Monday, 24 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Supporting local business

There are still 10 days to go before polling day, but the growing popularity of postal voting means that most of those who are likely to vote have already done so.

Percentages will vary from ward to ward, but it is safe to assume that people who request postal votes are more likely to vote than those who haven't. The result is that for the rest of this campaign, candidates are chasing the votes of probably only 15% of the voters in their wards.

This may help explain why Tegwen Devichand and Jeff Edmunds have started campaigning outside their own wards, and have now popped up in Five Roads where veteran Independent Jim Jones is defending Glyn ward.

Standing for Labour is Stephen Donoghue, who not long ago left Plaid to board Captain Corbyn's sinking ship, while Plaid's candidate is John Williams. There is also a Tory, James Hogg.

There are no local opinion polls, but nobody in their right minds is expecting Labour to take back control of the county council after 4 May, and the likelihood is that they will be reduced to a small rump. The only hope, and it is now a vanishingly small one, that they have of getting back into power is in coalition with the Independents.

Llanelli Labour's tactics in this election seem almost to have been designed to ensure that nobody, least of all the Independents, will want to go anywhere near them after 4 May.

______________


Something which should annoy all voters are the meaningless claims put by so many candidates on their election material - and yes, all parties are guilty.

Someone once said that an effective test for bullshit is to insert the word not in a sentence. If the result is something nobody would ever say, then you are being served up with a pile of fresh, steaming manure.

"I will stand up for my community", is the classic.

Closely followed by "I support local business".

Here is Labour's leaflet for the county council elections in Llannon:

Local printers in Cwm Gwendraeth and Llanelli will wonder what supporting local business actually means.

Meanwhile, here is Labour's leaflet for the community council elections, this time printed in Llanelli. Only some of the mistakes are underlined, but voters in this strongly Welsh-speaking community will be surprised that Labour does not even know how to spell the name of one of the villages they hope to represent:


It is perhaps significant that the word "respectfully" has not been translated into the Welsh text.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Carry On in Carmarthen

Ifan Morgan Jones, lecturer in journalism, author and generally the fount of all knowledge, was pontificating on Twitter yesterday that there were a lot of 'unvetted candidates' saying silly things on social media, and he recommended that they should lock their accounts.

There are several things wrong with this. Firstly, wouldn't the world be a dull place if our would-be masters only spoke and tweeted on message, and would it not be a profoundly dishonest and undemocratic way of conducting election campaigns? And if Ifan is right, wouldn't it be sensible to wire candidates' mouths shut and remove all writing materials from them for the duration, because some of the daftest things are said and written in real life away from social media websites?


Take Charlie Evans, the young Tory hopeful in Carmarthen South, for example.

Five weeks ago at the beginning of his campaign he got into a spot of bother for producing English-only campaign literature and then talking a lot of nonsense about Welsh-medium education.

In the ensuing row, he locked his Twitter account and had a major spring clean before letting the public back in.

Charlie is in his early 20s but really belongs back in the 1950s. A committed evangelical Christian who is against same sex marriage; wants to see overseas aid cut; rushes to the defence of the rich for paying more tax than the rest of us; wants to see high earners paying less tax; thinks that free movement is an "absurd fantasy"; opposes sex education in schools and worships Theresa May, while retweeting fawning messages congratulating Mrs W on turning 91.

Marriage is for procreation only, says Charlie, who would like to stop people who love each other from tying the knot for any other reason, just as he would like to deny young people living in the UK the right to go and live and work in another country.

He's gone from nappies to being a fully-fledged Felix Aubel without passing through Aubel's pinko lefty phase.


It's the sort of thing Tory columnist Matthew Parris was talking about in The Times last week, except that Charlie is under 30:


But you don't need Twitter to say stupid things. Introducing himself at a hustings in Carmarthen, Charlie Evans gave his name and told his audience that he worked in the lingerie department of Marks & Spencers. "So, ladies, if you would like to come along for a personal fitting...."

If knicker sales at M&S in Carmarthen go into a sudden decline, this may explain it.

And there we have our Tory candidate. A sort of evangelical Leslie Phillips with intolerant views straight out of the Steve Bannon playbook. Ding dong, ladies!


Gwynfor for Labour!

Equally bonkers are Matthew Thomas and Julia Ault, a Labour duo in Camarthen West next door.

Gwynfor Evans won a sensational victory at the Carmarthen by-election in 1966, taking the seat from Labour. He fought all his life for the vision of a Wales free to govern itself and choose its own destiny. He was both a nationalist and an internationalist. Mahatma Gandhi was a major influence in his thinking.

The Labour Party employed a succession of dirty tricks against him, and he was convinced that Wales could never progress under Labour. Fifty years on, and Wales remains one of the poorest parts of Western Europe, the main difference being that we now have a partly devolved Labour government, with Labour MPs still firmly opposed to transferring power from Westminster.

Against that background, and knowing that many voters in Carmarthen will be acutely aware of who Gwynfor was and what he stood for, you would not imagine that the Labour Party would try to claim Gwynfor Evans for themselves.

You would be wrong.

Gwynfor was a pacifist and would have been horrified by Labour's decisions to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would have deplored the creeping militarisation of public life under Blair and Brown now being pursued enthusiastically by the Tories - all those march pasts, new war memorials, commemorations and pageants. But no, the real jingoists are Plaid Cymru, according to Matthew Thomas and Julia Ault:



Perhaps this is all part of Labour's cunning plan.





Saturday, 22 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Llannon

Llannon is a two member ward, currently represented by Emlyn Dole (Plaid), the council leader, and Kim 'Apartheid' Thomas.

Joining the battle are Phil Williams for Plaid; Dot Jones for Labour; Rob Owens (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) and Alun Owens (Independent).

Someone's got to do it, but leading a county council at a time when local government finances are under huge pressure is a thankless task, and the legacy left by previous Labour and Independent administrations does not help matters. One of the most toxic gifts bequeathed by Meryl and Kevin Madge is the Jacqui Thompson case.

In the recent court case in which the chief executive, Mark James, was hoping to be given the green light to force an immediate sale of the Thompons' family home, his counsel told the court that Mr James's damages were his to do with as he pleased. He was not bound by an agreement to pay the damages over to the council, and could stuff the money in the gutter if he wished.

The report presented to the Executive Board when it met back in January 2012 included the following words:

The Head of Paid Service has confirmed that he is not motivated by a wish to benefit financially and that accordingly should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority and will not be kept by him.

It is hard to reconcile that commitment with stuffing the money in the gutter, and Private Eye has picked up on this, erm, slight discrepancy.

Emlyn Dole will have been as surprised and dismayed as anyone when he heard the "gutter" remarks, and earlier this week issued the following statement to the Western Mail:

"The decision made by the previous council administration five years ago to indemnify the Chief Executive’s counter-libel action indicated that he would pay any damages awarded over to the council. Having investigated the matter, I understand that this undertaking is not legally binding. However, once the Chief Executive has recouped the substantial costs which he personally incurred in pursuing the damages awarded him by the judge in the counter-libel hearing, he may wish to consider what should happen to the money awarded in damages – including paying it over to the council. One thing is certain, the money will not be “thrown in the gutter” – an insensitive off-the-cuff remark made on the spur of the moment by his legal counsel in reply to an inquiry by the judge.”  

The BBC is understood to have been interested in following this story up, but was prevented from doing so by the rather daft purdah rules which apply during an election campaign.

Unlike public service broadcasters, the rest of the media is not bound by purdah rules, and you might think it would have been picked up by the local press, the story being of more than passing local interest.

One of the newest arrivals on the Carmarthenshire scene is Llanelli Online, which also markets itself as Carmarthenshire Media and Carmarthenshire Online. To describe this rabidly pro-Labour website as a news outlet would be pushing things a little too far, as much of its output rather obviously comes straight from Labour's campaign team.

Who is funding Llanelli Online is not known, but with diddly squat in advertising and no subscription income, plus start-up costs, it is hard to see how Alan Evans, the editor (and everything else) is managing to put food on his table.

