support Arfor, but my support could never be wholehearted.

General Election 2017

Those of you who’ve read Cneifiwr’s latest post, about his canvassing experiences, will I’m sure have enjoyed him waxing lyrical about wrens and shimmering vistas, country lanes and tinkling rills . . . well you’ll get none of that fancy bucolic stuff here. This is the opinionated old git section of the Welsh blogosphere.

Last Thursday gave us what was perhaps the strangest election of my lifetime. Not just because of the result and the way the Tories lost the commanding lead they’d held at the start of the campaign, but also because of the combination of factors not present in earlier elections, specifically, the recent surge of the SNP, the influence of Brexit, UKIP and the realignment of that party’s deserting voters, and post-election, the entrance of the DUP. So let’s consider the bigger picture before looking at the results in Wales.

NORTH OF THE BORDER

The Unionist parties and the London media are cock-a-hoop over the ‘defeat’ suffered by the SNP, but was it really such a defeat? In the 2010 general election the SNP won 6 seats out of a total of 59; in May 2015, following the independence referendum of September 2014, the party won 56 seats, gaining 50% of the vote (an increase of 30%). That was clearly a freak result, that was unlikely to ever be repeated.

On Thursday, support for the SNP was down to 36.9% and 35 seats, leaving it still the largest party, and by some distance. This falling off in support can be explained quite simply – independence and whether or not to have a second referendum is the issue in Scottish politics now. Those who want independence generally voted SNP, while those who are opposed to independence, or remain to be convinced, tended to vote for whoever had the best chance of defeating the SNP candidate. As a rule of thumb, tactical voting accounts for the gains made by Tories, Labour and Lib Dems.

It certainly explains what happened to Alex Salmond. The swing against him was 11.8%, but the swing to the Tory victor was 29%. What happened in Gordon was that the Lib Dems (treacherous bastards even to their own) deserted poor Dai Evans. Yet the Lib Dems still gained 3 seats where tactical voting benefited them.

Though I’m sad to see him go (if only temporarily) I enjoyed hearing Alex Salmond in his concession speech quote from that rousing Jacobite song, Bonnie Dundee  with, ‘And tremble, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee, Ye hae no seen the last o’ my bonnets and me!’ Because those who think they’ve seen off the SNP threat, and put Salmond back in his box, should be warned against counting chickens.

Though it’s not always as simple as Unionists gathering behind the candidate most likely to thwart the devilish Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish politics is much more complex and nuanced nowadays, as this BBC piece makes clear. I was particularly struck by the contribution of John Dowson of Dumfries, a lifelong Labour voter, who wants independence, but was thinking of voting Tory because he also wants out of the EU. If he did indeed vote Tory, then his vote will be wrongly counted as a vote against independence.

Because that’s something else you have to understand about Scotland, not everybody who wants independence votes SNP. And how many SNP Brexiteers voted Tory for a hard Brexit, but will vote Yes in another referendum?

OVER THE WATER

When I was a young man, before the Troubles, Northern Ireland was almost a one-party state, and the one party was the Ulster Unionist Party, the UUP. There was no other Unionist Party, UK parties did not contest seats over there, and through gerrymandering, intimidation and various forms of electoral fraud such as personation the Catholic voice was almost silenced. (The Unionist election day call to the faithful was, Vote early, vote often’.)

With the Troubles came a widening divide between the two communities and a hardening of attitudes. One result was the creation in September 1971, by the Reverend Doctor Ian Kyle Paisley, of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). From its outset it was more hard-line on the Union and ‘terrorism’ than the rather more patrician UUP, and also more conservative on social issues. Hardly surprising given who’d formed it and its links with his Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

The polarisation reached its inevitable conclusion on Thursday when the UUP failed to win a single seat, as did its Nationalist counterpart, the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Sinn Féin won 7 seats, the DUP won 10, and the other seat, North Down, was held by Independent Unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon (née Paisley), widow of Sir Jack Hermon, one-time Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

As I write this Theresa May has agreed a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the DUP rather than a formal coalition, but either way, for the Tories it’s stepping back into the nineteenth century, back to an age of John Bull nationalism, Fenians, the rejection of Darwinism, contempt for the undeserving poor and the stoning of poofters.

