Sunday, 20 August 2017

Council of Despair - An exclusive interview

This week our business news editor Llinos Rhacs-Jibidêrs takes a penetrating, in-depth look at the property market in an exclusive interview with Sir Ephraim Jams.


After weeks of delicate negotiation, the appointed hour had finally arrived and I was ushered into the inner sanctum by veteran PR officer, Ms Rosa Klebb.

"You've got ten minutes, and don't push your luck, missy", she barked, clicking her heels ominously as the door closed behind me.

As I made my way across the deep lambswool shagpile to the sonorous ticking of an ornate ormulu Napoleon III carriage clock, I noted with awe the impressive array of portraits and autographed photographs hanging from the walnut panelling. 

There was Dame Muriel peering out from a huge flower-bedecked hat, with her ample frame swathed in a tasteful lilac Dalmatian jacket. HRH the Duchess of Cornwall gazed in soft focus from another frame, while alongside her portrait was another of Charles dressed casually as Commander in Chief of the Beefeaters greeting a bemedalled Sir Ephraim at the entrance to Llwynywermod.

Another signed photograph of HRH Camilla was placed strategically on the vast Louis Quinze mahogany desk, behind which sat Sir Ephraim in pensive mood.

"Good morning, Your Excellency", I began.

"Come, come, no need to be so formal. You may call me Sir Ephraim, or Sir for short, Miss, um...", the great man replied, flicking through some papers.

"Llinos Rhacs-Jibidêrs, Sir. But you may call me Llinos for short."

"Very well, Lino. I understand you wish to gain some insight into the workings of the property market?"

"Indeed, Sir. If I may begin by asking you for your views on the local housing market."

Sir Ephraim cracked his fingers. "A very good question. Well, after a period of exceptional growth fuelled by demand in the retirement sector, it has to be said that the last eight or nine years have been very disappointing locally. To combat that, I personally oversaw the emergence of the Local Development Masterplan based on what I was assured by my economic advisers would be an unprecedented upsurge in population growth. Unfortunately, the wrinklies have been dying off as fast as we can replace them, and so growth has been static."

"But it would be unwise to place all one's eggs in the geriatric basket, and so to that end the Masterplan provides for a swathe of more upmarket executive developments in what we call our Growth Zones, such as Fossils Race Course, the exciting new town springing up in the swamps to the south of Jobsworth Road or the wonderful new Kansas Fingerlickin' Fried Chicken Roundabout estate at Leekes Cross West."

"It has to be said that despite determined efforts to keep out undesirable elements by minimising the provision of cheap housing stock for local riff-raff, Twinkle Wimple and Woodrot Homes are still finding it tough going, even though these wonderful new developments represent an excellent opportunity for offshore investors and those looking for a tax efficient way of writing off losses."

"Overall, then, the local market is a specialised affair, and investors with only a couple of million to spare would be advised to look east to the much more exciting market in Cardiff", Sir Ephraim continued.

"Unlike this backwater, Cardiff is a vibrant, young city, and a very popular destination for hen and stag parties, AirBNB minibreakers and hipsters. The abolition of bridge tolls will do even more to open up the market to those looking for value for money, and returns are set to soar."

"To that end I and my fellow directors have begun developing a portfolio of residential properties in the Bay, and we have identified some exciting new opportunities in taking control of what are known as 'Right to Manage' entities away from the hopelessly inefficient and poisonous old busybodies who think they have a right to manage their blocks simply because they live there."

"This is all perfectly legal, although I am not at liberty to disclose the sensitive legal advice I have given myself, and it is frankly sickening that there have been complaints from cancerous old malcontents and professional complainers about the way in which these perfectly legitimate transactions have been carried out."

"But I wish to leave your readers in no doubt about my motives. I have worked tirelessly without payment in a non-executive capacity simply because I wished to help these poor, long-suffering home owners, and so successful have we been that my fellow directors and I have now set up a new company to offer advice to all those who find themselves in a similar position, whether they be in Hull, Harrogate or Harlech."

"It is therefore compassion and my duty as a Christian that drive me on to help those in need, and suggestions that I am motivated by unbridled greed are vile slurs."

Sir Ephraim snapped a pencil at this point, and I saw an opportunity to interrupt his monologue with a second question.

"I would like to ask, if I may, Sir, about recent press and blog coverage of your investment schemes."

Sir Ephraim looked very cross.

"You mean Shitton of the Mail, his bosom pal Jac in the Gogs and various other toxic and scurrilous vermin on the web, I take it, Miss Rhibidirês? Fortunately nobody outside my press office reads them, and Miss Klebb and my legal team are compiling another file on their vitriolic outpourings for the local constabulary."

"Thank you for clarifying that, Sir. May I ask you to clear up the controversy surrounding the appointment of a former tenant to manage your ventures?"

Sir Ephraim looked very stern. "Let me make it perfectly clear that Miss Ludmilla Legova was introduced to the board by a director who had declared a personal interest in the matter, as the law and transparency require, and that it was unanimously agreed that this talented young woman was exceptionally well qualified for the role. Not only does she possess a PhD in Baroque Fiddlers, but she gained extensive administrative experience during the months she spent working alongside some of our greatest singers, including Dame Kiwi T. Canalot."

"But as usual, the guttersnipes have sought to belittle her multiple achievements with smut and innuendo."

"You mean, Sir, Ms Legova's modelling career and the balcony incident?"

"Indeed. I have little more to say about this other than that it was typical of what passes for journalism in these parts that there should have been vile speculation about that unfortunate freak accident when she fell from a balcony while playing a pink oboe, just as the poster in which she appeared modelling swimwear while holding a peeled banana under the caption 'I am getting my five a day' was part of a healthy eating awareness campaign. To suggest otherwise is a disgrace."

Before I could probe any further, the door opened and in strode Miss Klebb, announcing curtly that it was time for me to leave.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Gesture Politics

Update 23 July

Huw Prys Jones, who was commissioned to produce an independent linguistic impact assessment of the Gwynedd/Môn LDP, has written a strongly worded piece for Golwg360 (here) ahead of a vote next Friday by councillors. There are some striking parallels with what happened in Carmarthenshire, including what he describes as the council's own feeble attempt at an impact assessment written after key decisions had been made in order to justify the plan.

Whether or not you care about the impact of LDPs on the language, the development of huge housing estates way beyond the needs of existing local communities, whether it's in Bangor, Cardiff, Llanelli, Carmarthen or the eastern side of Carmarthenshire, should give all councillors pause for thought.

Adopting an LDP is probably the single most important vote any county councillor will ever be asked to make. What we got in Carmarthenshire was a brief and confused debate, with most councillors there only as silent voting machines, and the consequences in places such as Bynea are now there for all to see.


The words Local Development Plan will cause many eyes to glaze over. The process by which these plans come about is byzantine and drags on for years, with numerous consultations and consultations on changes made in response to consultations. The public and local groups have the right to make representations, but the complexity of the process and the time and effort required to participate in this marathon give a significant advantage to developers and the planning consultants who are employed by them.

A key phase in the LDP process is the adoption of candidate sites for housing or commercial and/or industrial development. Once a site has been adopted, the cards are heavily stacked in favour of developers and against local people who may wish to object to future development.

The best hope residents and communities have is that their interests will be looked after by their elected representatives in the shape of county councillors, and a quick look around the council chamber will show that some of us are better represented than others.

