Tuesday 27 October 2015

Will Cameron be brave and surprise us all

Set up a Constitutional Convention into the Governance of the UK and Reform the House of Lords  
Over the summer the Prime Minister said that he ’regrets' not reforming the House of Lords in the last Parliament. Maybe today he regrets it a lot more!
So a ‘review’ on the role of the Lords is to take place. This is long, long overdue!
The review can’t simply mean tinkering around the edges or packing the second chamber with yet more donors and ex-politicians, at a cost of over £2.6 million per year in expenses and allowances – and that’s before the extra office and staffing costs are taken into account.
It is clear that there is a crisis of democracy in the UK – a government in power on just 37% of the vote, and Unelected Lords full of too many former politicians, friends and cronies. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
The two are democratically-dubious chambers and it does not serve the people at all well in the modern world.
The Time has Come for looking at both Houses of Parliament and to deal with the democratic deficit in Britain – an unfair and out-of-date voting system in the Commons, and an expensive and archaic set-up in the Lords.  

Even the Chancellor George Osborne in a statement in the House of Commons today said: "My view is clear: we need an elected House of Lords."
If the two of them care for the future of the UK Union and wish that the people of the four nations live in a modern and truly democratic Britain then the next steps are clear and compelling. 

Are our leaders listening?

Is the Establishment that Stubborn?

Last night the Unelected House of Lords, the second largest unelected legislative chamber in the world – second only to China’s!  Stopped in its tracks the unrepresentative Government of the UK.

I will leave on one side the controversial, shameful and punitive cuts to the Tax Credit system that will wreak havoc to the lives of an estimated 3 million people. Rather I wish to concentrate on what now for our so called ‘Democracy’.

After the defeat last night the Prime Minister and Chancellor railed against the Lords,  that ‘constitutional conventions’ have been broken and that what happened has only occurred some half a dozen times since the 1700’s!. So what? Times change, politics move on and most certainly the governance of the UK has done so over the last 30 years.

There really is little point in bleating about ‘conventions’ and that the Constitution has been brought to a ‘point of crises.  As with the so many other aspects of our domestic politics and governance this was another chaotic situation that was just waiting to happen.

In six posts on this blog I have sought to highlight all this over 4 months:

June 27  Reflections on a Chaotic and Fragmented Union
Aug. 4     Reforming Britain’s Archaic System
Aug 20    Governance and the Voting System
Aug 17    English Votes for English Laws
Aug 29    We live in troubled and turbulent times
Sep 15    The Year the Political/Governing Establishments finally cracked

I cannot recall in my adult life a time like the present where governance arrangements at Westminster and the nations of the United Kingdom are being confronted with such a wide range of seemingly insurmountable problems. This applies to domestic and international politics, finance and economics, collapse of social cohesion, escalating humanitarian and refugee crisis, the global environment or matters of peace and security. There is an over-riding feeling that the political institutions whether at home, Europe or on the world stage are unwilling or unable to secure any semblance of control.

By now I frequently doubt the common will or indeed the competence of existing domestic institutions to resolve matters.

I have no doubt that the political parties and their leaders will descend into a plethora of argument and counter argument relating to the tax credit fiasco and whether the House of Lords acted unconstitutionally. Everyone will defend their viewpoint and there is high danger that the central issues will not be addressed.

I will not make this a lengthy post.

The conclusion is clear, as is the way ahead.

Our Constitution is unwritten – hence we descend to chaos from time to time. Almost every other domestic state in the world possesses a basic statute delineating the form’s and powers of the state’s institutions. It will also need to incorporate the reality of Britain’s situation in the modern world and end the old shibboleth of the ‘sovereignty of Parliament’.

Britain is not a representative Democracy. It is in need of modernising and reforming.

Our voting system is busted. The First Past the Post System that worked well when Labour and the Tories dominated from the 1930’s has not worked properly and democratically since the 1980’s. The system cannot cope with a political landscape which is one of multi-parties and consequently millions of people are not represented in Parliament.  The concept of a ‘mandate to govern’ in the democratic sense no longer applies.

Not only is the House of Commons unrepresentative of the way people voted we have in the 21st Century! an Un-elected House of Lords.

The governance of the UK Union is nothing short of chaotic and as a consequence the Union itself is fragmented and is in danger of falling apart.

In the middle of this unplanned and fragmented Union lies the problem of England and how to devolve power within it. It is a highly centralised nation and what has happened over two decades has been the introduction of a series of un-coordinated initiatives that only serve to add to the fragmentation.