On the issues of today the DUP wants a hard Brexit but a soft border with the Republic. Talk about having your cake and eating it! So on that issue at least they’re in tune with the Conservatives.

The Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley, founder of the DUP, leader 1971 – 2008

Any co-operation with the DUP shows a) how desperate Theresa May is to hang on to power and b) how ignorant she is of modern Irish politics. For a start, any co-operation between the Tories and the DUP might threaten the Good Friday Agreement, because seeing Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, in Number 10, will raise fears on the Nationalist-Republican side that the UK Government is no longer impartial in its approach to Northern Ireland.

It should also be explained that the 7 Sinn Féin candidates elected will never be MPs because they refuse to take the Oath of Allegiance to the English monarch. This of course affects the arithmetic in the House of Commons and means that with 643 MPs The Conservatives need just 322 votes. So with the Tories having 318, the DUP 10, plus Lady Hermon tagging along, the ‘Understanding’ has 329 votes. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, playing the Orange Card or relying on Unionists may have paid dividends a hundred years or more ago, but in recent times it’s tended to go pear-shaped, as Sunny Jim found out in 1979, and in the twenty-first century the Conservatives getting too close to the DUP might even jeopardise 20 years of relative peace. This could all end in tears.

Given the close cultural, historical and other ties between Scotland and the north of Ireland one might have thought that their London masters entering a Faustian pact with the DUP would be welcomed by the Scottish Tories, but as might be expected, the DUP is against same-sex marriage, and the lesbian leader of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, is hoping to get married soon.

Woe! woe and thrice woe!

DOWN BY ‘ERE

LABOUR, ETC

Already, a great deal of nonsense has been spouted by all sides involved on Thursday, so here’s my attempt to give an impartial view. Taking the bigger, Englandandwales picture, it’s obvious to everyone that Theresa May made a massive miscalculation.

The longer the campaign went on the more people turned away from her dalek-like performance and warmed to Jeremy Corbyn’s awkward sincerity. May cannot campaign, she even seems incapable of a genuine smile, or interacting with the Great Unwashed, and yet the Conservative campaign was almost all about her. Quite incredible.

The Prime Minister is clearly on borrowed time. She will never be allowed to lead another election campaign, so her survival might depend to some extent on the pact with the DUP working. One reason she’s still in place is that there’s no obvious replacement. But one will emerge.

That said, this was still a big defeat for Labour, and it’s absurd to celebrate as a victory what is really nothing more than relief at avoiding complete annihilation. Just check the numbers. The Tories may have got the worst possible kind of victory, but Theresa May is still in number 10 and Labour is still in opposition. Which from Labour’s perspective is probably the best outcome.

Because the Labour Party is still at war with itself, and we are now presented with the nauseating sight of former critics changing their position on Corbyn because the slimy, self-serving bastards know a meal ticket when they see one – and this bloke can keep them in a job. (For a number of them, he already has!)

But of course these moderates and Blairites are now even more uncomfortable in a party where the left is strengthened. Will an emboldened Momentum now embark on a campaign of deselections? Which makes you wonder what exactly anti-Corbyn Labour victors were celebrating in the wee small hours of Friday. It can only have been self-preservation and hanging on to a cushy, well-paid job with expenses galore.

Like these two in Port Talbot. Kinnock père hates Corbyn with a vengeance (he reminds him of Derek Hatton), yet here he is celebrating like his boy has scored the winning try against England. In reality, it’s a case of, ‘Tidy, mun, the Kinnock name will continue to shine, boy, one day you’ll be prime minister . . . like I nearly was . . . nearly . . . prime minister . . . Sheffield . . . oh, God! I need a drink’.

This picture is a celebration of personal and family ambition. The Labour Party and what it might achieve for the downtrodden masses is incidental or totally irrelevant, for in the case of the Kinnocks the party’s real purpose is to serve as a vehicle for dynastic ambition. Today’s Labour Party contains more chancers and careerists than at any time I can remember.