Councillors worried about potential developments in their wards are relatively well-placed to object to the inclusion of sites in an LDP and, whisper it quietly, councillors who are members of a ruling group on the council have more leverage than opposition councillors when it comes to lobbying.

This brings us to a recent battle at Genwen Farm in Bynea where a developer is planning to build 240 houses on a greenfield site.

Bynea has seen more than its fair share of development in recent years, and the plan aroused significant opposition from residents and political representatives across the political spectrum, with Cllr Derek Cundy (Lab) taking a leading role as the ward councillor.

The objectors have many valid concerns, not least the impact this large development will have on creaking local infrastructure.

The Genwen site was earmarked for housing development under the UDP (Unitary Development Plan) which preceded the LDP, but an application for outline planning permission in 2007 was later withdrawn.

As is usually the case, the site was then included in the new LDP for housing development, and it was at that point that the council could have had a re-think. What if any representations were made to remove Genwen from the LDP is not clear, but Genwen joined all the other myriad sites earmarked for development when the county development plan was given the green light in December 2014.

This blog recorded the chaotic and underwhelming grand finale to all those years of turgid meetings, consultations and consultations on consultations here, and that post is well worth a read, immodest though that recommendation may sound.

Back in December 2014 the council was led by Kevin Madge, with Labour and the Independents in coalition. Concerns about the undemocratic nature of the plan were expressed by several Pliad councillors, including the Plaid leader, Emlyn Dole. This was recorded in the otherwise very uninformative official minutes of the meeting:

Concern was expressed that the Welsh Government sets the targets for Carmarthenshire as this took away the Authority’s right to recognise local need and identify how many houses are required, where and what kind. The Leader was asked whether he could raise this issue with other Leaders and the W.L.G.A. to try to change this before the next LDP is considered, as it was not fair that the Welsh Government sets those kinds of targets. A recent poll indicated that 72% of people feel that the Local Authority should set the targets.

All concerns were swept aside, and as Y Cneifiwr noted, apart from speeches by Kevin Madge and Meryl Gravell congratulating officers for their hard work and calling for the plan to be approved, the Labour and Independent benches had nothing to say, apart from former Labour councillor Terry Davies, who rose to curtail debate and get the whole thing over and done with.

Readers with long memories may recall that Terry Davies was one half of the notorious Keri and Terry double act, two Labour councillors who sat for years on the planning committee rubber-stamping everything that was put before them and determined to keep meetings of the planning committee as brief as possible.

All Labour and Independent councillors voted in favour of the LDP, while in the confusion presided over by Chair Elmer Fudd (Daff Davies), the Plaid group managed to vote three different ways.

By coincidence, on 18 November 2014 a few weeks prior to this fiasco, the Planning Committee had met to consider a revised application for Genwen. Despite vigorous objections, outline planning was granted, although it was not given the final seal of approval by the then head of planning, Eifion Bowen, until over a year later in December 2015.

An application for detailed planning consent (known as "reserved matters" in the jargon) finally came before the Planning Committee on 11 July of this year. As before, there was strong local opposition, and this time the Labour Party which had enthusiastically voted in favour of the plan back in 2014, decided to throw its lot in with the residents - two and a half years too late.

Joining Derek Cundy, who had up till then been something of a lone voice (although he too voted for the LDP), were Sharen Davies and Rob James for Labour and Gwyneth Thomas for Plaid. Sharen Davies, who had also voted for the LDP, called for the application to be rejected, while Rob James (a very occasional attendee of Neath Porth Talbot council back in 2014) had nothing to say.

Discussion ground on for two and a half hours, with all of the objections made back in November 2014 being given a second airing. Perhaps the most interesting interventions came from Kevin Madge who had clearly undergone something of a conversion since 2014, as he spoke about something called "The Structural Plan", known to everyone else as the LDP.

He acknowledged that he had been leader when the "structural plan" had been adopted, but the "structural plan" could be changed, he argued.

Perhaps in a parallel universe an LDP could be changed, although undoing what Kevin Madge piloted through as leader would be a very time-consuming business and a very expensive one from the council's point of view because the developer, in possession of legally valid outline planning, would be able to go to court and sue for significant damages on the basis that the goalposts had been moved, stripping the company of a very valuable commercial opportunity.

He went on to recommend that the application be rejected, despite repeated warnings from officers and the chair that unless councillors could identify new material reasons for rejecting the application, the council would face a costly appeal (and one which it would certainly lose).

And so at length, the committee voted narrowly to approve the plan to the dismay of the people of Bynea and the satisfaction of 'Welsh' Labour which once again had done its best to convince voters that it had stood up for "the many, not the few" to protect them from a policy it had championed and pushed through, while making a futile and doomed last minute gesture knowing that Genwen's fate had been sealed years ago.

Bynea's residents now join public sector workers ("scrap the cap") and young people ("abolish tuition fees" in June, put them up in July) in realising that what "Welsh" Labour says and what it does bear very little relation to each other.

Monday, 17 July 2017

CPS drops prosecution of Jacqui Thompson

The decision by the CPS to drop a prosecution for harassment against fellow blogger Jacqui Thompson marks the end, for now, of more than 18 months of a carefully planned and orchestrated legal onslaught against her by Mark James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, although he has the right to request a review of the decision and may yet have more legal surprises up his sleeve.

During this period, Jacqui Thompson has had to endure two separate and very slow police investigations into allegations of criminal harassment, a separate allegation of perverting the course of justice, threats to return to the High Court for contempt of court, and civil proceedings to try to force the sale of her family home.

All of the legal actions initiated by Mr James have now failed, and all bar the attempt to seize the Thompsons' family home have been funded by the public purse, as has the rest of his extraordinary campaign against her, with the council now lumbered with hundreds of thousands of pounds of costs which it cannot recover, and untold additional resources and costs incurred by council staff, the police and the CPS.

The decision by the CPS to pull the plug on the latest case very late in the day calls into question the judgment of both that body and the police in deciding to bring a prosecution in the first place, and more questions are now being asked about what appears to have been the use of council staff and IT resources to produce "evidence" in pursuit of what Mr James now insists is a purely private matter.

Central to Mr James's case alleging criminal harassment is his witness statement, accompanied by a printout of Jacqui's blog. This extraordinary document runs to seven pages. Because the case will not now go to court, unless Mr James launches a successful appeal, the statement is not in the public domain. However, for anyone who has seen it, it is hard to believe that Dyfed Powys Police could have spent seven months, untold hours and significant amounts of money on investigating these allegations when even a cursory examination should have kicked the farce into touch very early in proceedings.

Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me

We now enter a bizarre world where nothing is quite what it seems, a world of paranoia and delusion, half truths, omissions and facts built on shifting sands. 

The first thing to say about the allegations of harassment is that they relate solely to Jacqui's blog. There is no suggestion that she has done anything else, although it has been put about in County Hall that there is something worse lurking in the undergrowth. If there were we would surely have heard about it by now, but the whispers have undoubtedly had an effect.

Mr James's statement kicks off with a general complaint that Jacqui Thompson has been waging a campaign against him through her blog.

He feels threatened, he says, before taking the police on a long detour containing edited highlights of his favourite bedtime reading, Mr Justice Tugendhat's verdict in the libel case, and the first complaint of harassment made in January 2016 which the police decided not to pursue after another 8 month investigation.