There is only one solution.

The Prime Minister need for once to behave like a Statesman and establish a Constitutional Convention that will report on – a written Constitution for the UK, reform to the voting system, a coherent system for the Governance of the UK and the establishment of an elected Second Chamber.

Britain’s constitutional immobilisation has numerous sources, not least the country’s political culture and the continuity of its institutions. Of equal significance, however, has been the narrow self-interest of the political parties, especially Labour and the Conservatives. It is time for that to change now.

Appeals to the British way of doing things which is a tradition of ‘evolutionary change’ will not work for much longer.  

This Constitutional Convention need only deliberate for 18-24 months. Everything that needs to be considered has been researched, reported on, discussed and reviewed endlessly since the Crowther/Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution in the early 1970’s. There’s a whole House of Commons library full of documentation.

What is needed is for the political leaders to engage and display the goodwill and vision necessary to create a modern, democratic United Kingdom fit for purpose to meet the demands of the 21st Century.    

Thursday 22 October 2015

Is being a Socialist more important than being a Nationalist?

What is Plaid Commie - Cymru for? 

As Plaid members gather for their conference - Remember Tryweryn, 50 Years ago to the week.

Wales’s politics is in a mess and it is a situation that has prevailed more or less since the Assembly was established. Our politics does not serve the people well and in fact it is a no win situation for them.

The only options facing the people are a majority Labour administration; or a Labour administration propped up by either Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats or a Labour administration that just needs the have some temporary deals from time to time to get by. It really is an exciting choice.  In effect it is one party rule and Wales’s politics is static and stale with very little, if any, vibrancy to our politics any longer.

Much of our politics in Wales these days operates in a very secretive and ‘closed shop’ way. The Labour MPs and AMs from Wales, at least in public, are quite happy to operate in a Corbyn – led party and yet only one or two of them voted for him. There are no hints of divisions or disagreements other than the recent furore over Jenny Rathbone. The same is true of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood only received I think the support of just two of the current Plaid Cymru AMs during her leadership bid. The others especially those representing the more rural and Welsh speaking parts of Wales merrily go along with the distinctly leftward drift of the party. Being a socialist has almost become more important than being a nationalist.

So the political waters in Wales hardly ripple - it is calm and serene. It is unreal and manipulative politics. Indeed it is so manipulative that I venture to suggest that the next leader of the Labour Party in Wales after Carwyn Jones’s day has already been identified – Huw Irranca-Davies the MP for Ogmore - despite all the facile pretences of it being not so.  Huw has one major plus going for him and that is he nominated Jeremy Corbyn to be a candidate for the leadership although he did not vote for him! Just stop and think why is he going to the Assembly next year.   

We are about to enter the race to next May’s election and unless there are changes to political opinion, and I accept that is possible, the current indications are that Labour will need support again to form an administration. Already there are indications of what is most likely to happen. Plaid Cymru’s decision to support Labour’s Local Government Bill follows an agreement between the two parties that nothing will be implemented until after next May.  

It shouldn’t surprise anyone because Leanne Wood has said that if a coalition or any kind of deal is necessary after next May she will only talk with Labour. So the people of Wales know now that the slogan ‘Vote Plaid Cymru and get Labour’ is more than likely to be realised.

I have little doubt that the Plaid Cymru leader would be quite happy to work with a Corbyn administration – in fact probably happier than Carwyn Jones would be! But she would not be alone. There are others like Bethan Jenkins, Adam Price and his one- time assistant who later was Leanne Woods’s campaign organiser to be leader–Jonathan Edwards M P. The much publicised political background and activities of at least three of them is unashamedly socialist and maybe much further left than even that.  

During the Labour Party leadership contest in the summer I asked a question in more than one post on my blog ‘What is Labour for any longer ’? My blogs and tweets were sent to the four candidates quite a few times. Well to be fair the party membership and affiliate supporters, said to be numbering around 600,000, have answered in emphatic terms with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. It is a question I did also ask after the General Election of my own party the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru as well. 

Of course there are nuances and changes from time to time at elections whether for Westminster or Cardiff but these are only at the margins and we  always end up with the same outcome – the majority of MPs in Wales are Labour and the Senedd always has a  Labour led administration. Its true advances are being over the last decade by the Conservatives and UKIP did cause a stir in many parts of Wales in May but all in all it remains pretty much ‘same old same old’.
Twice there have been opportunities to change things but the smaller parties have reverted to linking with ‘big brother’. The Liberal Democrats in 2001 and Plaid Cymru in 2007 – in both cases Labour could not govern on their own so coalitions had to be formed. The argument always goes that we must have an administration, certainty stability. That’s true but the largest party could govern by grace and favour, in other words make sure its policies meets the wishes of the majority of AMs without a fixed deal that ties the smaller parties for four years. That situation only serves to benefit Labour. It could also have an advantage of giving more influence, power and clout to the AMs. I say ‘could’ because the evidence that the vast majority of the AMs’ are capable of giving someone a ‘political clout’ is pretty thin!