PLAID CYMRU

The headline figure is that Plaid Cymru fell back, its vote down 1.7% on 2015. By comparison, the Tories, who we are told were the losers on Thursday, saw their vote increase by 6.3%. Labour’s vote went up by 12.1%, making it clear that in Wales it was Labour that gained most of the former UKIP vote. It would appear that ‘Welsh’ Labour distancing itself from Corbyn paid dividends.

Yes, Plaid gained Ceredigion, but let’s put that victory, by just 104 votes, into perspective. Ceredigion is a seat held by the party at Assembly level, it has been previously held by the party at Westminster level, and was won by an impressive young local after the sitting Lib Dem, or his supporters, were caught telling porkies.

In Arfon, Plaid held on by the skin of its teeth, 92 votes to be exact. How much this result was influenced by the votes of English and other foreign students in Bangor is something we might learn later. Though I have to confess to asking myself many times,‘Who is Hywel Williams?’, because the political firmament remains unlit by his presence. (In fact, I often confuse him with Albert Owen, the Labour MP for Ynys Môn!)

In addition to Ceredigion there were four other seats where Plaid Cymru entertained hopes of success, these were: Ynys Môn, Llanelli, Rhondda and Blaenau Gwent. Here are the results:

click to enlarge

The only comfort Plaid Cymru may be able to draw is that the party’s vote increased in Blaenau Gwent, but in last year’s Assembly election the same candidate, Nigel Copner, came within 650 votes of Labour minister Alun Davies. Furthermore, this is a volatile constituency, won with a handsome majority in 2005 by Independent Peter Law, the incumbent MP who’d left Labour over all-women shortlists.

Following Law’s death, the seat was held at a by-election in 2006 by Dai Davies. In the 2007 Assembly election Blaenau Gwent was won by Law’s widow, Trish, before returning to Labour in 2011. In last week’s election Nigel Copner was helped by Dai Davies.

So maybe there’s no comfort to be drawn from the result in Blaenau Gwent after all.

After the smoke had cleared on Friday Plaid Cymru was back to square one, holding four rural seats where it relies on a socially conservative and largely Welsh-speaking support. It made no progress whatever in the urban and more anglicised areas that make up the greater part of the country. This is a party going nowhere.

Except, maybe, backwards. For in the case of Llanelli, this Westminster seat has been a target for Plaid Cymru since Carwyn James got 8,387 votes against Denzil Davies in 1970.

Then came the 1980s when the bright young things took over, ‘reaching out’ beyond Plaid’s core vote to all manner of minority groups, most of which didn’t give a toss about Wales. Much of this was due to Dafydd Elis Thomas . . . what became of him? But it laid the foundations for the party we see today.

Plaid Cymru’s message is more attuned to the youth vote, the Remainers, the ethnic minorities, of major English cities, than to post-industrial wastelands filled with angry and poorly educated white people who don’t give a toss about trans-gender issues or the latest advances in green technology. Plaid Cymru only gets away with this mis-targeting in the west due to its cultural appeal.

In 2007 Plaid Cymru had the chance to run the Assembly as the largest party in coalition with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The leftists and the wimmin rose up with shrieks of horror at the prospect of aligning themselves with the crypto-fascist, baby-eating Conservatives – and Plaid instead became Labour’s little helper in the One Wales Agreement.

Nothing’s changed, this sucking up to Labour goes on and on, I know that one Plaid politician was recently told to stop using the #redtories Twitter hashtag.

A few years before 2007, Plaid removed its most successful leader, Dafydd Wigley, in a squalid coup.

Though never a member myself, many tell me that Plaid Cymru undermined Cymuned, one of the most promising movements Wales has seen in recent decades, but today just a shadow of what it might have been.

Plaid Cymru is either a party making major strategic errors, or else this is a party that has been compromised. Either way, it’s of no further use to the Welsh nation. As things stand, Plaid Cymru is of more benefit to England than to Wales because it’s every colonialist’s dream of a ‘national’ party.

I often think that if I was running the secret state I’d want a party in Wales just like Plaid Cymru. A party that makes the occasional unimportant gains, can keep enough people enthused with the hope of ‘next time’, and, most importantly of all, act as a block on the emergence of a party that might actually threaten the Union.