He had nothing to do with the decision by Dyfed Powys Police to issue her with a Police Information Notice, he tells Dyfed Powys Police, who could probably have worked that out for themselves.

Next up, Mr James notes that Jacqui Thompson did not react well to his decision to force the sale of the Thompson family home, and had sought to involve MPs, AMs and councillors. This was, he says, an attempt to bring pressure to bear on him to halt a private legal action which he had felt forced to bring.

In Mr James's view, he was entirely justified in bringing the action, and Jacqui Thompson had no right to complain. "I was mortified that Mrs Thompson was trying to get senior politicians to intervene in my private affairs". 

If the prosecution had gone ahead, the courts would have found themselves being asked to rule that by asking for help from elected representatives and encouraging others to do the same, a constituent could be guilty of a criminal offence.

A very public private affair

Even if Dyfed Powys Police headquarters had been suspended in deep sleep in the manner of Sleeping Beauty's castle for the last few years, a little light Googling should have been enough to convince its occupants that Mr James's "private affairs" were nothing of the kind. Approved and funded by the County Council, with key elements of the decision ruled unlawful by the Wales Audit Office, this was never a private matter. And the press archives are littered with quotes from the publicity-loving chief executive heralding Mr Tugendhat's verdict as a victory for councils everywhere, with Mr James telling council staff that he had done it all for them.

If the libel action succeeded, he told the Executive Board, he would pay his winnings over to the council, or possibly "good causes" he later told the press, before his lawyers told a judge that he could do whatever he liked with the money, including "stuffing it in the gutter".

Such are the shifting sands on which Mr James's arguments rest.

To Mr James's evident horror, two county councillors, Alun Lenny and Cefin Campbell, last year sought to bring a Motion calling on him and the council's Executive Board to find a compromise which would not make the Thompsons homeless and "enhance the reputation of this council".

"As it transpired", Mr James writes as if what happened next had nothing to do with him, the then chair of council, Cllr Eryl Morgan, had given a detailed ruling, including an extensive quote from Mr Justice Tugendhat, setting out why the Motion was not admissible.

Even Cllr Morgan's family and friends would have been surprised by his sudden in-depth knowledge of the Tugendhat verdict and the legal ins and outs of libel damages.

The rather more prosaic truth is that a furious Mr James was determined to have the Motion stuck down. The council's Head of Legal and Monitoring Officer, Mrs Linda Rees Jones, appointed by Mr James in a way which bypassed the need for the involvement of elected councillors in the appointment of a senior officer, was persuaded to issue a fatwa in Cllr Morgan's name, with the elderly councillor being reduced to a ventriloquist's dummy.

All of this had come about because of the interference of Adam Price AM, Mr James concludes, adding that this was something "I find to be intimidating".

Cock and bull

We are now on page 4 of Mr James's statement, and alert readers may have realised that so far Mr James has not presented the police with a single example of harassment by Jacqui Thompson.

The first actual example produced from the blog is a post about the Pembrey Park scandal, in which Jacqui pointed out the seriousness of the accusations and not unreasonably suggested that knowledge of them went right to the top. In short, there had been a cover-up.

Nonsense, says Mr James. The council had investigated the matter, referred it to the police, and an officer had been convicted by a court of law.

A cursory examination of this account would have shown the police that it was at best spin and a highly selective account of what actually happened down at Pembrey. The conviction of a council officer came about because of a complaint of  assault brought by the proprietor of the park café who was planning to take legal action against the council for the way in which it handled a shambolic and corrupted contract tendering process.

The prosecution related solely to the facts of the assault, and a recording exists of a very senior council officer pleading with a whistleblower not to go to the police about wider allegations of corrupt practices.

It won't cost you a penny
Next, Mr James takes the police on a brief trip to Boston, Lincolnshire, where he was chief executive before taking up his current position all those years ago.

Mr James's biggest legacy to Boston is what is now called the Princess Royal Sports Arena, a huge project built on a delusional business case which came to be a burden on local taxpayers.

Mr James departed Boston before the grandiose scheme was completed, and it subsequently attracted the attention of the Audit Commission which issued a report highlighting grossly inaccurate and wildly optimistic revenue forecasts, how councillors had been kept in the dark and how contract tendering procedures had not been adhered to.

True, the Audit Commission report named no names, and its purpose was to highlight lessons to be learned rather than act as an indictment.

According to Mr James's account to Dyfed Powys Police, he was not aware that the auditors had become involved, which suggests that their report and criticism somehow escaped his attention. Perhaps that might help explain Parc y Scarlets, cynics would say.

The man or woman on the Cilycwm omnibus may find it difficult to believe Mr James was unaware of the Audit Commission's involvement, but it seems that Dyfed Powys Police agreed that by linking the damning report to the council chief executive whose pet project this was, Jacqui Thompson merited prosecution for criminal harassment.

More examples now follow in quick succession. References to the controversial and heavily criticised Scarlets car park deal; a petition launched by a man in Trimsaran; a letter calling for Mr James's dismissal published in a local newspaper; Private Eye's decision to award Mr James its prestigious "Shit of the Year Award" and a protest outside County Hall by members of the public (but not Jacqui Thompson) involving a pig's liver are all evidence of harassment by Jacqui Thompson, Mr James tells the police.

It is all "draining, oppressive, distressing, harassing and intimidating", Mr James concludes after raiding the thesaurus for a list of adjectives.

It is also "distressing and humiliating" to have his private affairs brought to the attention of the council, "Cardiff Bay" and an MP.

You bet it is.

Own goal

Throughout the document, Mr James is at pains to make the police understand that Jacqui Thompson's "campaign" has been designed to damage his otherwise spotless reputation in the view of reasonable persons.

More perceptive readers than Dyfed Powys Police's finest may have spotted that this argument is more than slightly flawed because Mr James offers up numerous examples of how the press, politicians and members of the public have a rather less than flattering view of his virtues than he does himself. These include the pig's liver, an online petition, critical remarks made by politicians, letters to the editor, the "Shit of the Year" award and the outrageous Motion on Notice with its diplomatically phrased call for a compromise. Not to mention (which Mr James doesn't) a heavily subscribed petition from a couple of years back calling for him to be sent away empty-handed when he applied for voluntary redundancy and all of the other public criticism he has attracted over the years. Not forgetting other exhibits, such as a dead rat which a Carmarthen resident handed in at the reception desk in County Hall, for Mr James's attention.

As such, the witness statement is a spectacular own goal unless you believe that Private Eye, the press, councillors, MPs, AMs and numerous members of the public are all under the control of Jacqui Thompson, master criminal extraordinaire.

Alongside the argument about his tarnished reputation, the main thrust of the witness statement is to try to persuade Dyfed Powys Police that Jacqui Thompson was guilty of harassment by trying to deter him from exercising his legal right (to seize her home), something which amounted in his view to contempt of court:

I end my renewed complaint of harassment with Mr Justice Tugendhat's words in his Judgment which the Chair of County Council himself repeated when rejecting the Motion on Notice: "Pressure put upon a litigant to deter him from pursuing a legal right, or to punish him for having pursued a legal right, can be a Contempt of Court". I certainly regard it as also being harassment.

For the umpteenth time in the statement, Mr Justice Tugendhat is wheeled out of retirement, and Cllr Eryl Morgan is cited as a legal authority on the strength of an e-mail written by Mr James's legal protection squad.

