That said, Y Cneifiwr is not about to throw the towel in yet, although the blog will not be updated as frequently as it used to be.
This blog chronicled the row about Llangennech School at some length. It was a particularly bitter and divisive issue, with the Llanelli Labour Party performing a 180 degree U-turn on its policies when in power, and adopting positions which were indistinguishable from UKIP as it exploited prejudice and ignorance to win votes.
Just as the battle in Llangennech was entering its final stages, many of the same Labour figures began teaming up with another campaign a few miles away to halt plans to relocate Ysgol Dewi Sant.
The campaign against Ysgol Dewi Sant is not ostensibly about Welsh-medium education, but as we shall see, some of the same figures have become involved and are using the same divisive tactics.
Apart from a couple of leaks which revealed collaboration between Llanelli Labour, UKIP and more extreme elements in Llangennech, almost everything which appeared in the blogs and the mainstream media was a matter of public record. Nia Griffiths was entirely invisible, even though the row in her constituency was making headlines far beyond Llanelli, and we were given only brief glimpses of the manoeuvres performed by Lee Waters.
The interesting thing about the Ysgol Dewi Sant row is that we now have direct evidence of what senior Labour figures have been up to behind the scenes in Llanelli, and how those divisive, dog whistle tactics stand in stark contrast to the public message.
The leaked correspondence also provides a fascinating glimpse into the backstabbing and jostling going on within Labour in Llanelli.
Now read on.
News addicts who watch the main evening bulletins on S4C and BBC One Wales could be forgiven for thinking that Cymru and Wales are entirely different places, possibly even located in different parts of the solar system.
A couple of weeks ago, BBC One Wales led with a story about an unsolved murder case in Cardiff dating back to before the Second World War. 80 years after the event, descendants of the relatives of the little girl understandably welcomed the decision by South Wales Police to re-open investigations, but for the rest of us it was hard to see why this story should receive star billing.
There being no royal drivel to report, that evening's output treated us to a cursory round-up of lesser matters before telling us at some length that Sam Warburton was about to have an operation on his neck.
And that was it. "The news where you are" turned out to be largely devoid of news as usual.
Meanwhile Newyddion 9 on S4C (also produced by the BBC) led with an interesting piece on a row about the future of Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli.
Ysgol Dewi Sant
In a nutshell, the Welsh-medium school with over 450 pupils is desperately in need of a new home, and parents and governors have been campaigning for a new school for a quarter of a century. The current ramshackle collection of jerry-built flat-roofed buildings and portacabins is bursting at the seams, with some children having to be taught in corridors. Badly leaking roofs, chronic over-crowding and dilapidation everywhere you look, with children housed in conditions which would upset the RSPCA.
The fact that this disgrace has been allowed to drag on for so long should have had Labour politicians and the unions mobilising support for the school years ago, but this is a Welsh-medium school, and Llanelli Labour has instead once again made itself some toxic new friends, and thrown its lot in with a campaign which threatens to wreck the plans for a new school.
The County Council's technical experts had examined nine potential sites for a new school, and recommended a large green open space called Llanerch Fields.
Finding a site large enough to accommodate a school of this size in an urban environment was never going to be easy, and there would have been objections no matter which site was chosen. In the case of Llanerch Fields, it is understandable that many local residents would oppose the loss of an open green space near their homes, but the fields are no longer used for organised sports, and these days their main function is as a gigantic doggy toilet.
Sure enough, the plan has attracted what the Newyddion 9 report described as "fierce" opposition, with the objectors' latest tack being to have the green open space designated as a "village green" to stop any school from being built on it. Unsurprisingly, the most vociferous campaigners live right opposite the site of the proposed new school.
For its part, the County Council has developed plans which would create close links between the school and the local community. These include:
Village green located 100metres north of proposed site.
Retention of U7/8’s football pitch for school and community use.
Proposed Multi-use games area for school and community use.
Proposed multi-purpose hall and studio for school and community use.
Proposed off site car park (approx. 75spaces) for school and community use.
Proposed flood lit all weather recreational facility for school and community use.
Refurbishment of multi-use hall for school and community use.
Proposed dry changing rooms for school and community use.
Proposed link to and from Penygaer playing fields to enhance / facilitate community use.
Retention and enhancement of existing car park.
As Nia Griffiths, Lee Waters and Labour's county councillors know, there comes a point of no return in the development of plans for new schools. Sites have to be analysed for suitability, including transport links, road safety, flood risk and the presence of contamination and the legacies of past industrial activity (an especially relevant factor in Llanelli). Detailed technical surveys will have to be carried out, and funding put in place. All sorts of hoops will have to be jumped through before the Welsh Government will sign off and hand over millions of pounds, and needless to say all of this takes a great deal of time.
Part of the process includes consultations with the schools and their governors, parents and local residents, and logically enough the consultations have to take place after all of the groundwork has been done. By this stage, consultation really means trying to incorporate sensible suggestions made during the consultation, responding to concerns and mitigating possible problems, but in essence proceeding with the scheme that has been outlined.
A decision at this very late stage to scrap the plans would mean the loss of £9.1 million ear-marked for Ysgol Dewi Sant, the waste of all the resources ploughed into evaluating the site and developing detailed plans, and years and years of delay before a new school can be built on a different site - a site which would certainly also encounter opposition.
