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.

Pundits....

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.

Hustings 

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.




Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Nia's Last Stand

Apologies to readers for the long gap between posts.

This next piece deals with Nia Griffith and has been difficult to write for two reasons. First, there is the sheer abundance of material chronicling her political career, and second is the even harder task of  trying to work out what she stands for and what makes her tick.

The contest between Nia Griffith and Mari Arthur for Plaid is one of the more interesting Welsh battles in this general election. If Mari succeeds, she will have broken Labour's century old grip on the town. She is young and energetic, has bags of personality and business experience and believes passionately in reaching out across the tribal divisions which have become such a feature of Llanelli politics.

For the first time since 2005 Nia is looking tired and vulnerable. If she is re-elected it is a racing certainty that she will be sacked by Corbyn for her conduct during the election campaign, and it is highly unlikely that she would stand again in 2022.

Whatever the result, this is Nia's last stand.

____________

In the 2016 Labour leadership election Nia Griffith threw her weight behind Owen Smith. This did not go down well with many in her constituency party, with Tegwen Devichand commenting in the local press, "Nia is entitled to her opinion. When it comes to re-election, if people want to re-elect her, only time will tell".

As endorsements go, that one is as close to freezing point as you can get.

Ironically, if Nia Griffith is re-elected next week it will be thanks to the Corbynistas, and yet for a politician who has notoriously built an entire career on being wildly inconsistent, Nia Griffith herself has consistently sought to undermine the credibility of her own party leader whenever he talks about defence, foreign policy and security.

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, Corbyn resumed his campaign by arguing that there is a connection between British foreign policy and terrorism:

The responsibility of government is to minimise that chance, to ensure the police have the resources they need, that our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country, and that at home we never surrender the freedoms we have won, and that terrorists are so determined to take away. Too often government has got it wrong on all three counts and insecurity is growing as a result.

Later that same day up popped Nia Griffith on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions to rubbish her leader's view. There was, she said, no link between UK foreign policy and terrorism.

That there is no love lost between Nia Griffith and the Labour leadership was underlined a couple of weeks earlier when Corbyn delivered a keynote foreign policy speech at Chatham House. Although Labour's shadow foreign secretary, attorney general and international development secretary went along to support their leader, Nia Griffith was apparently not invited and did not have a hand in drafting his speech, even though defence and the renewal of Trident featured heavily in what Corbyn had to say.

Extraordinary to think that here we have sections of the Llanelli Labour Party campaigning to get Nia Griffith re-elected even though they are in complete disagreement on fundamental issues, and that Nia Griffith herself is campaigning to get Labour elected under Corbyn with herself as Secretary of State for Defence, even though their views are about as far apart as its possible to get.

It was all very different when Corbyn first appointed Nia to his shadow cabinet back in 2015.

Initially she was shadow Secretary of State for Wales; when the bulk of the parliamentary party rebelled against Corbyn, Nia hung on and was one of the last to throw in her towel. Having resigned, she then backed Owen Smith; when Smith went down to a catastrophic defeat, Nia wasted no time in rejoining the shadow cabinet, this time being given the defence portfolio.

Corbyn could be forgiven for thinking that Nia Griffith would be sympathetic to his views; she had after all a long track record of being against nuclear weapons, and had voted on no fewer than three occasions against renewing Trident.

As recently as October 2015 she had joined Mark Drakeford and other Labour notables in launching a "Stop Trident" campaign in Cardiff, saying she wanted "a genuine re-think".

A year later she came out in favour of Trident renewal. It was time to stop "shilly shallying about" she announced, basing her new stance on the argument that the Labour Party had backed Trident renewal as long ago as 2007 - an argument which would also have applied when she helped launch the Stop Trident campaign 12 months earlier. By April 2017, formerly anti-nuclear Nia was telling the BBC, "We are absolutely clear … we are prepared to use it. I am certainly prepared to use it."

The journey from being a veteran anti-nuclear campaigner to Trident enthusiast took Nia just 12 months.

But it's not just defence and foreign policy (incidentally she voted against holding the Iraq war inquiry and in favour of military intervention in Libya and Syria) where Nia Griffith is much closer to the Tories than the Labour leadership and a huge swathe of its members.

The term "Red Tory" could have been coined with Nia in mind.

"Most Gluttonous"

Let's go back to the beginning of Nia's Westminster career. She was first elected in 2005 under Tony Blair, and remained a relatively obscure backbencher until 2009 when she hit the headlines in the MPs' expenses scandal.

Nia was one of 27 Welsh MPs asked to repay expenses and had to cough up just over £4,000 for wrongly paid mortgage interest. Only Alun Michael (Lab), Wayne David (Lab) and Chris Bryant (Lab) had to repay more.