Alan, a fervent admirer of Saint Tegwen and her daughter, Sharen Davies, was until recently employed by the Herald group, and it is an understatement to say that he is not a fan of Emlyn Dole.

A couple of months ago a short snippet appeared in the pages of Private Eye alleging that there had been a mysterious caravan fire in the grounds of Emlyn's home. This took many of us by surprise, not least because there had been no mention of the story in the local press.

It turns out that some of the local papers had looked at it and decided not to touch the story with a bargepole because it was fake news dreamed up by Alan Evans. A picture purporting to show the burned out remains of the static caravan was in fact an old rubbish tip.

Whether Alan was also behind Private Eye's cockeyed report on the Llangennech school row is not known, but friends of the satirical magazine have advised it to wear rubber gloves when handling material submitted from Llanelli in future.

Incendiary rubbish

Also hoping to retain a seat on the county council is Labour's Kim Thomas who briefly acquired notoriety when she described plans to phase out the English stream in Llangennech as apartheid. She subsequently went on to make even more extreme comments in an edition of S4C's Y Byd ar Bedwar, questioning the value of Welsh-medium education, despite being governor of a Welsh-medium school.

This was by far Kim Thomas's most spectacular contribution to local government during the last five years; normally she sits in complete silence in the council chamber. Strange then that you will not read a single word about any of this in her election leaflet which is notable for a few vague and questionable claims about her achievements and some very badly written and edited Welsh - perhaps she should have asked the pupils at Ysgol Cross Hands for help.



First up on her list of "achievements" is a claim that she successfully stopped an incinerator from being built on the outskirts of Cwmgwili.

This relates to a bizarre application submitted by a company called Clean Power Properties. As this blog noted at the time, there were major flaws in the application:

Hooking up a plant of this size to the National Grid would not come cheap, but perhaps the biggest question hanging over the project is what would happen to the heat, not least because the site is miles from the nearest centres of population, Ammanford being the nearest.

In reality, the project was never a flier, and it was rejected by the council's planning committee, never to be heard of again.

Kim also says she has campaigned for jobs for local residents in Lidl and a new retail complex at Cross Hands, where jobs stacking shelves and operating tills would presumably otherwise have gone to Oompa Loompas flown in every day to Pembrey Airport.

Rather more vaguely, she supports local business (though not all local retailers might agree with that one), and affordable housing. As well as motherhood and apple pie.


 

Election Tour 2017: Dafen (Updated)

Two posts today. Here is the first.

Update 23 April

The smear on the Dafen village website and one of the comments on this post urging Rob to give up show that panic is beginning to set in on the Labour side.

The suggestion that Rob is not qualified to give defibrillator training was not only false, but irresponsible. Most of us will have seen defibrillators hanging up in public places, and unless you have had training, you probably think that they require specialist knowledge to use. They are in fact designed to be used by anyone who can read and follow a few simple step-by-step instructions and perform CPR.

I had training a couple of years ago, and although I could not tell you exactly what to do from memory, the key message I came away with is that they are very, very simple to use.

The effect of the anonymous message is to suggest that defibrillators can only be used if you have had training, and that is something that could cost lives.

But if you have not been trained, please, please make the effort. It could be the most important thing you have ever done.

As for the comment left by Anon on this blog saying that Plaid is just using Rob and will spit him out when done is an insult to the man himself. Rob is his own man and is campaigning on his own merits.

_______________

One of the wards to watch when votes are counted in this year's county council elections will be Dafen, a two horse race between Tegwen Devichand (Lab.) and Rob Evans (Independent).


Rob is a larger than life, proud Welshman. A die-hard rugby fan who is also a registered paramedic and a serving member of Llanelli Rural Council, he is determined to give the 75 year-old veteran a run for her money.




The result looks set to be close.

Unsurprisingly, the dirty tricks brigade are out, and an anonymous post has appeared on the village website questioning whether Rob is qualified to give training in how to use a defibrillator.

Rob has been giving training in Felinfoel, where he lives, and has promised to give free training in  Dafen, regardless of the outcome of the election, as the village is due to get its own public access defibrillator.

Recently while out canvassing Rob came across someone who had just had a stroke in their home, and thanks to his intervention, that person has survived.


He is also campaigning for Welsh medium Cylch Meithrin provision.

A victory for Rob would be a big step on the way to changing the toxic nature of politics in Llanelli.


Friday, 21 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Llandybie, Llandeilo and a little bit of Llanelli (Updated)

Update 21 April - Parliamo Italiano!

As Cllr Anthony 'Whitey' Davies prepares to head off to enjoy the almond blossom in Italy, it seems that some residents in his ward are hoping that it will be a case of addio (farewell) rather than arrivederci (goodbye until we meet again).

Planning application E/34305 would re-open a landfill site at the former Abernant Farm for the dumping of materials after extensive taxpayer funded remediation and restoration works. As one resident put it,

The proposal would adversely affect residents of Heol Ddu, as 3,100 loads of material would be carried by 32 tonne/9.1m long 8 wheel tipper lorries along the very narrow lanes through Heol Ddu to reach the site (lorries exiting through the housing developments along Nant Y Glyn Road in Glanaman). The dumping would continue for many years, operating six days a week.

Among the statutory consultees listed are three county councillors: Anthony Jones (Lab.) and Anthony 'Whitey' Davies (Ind.) for Llandybie, and Dai Jenkins (Plaid) for Glanaman.

Locals threatened with having their lives made hell for years to come naturally assumed that their councillors would respond and put the case against the proposed development forcefully.

It seems that only Dai Jenkins did, with neither of the Llandybie councillors bothering.


Stronzo! as they say on Montalbano.

____________________


It is almost a cliché to say that Carmarthenshire is a county of contrasts; it is in its way a mini-Wales with its post-industrial, semi-rural communities in the east, Llanelli in the south and the overwhelmingly rural north and west with their market towns.

That mix is reflected in the election campaigns now underway. Compared with the bitter trench warfare which is going on in Llanelli, fuelled by the peculiarly toxic nature of the Labour Party there, the local government election campaign in the rest of the county is a much quieter and more civilised affair.

But before we leave Llanelli for the moment, news came in yesterday that Labour has reported two more opponents to the police for errors in the imprints on their election material. One of those is Theressa Bowen (Ind., Llwynhendy), while the other is understood to be Huw Richards (Ind., Felinfoel).

Dyfed Powys Police will breathe a sigh of relief when election season finally ends because the Labour Party has clearly decided to shore up its campaign by using threats of legal action and criminal prosecution to intimidate its opponents as it spews out bogus claims of harassment, hacking and abuse of candidates' partners and children.

It is significant that Llanelli Labour is directing its attacks at Plaid and the Independents while developing a much more cosy relationship with the Tories and UKIP.

What many voters do not realise is that a good proportion of the claims made by Labour candidates that they have gone to the police are complete fabrications, while others, such as Rob James's bizarre attempt to rubbish his attendance record in Neath Port Talbot, should constitute wasting police time.

But let's leave the madhouse and head north, where some quieter but nevertheless very interesting contests are taking place.

One of those is Llandybie, where Anthony 'Whitey' Davies (Ind.) is going on holiday to Italy, saying that he booked it a long time ago, having apparently forgotten that the date of the election has been known for the last five years.

Nobody can remember the last time Cllr Davies made a contribution to a council meeting - or even if he has ever spoken.

Also representing Llandybie is Anthony Jones (Lab.) who has traditionally been able to take his support for granted without wasting too much shoe leather. His pompous delivery in County Hall never won him many friends, and on the odd occasion in the past he threw a few spanners in the works of his neighbour and colleague Kevin Madge, fuelling speculation that he had ambitions to lead the Labour Group.

All the indications are that Anthony will be spending a lot more time with his family after 4 May.