The statement, dated 27 January 2017, came before a court hearing in March of this year when a judge sitting in the County Court ordered Jacqui Thompson to pay the chief executive £250 a month in return for being allowed to stay in her home.

By the time Dyfed Powys Police got round to making its very belated decision to prosecute, that ruling and Jacqui Thompson's compliance with it meant that Mr James's complaint was demonstrably invalid.

But they decided to press charges anyway.

Sigh of relief

That this complaint got as far as it did suggests that there may be some truth in the oft-repeated claims that elements within Dyfed Powys Police see themselves as Mr James's personal protection squad.

Had the matter gone to court, the outcome would almost certainly have been red faces at Dyfed Powys HQ and the CPS, and yet more damage to the council's reputation.

It is not just Jacqui Thompson and her family who are probably breathing a sigh of relief that someone in the CPS put a stop to this nonsense.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Updated

Update 8 July 2017

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald also notes that a council computer appears to have been used to trawl through Jacqui Thompson's blog just before Mr James went to Dyfed Powys Police with a complaint of harassment.

The newspaper notes that it would be "wholly inappropriatefor any officer to use council IT infrastructure to assist another officer in the preparation of a private legal matter, and that it would also be wholly inappropriate for any officer to ask or instruct another officer to do so".

The council failed to answer questions from the newspaper as to whether any officer or employee time was spent on checking the blog in the preparation of Mr James's complaint.


There being no election campaigns to fret about, at least for the next few months, it is time to return to a subject which has preoccupied this blog ever since it first saw the light of day very nearly six years ago after Jacqui Thompson was arrested for filming a short snatch of a council meeting.

The dispute between Jacqui and the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council has now run on for rather longer then the Second World War, and it shows no signs of coming to an end.

Right from the very start, this has been a fight between, on the one hand, a woman armed with nothing more than a laptop, and the other the longest serving and most highly paid council official in Wales with friends in high places and access to what amounts to almost unlimited resources.

Having won the libel case and more recently gained control over Jacqui’s home, Mr James is now embarked on an attempt to drag her through the courts on charges of criminal harassment.

The first stop will be a visit to Llanelli Magistrates’ Court, now scheduled for 13th July, and unless the charges are dropped at the last minute, it is a near racing certainty that the case will move from there and go to trial, most likely somewhere towards the end of this year.

Representing Jacqui Thompson will be Matthew Paul, Cneifiwr’s favourite true blue fox bothering barrister and Herald columnist.

We have been here before – well, almost – because last year Mr James presented Dyfed Powys Police with a bundle of documents, believed to have been printouts from her blog. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, the documents were produced after IP addresses belonging to Carmarthenshire County Council spent days trawling through Jacqui’s blog.

Of course, it would be outrageous to suggest that council staff and resources were used to perform work for which a solicitor would have charged a small fortune because, as the council likes to remind everyone, this is an entirely private matter between Mr James CBE and a resident.

Except of course when Mr James was crowing to the world that his victory at the High Court was a victory for councils everywhere.

That first complaint ground slowly through the Dyfed Powys mill, and was eventually dropped, although Jacqui received a letter which, while it took no view on the validity of Mr James’s claims, stated that the police could act if further complaints were received.

Coincidentally, Cneifiwr understands that the Ombudsman for Public Services is still engaged in a less high profile investigation of complaints made by Mr James against former councillor Siân Caiach.

Just as with last year’s attempt to have Jacqui Thompson criminalised, Mr James had also previously sent a batch of complaints to the Ombudsman about Ms Caiach, only to be told to grow a thicker skin and have all five complaints dismissed.

Alert readers may at this point wonder who is paying for all these very slow-paced investigations and the days and weeks spent by council staff, police, CPS and the courts dealing with Mr James’s complaints of lese-majeste.

We are, of course.

One of the many ironies of this sorry tale is that Mr James, who famously takes a very dim view of any criticism or complaints levelled at his leadership, should be such an avid complainant in his own cause.

In the case of Siân Caiach and the Ombudsman, the irony-meter is close to melt-down because recent history is littered with examples of Mr James’s exasperation and barely concealed anger at critical reports produced by Peter Tyndall, the previous holder of that office which is supposed to champion the rights of Dai bach against government and council Goliaths.

Fortunately for Mr James, Tyndall’s successor in the office, Nick Bennett, appears to have drastically reinterpreted his role, to the delight of downtrodden Goliaths across Wales and the despair of everyone else seeking redress.

Readers of this blog and other publications invariably hold their hands up at this point and ask where in this unending saga are our councillors, and why they seem content to go on employing a chief executive who dragged them into this morass.

There are almost as many explanations for this as there are councillors, a good many of whom still believe that Mr James was sent to lead them to the Promised Land. Others are more sceptical, but have been persuaded to keep quiet.

But we now have a new council with a fresh intake; it will be interesting to see if the newly elected councillor for Lliedi, Rob James, follows up his pre-election promises in the press to get Mr James suspended any time soon. We wait with bated breath.

How Mr James will fare in the courts, we will have to see, but one of the mysteries which may just be solved is what if any difference there was between last year’s unsuccessful complaints to the police and this year’s crop of grievances, and what has persuaded the police and CPS to bring a prosecution after all this time.

Whether the prosecution case amounts to anything more than a sheaf of blogposts criticising Mr James’s rule in Carmarthen and exercising those quaint rights to freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, we will have to see.

On a number of occasions Cneifiwr has heard whispers emanating from County Hall that there is more to the Jacqui Thompson case than meets the eye. Sensible councillors, it is hinted, will steer well clear of getting involved because the, ahem, facts, vouchsafed to very, very few show matters in a different light.

Perhaps this dark truth about the Wicked Blogger of Llanwrda which has so far uncharacteristically been kept under wraps will finally emerge blinking into the harsh light of the court room. 

Or rather more likely it will remain hidden from mortal eyes like a local government version of the Ark of the Covenant somewhere in the inner sanctum on Jail Hill, from whence it will continue to be used to crush the heretical thoughts of councillors who ask awkward questions.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of that 1930s masterpiece, Cold Comfort Farm, where Aunt Ada Doom constantly complains that she “saw something nasty in the woodshed” sixty-nine years ago when she was no bigger than a titty wren. 

Or as psychiatrists would put it rather more prosaically, Aunt Ada was suffering from a traumatic fallacy which she projected onto her brood, the Starkadder family, and as a result had them all running around bringing her five meals a day and doing whatever she wanted.

As Flora Post, the heroine of Cold Comfort, puts it when she confronts the old tyrant:

Any attempt by any of them to get away from the farm made one of your attacks of madness come on. It was unfortunate in some ways but useful in others . . . The woodshed incident had twisted something in your child-brain seventy years ago. And seeing that it was because of that incident that you sat here ruling the roost and having five meals a day brought up to you as regularly as clockwork, it hadn’t been such a bad break for you, that day you saw something nasty in the woodshed.

“I saw something nasty in the woodshed, and now everything depends on me”, Aunt Ada replies.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Guardian and Llangennech

Most readers will be aware of the Guardian's extraordinary hatchet job on the Llangennech school row published last week.

The relatively short article (here) managed to pack in so many distortions and inaccuracies that it would take pages to list and respond in detail to all of them.

Suffice to say that the piece provoked a storm of criticism, with Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government's LibDem Cabinet Secretary for Education, her predecessor, Leighton Andrews (Lab) and Huw Edwards among the more prominent figures condemning it.