Despite that setback and the tightening of the rules which followed, she remains one of the highest claiming Welsh MPs, and took the top slot in 2011-12 with claims totalling just under £167,000.

Also in 2009 Nia made it on to the Guardian's list of "Most Gluttonous" MPs for being among the 32 MPs who were revealed to have claimed the full £400 monthly food allowance (since abolished), including for periods when the House of Commons was not sitting.

This rather embarrassing track record has not prevented her from grandstanding in the press on the issue of food banks; they were a "crying shame" she declared in 2015.

"Extremely cautious"

Labour is campaigning on not one but two manifestos in Wales in this election. First we have Labour's UK manifesto in which Nia Griffith had a hand.

The first, leaked version of the document contained what most people would probably consider the eminently sensible words,

But any prime minister should be extremely cautious about ordering the use of weapons of mass destruction which would result in the indiscriminate killing of millions of innocent civilians.

These were removed from the final version, at Nia's insistence, we are told.

When Corbyn's manifesto was launched in Bradford shortly after the leak, the press noted that Nia Griffith was absent from the event, preferring to stay in Llanelli (or 'Llannelli', as the Sun would have it).

If the Sun had done its homework, it would have found that her decision to stay in Llanelli was noteworthy for being more than just a snub to Corbyn, because outside election campaigns Nia Griffith is often to be found anywhere but Llanelli.

In the couple of months leading up to the general election campaign, Nia's Twitter feed records a very hectic travel itinerary. She campaigned in the by election in Copeland in the north-west of England ("Labour vote holding firm", she tweeted; Labour lost); a few days later she was in Barrow in Furness. From there she headed off to Cyprus to see British troops stationed on the island. A couple of weeks later she popped up in Bangor, and headed from there to Prestatyn. In April she touched down in Bamber Bridge (near Preston) and went on to canvas in Lancaster. Next stop was Beaumaris on Ynys Môn where she went out and about with MP Albert Owen to campaign for Labour candidates for the island's county council. Heading south, she next pops up in Cardiff campaigning with Steve Doughty.

But she has also found time during the general election campaign to take time off from pounding the streets of Llanelli, including a trip to Chester where she went canvassing for Chris Mathes. Why so many of her trips take her to the north-west of England is a mystery, and was spending time campaigning for Labour county council candidates in Beaumaris really what the people of Llanelli elected her for?

Back at home, one of the biggest issues this year was the Llangennech row. It was all over the media, was discussed in the Senedd and brought a significant intervention from Huw Edwards. 

She could have used her influence to call her wayward constituency party to heel; instead she stayed resolutely silent and left it to Lee Waters to deal with. And Waters made a monumental hash of things.

What with her shadow cabinet responsibilities, which seem to revolve chiefly around fighting Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, and her canvassing expeditions in north-west England, it is no surprise that there has been growing criticism in Llanelli that Nia has lost touch with what is going on in her constituency.

"Standing up for Wales"

The second of the two manifestos Nia Griffith is supposedly standing on is the document launched by Labour's Welsh branch office, entitled "Standing Up for Wales".

Welsh Labour is of course nothing more than a marketing brand, with no separate legal existence. The 20 or so Welsh Labour MPs in the House of Commons sit as a part of the much larger English Labour group, and are whipped accordingly.

Three of the five key pledges in the manifesto are devolved (education, the NHS and housing), and so are irrelevant to the UK general election campaign. Other commitments include devolving policing to the Welsh Assembly - something which Welsh Labour MPs in Westminster have previously opposed, although in Nia's case it is impossible to tell because she was absent for the vote.

Here is Nia's voting record in the last Parliament:

She voted 13 times to devolve more powers to Scotland, but only 6 times to devolve more powers to Wales.

·        Absent for a vote on Devolving Responsibility for Jobcentre Plus to the Welsh Government
·        Voted against devolving powers relating to energy generation to the National Assembly for       Wales
·        Absent for a vote on devolving long haul rates of duty to Wales
·        Absent for a vote on devolving legislative competence for water in Wales
·        Absent for a vote to allow the National Assembly for Wales to set the number of AMs
·        Absent for a vote to allow Welsh Ministers to set own capital expenditure priorities
·        Absent for a vote to devolve policing powers to Wales
·        Absent for a vote to allow Welsh thresholds for income tax
·        Absent for a vote on the separation of legal jurisdictions for England and Wales
·        Absent for a vote to allow a referendum on devolving Welsh income tax rate setting