Llandybie is represented by two councillors, but Anthony Jones is the only Labour candidate. UKIP is represented by Nigel Humphreys (Isle of Wight), while Plaid is fielding Karen Davies and Dai Nicholas, both from the village. Karen's background is in the health service, while Dai has very extensive experience in marketing, business and project finance.

Also standing are Sandra Morgan (Tory) and another independent, Pat Jenkins.

Another interesting contest is taking place not far away in Llandeilo, currently held by Edward Thomas (Ind.). Also standing are a Tory and a LibDem, but this is in reality a two horse race between Keri Lewis for Plaid and Edward Thomas.

Edward Thomas is a nice enough man, but in common with most of his Independent colleagues he has little more to offer than being a local man, with no wider vision for the county beyond Llandeilo.

Keri is young by county council standards, energetic and very much of the new generation of Plaid candidates. This is the first time he has stood for election.




Labour is not bothering, which should come as no surprise considering Lee Waters' idiotic opposition to the town's £50 million bypass scheme on the grounds that, in his view, it made a mockery of Leanne Wood's green credentials.

Keri is a Chartered Environmentalist and understands the science behind the pollution which has afflicted Llandeilo for so long. In particular he has highlighted the threat to the long-term health of children in the town caused by particulates which make their way from the lungs into the brain and other organs of the body.

In an online debate on the bypass with Lee Waters (Barry Island, Lab.), it is fair to say that Keri won a slamdunk victory over the blundering AM whose time at the IWA seems to have convinced him that he is an expert on everything from the Welsh language to environmental science.




Thursday, 20 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Complaints galore

Rob James who succeeded in dislodging Bill Thomas, one of Labour's best and most widely respected county councillors shortly after shipping up in Llanelli from Neath, recently sent Cneifiwr an e-mail marked 'Formal Complaint', giving this blog three days in which to respond.

He writes, "In your blog post, entitled 'Fear and Loathing in Llanelli', you have referenced a number of statistics on my attendance record in Neath Port Talbot. I believe this information to be incorrect, and this information has now been used in a Plaid leaflet. I would appreciate it if you could provide evidence of these figures and where you obtained them."

Rob was elected to Neath Port Talbot in May 2012 and remains a councillor for Bryncoch South ward to this day. According to the council, his home address is 11 Talbot Road, although according to his nomination papers in Carmarthenshire, his home address is 8 Old Road, Llanelli. 

Residents of Bryncoch South may be wondering whether their councillor really lives where he says he does and whether, like them, he has been paying council tax in Neath Port Talbot.

Having been elected, Rob made his mark by turning up to one of the first meetings wearing shorts, a T-shirt and dark glasses perched on his head. The old-school Labour leader, Ali Thomas, was said to have been apoplectic.

Things went downhill from there, with increasingly rare appearances, and a fellow councillor said he could not recall a single contribution to a meeting by Rob during the first four years of his term in office.

Residents of Bryncoch South began to notice that something was not right, and in September 2016 a member of the public wrote to the council asking for details of Cllr James's attendance record.

In response, Neath Port Talbot council said that it did not publish attendance statistics for its councillors, although it was committed to open and transparent local government, because there was no statutory requirement to do so. It was however trialing some new software which it hoped would enable it to publish attendance statistics from May 2017.

In the meantime, the council decided to respond to the request under the Freedom of Information Act, and Mr Rhys George, the council's Electoral and Democratic Services Manager, provided Cllr James's record for the period from May 2012 to April 2016.



For the period from April to October 2016, Cllr James's record has been pieced together by trawling through the attendance records contained in meeting minutes.

The results are shown in the following table:

Click to enlarge
Having stood down from his various committee appointments in late 2016, Rob James's attendance record has shown a significant statistical improvement, simply because he has had far fewer meetings to attend.

In addition to complaining to Y Cneifiwr, Rob has said that he has also gone to Dyfed Powys Police with a formal complaint.

To save a lot of police time and expense, we can only hope that the HM Constabulary refers Rob back to his council's Electoral and Democratic Services Manager.

In a separate move, Rob James says he has complained to Dyfed Powys Police that a leaflet distributed by the two Plaid candidates in Lliedi, Colin Jones and Dyfrig Thomas, did not contain an address on the imprint, as required under electoral law.

Turning to his followers on Facebook, Rob has also found time to complain that Plaid has subjected both him and his young family to "hateful attacks on an almost daily basis", and that Plaid has been spreading lies about him.

The "lies" presumably refers to  Neath Port Talbot's attendance statistics. "Attacks on his young family" would be deplorable if there were a shred of evidence to back up Rob's claims, but readers will search his social media timelines in vain.







Welcome to the world of post factual politics.








Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Swindon (Updated)

Update 20 April

A reader writes,  "I thought that I should mention that back in about 1960, there were some (two I think) railway coaches hitched together sideways, to form a bungalow, which were on the opposite side of the road and in close proximity to Penllwyngwyn Farm.  When travelling on the bus from Pontarddulais to  Llanelli, the bus conductor always shouted out "Swindon" when approaching the railway carriages".

______________

As readers may be aware, Dai Lloyd's recent attempt to give a measure of protection to historical place names was vetoed by the Labour Party, with Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy and Infrastructure, declaring that the proposals were "premature".

Meanwhile, cultural vandalism continues unabated, with ancient farms, cottages and even geographical features being given twee new names. One example brought to Cneifiwr's attention is Pencraig in Llangoedmor, Ceredigion, a former farm now converted into holiday cottages which was recently re-named "Owl Farm".

Pencraig is by no stretch of the imagination difficult to pronounce even if you don't know a single word of Welsh, and there is even a small eponymous village over the border in Herefordshire which has somehow survived through the centuries with its name unmolested.

Perhaps it is time we renamed Ken Skates.

Now reports have come in from Llangennech (yes, afraid so) where Gary Poumista Jones, one of Labour's two candidates for the county council, is complaining that Plaid has blocked attempts to have a lane named "Heol Swindon".



A little known fact about Swindon, the rather unscenic English railway town, is that you can usually pick up Radio Cymru there - in fact the reception is better than in parts of Ceredigion. It was also the birthplace of Diana Dors.

Unfairly or not, Swindon has acquired a reputation for being a rather drab sort of place, and so why anyone would want to name a lane in a Welsh village "Heol Swindon" is a mystery.

And it's not the only mystery because the lane in question is known as Heol Penllwyngwyn, which is also the name of the adjacent main road. As far as the Royal Mail and the County Council are concerned, the address of all the properties along the lane (post code SA14 9UG) is Heol Penllwyngwyn, and the council's planning department has said it has received no applications to have the name of the lane changed.

The two current county councillors for Llangennech also say that nobody has ever raised the matter with them, and they have never blocked any proposal to change the name of the road.

Purely by coincidence, there is a very popular pub close to Llangoedmor called Y Penllwyndu, next to a crossroads where in days gone by rogues and vagabonds would be strung up, a fact commemorated on the pub's famous sign.

Fortunately the worst that can happen to Gary Poumista Jones is that voters will send him off with a resounding raspberry.


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Bynea, Bigyn and Pontyberem (Updated)

Not so happy families


Who sits and stands where is important in Labour circles. In the group portrait taken when Labour launched its manifesto in Carmarthenshire poor old Kevin Madge, once the centre of things, has almost been squeezed out of shot, standing (from Tegwen's point of view) on the extreme right, while occupying a conspicuous place of honour next to Dafen Dolly is Rob James, who was also given a speaking part at the launch.

Rob, who has dislodged Labour's best councillor, Bill Thomas in Lliedi, has no local connections and popped up in Llanelli after serving a pretty uninspiring five years in Neath Port Talbot.

His star billing at the launch can't have gone down well with the old hands who have toiled away in County Hall for the last five years.

Take Derek Cundy, for example. Derek, who was one of the brighter lights in the low wattage Labour group elected back in 2012, will be standing again for Bynea, although such is his attachment to the ward that he moved out of it after being elected and now lives in Llangennech which is less prone to flooding.