Unless Plaid Cymru can reform itself into a truly Welsh party, appealing to the whole country, regarding all other parties as opponents, rather than potential partners, then the time has come for Plaid Cymru to stop wasting everybody’s time and leave the field to those with fresh ideas and a different approach.

♦ end ♦

Local Democracy – Remember?

Two current stories provide further evidence of the mess local government is in in Wales.

The first is the ongoing saga of the totalitarian regime on Goal Hill in Carmarthen. For some time now the dictatorial chief executive, Mark James, and his underlings, Meryl Gravell, Leader of the Independent councillors (in many cases, Tory), and Labour group leader, Kevin Madge, have run the county without reference to the majority of those elected by the county’s voters. Carmarthenshire is now a democracy in name only. So bad have things become that the county’s largest town is talking of secession.

This slide into darkness has resulted in a totalitarian approach from county hall towards anyone daring to criticise the troika, while the council funds James’ personal libel proceedings and outsources services to – and also funds – a bunch of religious extremists. Thankfully, the fightback is underway. One of the local ‘papers having joined the Resistance this week.

The other example comes from Caerffili, where a small group of councillors secretly agreed with the chief executive, Anthony O’Sullivan, that his salary, and the salaries of other senior officers, should be greatly increased . . . soon after telling the lower orders that there was no cash to give them an increase. As I write this it seems the plebs are considering strike action.

As in Carmarthenshire, we see censorship in Caerffili, according to Unison Cymru branch secretary, Gary Enright (where’s Larkin?): “Unison members have expressed concerns, however, that since we have started to publicly speak out and campaign about the pay rise the chief officers have received, access to news websites, including Wales Online, appear to have been blocked by the council’s IT systems”.

Throw in the Welsh Government sending up Commissioners to run Ynys Môn after losing patience with its dysfunctional council, and it becomes clear that local government in Wales has a number of problems. Brought home to me again last year, during the Assembly elections. The chief returning officer for the north, Mohammed Mehmet, decided unilaterally to hold the north Wales count the day after the election. So results for the rest of Wales were already known before the counting even started in the north. Mehmet is chief executive of Denbighshire council. So, for me, one of those problems is that of over-powerful chief executives, none of whom seem to be Welsh.

It would be nice to think that the Welsh Government is giving these despots enough rope to hang themselves, but that’s unlikely. Even so, everyone knows that at some time in the not-too-distant future the Welsh Government is going to have to grapple with local government re-organisation to give us far fewer councils than the 22 we know today. This offers opportunities for reform that must be grasped – or do we simply want the likes of those above wielding untrammelled power over even larger fiefdoms!

Of course not. So for a start, not only should we have fewer councils, we should have far fewer councillors. (The cabinet system has rendered most councillors redundant anyway.) It is painfully obvious that we can’t find enough people of even the limited ability required by the 60-Member talking-shop in Cardiff docks, so why do we delude ourselves that we can find a few thousand councillors who can simultaneously chew gum and tie their shoelaces without choking or getting their finger trapped? (Possibly both.)

So let’s have a small number of professional councillors in each of the new councils, paid a decent wage with a car thrown in. For bear in mind that New York city council, serving the five boroughs, 8 million people, and countless racial and ethnic groups, has just 51 council members. So how the hell can anyone justify 73 councillors in Powys, with a population of 133,000? Also, abolish the cabinet system. Make all meetings open to the public. Let members of the public record and film all meetings. After all, councillors work for the public.

Let’s not stop there, let’s be really reactionary, and remind chief executives and other top managers that that’s all they are – managers. They answer to the councillors we elect. In other words, they work for us, the people living in the area covered by their employer. It would help, I’m sure, if the new authorities employed Welsh people for the top posts; because these would not only know the area better they would also empathise more with those they served, and be much less likely to act as gauleiters or colonial governors. Perhaps in the fullness of time the required legislation can be passed.

In the meantime, we are stuck in this world turned upside down in which an individual who should be serving the council is in fact running it! While most of those we elect are rendered impotent, and might as well not bother going to council meetings because everything is stitched up in advance between the unelected de facto leader and whoever, nominally, heads the cabinet. This is not democracy. Only a party used to doing things in such a manner could accept it as democracy, and allow it to persist.