As usual Llanelli's two elected representatives, Lee Waters and Nia Griffith, have had nothing to say about events in their constituency which have been making waves across the UK.

In the days that followed publication, the Guardian was forced to make a number of corrections to the original article to remove some of the most glaring errors, although the corrections are grudging and fall well short of an apology.

Among other things, the original article gave the impression that Save the Children opposed teaching through the medium of Welsh. It turned out that the two authors of the article, freelancer Louise Tickle and Guardian reporter Steven Morris had not actually spoken to Save the Children, and the charity later issued a statement making it clear that Tickle and Morris had quoted a report on education in the Asia Pacific region out of context.

More on the possible source of this misrepresentation in due course.

The newspaper then published a response from Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett highlighting the benefits of bilingual education, and in a separate comment piece on Nation.Cymru the academic Ifan Morgan Jones also makes the point that Welsh medium education should really be called bilingual education because the aim of these schools is to produce children who are equally at home in both languages.

Huw Edwards, who grew up in the village and has followed the story closely, summed up his reaction with this Tweet:

Inaccurate and nasty.

Carmarthenshire County Council finally approved plans to phase out the English stream and establish a new primarily Welsh medium school in the village at the beginning of this year, and the decision came at the end of a long and protracted consultation process under a policy introduced by the previous Labour-led council.

That should have been the end of the row, and it is a fair bet that just about everyone in Llangennech, whatever their original views about the change of language designation, would have hoped they had heard the last of it. It was time to move on, consign the bitter and nasty campaign against bilingual education to history and give the school a chance to get on with doing what it does very well.

But as we know, a tiny hardcore of protesters numbering roughly a dozen out of a population of around 5,000, elements within the local Labour Party and more sinister elements from outside the village had other ideas.

And now after a couple of months of quiet, the Guardian has sought to reignite the row with a one-sided account written unchecked and unquestioningly from the perspective of two of the most vociferous anti-Welsh campaigners.

It is this aspect of the Guardian story rather than the wider educational arguments for bilingual education which will be dealt with here.

There is a huge amount of information on the Llangennech school dispute which the two authors of the article, Louise Tickle and Steven Morris, could easily have found if they had wanted to check the claims being made by Michaela Beddows and someone identified as "Alice Morgan". For reasons best known to themselves, they did not.

Since "Alice Morgan" has previously made numerous media appearances, including TV interviews, under her real name, and since just about everyone in the village knows her real identity, let's not maintain this pretence. Alice Morgan's real name is Julia Rees.

"Anti-Welsh bigots and fascists"

Rees begins by telling the Guardian that, "we've been told we are anti-Welsh bigots and fascists".

Let's deal with the fascist bit first. Michaela Beddows was suspended from the Labour Party after it emerged that she had shared EDL material on Facebook. The group, of which she was one of the more vocal members, also engaged with UKIP and brought Neil Hamilton to the village to stir things up even more - after the final decision on the school's future had been taken.

For someone who always protests that she does not understand politics and is just an ordinary mum, she certainly knows how to use a dog whistle (WKDwax is Beddows' Twitter handle):

UKIP would argue that it is not a fascist party, but it certainly contains fascist elements and the party shares many characteristics with other neo-fascist groups.

Guardian readers would have drawn their own conclusions if they had been presented with the facts.

That brings us to anti-Welsh bigotry.

Not only did Beddows, Rees and the rest bring in UKIP, they also established a close working relationship early on with Jacques Protic, the virulently anti-Welsh author of the notorious Glasnost website.

Protic visited the protesters and advised them on their campaign. He almost certainly had a large hand in creating their website, Keep Llangennech Primary Dual Stream. The website has since been deleted, but this previous post gives a flavour of the semi-literate rubbish which filled its pages, including claims that children were being taught Welsh "illegally" and that children were upset when the rest of the school sang "penblwydd hapus i ti" to them rather than "Happy birthday to you", the song's highly complex lyrics being too much for them to deal with.

Protic famously uses a whole battery of pseudonyms on social media, including Steve Stacey and J Jones, and can even be found conducting conversations with himself in which, for example, posts a comment to some article, only for Steve Stacey or J Jones or other fictitious characters from the same menagerie to pile in agreeing with each other.

Here's "Steve Stacey" making a considered comment about education and the Welsh language on Twitter:

In case you didn't get it, "Yaki" is Stacey-Protic's insulting name for the Welsh language, a corruption of iechyd da (good health).

Stacey has only 20 Twitter followers, and Beddows is one of them, just as she also follows and interacts with Glasnost and the rest of Protic's zoo:

A psychiatrist would have a field day with Protic's behaviour online, but it seems that if Steve Stacey is an aggressively abusive aspect of his online personas, "J Jones" is at the more intellectual end of the spectrum, specialising in quoting bits of research out of context in support of his crusade against the Welsh language.

It may be a coincidence, but the misquoting of the Save the Children report looks very much like a J Jones speciality fed to Louise Tickle, the Guardian's "award winning" freelancer.

Does all of this amount to anti-Welsh bigotry? You bet it does.


That brings us to Julia Rees whose comments form the backbone of the Guardian article. In common with several other members of the hardcore protest group, Rees is a Labour Party activist. She is pictured in this piece wearing a red rosette while out canvassing, and the same piece shows her with the Hamiltons.

Rees became something of a poster girl for the anti-Welsh campaign group because unlike the rest, she can actually speak Welsh, and she appeared earlier this year representing the group on the S4C current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar.

Part of the Guardian interview which may strike readers as odd is her claim that "although we speak Welsh at home", her eldest son had felt "overwhelmed" by being taught mainly in Welsh and had become depressed and unhappy.

Why would a child - who we are led to believe was brought up with Welsh as his home language - feel overwhelmed by the language in the Welsh stream of his primary school, only to have his life transformed for the better when he was moved to the English stream?

Perhaps there were other reasons for his feeling unhappy, or perhaps Julia Rees was being less than truthful. Perhaps Welsh was not really the home language after all, as has been suggested by some who know the family.

Rees's second child also began school in the English stream at Llangennech, and there both of them could have stayed until they moved to secondary school, but she decided to take them out and move them to another English-medium school nearby.

She tells the Guardian that she chose English medium for her second child because he was assessed as having special needs. Remember that she claimed that theirs is a Welsh speaking home.

Beddows, on the other hand, has long argued that children with learning difficulties from non-Welsh speaking homes cannot cope with Welsh medium education.

The only conclusion we can draw from this is that both women believe that there is something about Welsh which makes it inherently unsuitable for anyone with special needs or learning difficulties, no matter what their first language.

By that logic, countries all around the world would be switching to English language education.


Julia Rees's decision to request anonymity despite previously appearing in the press and on TV under her real name seems to be part and parcel of another of the tools in their propaganda war, which is to portray themselves as victims. Here's the Guardian quoting an unnamed mother, who may or may not be Julia Rees or Michaela Beddows:

One mother said she was now too frightened to walk down to the Co-op in the village to buy a loaf of bread. “It’s got that bad. Perhaps I’m being paranoid but I’m really scared at the moment. I’m not sure it’s good for the reputation of the Welsh language.

Readers may recall how a few months ago the Western Mail published an entirely false account of  abuse and intimidation being directed at the Beddows/Rees group, claims which it had to retract one by one over several days. The Western Mail article began by suggesting that Cymdeithas yr Iaith were behind tyre slashings in the village.