2012 was a very good year for Labour as it recovered from the Brown years, and Derek Cundy won the ward for Labour with a majority of 117 over Gwynne Wooldridge (Independent) who held the ward previously.

This time round, Plaid is fielding Gwynne's son, Ian Wooldridge.

Ian is the first Plaid candidate to stand in Bynea since 1977, and unlike Derek Cundy was born and brought up in the village, and still lives there.

He works as a mathematics lecturer at Neath Port Talbot College, and his electoral address is a model of what a good electoral address should be. It is devoid of the usual meaningless platitudes, and concentrates on local issues such as a plan to build 240 houses on land at Genwen Farm:

With so many new houses built in Bynea ward recently, I’m very concerned that 240 more are planned on Genwen Farm land. The current inadequate sewerage/drainage system cannot cope with existing demands and, as a result, often causes flooding in the ward. It would therefore be highly irresponsible to build more housing estates in the ward. As a Councillor I shall oppose any such proposals.

Derek Cundy has got a fight on his hands.

Bigyn and Pontyberem

As we saw recently, Lee Waters has gone to extraordinary lengths to create the impression that he lives in Llanelli when in fact he lives in Barry, and we have three Labour candidates for the county council - Sion Davies (Llangyndeyrn), Lisa Williams (Trimsaran) and Philip Thompson (Kidwelly) - all giving a small house in Kidwelly as their home address.

Even more confused about where he really lives is Edward Skinner who is standing as Labour candidate for the county council in Pontyberem and for Bigyn on Llanelli Town Council.

Skinner's nomination papers for the county council elections gave his address as 11 Railway Terrace, Llanelli, an address unknown to the postman or indeed anyone else. Meanwhile the address given for his Bigyn candidacy is 11 Railway Place, Llanelli.*




Correction 18 April

Llanelli Labour Party has asked for this piece to be corrected to show that the addresses given for Edward Skinner were both in Llanelli. The Labour Party has also stated that Mr Skinner has not attended an interview at Llanelli Police Station with regard to the discrepancies on his nomination papers.

Y Cneifiwr apologises for any confusion and distress caused.

Election Tour 2017: Llangennech and Parc Howard


This week's Llanelli Herald contains an interesting update on the aborted fundraiser for a judicial review of the council's decision to establish a Welsh-medium school in the village.

Watkins and Gunn, the law firm which the CrowdJustice website said was running with the case, told the newspaper that it had not been instructed and had only answered some questions from unnamed parties as to how a judicial review might be funded.

The newspaper initially took this response at face value and concluded that the fundraising appeal may have been a scam - until its attention was drawn to a formal press release issued the week before by Mr Michael Imperato, a partner in the law firm.

The press release quotes Mr Imperato as follows:

There are 2 or 3 really good legal points – not least that there has been no provision made by the Council for English-speaking pupils who might otherwise have started at the school......I can’t emphasise enough that this case raises a fundamental issue about the balance between Welsh and English medium education. We want to see both languages thriving. Here, though, English medium education is basically being closed down.

As the newspaper points out, Mr Imperato's press release runs a coach and horses through his subsequent claim not to have been involved in anything more than answering questions about funding.

The newspaper notes that the person responsible for handling the firm's PR is Gemma Robertson, previously a reporter working for the Western Mail and Llanelli Star.

Curiously, both newspapers parroted the Imperato press release almost verbatim, no questions asked, as did the Carmarthenshire Families Online website run by Karen Deacon, one of the anti-Welsh medium campaigners, although she forgot to tell readers about her involvement when she posted up press releases asking for money and deleted comments which were critical of the attempt to raise funds for court action.

The crowd-funding appeal was suddenly pulled without explanation on 8 April, but neither newspaper got round to reporting this development until 11 April.

Both the Western Mail and the Llanelli Star have considerable form when reporting the Llangennech story from the point of view of the anti-Welsh medium campaigners, most spectacularly when they ran a completely untrue story claiming that the campaigners had been targeted, having their tyres slashed and being subjected to verbal abuse in public. They even went so far as to implicate Cymdeithas yr Iaith, before publishing an apology.

While it is now pretty clear who was behind the crowd-funding appeal, the mystery remains as to why it was aborted. There would seem to be two possible explanations: either Watkins and Gunn got cold feet and realised that the case could damage the firm's reputation, or there was political intervention, most likely from Cardiff Bay, with 'Welsh' Labour needing the renewed controversy in the middle of an election campaign like a hole in the head.

Judging by Llanelli Labour's sudden and total silence on the schools issue, the second explanation is looking increasingly plausible.

Having campaigned vociferously against establishing a Welsh-medium school in the village and stoked division and bigotry, Gary "Poumista" Jones and Jacqueline Seward, Labour's two candidates, appear to have taken a vow of silence, and Lee Waters also seems to have been told to put a sock in it.



After posing as a poilu ("hairy one"), Gary Jones has now taken to posting pictures of his friends, a collection of logs with crudely painted faces on them which he refers to as "Gary's Gang":


The logs are at least a captive and uncritical audience for claims being made by Gary and the rest of Llanelli Labour that Plaid is planning to sell off Parc Howard.

The film, which you can view here, includes interviews from most of the major players in the Parc Howard saga, and while it is not entirely free of bias, nobody watching it could conclude that Plaid is about to close the park to the public.

The Parc Howard story has taken many twists and turns, but it was Carmarthenshire County Council under the previous Labour-Independent administration which put the park on the so-called asset transfer list.

Things then became very murky, with Ken Rees (UKIP), former chair of the Friends of Parc Howard and one of Meryl's old friends, entering into secret discussions with some, cough, interesting private investors. Lurking in the shadows was Cllr Meryl Gravell who certainly knows rather more about that episode than she lets on in the film.

If the Labour group, which was after all running the council together with Meryl at the time, did not know all about this, they should be asking some serious questions of the chief executive and Meryl Gravell, but for some strange reason, they have never got around to doing that.

One of Emlyn Dole's first actions as council leader was to take Parc Howard off the asset transfer list, but the council has at least been consistent in its message that the park needs to become financially self-supporting.

Meryl pops up several times in the course of the film, repeating allegations that opposition from unnamed local sources torpedoed a bid to gain millions of pounds in funding to overhaul the house and grounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The HLF has denied that this was so, saying instead that there were weaknesses in the case brought before it by the council.

As Meryl was responsible as portfolio holder for the substandard HLF application, readers can probably understand why she is so determined to pin the blame on unidentified local troublemakers.

Meryl will be stepping down as both councillor and Executive Board member for Regeneration and Leisure in three weeks from now, but technically she is still in post. Why anyone in County Hall thought it was a good idea to wheel her out for the cameras is anyone's guess, but predictably all we got was the sound of old axes being ground and no new revelations about her role in the Locaventures scandal.

The long and the short of it is that Parc Howard will remain open to the public and in public ownership, although the council's big new idea is to lease part of the house for use as a wedding venue.

Whether or not that is a good idea is open to debate, but Parc Howard is not going to be "lost" to Llanelli as the trolls lurking behind the CUSC SOPAP account* and Gary Jones are suggesting.

If Llanelli Labour were serious about the future of Parc Howard they would come clean about their involvement in what really did almost amount to a sell-off to Locaventures and engage constructively with other parties.

But it's so much easier to lob hysterical accusations about.


* CUSC SOPAP (Carmarthenshire United Sports Committee and Save Our Parks and Playgrounds) began life as an action group campaigning against Labour's plans to transfer responsibility for running sports facilities in the south of the county to local community councils and sports clubs, bringing the Llanelli area into line with the rest of the county which does not benefit from council subsidised bowling greens, etc.

The policy went spectacularly wrong under the leadership of Kevin Madge, with some clubs complaining of massive hikes in costs. CUSC SOPAP has now morphed into a branch of the Llanelli Labour Party.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Llangennech: the strange tale of CrowdJustice

Update 11 April

All trace of the appeal has now disappeared from the CrowdJustice website, with even the message promising a relaunch at the end of April having been removed.