Labour will always dangle in front of the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru the storyline that the Welsh people would never forgive either of those two parties if they went into coalition with the Tories.  It is possible they wouldn’t but no-one has yet had the courage to even attempt it. In any event it will be impossible to contemplate such a scenario next year taking into consideration the austerity policies being pursued by Cameron and Osborne, leaving aside matters such as the Euro referendum, the scrapping the Human Rights Act, the Trade Union legislation and the issue of replacing Trident. So the end result looks like being another political stalemate where Labour remains in power again.

I wouldn’t mind so much Labour winning if they had the vision to create a vibrant and exciting Wales. So I then began to surmise who in today's Wales with the courage, panache, style and strength of character to be a leader like Nicola Sturgeon..

Who in Wales today could utter with authority and certainty words like the following as Sturgeon did at her annual conference:-

“I have a message for the Prime Minister today…ignore Scotland at your peril. Know that people are watching and listening. And remember this: it is not you who will decide the future of Scotland, it will be the people of Scotland.”

The SNP’s sister party in Wales is Plaid Cymru and a golden opportunity came their way in 2007 to be able to have uttered such words with Ieuan Wyn Jones as First Minister. Sadly the opportunity was set aside through prevarication among Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru AMs. I chronicled the story in a post on June 29.  

Instead Plaid Cymru portrayed itself as unwilling to take control of the situation and clearly assert it wanted to be the government of Wales. At the very same time the SNP had no such fear in Holyrood when they went on to form a minority government and yes with the support of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives at key periods over the ensuing years.

The failure to grasp the leadership of a ‘rainbow coalition’ with both hands meant that Plaid Cymru condemned Wales to the continuation of successive Labour Administrations that are seriously under-performing in so many important and vital areas. So by now rather than being seen as an alternative to Labour in Wales the party is often depicted as nothing more than Labour’s ‘little helper’.

But the fact is that Plaid has evolved into a very left of centre party and it looks as if Leanne Wood is exceedingly proud of that. Leanne’s background and history has been that of a socialist or indeed if not further left than that. However she is not alone there are other AMs who proclaim the same faith such as Bethan Jenkins and the potential new AM Adam Price who has proudly declared that he was a ‘socialist before he was a nationalist’.

Following comments and discussions on social media it is clear that there are two differing strands in Plaid Cymru with the socialist / hard left element in the ascendancy. It is without question by now a long way away from the party of Gwynfor Evans both in its politics and aspirations. Indeed I often wonder why the more liberal, centrist, rural and Welsh speaking communities of North–West and South-West Wales continue to support the modern Plaid Cymru.

Consider Plaid Cymru’s stance over many years now with regard to Wales becoming a self-governing nation and this at the very time that the SNP is rapidly moving Scotland towards possible independence. There are problems facing Scotland with the fall in oil prices and the like. Yet one never hears Nicola Sturgeon pointing to that as a problem when arguing the case for home rule or independence. Hers is a confident, assertive voice for Scotland. In contrast recently on BBC Question Time Leanne Wood when explaining the difficulties of campaigning for home-rule or independence is not appropriate in the current climate for Wales said :-

‘Our economy is too weak. We’re already facing a situation where workers in Wales earn 85% of the UK average’

Why on earth make the Labour and Tory case for them? Of course there are problems across many areas of Welsh life but having fought Gwynfor Evans in three General Elections I know for certain such words would not have been uttered by him. Rather he would have been blaming, as he forever did, the ‘London’ Governments for ‘neglecting’, ‘depriving’, ‘ignoring’ and failing to invest in Wales. His speeches still resonate with me to this day – in fact I could probably deliver one or two of them!

So with the Plaid Cymru’s Annual Conference in Aberystwyth only a day or two away perhaps it is pertinent for the delegates that will gather together to consider what is the purpose, aim, vision and strategy to be over the coming years. In other words ‘What is Plaid Cymru for ’?