Other votes
·        Voted against devolving more powers to local councils and local people particularly in relation to social housing and planning
·        Voted against requiring a more extensive set of conditions be met prior to consent for fracking
·        Voted against giving MPs from Wales a veto when laws specifically impacting their part of the UK are discussed
.         Voted for mass surveillance of people's communications and activities

And here is Labour's Westminster record on devolving more powers to Wales ("Standing up for Wales"):

         • Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting on separate jurisdiction for Wales.
Labour abstained from voting to stop the UK Government intervening in the actions of the National Assembly if it impacts water in England. Plaid voted against this. 
• Labour abstained from voting to give the National Assembly for Wales powers over policing, police pay, probation, community safety, crime prevention. Plaid vote for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from devolving powers over non-wind generating stations in Wales. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against devolving powers to regulate betting machines. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted not to devolve powers relation to alcohol and entertainment licensing. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against allowing public sector bodies to operate rail services in Wales. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against devolving powers relating to air passenger duty to Wales. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting to allow the Welsh Assembly to set Income Tax thresholds. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting to allow the people of Wales to decide whether to devolve powers over income tax to the Welsh Assembly. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from voting to devolve responsibility for the Job Centre to Wales. Plaid vote for. 
• Labour and Tories voted against devolving powers relating to energy generation to Wales. Plaid voted for this. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from considering basing Welsh public funding on the needs of the country. Plaid voted for. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from allowing the Welsh Assembly to set the number of AMs it should have. Plaid vote for this. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from allowing the Welsh Government to decide on which infrastructure projects to invest in. Plaid voted for this. 
• Tories voted against and Labour abstained from devolving powers over water to Wales. Plaid voted for this.

 And if that were not enough, here is the record of Welsh Labour MPs on other matters:

• Labour voted with the Tories (or abstained) for the harshest of austerity measures – to slash public spending by a further £30 billion, mainly by capping welfare benefits. Plaid voted against. 
• Labour and Tories voted to double the income of the Royal Family, despite austerity measures for the rest of the country. Plaid voted against. 
• Labour voted with the Tories to reduce tax credit payments for the lowest paid workers in society. Plaid voted against.
• Labour and the Tories voted to cut benefits for disabled people and those with long-term illnesses. Plaid voted against. 
• Labour didn’t bother to vote to ensure the Prime Minister had to take into account the objectives of Wales when conducting negotiations with the EU. Plaid voted for.
• Labour didn’t bother to vote to stop the Tories passing a law to allow the mass interception of people's communications, and the retention and use by the state of data, including personal banking, travel, and health data. Plaid voted to stop this.

Despite this, and despite being absent from a key vote to slash tax credits, you can still read on Nia Griffith's website why tax credit cuts matter - but not enough to make her turn up to vote.

If we do get another Tory government next week, as still seems more than likely, Labour, and "Welsh" Labour in particular, have ensured that Wales will be left powerless to defend its interests.

The Tories will be more than content to see Nia Griffith, Wayne David, Chris Bryant and the rest returned, and you can't blame them.

Only a vote for Plaid will stop Theresa May and Co from riding roughshod over our people.















We now have only ten days to find out if the people of Llanelli want to re-elect their MP, but if they are as unenthusiastic as Tegwen, Nia Griffith is heading for a long overdue retirement.

This has to be the strangest of all the post-war general elections. Corbyn's red tortoise has not overtaken the Theresa May's blue hare, but he has been gaining ground.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Silent spring

After a two day suspension in the wake of the terrible events in Manchester, the parties have agreed to resume campaigning gradually over the next couple of days.

There will be no televised debates with Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, and the Prime Minister has stayed as far away as possible from ordinary voters, with choreographed and tightly controlled appearances in front of party activists dominating her schedule. On the few occasions she has moved out of that comfort zone, the results have been far from impressive.

Apart from incessant parroting of "strong and stable" and "the best possible deal" from the Tories, Brexit - by far the most important issue facing the UK - has been the elephant in the room throughout the campaign.

In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Plaid has worked its socks off to get its message out; Labour briefly swept through this part of the constituency and will not be back for another five years. Almost nothing has been seen or heard from the other parties, and it seems that so far few of us have received any communication from them.

Anecdotally, things are no different in other constituencies.

Postal votes go out today, and by the beginning of next week a significant proportion of the electorate will have cast their votes against a backdrop of soldiers carrying automatic weapons in public places and largely silent politicians.

A snap election punctuated by a major terrorist incident, control freakery, an overwhelmingly right wing press, a highly unrepresentative voting system, poorly organised political parties and the deliberate dumbing down of politics by the Tories above all add up to an exercise in democracy which would not look out of place in a banana republic.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Havard Hughes comes home - briefly

A candidate who has yet to darken Cneifiwr's door is Tory Havard Hughes who may or may not be hoping to win Carmarthen East and Dinefwr for Theresa May.