The timing of the appeal during a very difficult election campaign would have been very unwelcome in the upper echelons of the Labour Party, and the promise to relaunch the fund raiser less than a week before polling day may explain the now complete disappearance of the case from the CrowdJustice website.

______________
 
Thanks to all of those who have helped piece together the sequence of events behind the latest extraordinary twist in the Llangennech saga which last week saw the launch of an appeal to fund a judicial review of the council's decision, and the abrupt withdrawal of the appeal last night, with a brief statement saying that the appeal will be re-launched at the end of April.

_____________


CrowdJustice describes itself as a tool to help bring cases to court by building a "community" around them and to "gain financial and community support", and it charges fees for the service. What is left goes to the courts and needy lawyers.

It is safe to say that practically nobody goes around thinking, "I wonder what new cases there are on CrowdJustice today, as I'd like to give some of my hard-earned cash to fund some litigation".

The only way that CrowdJustice can work is if individual cases are given lots of publicity, and it is up to whoever is hoping to bring a case to ensure that their message gets out to all of the relevant social and mainstream media.

Prior to going to CrowdJustice, whoever was behind the Llangennech appeal met up with and instructed a firm of solicitors, Watkins and Gunn - to be precise one of its partners, Mr Michael Imperato.

The result was that a statement went up on the CrowdJustice website last week outlining the case, almost every word of which was demonstrably untrue. Among other things it said that "the intention is for all children across potentially the whole of Wales to be taught solely through the medium of Welsh at primary and secondary level". It went on to claim that a majority in the village wanted to keep the current dual stream set-up, that there was "overwhelming" opposition to the change, and that there had been flaws and breaches in the statutory process. There was "no English medium alternative", and the statement suggested that no provision had been made for children with special needs.

You can see the full text (now removed from the CrowdJustice website) on Jac o' the North here.

The catalogue of falsehoods, wild exaggerations and misleading claims will be familiar to anyone who has followed the story over the last 18 months or so, but the extraordinary thing about the CrowdJustice statement was that it was put out by firm of solicitors.

The public was being asked to contribute money to a case which would have been laughed out of court, and Cneifiwr understands that a complaint against Watkins and Gunn and Mr Imperato has now been made to the Law Society.

Why the appeal was suddenly withdrawn is a mystery, but one possible explanation is that Watkins and Gunn realised late in the day that they had been sold a pup, had not done their homework and stood to be pilloried for accepting money from the public for a case based on a web of falsehoods with no prospect of success.

It remains to be seen whether the appeal will be relaunched at the end of April, which is what CrowdJustice is now threatening.

Smoking Guns

The only person who has been named in connection with the case is Mr Michael Imperato, who as Jac o' the North points out has twice stood as a Labour candidate in local government elections, and is a director of the Bevan Foundation, a Labour think-tank. Jac also says that Mr Imperato has previously considered standing for Westminster.

Right from the moment Tegwen Devichand first turned up protesting outside the school gates (against a policy she and the rest of her party had voted for), Labour's DNA has been all over the Llangennech row. Only 10 days ago Lee Waters stood up in the Senedd wrongly accusing the school of withholding plans to phase out the English stream from him and his family.

Michael Imperato and Lee Waters are both roughly the same age, they both spend most of their time in Cardiff, they are both prominent figures in Welsh Labour, and both are or have been involved with Labour or Labour-leaning think-tanks. The likelihood that their paths have not crossed is remote, to put it mildly.

Did Imperato discuss the case with Waters? As Imperato would have known that Llangennech is in Lee Waters' constituency and that Waters has been deeply embroiled in the row, it would be surprising if no discussion had taken place.

Unsurprisingly, Lee Waters has so far had nothing to say about this latest development which threatens to prolong the uncertainty and agony inflicted upon Llangennech.

We do not know who instructed Michael Imperato, but we do know for sure that in order for the fund raising appeal to get off the ground it needed publicity, and so it is probably no coincidence that both Michaela Beddows and her friend Jacques Protic who runs the notorious Glasnost.org website and numerous other accounts, were busy plugging the appeal from the very beginning:



Protic has long been known for his extreme views about and fanatical hatred for the Welsh language. Here's a taste of the sort of thing he pumps out:




But Cymraegophobia is by no means the only instrument in his orchestra. On the one hand, he is supporting George Galloway in the upcoming Gorton by-election, on the other he is a big fan of Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin. Until very recently he was also a big fan of Donald Trump, but Trump's decision to attack President Assad's air force has clearly come as a major disappointment. "Trump betrays Trumpism", thunders Glasnost today.

Israel (bad) is trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn (most voters seem to think Corbyn is doing a pretty good job of that without Israeli help). If there was a chemical attack killing hundreds of civilians in Syria last week, and Protic seems none too sure, it was Assad's opponents who made the stuff. Or else the victims were just faking it. And anyway, Katie Hopkins (good) says that one of those helping the gas attack victims (who may have been acting), was a convicted terrorist.

Muslims are just bad:


Protic's world is a world of conspiracy theories, madness and hatred. It should disturb Lee Waters that Protic regards him as one of the good guys, but probably won't:

Bizarrely, it is not just Waters' views on Welsh medium education that meet with Protic's approval:



Protic has worked closely with the Llangennech anti-Welsh medium group for almost all of its existence. His imprint can clearly be seen on their campaign website, and there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that he recently travelled down from Anglesey to discuss tactics.

Very shortly after Protic and Beddows began publicising the appeal, the Trinity Mirror Group papers joined in, with both the Western Mail and the Llanelli Star carrying the story and directing readers to the fund-raising link.


Other members of the Beddows group include Jacqueline Seward, now standing as one of Labour's two candidates for Llangennech in the county council elections, and both she and her husband Darren are standing for the community council along with three members of the Willcock family, also part of the core group.

Jacqueline Seward, along with Michaela Beddows, has been one of the most active members of the campaign group, and her husband was one of those pictured with the Hamiltons when they came down to stir things up in the village. As a key member of the group, she will also have known about Protic's involvement.

Llangennech voters may be interested to know what Jacqueline Seward knew about the CrowdJustice appeal.

One other member of the campaign group who deserves a special mention here is Karen Deacon.

Deacon, originally from Edinburgh where she worked for the Scottish Parliament, joined Michaela Beddows, the Sewards, the Willcocks's, Gary Poumista Jones and a few others in their attempt to derail the statutory process of changing the school's language category by submitting reams of lengthy and for the most part wildly off-target questions to the council's education scrutiny committee, executive board and full council.

At the beginning of March she set up a string of websites and Facebook pages under the Families Online umbrella for Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, which she now runs as editor.

Unsurprisingly, the three websites were all quick to promote the CrowdJustice appeal. When a member of the public posted a comment criticising Families Online for giving space to a campaign with links to extremists, the editor (Karen Deacon) replied with a long, flannelly piece about editorial values, forgetting to mention that she had been involved with the group now asking the public for money.

Cneifiwr understands that the Families Online parent organisation is being asked about its commitment to ethical journalism.

Deacon's Families Online was not about to back down, but then suddenly the appeal was pulled, and late last night Karen Deacon was back hammering away at the keyboards with a hastily and rather badly edited statement.

