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.


Unknown said...

Thank you for writing this. Unfortunately, FB wont let me share it, even though Im able to post, and share other stuff. This needs to be read by Llanelli people!

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing this. Needs to be seen by Llanelli people. Unfortunately, FB wont let me share it, even though I'm able to share and post other stuff!

Cai Larsen said...

Hmm - her campaigning skills worked wonders in Beaumaris though.

Anonymous said...

If you copy link in page bar it will allow you to paste on your fb status

Anonymous said...

Nia allows the clp members to dictate to her so she really doesnt stand up for us . The county committee say what goes and Nia complies . After tegwen and sharen in papers saying about reelection nia still went out and helped tegwen canvass in dafen . But that didnt help as Rob paramedic unseated tegwen . Nia has a history of changing her mind on votes . Look at felinfoel post office for instance . And as you say all the missed votes or abstentions . Like labour abstained in ccc last week on the new leader . In my book its either vote for or against . Abstaining is just another way of saying you have no (balls) or you do not have any opinion . If thats the case you should not be representing the electorate. Its about time Llanelli people stopped voting red too maybe then they will realise its not a labour town and they will actually do some work for us to earn their votes . All these lab councillors recently elected in llanelli what have they actually done for the areas they are elected in ? Wake up Llanelli change your vote this once and see the difference it will make to OUR town .

Lesley said...

I do so agree with the comment about abstaining rather than voting 'for' or 'against'. I have been in many a discussion about this and the argument for abstention is usually "I didn't have enough information to form an opinion so I had to abstain". NOT a viable argument in my book.

(Wo)man up and have the guts to make decisions one way or the other for goodness' sake.

Anonymous said...

bizarre behaviour from cusc sopop aimed at mari and cwtching with nia for a reason, not that nia can do much with parc howard in llanelli. it is council affairs not an mp affair or even welsh assembly.

if nia, lee and llanelli labourparty distance themselves from whoever they are. cusc latest outburst is for people far away aka carmarthenshire council tax payers to keep their beaks out from llanelli affairs at parc howard. maybe succ keep their beaks out from carmarthen affairs too, v.e.l.o.d.r.o.m.e

Anonymous said...

Why dont Llanelli people change their votes ? We have always been a labour town but if they voted just ONCE to get labour out can you imagine the difference it would make to our town and us ? Then they would be less cocky because they know anyone will win under labour rosette even a donkey . We need change