He has a home and a long-term partner in the swish Belsize Park area of London, and by his own modest account he has had a successful career in the City of London and working for Coventry Building Society - in PR. In the highly unlikely event that he were to win, being an MP for such a distant outpost would play havoc with his social life and generally be very inconvenient.

It's fair to say that Havard has mixed feelings about what he calls his "second home" in Wales. True enough, he grew up in Carmarthenshire and went to QE in Carmarthen, but in his account on Wales Online he says he was "compelled to move away from the land of our fathers" (readers should be warned at this point that reading this piece may induce feelings of nausea) to seek his fortune in the City because Welsh politicians were "unable or unwilling to fix our economy".

The problem with this version of history is that up to the point that Havard became an economic migrant in England, Wales was under direct rule from Westminster, and for nearly all of Havard's early years that meant Tory government under Margaret Thatcher. Thanks to a very weak devolution settlement, control over all the important economic levers remains firmly in London and in Tory hands.

His interview with Wales Online throws up numerous other examples which suggest that the Tory candidate is, well, on a different planet.

Asked what inspired him to enter politics, Havard replied,

Being made to feel like a second-class citizen in my own country by bigoted Welsh Nationalists.

Perhaps Havard Hughes was traumatized at an early age when someone called him a coc oen. We will probably never know, but whatever it was that inspired him, he joined the LibDems and became a councillor in north London, an unlikely place from which to launch a political career dedicated to fighting Welsh nationalism. Dire warnings of the evils of voting for Plaid Cymru must have puzzled voters in the London boroughs no end.

Hughes remained with the LibDems while that party's fortunes prospered, but in 2007 he jumped ship after 17 years of LibDemmery to join the Tories under David Cameron.

Hughes told Conservative Home that what attracted him was Cameron's liberalism. Certainly in 2007 the old Etonian PR man was busy giving the Tory Party a make-over. It was - briefly - no longer the Nasty Party, but a green, husky loving, hoody hugging hipster force for making the world a better place for the very rich.

Or perhaps Havard Hughes thought his flagging political career stood a better chance if he hitched his wagon to the Tories.

Sadly, political success eluded him under Cameron, but Hughes remained in his own words "an instinctive liberal".

The catastrophic end of Cameron's time in office saw the coronation of the distinctly illiberal Theresa May, a wooden politican who manages to make even Gordon Brown look charismatic.

Whatever liberal tendencies Havard Hughes still harboured were quickly ditched in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and he became a fully paid-up member of the weird personality cult being woven around Theresa May whose record on human rights and civil liberties is anything but liberal.

Havard is now a May-bot. His Facebook campaign barely even acknowledges the Conservative Party; he is now simply "Theresa May's local candidate":


Apart from wearing a Barbour jacket and posing in front of some sheep grazing peacefully on the hills of Carmarthenshire, our London Tory has no discernible connection with Welsh agriculture which is facing disaster as we head out of the single market and the Customs Union.

But don't worry, boys. Havard Hughes says he will be your champion in Government, and in another spectacular flight of fancy he says he will sit "around the table with Theresa May as she negotiates Brexit".

In reality, Hughes would be one of probably not more than a dozen Tories representing a Welsh constituency in a sea of hundreds of English Tory MPs, and a very junior backbencher to boot.

Havard Hughes' chances of getting anywhere near the negotiating table and influencing his notoriously autocratic ultimate boss are fantasy like the rest of his platform. Hands up who thinks "Theresa May's local candidate" would dare say boo to She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Welcoming the launch of the Tory manifesto last week, a Daily Mail editorial described the document as "a manifesto for Middle England". It contains barely a word about Wales, and so it is perhaps entirely appropriate that a PR man working for a building society in Coventry, the very heart of middle England, should have been parachuted into Carmarthenshire for Theresa May.

Strong and stable

Judging from his output in the social media, Havard Hughes' strategy appears to be based on endless and mindless repetition of the words "strong and stable", while wrapping himself in the Union Jack. For someone who is so keen to boast about his Welsh credentials (including his ability to speak Welsh), his messages are completely devoid of the language apart from a snapshot of a leaflet bearing the Union Jack and the words Arweinyddiaeth Gryf a Sefydlog (yes, strong and stable leadership again):



One of the few messages not to include the words "strong and stable" promises that the Tories will commit to investing in British shipyards. "British shipbuilding will have a renaissance", we are promised. The fact that Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is pretty much landlocked and that there is no Welsh shipbuilding industry are minor details.