Whereas she had previously been happy to put up a piece emanating from Watkins and Gunn claiming, among other things, that children would be taught English through the medium of Welsh in Llangennech and that the campaign enjoyed "overwhelming" support in the village, Karen Deacon appears to have had a sudden attack of cold feet after Watkins and Gunn issued a statement saying that it was now withdrawing the appeal.
A Crowd funding page was set up based around the English and Welsh Medium Education debate within Carmarthenshire and Wales and spurred on by the outcome of a recent test case involving Llangennech Primary Schools. Which witnessed a consultation process remove the English Medium Stream from the Dual Stream School, early this year and left a small group of parents and grandparents not happy with the outcome. - See more at: https://www.familiesonline.co.uk/local/carmarthenshire/in-the-know/parents-asked-to-donate-to-save-education-in-wales#sthash.Vw6lOIGu.dpuf

A Crowd funding page was set up based around the English and Welsh Medium Education debate within Carmarthenshire and Wales and spurred on by the outcome of a recent test case involving Llangennech Primary Schools. Which witnessed a consultation process remove the English Medium Stream from the Dual Stream School, early this year and left a small group of parents and grandparents not happy with the outcome. - See more at: https://www.familiesonline.co.uk/local/carmarthenshire/in-the-know/parents-asked-to-donate-to-save-education-in-wales#sthash.Vw6lOIGu.dpuf
A Crowd funding page was set up based around the English and Welsh Medium Education debate within Carmarthenshire and Wales and spurred on by the outcome of a recent test case involving Llangennech Primary Schools. Which witnessed a consultation process remove the English Medium Stream from the Dual Stream School, early this year and left a small group of parents and grandparents not happy with the outcome. - See more at: https://www.familiesonline.co.uk/local/carmarthenshire/in-the-know/parents-asked-to-donate-to-save-education-in-wales#sthash.Vw6lOIGu.dpuf

Still no acknowledgement that Karen Deacon had been part of what is now described as "a small group".

The statement goes on to say that Families Online now realises that some of the information it had been provided with may have been in part or wholly inaccurate.

Well, who'd have thought it?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: Three in a bed, racing news and Cilycwm


Anyone hoping for smut after reading that headline will be sadly disappointed, but now that the lists of nominated candidates have been published, one or two interesting details have emerged.

A Two Horse Race

For example, UKIP's candidate in Llandovery, Cliff Johnson, turns out to be hedging his bets by also standing for UKIP in St Thomas ward, Swansea. Will he fall at the first hurdle?

One of these two is running in more than one race
Three in a Bed

As we saw last week, Lee Waters AM (Lab., Barry Island) is extraordinarily sensitive about telling voters where he really lives, and has gone to great lengths to give voters in Llanelli the impression that he lives at a modest semi-detached bungalow in New Zealand Street.

This seems to be catching in the Labour Party, with no fewer than three Labour candidates in the county council elections all saying that their home address is 27 Llys Gwenllian in Kidwelly.

They are Philip Thompson, who is standing in Kidwelly itself, Sion Davies who is standing in Llangyndeyrn, and Lisa Williams, standing in Trimsaran.

Cat swinging at this modest address is definitely out.


Cilycwm

Anyone drawing up a list of council wards least likely to provide anything in the way of political excitement would rank Cilycwm 58th out of the 58 wards which make up Carmarthenshire. A not dissimilar ward over the border in Powys has the distinction of not attracting any candidates at all, and in quite a few other councils, wards like Cilycwm would most likely go uncontested.

But Cilycwm could give even some of the more turbulent wards in Llanelli a run for their money.

The ward was held for years by veteran Independent Tom Theophilus who finally departed from the Council Chamber in his ninth decade. In 2012 fellow blogger Jacqui Thompson came within 44 votes of unseating him, with Matthew Paul, then a Tory fox bothering barrister, trailing a distant third.

Things really hotted up in 2016 when seven candidates jostled for first place. In the event, it was comfortably won by Plaid, with Arwel Davies (Independent) coming a not-too-close second, Labour third and the now independent Matthew Paul fourth.

This time round the field is down to a more modest three candidates, with Jacqui Thompson having decided not to stand. Plaid had a very strong candidate lined up who had to withdraw very late in the day after he was refused leave to stand by a company he works for.

That leaves Arwel Davies (big 'I' Independent standing for the Women's Institute Party), fox bothering barrister Matthew Paul who has finally seen sense and quit the Tories, and Maria Carroll (Lab).

Matthew Paul's presence on the ticket once again and the possibility that he may finally be in with a chance, will probably be the cause of some twitching in the Executive Suite at County Hall, where the unique prospect of having a councillor who has seen a court room from a vantage point other than the dock will be unwelcome news for the legalistic Mark James and his "cavalier at best, incompetent at worst" inhouse legal team.

At least he can't come fourth this time.

Standing once again for Labour is Maria Carroll who runs a local shop and broadcasts from her social media platforms to the People's Republic of Cilycwm. Whenever Maria's name is mentioned, a well-known phrase which includes the words "box of frogs" almost always follows in the next breath.

Not long ago it was being put about in Llanelli Labour circles that Maria managed Tegwen Devichand's media relations, specifically Dafen Dolly's "dummy" Facebook account set up for dummy voters, and that it was all Maria's fault that somehow material from the neo-Nazis in Britain First had been shared.

This was grossly unfair on Maria because the offending material (now deleted) appeared on Dolly's personal Facebook page, not managed from Cilycwm.

Relations between the two may understandably be a little tense as a result.

Like Tegwen Devichand, Maria also runs personal and political social media accounts, although there is not much to choose between the two.

While most residents of Cilycwm will be worrying about the likely devastating impact of Brexit on Welsh agriculture, milk prices, school closures, the spiralling cost of living, the exodus of local young people, the language and the state of the roads, the things which have really got Maria worked up recently include Ken Livingstone's suspension from the Labour Party, Academy Schools in England (there aren't any in Wales), and the internecine warfare raging in the Labour Party between the Corbynistas and Len McCluskey on the one hand, and the forces of evil led by Labour's Deputy Leader, Tom Watson MP, on the other.

Maria may not have much to say about milk prices or slurry management, but she does dispense invaluable political guidance from her Twitter account to the toiling proletariat of Cilycwm.

What should we think about Ken Livingstone, for example? Maria's line seems to be that Livingstone is a washed-up old has-been, but that dark forces have whipped up a campaign against him, with the result that the whole affair has become politicised, when clearly it has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.



Livingstone was up before Labour's National Constitutional Committee on charges of bringing the party into disrepute and not Anti-Semitism, she says. FACT!

As for that bourgeois imperialist lackey Tom Watson, the party's deputy leader has accepted a donation from Sir Trevor Chinn, vice president of the Jewish Leadership Council, even though he is supposed to be leading Labour's work on fake news, she tells us:



Fortunately for Maria, the Jewish vote in Cilycwm is unlikely to be a factor in the election on May 4, but judging by her social media feeds, the county council elections are much less important than the battle for control of Unite and her very own Twitter vote on whether or not Tom Watson would win another election to become Deputy Leader.

6,199 votes were cast, she proudly tells us, and 81% said they would not vote for him.


Maria is unlikely to attract 6,199 votes in Cilycwm.


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: And they're off!

Nominations for the county council elections closed on 4 April (see full list here), and the campaign is now officially underway.

Unlike 2012 when every single ward was contested, four of the 74 councillors have been returned unopposed this time round. They are:

Linda Evans (Plaid) Llanfihangel ar Arth
Ieuan Davies (Ind) Llanybydder
Jean Lewis (Plaid) Trelech


All three were sitting councillors, so no change.

In Llanddarog Ann Davies has been returned unopposed for Plaid. She takes over from veteran Independent Wyn Evans.

Pig in a poke

Some voters going to the polls on 4 May will be presented with an even more bewildering array of independents than usual following a cock-up by Siân Caiach's People First which did not manage to register as a political group in time. As a result, People First candidates will show up as independents on the ballot paper, meaning that voters in a number of wards will be asked to pick and chose between three different types of independent:

  • "Official" Independents who sit and vote as a bloc
  • Unaffiliated independents, of whom there was only really one in the last council: John Jenkins, the maverick former Tory, who is standing again in Elli ward.
  • Siân Caiach's supporters.
There is no way that voters can tell which is which by looking at the ballot paper, making votes for independent candidates even more of a stab in the dark than usual.

Names

In Glanaman Labour has hit on the novel approach of nominating someone called David Jenkins to stand against the sitting Plaid councillor David Jenkins.

The council's chief executive, Mark James, will as usual earn a hefty fee for conducting the elections, and may already have banked the winnings (in 2012 he paid himself £20,000 before nominations had even closed).