It first had to issue an apology for that utterly baseless claim, and then had to backtrack further when Dyfed Powys Police said that there had been incidents of tyre slashing across a wider area, and that in their view there was no link to the school dispute.

Finally, the newspaper had to report that Dyfed Powys Police had received no complaints about abuse, whether it was a claim that one member of the group had been spat at, or anything else relating to the school row.

Bearing in mind that the Western Mail's false allegations appeared several months ago and that all has been quiet in the intervening period, the latest claims of abuse in the Guardian look even more suspect.

Looking forward

Llangennech was not the first dual stream school to be transitioned, and it will not be the last.

Michaela Beddows, Julia Rees and the rest are entitled to their views, but they lost the battle in Llangennech, and they discredited themselves and their cause in the process.

It was a campaign based on lies, distortions and bigotry.

The decision to phase out the English stream from Llangennech school is not going to be undone, so the timing of the Guardian article and the decision by Beddows and Rees to resurface now have to be understood in a wider Welsh context.

Nothing would please Protic and his helpers more if other education authorities and school governors were deterred from changing the language category of schools by the example of Llangennech.

Those of us who followed events in Llangennech have learned a great deal from that campaign and know what to look out for.

We cannot allow the education of our children to be determined by a tiny handful of bigoted extremists.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic

As the dust settles on what amounted to almost three months of uninterrupted campaigning which began with the run-up to the county council elections while the daffodils were still out, it's time for a few reflections.

Cneifiwr managed to fit in a few days of canvassing and leafleting, and several memories stand out. First was a day spent out visiting remote houses and farms on a truly glorious day in May with Hazel Evans, our county councillor.

It is easy to forget what a beautiful place Carmarthenshire is; standing for a few moments in the sunshine watching a tiny wren flitting in and out of the lush green vegetation on the edge of a stream in Cwm Morgan and the sound of the water - it was worth it just for that. Or chatting outside a house in Tanglwst and gazing across miles and miles of uninterrupted open country, with the owner pointing out that there, shimmering in the distance, you could see a little bit of the Ceredigion coast.

Few of us realise how hard most councillors work. Like many rural wards, Cenarth is huge with hundreds of miles of single track lanes and farms and houses at the end of long, often rough tracks. Hazel knows almost everyone, and one of the challenges of canvassing with her is keeping moving and resisting the temptation to chat for half an hour. That and the incessant incoming phone calls on council business.

Then there was the little old lady on a large council estate near Carmarthen who came to the door in her curlers. She had always voted Labour but was willing to give Plaid a go. Just at that moment, Jonathan Edwards came bounding up.

"I won't let you down", he said. "You'd better not, or I'll be after you", she replied.

Or watching the Prifardd Mererid Hopwood sprint over to talk to a group of young men holding a very noisy party in a back garden. "All right, darling?" She leaned on the fence and chatted to them for a few minutes, and came away beaming. "We'll put them down as 'don't know'; I think they were probably off their heads", she said.

The issues which came up on the doorstep were as varied as the people we met. Broadband, mobile phone coverage, the lack of employment prospects for young people, pensions, fears about Brexit, agriculture, social care, business regulation, defence and alarm at the nastiness and growing intolerance of politics in England - all of these and more were raised, and no single issue dominated.

Campaigning for Jonathan Edwards makes things a lot easier. He is hugely popular, and his appeal crosses all the divides. Plaid Cymru positioned itself in this election as a shield to protect the Welsh national interest, and that is how many voters see Jonathan - as someone who will fight our corner and is not afraid to take on the powers that be.

Elections have nothing to do with fairness; many very good candidates from all parties went down to defeat. As often as not in the case of the Tories and Labour, mediocrity triumphs thanks only to the colour of their rosette.

In Llanelli Mari Arthur would have been an exceptionally good MP, but the cards were stacked heavily against her. She had very little time to get her campaign off the ground, and lost out to Nia Griffith who ironically swept to victory on the coat tails of Jeremy Corbyn and tactical voting. Slightly further afield, one of the stand-out candidates was Daniel Williams for Plaid in Neath.

Let's hope that they both agree to stand again.

In Ceredigion Ben Lake won by the narrowest of margins; like Mari and Daniel he is testament to the incredibly high calibre of candidates Plaid was able to field, and like Jonathan Edwards, he succeeded by building bridges rather than playing divisive politics.

In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Jonathan Edwards increased both the number of votes and his share of the overall vote against a very strong tide.

Labour and the Tories both increased their votes by sucking up most of the 4,363 votes which went to UKIP back in 2015.

The Labour candidate, Dave Darkin, put up a slightly more energetic fight than his predecessor in the closing stages of the campaign, but was both inexperienced and out of his depth. Labour never expected to regain the constituency, and it showed.

For the Tories, Havard Hughes' campaign was every bit as disastrous and nasty as Theresa May's. Divisive, arrogant and completely unconvincing, local Tories must be furious at having Hughes imposed on them at the last minute. He could have knocked Labour into third place, but relied instead on empty slogans and the Tory press to get his message across.

We are supposed to be gracious in victory, but saying anything other than good riddance would be insincere.

Good riddance too to Neil Hamilton who lost his deposit and failed to visit the constituency even once. All the more stomach churning was the decision by BBC Wales to put both him and Christine on its panel of "experts" at the beginning of their election night coverage.

The nice LibDem lady admitted during the campaign that she was only standing out of loyalty to her lost cause, and can now get back to gardening.


Experience has taught Cneifiwr never to predict election results. Just about everyone got this one wrong, but by the last week of the campaign it was becoming clear that the momentum was with Corbyn.

Labour posters began appearing in places where they have never been seen before, and some idiot in Ceredigion spent the last few days illegally plastering Labour posters on bus stops, road signs and other public property all the way from Cenarth to Cardigan.

In his entertaining and sometimes quite sensible column in the Carmarthenshire Herald, Tory barrister Matthew Paul (who stood for the Conservatives in the 2015 general election) was confidently predicting a majority of 85 for Theresa May and disaster for Corbyn - and that in a piece which was presumably written days before we went to the polls.

On the other side of the political fence, one or two of Plaid's senior figures got it equally wrong, even if their predictions were radically different.

The outcome for Plaid can be spun either way - as a triumph on a par with the party's previous best ever result in a general election, or as intensely disappointing.

In reality the result was a bit of both, with luck playing a role in securing narrow victories in Arfon and Ceredigion.

In truth, all of the smaller parties were severely squeezed in the final two weeks of the campaign. That is nothing new - remember how the LibDems were squeezed in 2010 - but the squeeze was more intense this time round with the mainstream media relentlessly portraying this as a presidential race between May and Corbyn, probably because for the first time in decades the two big parties stood on radically different platforms.

Getting out of the rut

Whether a change of political direction for Plaid, taking the party towards the centre-right, a change of leader or "re-branding" would have helped is doubtful.

Perhaps there will be a debate about the future direction of Plaid, but the most important thing now is for the four Plaid MPs to concentrate on exploiting the opportunities which a hung parliament is likely to present.

The Plaid parliamentary group has always punched way above its weight, and those four MPs will certainly achieve more than 28 Stephen Kinnocks, Nia Griffiths or Chris Bryants.