How strongly any of this will resonate with voters we will see, but if Cneifiwr's own canvassing experiences in rural north Carmarthenshire are anything to go by, Havard Hughes' message will be regarded as utterly irrelevant by many and deeply offensive by others.

What is clear is that Jonathan Edwards has succeeded in building a broad coalition of support among Welsh speakers and incomers alike. If he hadn't, he could never have won here.

If you live in Wales, you have a stake in Wales, he says, and some of the strongest conversations on the doorstep were with people who moved here, work here, set up small businesses here and have grown to love this country, its values and its people.

There is real concern about what the future holds, and there is an acute awareness among many voters that Theresa May and Co know nothing about Wales, care less and look set to lead us over a cliff with catastrophic consequences for the Welsh economy, and farming in particular.

But at least Boris's new Royal Yacht may do something for the shipbuilding industry somewhere, even if it's not Carmarthenshire.







Thursday, 18 May 2017

Labour Darkins Cneifiwr's Door - Updated

Update 19 May

Labour's satnav seems to have developed a strange technical fault. Yesterday it was telling us that the candidate began his campaign in Llandysul; today it says that the campaign began in Drefach Felindre, "an idyllic rural village". An anonymous poster in the comments below would have us believe that it said Drefach Felindre all along, and that to say otherwise is "fake news".

Unfortunately, in his rush to change the location of his launch, the Labour candidate has forgotten to proofread the rest of his brief announcement:

Today was the official launch of the Welsh Labour Campaign in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. We launched our campaign in Dre-Fach Felindre near Llandysul, an idyllic rural village in the north of the constituency. In my address to Labour Party activists an supporters, I warned of the dangers of another Tory govenrment whih would drive further inequality in our society and further privitise our public services.

Welsh speaking voters wishing to read about the candidate and why they should vote for him will be sadly disappointed. His commitment to the language is limited to telling us that he is a "llais ffres i Sir Gâr".

The rest of Dave Darkin's campaign website tells us about his business and comings and goings in Llanelli, including the fact that he recently became a member of Llanelli Town Council. It forgets to tell us that voters in Llanelli did not think he was up to the job of becoming a county councillor.

Those who voted to make Dave a member of Llanelli Town Council two short weeks ago will be surprised to learn that he appears to have moved to Ammanford since being elected, according to both his own website and that of the Labour Party:


Concerned Llanelli residents may wish to check with the clerk to Llanelli Town Council that Dave still qualifies to sit as a town councillor.

_______________

The far north west corner of Carmarthenshire is not exactly fruitful territory for Labour, but then neither is the Amman Valley these days. The whole of the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency returned just two Labour councillors on 4 May in what used to be a sea of red.

Labour has lost its way, and that may explain why the party chose to launch its general election campaign in what it describes as the "idyllic rural village" of Llandysul "in the north of the constituency".

Perhaps someone should give them a map because Llandysul is not actually in the constituency.

This great event is recorded on Dave Darkin's campaign website which contains next to nothing about Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and a great deal about Llanelli and Darkin's work as an architect. It's one way of touting for business.

If Dave's campaign website is to be believed, the Labour candidate, who states on his nomination papers that his home address is in Llanelli, has upped sticks and moved to Ammanford, where he appears to be shacked up with former councillor Anthony Jones:

Hyrwyddwyd gan Anthony Jonas ar gyfer David Darkin, y ddau o 15 Maesllwyn, Bonllwyn, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, SA18 2EG
Promoted by Anthony Jones on behalf of David Darkin, both of 15 Maesllwyn, Bonllwyn, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, SA18 2EG

Having puzzled voters in Ceredigion, the Labour squad headed for Newcastle Emlyn where the Labour vote is only marginally stronger than the Monster Raving Loony Party's. It was cattle market day, and the smell of fresh dung mingled with the heavy scent of slurry the boys had recently sprayed on the fields around the town. The rain poured down relentlessly as the Labour team, a mix of students and Guardian reading avocado munchers fretting about their next Ocado delivery, trudged around the town.

Unfortunately, what with it being a very wet market day and a time when most people under the age of 65 were out at work, most of us missed this very rare Labour outing. The last time anyone can remember seeing a Labour representative was in 2015 when Calum Higgins briefly posed for pics outside the fire station.

Back then Labour announced that Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was one of their top target seats. Calum's campaign sunk without trace, and Plaid increased its majority.

The outlook this time round is even more dire, and that may perhaps explain why, in desperation, Labour headed for Cneifiwr's humble shack.

Cneifiwr was at work, but Mrs C happened to be in. The doorbell rang, and at first she thought it might be those Jehovah's Witnesses again. She looked out and saw a bedraggled group with red rosettes, and decided not to open up.