Perhaps he was too busy counting the money to notice that a couple of candidates listed had rather unusual names. Standing against Tegwen Devichand in Dafen is Mr Rob Evans Paramedic (Independent), while over in Llangeler we have a candidate who could have come straight out of Monty Python's Very Silly Party called John-y-Gof Wigley Bee Keeper (Independent).



Mr Wigley Bee Keeper is hoping to dislodge Ken Howell (Sensible Party) for Plaid Cymru.

UKIP 

Staying with the Very Silly Party, one of the unusual features of the Carmarthenshire list is the relatively high number of UKIP candidates standing. The party is fielding just 80 candidates across the 22 local authorities in Wales, and they have found only one candidate willing to stand in the Rhondda, one of their supposed strongholds.

In Ceredigion the sole UKIP councillor, Gethin James (Aberporth), has come over all shy and has decided that his best hope is to stand as an independent - a good illustration of the sort of thing which may lurk behind that innocuous label.

Carmarthenshire is hosting no fewer than 12 UKIP candidates, even more remarkable when you consider that the party has been imploding while nominations have been open. Having lost Douglas Carswell as their only MP, it seems they are now about to lose one of their AMs, Mark Reckless. Another, Michelle Brown, is facing deselection, and Nathan Gill, the party's "Welsh leader", now sits as an independent.

Meanwhile the party is facing financial armageddon, and its executive director in Brussels has just resigned, leaving a growing pile of unpaid bills.

A quick glance at the list of UKIP candidates shows that they seem to be made up for the most part of a mix of white flight nutjobs who have settled here to recreate a little piece of England, elderly disenchanted Labour voters and Ken Rees, Llanelli's former LibDem councillor.

Unsurprisingly, the Kippers are mostly concentrated around Llanelli and Ammanford, and they include Richard Hart, who runs something called The Golden Spirit Centre from a smallholding near Maesybont.

Standing for UKIP in Betws is Krishna Seunarine, who appears previously to have stood for parliament as a UKIP candidate in Glenrothes, Scotland.

More on the list and other news to follow at the weekend.




Sunday, 2 April 2017

Election Tour 2017: A big beast, reading, riting and rithmatic and the Spanish Civil War

Correction 3 April

Many thanks to Rob James for pointing out on Twitter that Nia Griffith MP did in fact attend the rather modest campaign launch in Carmarthen where a small group of oldies in red T-shirts gathered on the steps of County Hall.

A brief exchange of messages followed, with an account called Maryetta Ulmen liking Rob's reply.

Maryetta Ulmen sells followers and likes for people wanting to be more popular on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Surely not?

__________________

With the clock ticking down on the deadline for nominations on 4 April, rumours are flying about the identity of some late entrants to the race.

For reasons which readers of this blog may be able to understand, it is said that Labour has been finding it difficult to fill some of the blanks on its slate in and around Llanelli, and one of the late surprise entrants is believed to be Keith Price Davies, Llanelli's former AM, who is coming out of retirement for a run at the council, possibly in Hengoed.

Joy is unlikely to be unconfined in the Llanelli Labour Party, with Keith having criticised both Tegwen Devichand and Lee Waters in recent months.

The 2012 council elections were very good for Labour across Wales as the party recovered from the Brown years, but its fortunes in Carmarthenshire were rather more mixed. While it did well in Llanelli, the Labour surge petered out in the Amman Valley.

Things are rather different this time round, and Keith Davies will find himself swimming against a strong tide, but if he succeeds the council chamber may contain two former Assembly Members, the other being Rhodri Glyn Thomas who is standing in St Clears for Plaid.

Launching the Titanic 

Last week also saw the launch of Labour's official campaign. Its two big beasts, Nia Giffith MP and Lee Waters AM, turned up to events in Llanelli and Ammanford, but failed to show in Carmarthen, which they seem already to have written off.

Those familiar with Labour campaigns will know that the party is very fond of pledge cards which seek to crystallise its key messages without going into tricky details such as targets and timings. A perennial favourite is "send a message to Westminster", but things are so messy there that for once we are being spared that one.

What we have this time includes promises to tackle litter, re-start council house building and "building new schools fit for the 21st century".

Labour is probably hoping that nobody remembers the last Labour-led council which made a lot of fuss about building council houses, but which managed to build only half a dozen or so bungalows for the elderly at a massively inflated cost. Council house building only got underway when they lost control of the council.

The 21st century schools programme has been underway for years under both Labour and Plaid administrations, and is set to continue.

Kevin Madge recently showed that the three Rs were never one of his strongest suits when he claimed that there was a £2 million shortfall for the new Ammanford "super-school". It turned out that he had mis-read a council report, and that the school was to receive an additional £7 million in funding.

Another pledge is to "reverse the privatisation of social care services". When Labour was in power until 2015 it privatised 80% of the council's care services, with Kevin Madge telling the then leader of the Plaid opposition group that it didn't matter who ran the services, provided they were there.

In the case of all three of these pledges, voters should ask searching questions. What, specifically, are they planning to do that is different from what is already being done, and where will the money come from at a time when local government finances are being bled dry?

The same applies to another aspiration to set up and run a "municipal bus company".

The final pledge is of the motherhood and apple pie variety. Labour says it will run a "modern and transparent" council. We have heard that one before.

Llangennech - it's the Spanish Civil War all over again!

Students of history will know that the politics of the Spanish Civil War were very complicated, with a myriad of competing political groups with different agendas coming together in fraternal solidarity before turning their guns on each other.

Things seem to be not much different in Llangennech where La Pasionaria Michaela Beddows has taken to hanging out with Hamilton's Falangists, the Stalinists are coalescing around Tegwenita Devichand, Lee Waters is holed up in Barry blaming everyone, and Nia Griffith is busy explaining the benefits of nuclear weapons to vegan collectives.

That leaves POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) or the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification. Wikipedia helpfully tells us that POUM was formed by the fusion of the Trotskyist Communist Left of Spain (Izquierda Comunista de España, ICE) and the Workers and Peasants' Bloc (BOC, affiliated with the Right Opposition) against the will of Leon Trotsky, with whom the former broke.

Following the death of Franco, POUM re-emerged to fight the first democratic elections as part of a coalition of other groups which together notched up just 0.22% of the popular vote. The party was dissolved in 1980, but it lives on in Llangennech in the form of Gary Jones, who uses the Twitter handle @poumista.

 Here he is preparing to go into battle.


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Lee Waters - how not to be an AM

Update 3 April

As a matter of course, this blog publishes replies and comments from those who feel that they have been unfairly or wrongly criticised in these pages, provided that they are couched in reasonable language, are not potentially libellous, obscene or gratuitously offensive to third parties.

Lee Waters has twice contacted this blog in response to articles about him, and Gary Jones, aka Poumista, one of Labour's candidates in Llangennech, has responded on numerous occasions.

Although Gary Jones has not contacted Y Cneifiwr on this occasion, he took to Twitter last night to complain that he had not put up offensive posters in the village.

Cneifiwr is happy to accept Gary's statement that he did not put up any posters. The suggestion that he had was based on a misunderstanding after seeing this Twitter message from last year:



 __________________

Just when it seemed that the Llangennech row had blown over and that the school would finally be allowed to get on with its plans for the next academic year in peace, Lee Waters AM (Lab., Llanelli) chucked more petrol on the dying embers this week in a bitter speech on the floor of the Senedd.

In Waters' view, it seems, just about everyone is in the wrong about Llangennech except himself and the small group of extremist objectors nurtured for so long by the Labour Party. This time, he turned on the school itself, or in reality the school staff and the head teacher who, he said, had failed to tell him about the plan to turn the school into a Welsh medium school when he visited it 18 months ago as a prospective parent.

This statement is not only extremely unfair on the staff, governors and head of the school who cannot defend themselves against accusations made from a privileged and very public platform in the Senedd, but it is also a gross distortion of the truth.

If we accept Waters' words at face value, he would have gone to the school "as a prospective parent" in October 2015. The County Council's Education Scrutiny Committee did not approve the proposal to change the status of the school until 23 November, at least a month later, and that approval was subject to consultations and further votes by the committee, the full council and the Executive Board.