By way of conclusion and as a means of furthering the debate I include extracts on this very subject from a blogger I only came across relatively recently:-

Being a native of the Rhondda Ms Wood must know that throughout the Valleys (and indeed the south) there are tens and tens of thousands of people looking for a viable alternative to Labour, that’s why they turned out last month and last year to vote Tory and Ukip in Caerffili, Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Islwyn, and in the process pushed Plaid Cymru down to fourth place. So why should anyone who doesn’t want Labour in power vote for the party that will keep Labour in power?

Have those at the highest, policy-making levels of the party calculated that if a poor Wales votes Labour, then a poorer Wales might swing towards Plaid Cymru? Don’t dismiss the suggestion out of hand; just ask yourself, what other hope has Plaid Cymru got of ever becoming a successful party?

Well, of course, there is one, obvious route; Plaid could be a Welsh party, focusing on Welsh issues, from a Welsh perspective. But that option was rejected in favour of a slow, lingering death – for both nation and party – decades ago.

Last month I loaned Plaid Cymru my vote because I persuaded myself that doing so was a way of giving a proxy vote to the SNP, a party I respect greatly for confronting the Labour monster head-on, and slaying it. Compare that to what we now hear from Plaid Cymru – ‘A vote for us is a vote for Labour’. How do we explain the difference?

I can’t help thinking that one explanation for ruling out any pact with the Tories may be Ms Wood’s desire to play to a foreign gallery. I’m thinking now of those Left-Green ‘progressive elements’ Plaid so assiduously courted a few months ago. If so, then it’s another reminder of how divorced from Wales and Welsh issues Plaid Cymru has become. By comparison, the Scottish National Party does not fashion its policies to appeal to audiences in Islington, or the offices of the Guardian newspaper . . . and certainly not Labour HQ!

But if Plaid Cymru wants to talk about poverty, then okay. Let’s talk about the poverty of ambition in the party that has the nerve to call itself The Party of Wales. While the SNP is leading the Scottish people to independence, Plaid Cymru’s ambition extends no further than begging a few more crumbs from England’s table and propping up Carwyn Jones and his gang of deadbeats.

Almost fifty years after Gwynfor Evans won Carmarthen Plaid Cymru’s ambition today extends no further than acting as a crutch for the party of George Thomas and Neil Kinnock in a system of sham devolution. Now that’s poverty! And total failure.

Sunday 18 October 2015

As a biased and shallow Media bother over the U-Turn - the Fiscal Charter and Tax Credits could become Cameron's Poll Tax nightmare

The Charter is only a political gimmick with no basis in economic sense or necessity and the Tax credit cuts will come back to haunt the Tories. 

It goes without saying that the manner of John McDonnell’s U-Turn was most unfortunate for him; both Corbyn and he need to get a real grip pretty quickly on how to run, organise and lead the Labour Party. I say that or otherwise the right wing media will always report trivialities rather than substantive matters. So it was that the U-turn became the most important headline story that hid so many critical realities for the British people.

If I was to enumerate the list of U-turns made by political leaders of all parties during my adult life there would be no space for anything else on the blog. In recent times I need only mention a two – student fees and child tax credit – as classic examples.

But of course the current enjoyment is for Corbyn at every opportunity to be ‘fed to the lions’ that comprise the right wing press, the Tory party and Labour Party grandees. It is all because they deeply resent that such a devastating intrusion into their cosy ‘establishment’ way of doing politics has taken place.

The reality is however that something that was never ever thought to be on the political landscape even six months ago did happen in early September. Anyone that would have suggested over the last thirty years that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would one day become Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Labour party would have been very quickly sent for assessment as to their sanity. But in the words of the SDP logo of 1981 they have ‘broken the mould’ of Labour and Westminster politics and it won’t be the same again for some time. So everyone had better get used to it. Unlike any other party political leader he has for now the massed ranks of some 300,000 plus party members and supporters behind him.

It is clear that the two are struggling to change their long practised ways of working and having to transform and adapt from being quite ordinary, rebellious, very left of centre backbenchers to operating, behaving and performing as the two most senior people in the Labour Party. The transformation required must be coming as one almighty shock to the two of them and there are not many opportunities for rehearsal sessions. So it is inevitable therefore that in the early stages there are going to be slip-ups along the way. However it’s not my intention to deal with those here since I want to pursue a more serious matter.

So it came to pass that on September 25 the Shadow Chancellor, struggling to make the transformation I have outlined first said that Labour will support Osborne’s Fiscal Charter -  ‘we are going to balance the books, we do want to live within our means and we will tackle the deficit’.  Seventeen days later in a letter to Labour MPs a few days prior to the Commons vote on the Fiscal Charter McDonnell said ‘we will under line our position as an anti-austerity party by voting against the charter’.