All went quiet for a few minutes, and then the doorbell rang again. Rashly, she assumed that the Labour campaign had moved on, and went to open the door only to be confronted by the candidate himself and a member of his team who asked a somewhat startled Mrs Cneifiwr to pass on a message to her old man telling him to "stop making people angry".

And with that rather creepy encounter done, the soggy group finally moved on.

Mrs Cneifiwr got off rather lightly, as it happens. Here is an alarmed voter in Llanelli recording her "Labour doorstep" experience:


The question of what Nia has done for Llanelli has been puzzling Cneifiwr as well, and it is something this blog will attempt to answer in the next few days.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Donkey Derby: Red Rum sweeps all before him

Politics is a brutal business; an ungrateful or indifferent public and criticism in the media go with the territory, but for real cruelty and treachery nothing is likely to surpass the machinations of your own party colleagues.

It seems that Bill Thomas, until last week's elections one of Labour's councillors for Lliedi ward in Llanelli, and his son Clive were recently refused entry to the party's AGM, even though Bill is still technically the Labour mayor of Llanelli for a few more days.

Bill was a hard working, respected and popular councillor, described as a "true gent" by one prominent Plaid rival. What marked him out was that he was not afraid to speak his mind, often to the discomfort of his party's top brass and senior council officers. For years he tried to highlight the folly of building houses on flood plains, and he campaigned long and hard to protect the Burry Inlet from releases of raw sewage which he believed were responsible for devastating damage to the cockle beds, and the impact that had on the livelihoods of the cocklers and the loss of species such as oyster catchers.

For his pains, Bill was repeatedly ordered to sit down and shut up in the council chamber, often by Labour colleagues, and it was ironic that on the day voters went to the polls, the European Court of Justice announced that the UK authorities were guilty of allowing pollution of this fragile ecosystem.

But despite his willingness to stand up for issues which the Labour Party and the powers-that-be would rather not have aired, Bill remained a loyal member of his party.

When he was unexpectedly deselected by Labour in Lliedi, Bill could have stood against Labour as an independent, but he chose not to.

According to reliable sources, Bill lost the selection process when a number of normally inactive members suddenly came out in support of Rob James who had just moved to Llanelli from Neath.

Although James appears quickly to have made friends with Tegwen and Co, rank and file members can have known precious little about the ambitious young man who had turned up on their doorsteps. Ordinary members would have been surprised to learn that Rob James' record as a councillor in Neath Port Talbot was less than exemplary and that he had gained a degree of notoriety in his former stomping ground for being largely invisible during his five year term there.

But perhaps that misses the point. James's victory in the selection process had nothing to do with his track record, which was nothing to boast about, and everything to do with who he knew in the party machine.

When during the election campaign a Plaid candidate published details of James's attendance record at NPT, he threatened legal action. He also made what he termed a "formal complaint" against this blog, demanding to know where the attendance figures came from while giving the impression that he was the victim of a smear campaign.

After it was pointed out to him that the figures came from Neath Port Talbot council, James was not heard from again, but he appears to have continued to proclaim in Lliedi that the figures were lies, and that both he and his "young family" were being targeted by opponents. There is not a shred of evidence to support that claim.

Rob James's decision to stand in Lliedi was vindicated on polling day when not only did the newcomer win, but he won by a country mile, beating Bill Thomas's vote in Labour's best ever year in 2012 by 237 votes on a turnover which was only slightly up from 34.9% to 39%.

As Jac o' the North notes here, if this had been a horse race, the stewards would be taking an interest in this truly remarkable outcome.  A distinctly mediocre hack with poor form was transformed into Red Rum. Where did those 237 votes come from?

But Rob's run of luck did not end there because days later Red Rum romped past Kevin Madge with almost 40 years spent in local government in Carmarthenshire to become the new deputy leader of the Labour group.

Meanwhile, the Labour vote in Rob's old ward in Neath Port Talbot suffered a dramatic collapse.




Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Havard Hughes: Second home from home

A little known fact is that there are as many elephants in Carmarthenshire than there are elected Tories.

One of the consequences of calling a snap election in the middle of the local government election campaign was that the parties, including the Tories, were caught on the hop, in many cases with no candidates in place.

There have been rows in other places, most notably Bridgend, where Conservative Central Office imposed a London candidate on the constituency party in preference to local members. Now the same is happening in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr where Havard Hughes, a former LibDem, is being parachuted in over the heads of local talent and hoping to join Valli the elephant at the Skanda Vale ashram near Llanpumsaint and Simon Hart as the sole representatives of their respective species in the constituency. And Hart relies on the southern half of Pembrokeshire to get elected.