The substance of Waters' accusation is that the school staff, and presumably the head teacher, concealed the change of language category from him and his family. Clearly, they did not.

If his children had gone on to attend the school, they could have gone into the English stream if that is what he and his wife wanted because the English stream was to remain open for admissions for at least another year. And they could have remained in the English stream until they left the school to go on to secondary education.

Somehow, he forgot to mention that.

It is also fair to assume that someone who had been elected as Assembly Member for Llanelli should have been aware that the County Council had voted unanimously to phase out all dual stream schools in Carmarthenshire in September 2014, when the council was led by Labour.

There are only two possible explanations for this. Either Lee Waters is deliberately misrepresenting the situation to make a political point, or he does not understand education policy.

Either way, this is a disgrace for an Assembly Member who is also a prominent member of that body's Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, and it was as a member of that committee that he made his remarks on Wednesday.

How much he knows about culture and the Welsh Language, and specifically Welsh culture, is a moot point. How familiar is he with the giants of Welsh literature from the past or contemporary Welsh culture? Has he ever read a Welsh novel or a magazine? Does he watch S4C or listen to Radio Cymru? What expertise does he have in language planning?

Judging by his understanding of education policy, the answers to those questions would seem to be not at all, no, never, none and nothing.

The main point Lee Waters appeared to be trying to make in his speech before he lost the plot was that it's all very complicated, but that does not stop him from pontificating about subjects and policies he does not understand. Worse than that, it does not stop him from undermining and obstructing the positive efforts of his own government.

More on Lee Waters' contributions to Welsh public life later.

A prospective parent?

Waters' private life and that of his family are his own affair, but since he brought his family into this controversy, it is fair to point out that his family does not live in Llangennech or even Llanelli, but around 60 miles away in Barry Island.

There is nothing wrong with Assembly Members not living in the constituencies they represent, although for practical reasons it is a good idea for them to live in the general area. Neil Hamilton has famously taken matters to an extreme by not even bothering to live in Wales, and there is definitely something wrong with that, but what is unusual about Lee Waters is that he has put a lot of effort into giving the impression that he lives in Llanelli when he does not.

A bit like the UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, in the recent Stoke by-election.

Anyone listening to his speech on Wednesday could have been forgiven for thinking that as a "prospective parent" he lives in or near Llangennech, just as anyone reading his blog could be forgiven for thinking that he and his family live in Llanelli:



Like countless families across the Llanelli constituency my wife and I struggle with juggling the needs of our children and the pressures of work.  Picking up and dropping off the kids is a challenge for us. My wife works for the NHS in Abercynon, and I need to be in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay four days a week, and active throughout the constituency on other days.
......
As I expected, the role is full-on. But I’m keenly aware our family life can’t be just about managing my demands. My wife is a professional in her own right, and my two children deserve the time and support of us both. They need stability in their young lives and that is why, instead of uprooting our children from their schools and friends, we’ve made the decision that I move around instead.
......
I split my time between Cardiff and Llanelli - where I have a family home which I stay in several times most weeks, enabling me to be busy and active working in the community.

This piece was written in November 2016. Hands up if you think he's trying to tell you that he and his family live in Llanelli, "like countless families in the constituency" who have a "family home" there.

To reinforce the illusion, Lee Waters lodged nomination papers for last year's Assembly elections under an address in Llanelli, and until at least a few weeks ago he was also on the electoral roll for the same address. Oddly, he is also on the electoral roll for an address in Barry Island, perfectly legally, although he may of course vote in only one of those two places.

He is also very coy about his wife's job. She works for the NHS in Abercynon, he says. A casual reader might think she was a nurse or a receptionist in a local surgery.

In fact Mrs Waters is Head of Media and Communications for NHS Wales, a job which commands a salary considerably higher than that of an AM.

As portraits of family life go this is, as someone once said, more accurate than truthful.

Unfortunate


Returning to his speech on Wednesday, so worked up did Lee Waters become about his reception that he posted a clip of this tirade on Twitter (follow the links).

As readers will see, he was very keen to portray himself as a man of consensus while wallowing in a sustained wail of righteous indignation with lashings of self-pity. He had tried to calm the situation in Llangennech, he claimed. He had tried to reach out. He genuinely wanted a cross party consensus.

The trouble is that all of the evidence points in the opposite direction, and for someone who has spent much of his career to date in journalism and television, it was particularly unfortunate that his choice of clip should end with a UKIP AM congratulating him on his speech.


Waters described UKIP's intervention in Llangennech as "unfortunate, unhelpful and incendiary", forgetting to mention that Neil Hamilton had come to the village at the invitation of a group with  very close links to Waters' constituency Labour Party.

Not only were several members of the core protest group members of the Labour Party, but one of their number (Jacqueline Seward) is standing as a candidate for the county council, while the party's second candidate, Gary Jones, advised and supported the group, including putting up some particularly nasty, lying posters around the village which bordered on incitement to hatred.

Here's a quick reminder of what one of them looked like:





The poster gives the lie to Waters' claims that he had worked hard to defuse the row. If he had really wanted to reach out and work on a cross-party basis, as he said, why did he allow Labour to become involved in a campaign of vilification, intimidation and scaremongering? Why did he not intervene and tell his supporters to remove the posters which they had been putting up? Why did he not tell them to take down their disgraceful website? Why did he not tell them to cool things and under no circumstances have anything to do with Neil Hamilton?

When it finally emerged that the group had been developing ties with UKIP and even more extreme groups, Waters rightly came in for a good deal of criticism. He thinks this was an organised "cyber mob" unleashed by Plaid. Dismissing his critics as a mob is much easier than having to listen to the voices of overwhelmingly local people who were shocked and dismayed by Waters' conduct in the affair.

Presumably in his eyes the Plaid cyber mob included his predecessor as Labour AM, Keith Davies, who made his views about Waters' acrobatics clear in a recent television interview.

Everything is always somebody else's fault. It's Plaid's fault, the council's fault, the "mob's" fault, Gwyn Hopkins' fault, the school's fault....

Nodding dog 

When he was elected, Lee Waters promised voters that he would not be a "nodding dog", voting as instructed by party whips no matter what his views on any given subject.

And so far, he has lived up to his promise to a certain extent, albeit not in the way voters might expect.

Firstly, of course, his "support" for his government's policies on the Welsh language look for all the world like opposition. It's a riff on the old "I'm all in favour of the Welsh language, but" theme.

Then last month he loyally joined his party colleagues to vote down proposals which would have given legal protection to historic place names in Wales. Anyone who wants to turn their Faerdre Fach into a Happy Donkey Hill should send a thank you letter to Lee.

Back in January Lee made more waves when he attacked a long-awaited decision by his government to find £50 million to pay for a sorely needed bypass for Llandeilo.

Llandeilo has suffered for years from illegal and extremely high levels of air pollution caused by the heavy volumes of traffic which are funnelled through the narrow streets in the town centre, and the deal was negotiated by Adam Price AM.

This was pork barrel politics, said Waters, who was joined in criticising the scheme by UKIP and the Tories.

Lee Waters was back on message in October last year when he joined Labour AMs in voting down proposals for an Autism Bill which would have brought Wales into line with legislation in England and Northern Ireland and given people with autism a legal identity.

For anyone who knows someone on the autistic spectrum, and especially those who care for people with more severe forms of the condition, this is an issue of vital importance.

Lee Waters not only did as he was told by the Labour whips, but went the extra mile to the disappointment and shock of many of his friends and supporters, by adopting tactics which came close to the sort of wrecking and filibustering which is a speciality of some Tory MPs in Westminster.

Three times he intervened in the debate to ask why supporters of the Bill were not offering to extend legal protection to people with Tourette's syndrome.

The Bill was duly sunk.

Perhaps someone should buy Lee Waters a copy of Paul Flynn's excellent book, "How to be an MP".