Of course the various people I have mentioned earlier seized on what happened as a sign of incompetence and the rest of it - which it was. I can only presume that the pressure of only having been in post couple of weeks caused this mayhem in their political lives and the ensuing loss of perspective. It was quite interesting to note that McDonnell had taken further advice from senior economist as being one of the reasons for his change of stance.

So everyone who seemed to be in the know and apparently quoting from the ever mystical ‘unnamed sources’ were predicting that up to 60 Labour MPs would rebel come the vote. In the end it was 21 MPs and frankly there was no heavyweight in that group of members Miliband, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Hilary Benn, Andy Burnham, and the others were for the new line. Labour was now joined by the Liberal Democrats, SNP and the Green MP – an effective anti-austerity force.

Anyhow to return to the substantive issue as to whether this Fiscal Charter necessary and what are its implications? Firstly it is difficult to find any senior economist, former and current members of the Bank of England standing up for the charter that is flawed. It is time for investment to ensure better growth.

But what exactly is the issue about? The UK National Debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is less than the United States and is on a par with France and Belgium. Then the UK budget deficit ( -4.80%) expressed as a percentage of GDP, ranks the country just above half of some 215 countries. It is however true there are some 30 counties with no budget deficit and they include many smaller countries similar to Latvia and Tonga! 

The Charter was always a political ploy and Corbyn and McDonnell should have been alert to that from the very outset aimed at presenting the Tories as being fiscally responsible and therefore by implication anyone that voted against it are not.

It is a commonly held myth regularly promoted by the right wing media that Labour governments have all been profligate and financially irresponsible. I grew up in politics when the Tories and right wing press were peddling that very same line in the time of Wilson and Callaghan. But what is the reality?

It is only on two occasions that Labour Governments have presided over increases in the national debt as a percentage of GDP. Those two periods were during the huge global financial crises that the Ramsay MacDonald government of 1929-31 had to contend with in fall-out from the Wall Street Crash (that resulted in a 12% increase in the debt to GDP ratio), and of course the last few years of the Blair-Brown government of 1997-2010. We all can recall too well the 2008 financial sector insolvency crisis which saw an 11% increase in the debt to GDP ratio. 

All the other Labour governments that have been in power have reduced the scale of the national debt. Attlee's government 1945-51 reduced the national debt by 40% of GDP despite having to rebuild the UK economy from the ruins of the Second World War; Harold Wilson's 1964-70 government reduced the national debt by 27% of GDP; and even the Wilson-Callaghan government of 1974-79 managed to reduce the debt by 4% of GDP.

Over six years, the Conservatives have successfully managed, through clever campaigning supported by a complicit right wing media and poor strategic tactics by Miliband and Balls, to focus the economic debate on the deficit and convince so many people that the economic crisis and the large deficit were caused by Labour Government spending.
It was a major blunder on the part of Miliband and Balls, to have failed to take on Cameron and Osborne in the years leading to the general election about all this instead of being presented as leaders of a historically irresponsible party. I do accept however that they were faced with a hostile media and a somewhat disbelieving electorate that had swallowed the conventional ‘spin’ of the time and consequently were in no mood to listen to or believe the facts.
What is more Miliband and Balls failed miserably to get over the message that the average level of spending in the Brown years and at the time of the 2008 financial crash was less than it was under Mrs Thatcher. They made a poor attempt at pointing out to the voters that it was not the increased spending on extra teachers, nurses, doctors and the police officers that caused the economic crisis but rather the recklessness of the bankers speculating in the City, and the failure of successive Governments to ensure effective banking and financial regulations.
Ironically, and the public are still not up to speed on this, it is Osborne himself that has failed to deliver and so he now hides behind this Fiscal Charter. Serious commentators in all sort of economic journals and articles in the serious press point all this out but the tabloids and the media in general overlook all this.

In 2010, Osborne promised to reduce borrowing over the next five years by £37 billion but it stood at £87 billion in 2014-15. That is 135% more than his forecast. Then on public sector net debt the promise was that over the same five year period it would fall to 69% of GDP yet currently it is higher than 80%. So Osborne has missed all his targets.

Now to correct matters as he sees it the Government is embarking on cutting £40 billion more than is necessary to run a balanced budget, by cutting £30-odd billion from welfare and £5 billion from essential capital expenditure. It is a plan to reduce the debt at a ridiculous and unnecessary rate. Of course his plans are dressed up in the argument that there is no choice.