With just four weeks to go until polling day, and rather less in the case of the growing number of voters who opt for postal ballots (somewhere around the 30% mark), the local Conservative association's website is currently silent on the topic, still promoting its candidate for the Cynwyl Gaeo ward in the council elections on 4 May (he lost). Perhaps Conservative Central Office has not got around to telling them yet.

But Havard Hughes is the man who will be wearing the blue rosette, and he has announced his "selection" on Twitter.

Hughes lives in London and works as media and public affairs manager for the Coventry Building Society in Coventry.

Although he grew up in Carmarthenshire, Hughes has spent most of his adult life in the Big Smoke, and for much of that time he was a fervent Liberal Democrat, chairing the LibDem Students in Cambridge before going on to work for Vince Cable and becoming a LibDem councillor.

Unlikely though it is that Havard Hughes intends to move back to live among us, he describes Carmarthenshire as his "second home", a phrase which carries rather different connotations in the north of Carmarthenshire and shows that he has spent rather too long away from Rhydargaeau, which is where his Twitter profile would have us believe he now lives.

Describing himself as an "instinctive liberal", he decided to jump ship to the Tories in 2007 having been persuaded that David Cameron's liberal conservatism addressed things that mattered to him, such as the environment.

Liberal values, a concern for the environment and so much else that Cameron claimed to stand for are so last year. As one wit recently commented after the UK Government was found by the European Court of Justice to have been in breach of EU laws over the amount of sewage and waste water discharged into the sea off Carmarthenshire, we will soon be free to drink as much sewage as we like.

The ECJ has also issued the UK with a final warning for breaching air pollution controls on nitrogen dioxide, but with luck we may be out of the EU before the matter can be taken further.

Last week Theresa May's government was forced by the High Court to publish its proposals for tackling air pollution after it tried to delay publication until after the election. The flimsy paper which came out met with near universal derision, with claims that it was even weaker than the previous version which was ruled inadequate in November last year.

Havard Hughes' instinctive liberalism and concern for the environment seem to have gone the same way as his hero worship for David Cameron as he prepares to go into battle for the distinctly illiberal Theresa May.

Or perhaps his liberal, environmentalist principles are still there. It's hard to tell.

Whatever the case may be, the former long-term activist for the pro-EU LibDems and admirer of the pro-EU David Cameron is likely to be regarded with some suspicion by the pro-Brexit contingent in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. 

If Havard Hughes comes up against Neil Hamilton in any hustings, the sparks are likely to fly, with disgraceful suggestions that the Tory candidate is in fact a Saboteur and Enemy of the Will of the People merely waiting for the political winds to shift once again.

Meanwhile Hamilton himself has polled what Professor Roger Scully says is the lowest score for any political leader in all of his 25 years in academia, a message which was promptly retweeted by Llanelli AM Lee Waters, who was clearly relieved that there is someone in Welsh politics even less popular than he is.

In four weeks from now Havard Hughes will be heading back to the congenial delights of Hampstead, and as the words "strong and stable leadership" are paroted for the final time, Valli will trumpet into the starry Camrarthenshire night, and there will still be as many elephants as Tories in Carmarthenshire.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Stalkers

One of Labour's campaign pledges for last week's council elections in Carmarthenshire was a commitment to running a "modern, transparent council".

In what must be a record for ditching a pledge, Labour in Llanelli has moved rapidly to remove from the public gaze the Mayor's Diary from Llanelli Town Council's website. The Civic Diary on the website of Llanelli Rural Council has also suddenly gone blank.

The reason given to concerned residents wanting to know what their mayor is doing for the town was that the diaries have been removed to "avoid stalkers".

The current holder of the office on Llanelli Town Council is Bill Thomas, but he is no longer a councillor, and jolly Jeff Edmunds is not due to put on the municipal bling until 17 May.

Who would want to stalk Jeff Edmunds is a mystery, although readers of this blog may recall that before the election he claimed that a mysterious person had phoned him pretending to be a member of the Labour Party, only to splash his comments all over the "blogs". Even more mysteriously, nobody ever managed to track down the blogs or the comments he said they had published.

Cllr Edmunds also claimed that somebody had tried to clone his Facebook account, and that he had gone to the police about all of this. When the press asked the police what was going on, Dyfed Powys said nobody had contacted them about it.

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

Perhaps Jeff Edmunds is the object of some obscure cargo cult of fetishist, gothic grannies, or perhaps he just feels that the mayor's comings and goings are an entirely private matter.

Perhaps he is planning to follow the trail blazed by Cllr Shahana Najmi when she took off to the Agen Prune Festival with an all-Labour delegation a few years back, presumably to explore ways in which she might strengthen Llanelli's own prune industry. We may never know.