Labour ran a very good campaign, but it remains to be seen whether the unity which held together during the campaign will last. And by the same token if past performance is anything to go by, the 'Welsh' Labour intake will screw up the opportunities the new situation presents. Absenteeism, voting with the Tories, abstaining in crucial votes and forgetting that they represent Welsh constituencies are all old habits which will be hard to break.

Without an independent and successful Welsh media to report on and explain what is happening in Westminster and Cardiff Bay from a Welsh point of view, it is hard to see how awareness of the wider world of Welsh politics can be changed.

But maybe, just maybe, there is reason to hope that the stranglehold of the English right-wing press may be weakening. Fewer and fewer young people rely on the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media for their news, and it seems that at last many more young people woke up and realised that they have got to start voting if they want their future to be decided by someone other than the sort of angry old men we saw calling for a first strike nuclear holocaust on one of the Question Time election specials.

If you have not seen it yet, take a look at the recently launched Nation.Cymru. Mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns, and if Ifan Morgan Jones's new news and analysis vehicle can maintain its momentum, who knows where it may lead.

So although we now have a minority Tory government propped up by the bigoted fundamentalists of the DUP, there are for the first time in years some reasons to be cautiously optimistic. A hung parliament, a very hard-working and fleet of foot Plaid contingent in Westminster, growing political awareness among young voters and the growing popularity of movements such as Yes Cymru all mean that we can together push Wales out of the rut it has been stuck in for so long.

The next couple of years will be crucial in deciding what sort of future our children and grandchildren will have. Let's make it a good one.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Havard Hughes and the Nasty Party

The Tories, LibDems and UKIP have finally got round to sending out election communications - too late for many postal voters.

We can safely ignore the LibDem and UKIP efforts because saving their deposits is about the most they can hope for, but right from the word go the Tories have treated the public and the democratic process with utter contempt.

There are still old-fashioned voters out there who like to talk to candidates and read their literature before casting a vote. For most of the campaign, Theresa May has avoided rubbing shoulders with unvetted voters, refused to engage with the press, refused to take part in televised debates, refused even to talk to Woman's Hour on Radio 4, opting instead to feed the electorate with endlessly repeated, meaningless slogans.

Locally Havard Hughes has adopted much the same tactics.

His large and glossy leaflet is for the most part a re-hash of his profile in the Western Mail, reviewed by this blog here.

He claims that being chosen (parachuted in would be more accurate) to represent the Tories in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is the greatest honour of his life. If that were so, you might think he would have been a bit more active during the campaign, but so far his few public outings, dressed in Sloane Ranger country weekend attire, have been confined to Llandeilo and the surrounding area.

Roughly half of the leaflet is given over to Brexit and Theresa May. He is "Theresa May's candidate", and she is, yes you got there first, "strong and stable". She will deliver a "good Brexit", but he does not tell us what a good Brexit will look like.

Preposterously he claims once again that he would join Theresa May round the negotiating table.

No, he won't, and he won't get within several hundred miles of it.

In this puerile and irresponsible fantasy, it is 1940 all over again, with plucky little Britain standing alone against the evil Juncker and his goose-stepping bureaucratic army who are determined to break the British economy, with Plaid cast as treasonous fifth columnists.

And that's it. No policies, just tired and empty slogans and ludicrous accusations.

The rest of the leaflet is devoted to claims that he is really a local, Welsh-speaking candidate. Yes, he grew up near Carmarthen, but his entire adult life has been spent in England, mostly in London which is where he actually lives. In another breath he tells us that he comes from a long line of farmers, but in the next he tells us that his father was a solicitor and that his grandparents were shopkeepers.

Beneath a picture of a slightly paunchy middle aged man in a smart office shirt and slacks posing with an axe, he tells us that he likes to keep fit by chopping firewood.

There may be people out there who vote for candidates on the basis of rubbish like this, but there can't be many.

The log chopping came up again at the beginning of a Q&A with an audience of young voters on S4C's Hacio programme (link here, 12 minutes in) last night.

Hughes sauntered in looking a bit like Michael Gove, carrying a large wad of papers. Bearing in mind that he is in the PR business, he should have known that the bundle of papers was going to be useless in front of a live audience. If you don't know the answer to a question, fumbling around in a pile of papers is not going to work.

What followed was 10 minutes of excruciating embarrassment as he mangled his way through his pitch, trying to work the words "cryf a sefydlog" (strong and stable) into every answer. The effect was like a Dalek that had been plugged into Google Translate.

Here he is on the subject of Jeremy Corbyn:

Mae Jeremy Corbyn yn person drwg yn fy meddwl i achos ei gwaith gyda'r IRA during the 1980s ("he's a bad person in my mind because of his work with the IRA during the 1980s").

At which point the young man who had asked why Theresa May was not prepared to debate with Corbyn politely interrupted to point out that Hughes was not answering his question.

Hughes huffed and puffed, before saying, "Rwy i ddim yn cytuno. Mae Llywodraeth gryf a sefydlog Theresa May yn un sy'n berffaith yn yr election hon." (I don't agree. Theresa May's strong and stable government is perfect in this election).

Ignoring the way he butchered the language, this was crude, puerile and dishonest, and reflects the tone of the rest of this car crash performance. Apart from anything else, Corbyn would have a strong case for suing Hughes for libel.

Little wonder that the audience, who were politically balanced, shifted uncomfortably in their seats, raised eyebrows and grimaced as Hughes lurched and ground his way through.

For someone whose career is all about communication, Havard Hughes is a remarkably poor communicator.


Hacio was pre-recorded, and last night Havard Hughes ventured back to Llandeilo to take part in a hustings along with the other candidates (except Neil Hamilton for UKIP who has boasted that he has not set foot in the constituency since the election was called).

The sort of people who go along to hustings are by definition interested in politics, intelligent and informed debate. Havard Hughes had other ideas.

Again he turned up with a huge wadge of papers and put on a performance which relied on endless repetition of "strong and stable" (audience groans) and smears.

Jonathan Edwards was nothing but "a troublemaker on the sidelines". An audience member with an English accent commented that he would rather be represented by a troublemaker than a lapdog. Just as in his leaflet and his Wales Online profile, Hughes told incredulous voters that he would be sitting round the EU negotiating table with Theresa May.

The audience bristled at being fobbed off with empty slogans and crude attacks on opponents in what is likely to be their only chance to hear from the Tory candidate before polling day. To make matters worse, several members of the public pulled him up on the pronunciation of Dinefwr, having assumed that a "local" candidate would at least be able to pronounce the name of the constituency.

It is probably for the best that we leave Havard Hughes there, raging incoherently away in his bizarre fantasy world.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Policing - Chris Bryant v. Jonathan Edwards

Back in February 2006 the then Labour Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, announced plans to reorganise policing in England and Wales, drastically cutting the number of police forces. In Wales he was determined to create a single force.

The Tories were unhappy, with Nick Herbert MP, Clarke's shadow, arguing that it would reduce local accountability. Incredibly, one of the options they were keen to pursue was merging North Wales Police with a neighbouring English force.

Because policing has not been devolved to Wales, the Welsh Government and the people of Wales were mere spectators in this debate between Clarke, who represented a constituency in Norwich, and Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, as they argued over where the lines should be drawn on the map.

Fortunately for Wales, Clarke became embroiled in a scandal over foreign prisoners and had to resign. His plans were then quietly shelved.

Whether or not Welsh police forces should be reorganised should be a matter for Wales to decide, and not MPs representing Norfolk and Sussex or colonial nabobs in Whitehall.