In politics and economics there are always choices and Osborne is choosing to continue with austerity and casting investment to achieve increased growth aside - investing in the infrastructure, transport and housing. Mind I have seen economics tactics of this kind deployed before so it would not be at all surprising that come 2018/19 he will ease off somewhat on his plans. After all there’s the little matter of becoming Tory leader and Prime Minister in 2020 in his sights.

Meanwhile it will be the people who are already suffering, the lowest 30% of income earners, the poor and those on low to middle incomes, that will suffer even more as he pursues his personal ambition. According to research carried out by the House of Commons Library it is expected that as a result of the Welfare cuts some 3 million households will lose out by around £1,300 a year. In addition the research indicates that the increase in the minimum wage for people aged 25 and over—wrongly branded a living wage—will be nowhere near enough to offset the cuts in tax credits.

All this is backed up by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) in its updated analysis on the scale and distribution of the public sector spending cuts expected in the November spending review when it points out that the Tory policies put a disproportionate burden on the most disadvantaged families. In addition the IFS goes on to point out that the pending national living wage is not a substitute for targeted benefits and tax credits when it comes to helping poorer households and tackling poverty.  In fact the data suggests that those that will benefit the most from the new minimum wage will not be the poorest households but rather those households with higher than average earnings.

So in reality all those on the side of fairness, compassion, calling for more investment to achieve growth and an end to austerity politics should be glad that John McDonnell did change his mind. He has certainly opened up a significant new chapter in the economic debate and what is more the whole debate will become a poisoned chalice for Cameron and Osborne.   

Friday 16 October 2015

Still ‘steady as she goes’ six months on - but we are now in a transitional phase

The voters overwhelmed by having to make judgements on so many serious issues,  the emerging new politics of Corbyn and then trying to sort out ‘spin’ from ‘fact’

‘Spin’ is defined as the actions of a person ‘who tries to forestall negative publicity by publicising a favourable interpretation of actions’

It has often been the case throughout my experience of politics since the 1960’s that when people’s mood is about to change there is a long period of calm, opinion polls remain somewhat static and it gives the appearance almost as if the public are disinterested. But that is not so what is taking place is that there is a lot of uncertainty and indeed confusion in our body politic with much reflection going on over the state of our country, what is taking place within it and of course in Europe and the wider world.

I have no doubt that the average person is trying to fathom out which party or organisation is giving them the truth on so many crucial issues and decisions that have to be taken over the coming year or so. In other words they are seeking to sort out fact from spin.

The public are also trying to come to terms with the massive change that is emerging in the style and content of political rhetoric. Whatever your view of Corbyn is he is without doubt changing, in front of our very eyes, the old established order of how politics has hitherto been played. He doesn’t play the game as it has been played throughout our lifetimes. He comes over as an ordinary person, not into spin and media image, not over- fussed about party discipline and yet he is quietly confident because he knows that the mass ranks of the Labour membership and affiliate supporters are with him. So when a handful of his MPs in the Westminster party don’t toe the line it doesn’t ruffle him but it certainly excites the media and other politicos who live in a ‘bubble’.

Indeed there is evidence that he is beginning to win the public over to his style of approach such as Prime Minister's Questions.  Although on that he that can still improve – play the man in front of him not just relying on his pre –planned approach.   

Whilst all that is going on the public are probably perplexed and are trying to work out what is going on inside the media, in other words what is their agenda? There is clear bias in reporting and commenting on events and their style of questioning is so very different when dealing with Labour and SNP. I don’t expect the right wing press to be even-handed but with programmes such as Daily Politics, Newsnight and Question Time I do.

It is so obvious that the media fails to be even handed in their interviewing (particularly in relation to Corbyn, McDonnell and the SNP). Then there is an obvious imbalance in coverage with an uncontrollable urge to jump on any Farage bandwagon and what he is up to whilst at the same time imposing almost a complete news blackout on Farron and the Liberal Democrats. So I am not surprised that in so many opinion polls there is a good percentage of don’t knows when polled about which party are they supporting, opinions on Europe, how is Jeremy Corbyn performing and the like.

Since the General Election in May political opinion has not changed much in the UK and the same goes for Scotland and Wales for that matter.  There have been minor shifts in opinion but it has all been at the margins.

We are in the early throes of what will be a tumultuous and game changing period. Matters like how will the two new party leaders perform – both of them with differing challenges to address and overcome, what will be the final opinion fall out from a very regressive July Budget and the related major changes envisaged in the reform to Welfare. Added to all that is the rapidly emerging issue as to whether the continuation of austerity is an economic necessity or a political weapon and finally there is Osborne’s Fiscal Charter.