Whatever the case, anyone wanting to find out what Labour's top brass in Llanelli is doing will now need to submit a Freedom of Information request.

There's transparent local government for you.


Strictly no hope


Dafen Dolly's defeat at the hands of Rob Evans Paramedic in last week's council elections means that the lugubrious Jeff Edmunds found himself as leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire County Council without a dance partner.

Rather less well publicised than last night's Labour leadership elections in Cardiff where Huw 'Tippex' Thomas ousted Phil Bale, the Labour group in Carmarthenshire has awarded its fabulous glitterball trophy to the pairing of Jeff Edmunds and new boy Rob James.

One of the couples rumoured to have taken to the dance floor is Derek Cundy with Kevin Madge as deputy, although their tango is understood to have bombed with the judges in the dance-off.


With James having called for Mark James's suspension in the press - something which will have had the chief executive's legal advisers adding more noughts to any future severance package - and declared that the Plaid-Independent coalition with 52 of the 74 seats on the council lacks a mandate, voters are in for comedy gold as the Edmunds-James partnership takes to the floor, with Jeff taking the role of straight man to James's hapless buffoon.

[Updated from version published earlier today]




Sunday, 7 May 2017

Local government elections 2017

As the dust settles on Thursday's vote, it's time for a few reflections.

The election saw Plaid Cymru turn in its best ever performance in Carmarthenshire, and the party came within a whisker (2 seats) of winning an overall majority. The Independents continued their long-term decline, and will now be a junior partner in a new coalition with just 3 out of the 10 seats on the Executive Board.

As always, the Independents are a mixed bag, but without Pam Palmer and Meryl the relationship will begin on a new footing under the leadership of Mair Stephens.

Outside Llanelli, Labour is now an endangered species. It has just one outlier in Carmarthen, and is down to just four in its former bastions in the Amman and Gwendraeth valleys where personal loyalties count for as least as much as politics.

Llanelli and the surrounding communities are now home to 17 of the Labour group's 22 members, and that will have some interesting consequences.

The scattered fragments of the Labour Party outside Llanelli are in no position to challenge the direction the group takes, and inside Llanelli the hardliners have strengthened their hand. The nepotism, clientelism and bullying which characterise the party in Llanelli will continue to flourish, creating all the right conditions for corruption. They will see their success in fending off the challenge from Plaid as a vindication of their tactics and policies, and the moderates in their midst will be left feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election almost certainly helped Labour by diverting voters' attention from local issues and the state of Labour in Llanelli to what the mainstream media always portray as a two horse race between the Tories and Labour in the UK.

But Llanelli Labour is also well organised, and another significant factor is likely to have been the growing popularity of postal voting. Labour is understood to have done particularly well in the postal vote.

On the face of it, postal voting is a good thing. It helps increase turnout and participation in elections, and that certainly helps Labour which often struggles to get its vote out.

But the system is also open to manipulation, especially among what is sometimes termed the "donkey vote". Helping people to register for a postal vote, popping round to remind them to put a cross in the right place and offering to walk the envelope to the nearest postbox are all perfectly legal, and it can yield a healthy crop of votes for even the most dire candidates.

That Labour is not impregnable is clear from what has happened in the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency. As recently as 2015 CE&D was one of Labour's top target seats, and they lost by a mile. This time they could even be pushed into third place, something that was unthinkable a few years ago.

In Llanelli, Tegwen Devichand's defeat at the hands of Rob Evans Paramedic, the Independent candidate, shows that Labour is vulnerable even in its last remaining bastion. Rob, who is a big personality, fought a very energetic one-man campaign against a well-oiled and powerful machine, and David beat Goliath.

Critics of Plaid Cymru often contrast the party's failure to break through with the success of the SNP, but Carmarthenshire shows, as it has shown before, that decline and decay under the dead hand of Labour does not have to be our fate.

The SNP swept all before it in the general election in 2015, but it was only last week that the party finally broke Labour's grip on Glasgow.

Mari Arthur is about to give Labour the fight of its life in Llanelli.

Footnote

Several of those present at the count could not help noticing that Rob James, Labour's new boy from Neath, was strutting around as if he owned the place. Interestingly, he is now ranting on Twitter that Plaid and the Independents do not have a mandate to run local government in Llanelli. By complete coincidence that is exactly the same message as the one being pumped out by "Llanelli Eye", a new account brought to you by the swivel-eyed creeps behind CUSC SOPAP.
 


To put things into perspective, Rob James polled 33% on a 39% turnout, meaning that just 13% or a fraction over 1 in 10 voters in Lliedi expressed a preference for Rob James (Lab). As mandates go, that's not a lot to shout about is it?