"Welsh" Labour has long been divided on this issue with, broadly speaking, Carwyn Jones impotently calling for devolution of policing on one side, and Labour MPs in Westminster opposing any such change on the other.

In the general election campaign Labour in Wales is fighting on two manifestos: a UK manifesto, "For the many, not the few", and a second document entitled "Standing Up for Wales".

On page 3 of the Welsh manifesto Carwyn Jones writes, "And, working together, we’ll devolve policing to Wales – making our neighbourhoods safer after years of Tory cuts and neglect".

On page 96, we are told, "We will bring forward legislation to make the devolution settlement more sustainable as set out by the Welsh Labour Government in its Alternative Wales Bill, including the devolution of policing".

The same words appear on page 105 of Labour's UK manifesto.

Clear enough, you might think, and Labour assures us that the whole party has signed up to this and other commitments.

Or not. Here is an exchange which took place on Twitter yesterday:

Somewhat taken aback, Iwan Rhys double checks Bryant's answer:

Somewhat tersely, Bryant replies:

And that was it. Bryant disappeared into the ether.

Since Chris Bryant would have had some involvement in putting these manifestos together and has signed up to them, and since he has consistently opposed devolving policing, it's fair to assume that he knows something that the rest of us don't. Perhaps, buried deep in these two documents, is a clause which could negate what looks like a pretty clear commitment.

And if Chris Bryant is right that Labour is not actually proposing to devolve policing despite what the manifestos say in black and white, how much can we believe any of the other promises?


Devolving policing to Wales is not just about accountability and ensuring that the sort of policing we get reflects Welsh society, traditions and geography. Policing rural Wales is very different to policing Cardiff, and policing Cardiff is different to policing the large English urban centres of population.

In a recent programme on Radio Cymru looking back at the Meibion Glyndwr campaign, a retired Welsh policeman recalled how the English high command wanted the scope of investigations to be expanded to include various suspect organisations, including that notorious nest of arsonists and troublemakers Merched y Wawr, so little did they understand Wales.

That Welsh sensitivities are different was demonstrated at this week's Urdd Eisteddfod where police armed with loaded machine guns have been patrolling the maes, presumably in response to orders handed down from Whitehall and to the discomfort of many eisteddfod goers for whom the presence of weapons goes against everything that the Urdd and the eisteddfod tradition stand for.

A oes heddwch? ("is there peace?"). Hardly when children are mingling with machine gun toting police officers, even if those officers were wearing friendly smiles.

"If the armed police really wanted to protect eisteddfod goers instead of putting on a show, they would be available in a control room instead of taking pictures with guns"
There are also very important practical and financial implications to devolving policing, as Jonathan Edwards pointed out in this speech to the House of Commons on 22 February of this year, and it is worth reproducing his arguments in full.

I want to take the opportunity initially to raise some general points about the funding of Welsh police forces. Unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, policing is not yet devolved in Wales. Whereas in Scotland and Northern Ireland policing is funded via the usual Barnett allocations, Welsh police forces find themselves reliant upon a funding formula designed in Westminster for the 43 Welsh and English police forces. If policing were devolved to Wales and the usual Barnett allocations applied, Welsh police forces would benefit from an extra £25 million-worth of investment per annum in policing services in my country—if, of course, the money were ring-fenced by the Welsh Government. The Wales and England formula has not been historically kind to Welsh policing. 

Dyfed-Powys, my police force, has already faced cuts of £13 million over recent years. This was one of the primary reasons for the very controversial loss of our dedicated police helicopter. I will resist the temptation to raise those issues again here today.

The aborted funding formula review led by the previous Minister last year would have led to a cut of £32 million from Welsh police forces’ funding—a further £7.9 million from Dyfed-Powys, which is a staggering 16% of its budget. The aborted formula aimed to concentrate on socio-economic data and general crime figures as criteria for determining funding allocations. These crude determinations cannot possibly reflect the true cost of policing rural areas such as the ones I represent, and it is vital that the Minister takes a broader view before he publishes his new formula for consultation.
Traditionally, due to Westminster underfunding, local residents in Dyfed-Powys have had to make a greater contribution to police services via the annual precept. It is a typical accounting trick, whereby the burden for funding public services is moved from general taxation on to local taxation, and with the Tory manifesto pledging not to increase income tax during this Parliament, the UK Government obviously have to look at other forms of taxation to make up the numbers. This sort of fiscal strategy is, of course, completely regressive, a point made by several hon. Members.

There is no operational reason why policing should not be devolved to Wales, and it is hugely disappointing that the last Wales Bill lacked the ambition to equalise powers between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—not to mention cities like Manchester, where policing powers are being devolved. With all four Welsh police commissioners supporting devolution of policing and with a clear financial dividend, it is clear that narrow ideology is driving Welsh policing policy in Westminster.

I should like to turn my attention to other points raised by police commissioners about the area cost adjustment. I pay tribute to Dafydd Llywelyn, the police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, and Arfon Jones, the police and crime commissioner for North Wales police for all their hard work since their election last year and the year before last.

The area cost adjustment factor that the police use for calculating the police main grant is skewed in favour of areas in the south-east of England where the cost of living and salaries are higher. Although this may be necessary, it does not consider the higher costs incurred by rural police forces for providing services in rural areas. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a report in 2014 outlining how the cost of service delivery in rural areas is higher than average. The report mentions travel costs and travel downtime. Evidence shows that travel time for police forces in rural areas is 25 times longer than in metropolitan areas.

The issue concerns the size and shape of the areas that some forces are required to police, and particularly the distances they must travel to deal with public safety, welfare and transport incidents—a point made by Steve Double. Population in a small compact police force centred on a single city will make less demands on travel time than one in a large irregular police force area with multiple population foci. The City of London police serve a resident population of fewer than 8,000 people based in 290 hectares, while Dyfed-Powys police serve a resident population of over half a million people spread across more than a million hectares of largely dispersed towns and villages.

The UK Government report also outlines the difficulty of channel shift. As heard in countless speeches from Plaid Cymru Members, digital infrastructure is a major problem in our country. Too many of our communities are without broadband. Our police forces therefore need to rely on other ways to communicate with their service users that are more time-intensive. For example, a call handler can deal with only one voice caller at any one time, but may deal with several simultaneously using webchat. Another example is the issue of holding cells. Owing to its geographical territory, Dyfed–Powys needs three holding cell units, which must be manned simultaneously on a 24-hour basis. That is obviously more expensive than having a single central unit. I could go on and on giving examples of that kind.

The area cost adjustment factor for the City of London is 1.52, but the factor for Dyfed–Powys is less than 1. I urge the Minister to review the factors that determine the area cost adjustment to take into account the unique and often more difficult circumstances faced by rural police forces.

It is hard to conceive of a simple police grant formula that can encompass such a range of circumstances as the national and international capital city grant. The specific needs of the City of London and metropolitan police forces have long been recognised, primarily through that grant, but Cardiff, which is also a capital city, does not receive it. What consideration has the Minister given to awarding Wales a proportion of the national and international capital city grant so that the unique challenges faced by police forces in the capital city of my country can be adequately addressed?
When it comes to the funding of police services in my country, the devolution of policing to Wales is a political and financial no-brainer. Let me end by saying, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this is probably the only time you will ever hear me say something positive about the Barnett formula.