Constitutionally there is the ever present problem of the governance of Scotland and Wales and the pending upheaval that is on the horizon over English Votes for English Laws. A much wider constitutional issue for people to come to an opinion on is going to be the question of ‘In or Out of Europe’. So there are worrying questions in people’s minds over the future of the UK Union and the European Union.

But there is more we are at the early stages of making crucial decisions on replacing Trident, the Syrian and other conflicts are not abating and indeed probably worsening. Voters are struggling over coming to a judgement as to whether the bombing campaign in Syria is having a positive or negative impact and then there is the turmoil and the activities of IS in the Middle East. As if that isn’t enough along comes Putin with his actions over the Ukraine and Syria and calculating the fall–out from all that is not in any way straight forward. Of course embroiled in all of this is the biggest humanitarian crisis since 1945 which the European powers are woefully struggling to cope with and indeed the general public in terms of their emotions and opinions.

So taking all these together there is little wonder that there is confusion, reflection and uncertainty amongst vast swathes of the public. Usually the trend has always been that if in doubt the public tend to remain with the status quo and this it has done now for six months but it is my hunch and contention that this will soon begin to change.  

Traditionally the party political season usually sees quite significant shifts in opinions but not this year and the reason for that in my view was that the public was curious about how would the decimated Liberal Democrats perform, what sort of calamities would befall the Corbyn led Labour Party and how would the Tories react to their first majority Government since the days of John Major in 1992 and of course what of UKIP. 

So they discovered that the Liberal Democrats remain in recovery mode, Labour was jubilant and somewhat detached from the threats of divisions within, UKIP was completely obsessed, as expected, with the pending Euro referendum and the  associate topic of immigration whilst the Tories just indulged in gloating, displaying a strong streak of ruthlessness and single mindedness with large doses of ‘spin’ 

I was at the Liberal Democrats conference where there was record attendance boosted by the influx of new members. I found that many in the party continue to be in denial over the root causes of last May’s disaster. However there is little doubt the party’s corporate heart is in the right place on welfare and social justice, human rights, the humanitarian crisis, Trident and Europe.  However it continues to struggle with the legacy of the coalition years and getting to terms with its relative impotence at Westminster with the consequent lack of media interest. It has indeed a long road to travel and also faces competition from a Corbyn led Labour party that will try and steal some of the Lib Dems clothes.

Farron and Corbyn are leaders to the liking of the respective party membership. The two delivered effective speeches albeit the styles were quite different and they delighted their respective followers. It was interesting however to note that several common themes ran through their speeches in relation to social justice, welfare, poverty, housing, humanitarian crisis in Europe, the threats to human rights and the pending trade union legislation.

Labour was in buoyant mood as if cocooned from the incessant attacks upon it by the right wing press and many broadcasters. In fact it resembled many of the grass roots conferences of yesteryear and their hero was now the leader. This was Labour as I recall it in my younger days fierce in its attacks on the Tories on welfare, human rights and the economy. The phrase that ‘austerity is a political weapon’ certainly resonated with the delegates. But clearly lurking underneath the surface are a few divisions, notably on Trident and public ownership but I dare say in time even Europe.

There is unease in some quarters of the party about whether Corbyn’s radical change of direction in certain policy areas such as the economy as well as his new approach and style to politics will resonate with the floating voters. No doubt there will always remain a number of MPs and party grandees who are unhappy and will always work behind the scenes to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

The Tory Conference was one of crass triumphalism to the point of arrogance. The party chairman was loud in his praise of party members that had been loyal in the difficult years of the Coalition government. Not a word about the contribution of Mr Clegg and his troop of MPs or of the Liberal Democrats that had sacrificed almost everything. No for the Tories Clegg was only a vehicle to achieve their objective and a few of us had seen that from early on. There was even a passing boast over how they had won Lib Dem seats across the country naming quite a few of them in the process. Now that’s gratitude for you and a lesson for any third or fourth party for the future!
Listening to Cameron and Osborne in the media one would have thought that they had a majority of a hundred. Both referring to the clear mandate received in May from the voters. ‘Clear’! it is not much of a  mandate to speak of and they are only in power because our out-dated voting system is struggling to cope with multi-party politics and as a result our fragmented democracy is creaking.

I started by suggesting that we are in a period when the public are genuinely confused  It is indeed little wonder with an estimated 3 million families about to be worse off by up to £1,000 a year as a result of the tax credit cuts and with 30% of families in the UK struggling. Yet the Tories continue to ‘spin’ how great everything is, declaring themselves to be ‘progressives’, the champions of the ‘working people’, campaigners for ‘social justice’ and the ‘scourges of poverty’ At times it could even make me confused!.

Friday 9 October 2015

UKIP in a worse state in Wales than I thought – just Froth!

A Party that has to cancel its National Conference because of lack of support is not serious. Membership has declined over 10% since May’s General Election as well.

In last week’s post I argued with just seven months to go to the Assembly elections that it was high time that the indigenous political parties of Wales addressed the potential threat of UKIP with a far greater degree of urgency and seriousness than hitherto. I also went on to say that the Welsh electorate for their part must consider with some degree of seriousness and detail what has UKIP really got to offer Wales.

The headline was:-

Time for Welsh political parties to ‘wake up’ and the Welsh people to ‘wise up’ to what UKIP is about.

Well the Welsh people certainly can’t give them any credibility now. A party that has had to cancel its Welsh Conference is not a serious enough party to play a part in our General Election. According to a spokesman for the company handling ticket sales for the conference – Ticketsource - the event has been shelved due to ‘POOR advanced ticket sales’. But in order to try and pull the wool of everyone’s eyes their UK (effectively England!) annual spring conference next year is to be held in Llandudno. Good attempt at salvaging a most embarrassing situation.

It’s not my line but a good one nevertheless and worth repeating – ‘they are no longer UKIP but ENGIP (littlenglanders)’.
I also suggested in last week’s post that Welsh voters give serious consideration to what possible benefits is it for them to vote for a party whose roots are entirely based in England. It has no Welsh tradition, heritage or background whatsoever. It is English to the core. Indeed they are looking to import former Tory MPs from England to stand for election to the Welsh Assembly.

I have read that a few former Tory MPs who are now members of UKIP are considering standing for the Senedd - persons such as Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless. The latter was MP for Rochester and Stroud and is charged with drawing up UKIP’s manifesto for Wales. So the intention is for our Senedd to become a dumping ground for ex Tory cast-offs.  Seriously is that what the people of Wales would want?

UKIP is obviouslyan English party that was founded in 1991 as a Eurosceptic and right- wing populist political party but has seen opportunities to participate in Welsh politics. It has no instinctive place in our politics other than using our Nation as a stepping stone to achieve its two obsessive objectives which are to get Britain out of Europe and exploit the anti-immigration card. Bit similar to the Tory party in the UK if the utterances of the Foreign Secretary and the the Home Secretary's are to be listened to.

I have argued for several years that the way politics is conducted in the Assembly is far too ‘cosy’ and that it desperately needs a ‘breath of fresh air’ and certainly more vigorous debate. There are now increasing signs of that beginning to happen most notably from Kirsty Williams and the Liberal Democrats but also to be fair Plaid Cymru. Obviously for my part I want the Liberal Democrats to be the party that will open up and shake up the Assembly after the May elections. We have a long road to travel but with the UKIP fiasco of recent days the window of opportunity is opening wide.

In the last post I also mentioned that I had been on the UKIP Wales web-site to see what the party said in relation to Wales at last May’s UK General Election. Didn’t expect much and was quite correct. True that there were a few references to Wales in a Manifesto that had as its front cover ‘Believe in Wales’ but on closer examination it was almost entirely a re-run of their UK manifesto.
This morning I went back again on to the site and nothing at all had changed with regard to policies and that they are still inviting suggestions from the general public as what their policies should be. Again it is not surprising because they don’t have much idea about Wales and I doubt much interest either. Indeed their leader Farage at their Doncaster conference said  2016 election in Wales is only to be seen in the context of maintaining the momentum for a ‘No’ vote in the Euro referendum. He clearly stated, and I watched him, that nothing else matters to him.

But there one change on the site - a new page and advert for their Welsh Conference in Swansea on October 23rd!  It was a bit pathetic to read. A full page invitation to register for the conference under the banner headline of the ‘Say NO Tour campaign’ with the beaming faces of Farage and Nathan Gill. Proof positive that the whole exercise is about Europe, forget Welsh politics and our Senedd.
I fully understand that people in the old industrial communities, the rural towns and villages of Mid and West Wales as well as North Wales feel let down by Welsh Labour. Successive Labour administrations in the Assembly have been far too much Cardiff and coastal-belt focused. However that is no reason for the Welsh people to turn to an English right wing populist party.