To campaign against the plans for Ysgol Dewi Sant means in practical terms that around 480 children and the school staff would be forced to stay put in cramped and squalid conditions for years to come, and despite their protestations and public utterances, that would be the logical outcome of the recklessly irresponsible tactics adopted by Nia Griffiths MP, Lee Waters AM and Labour councillors, most notably Rob James.
Llanerch Fields would be saved for dog lovers, and the staff and children of Ysgol Dewi Sant would have to hope that the school budget could stretch to buying a few more buckets to catch the rain water dripping from classroom ceilings.
The Newyddion 9 report (no longer available online) interviewed the school's head and two governors, Aled Owen and Garry Nicholas. Garry Nicholas pointed out that the school had been waiting to be re-housed for many years, and he called on politicians to show their support for the school and Welsh-medium education.
Unfortunately for the school, Llanelli Labour is doing precisely the opposite.
Let's look at some of the key players in more detail.
Lee Waters AM
We'll start with Lee Waters and Nia Griffiths because as experienced and intelligent politicians, they have no excuse for not understanding the consequences of their actions.
In Llangennech, Waters' public stance was initially to sit on the fence as the firebrands went to work, before lobbing in a few incendiaries of his own and encouraging the pyromaniacs. True to form, he retired slightly singed, mounted his pulpit to blame everyone else but himself and deplored the damage that fire can do. That, in Waters' book, constitutes "leadership".
When Labour Party members were actively conspiring with UKIP, Waters urged them to be careful instead of telling them to stop. Unsurprisingly, Michaela Beddows and her friends saw that as a green light.
Besides UKIP, there is evidence that Jacques Protic also became involved in the Llangennech row. Protic is the author of the extremist Glasnost website which has this to say about the part played by Lee Waters and Nia Griffiths in Llangennech:
Through my contact with Lee Waters and from what I learned by reading various statements he made on his blog and in the social media Lee and Nia chose to use a low-key approach working behind the scenes but generally supportive of the parents’ stance which unfortunately got them nowhere – The Council wasn’t going to budge no matter what!
According to Protic, then, he was in contact with Lee Waters as the row escalated.
As he tells us in this tweet, he is a lifelong member of the UK Labour Party:
According to Protic, "Welsh" Labour (which as he ought to know has no separate legal existence from UK Labour) is working for a Welsh-speaking republic. Here is another of his cries for help to any comrades prepared to listen:
Protic has many bees in his bonnet, but his main obsessions are the evils of the Welsh language and Islam. When he is not warning of the dangers of ethnic cleansing in Wales and compulsory cerdd dant, he is busy spreading fake news about the Muslim menace.
Did you know that huge swathes of Denmark are no-go areas for the Danish police because of Islamic extremists? No? Neither do the Danes.
Interestingly for a lifelong member of the Labour Party, Protic is also a keen supporter of Anne Marie Waters (probably no relation) who is hoping to become the next leader of UKIP. Even some of UKIP's most prominent loonytunes are scared by that prospect.
That was Llangennech, and so far at least there is no sign of Protic on Llanerch Fields. But it's probably just a matter of time, and in the absence of Protic, Michaela Beddows and friends, Lee Waters has been busy forging new relationships.
Like Jacques, Lee seems to be fond of conspiracy theories. While everyone else seems to have known that the council was going to propose building a new school on Llanerch Fields, Lee Waters saw a sinister secret plot:
A few weeks after this shock horror revelation, Lee Waters was writing to the chair of the campaign group, one Mrs Heather Peters (pictured uncharacteristically hogging the microphone) to discuss tactics. More about Mrs Peters later, but suffice to say that she and Michaela Beddows would find that they have quite a lot in common.
Lee has a great idea:
Perhaps we can organise a mass gathering on the field on a Saturday morning for a photo to underline public support for keeping the space?
That would be a mass gathering in support of stopping the plans for the school from going ahead on Llanerch Fields.
Nia Griffiths MP
Publicly, Nia Griffiths maintained complete radio silence on the Llangennech issue, although it is hard to believe that she was not involved behind the scenes, as Protic hints on his website.
In private, Nia Griffiths had nothing but praise for the Llanerch objectors. Here she is discussing tactics ahead of a consultation meeting in a leaked e-mail:
You have done magnificent work on the committee in gathering information, and I would suggest that we will get more useful information from this if we take the same approach, and think carefully about the questions we want to ask beforehand.
Probably the officers who will be sent along are unlikely to be the people who finally have the say (who will be their superiors) and we will get more out of getting info from them this way, than if people “have a go” at them.
In public, the MP was rather more cautious. Addressing a public meeting back in October 2016, she said:
Slightly more decorous than Lee Waters, but while both protest publicly that they are in favour of a new school for Ysgol Dewi Sant, both have been working behind the scenes to wreck the plans.
Cllr Rob James
Nia Griffiths and Lee Waters are both on the centre right of the Labour Party, and their involvement in this campaign probably has as much to do with internal party wrangling as it does with saving Llanerch Fields for dog walkers as they contemplate future selection battles.
Cue Cllr Rob James (Lab.) who until this year's council elections in May was, nominally at least, serving as a county councillor down the M4 in Neath with an address in the town.
Despite his postal address in Neath, James moved to Llanelli a couple of years ago and threw himself into getting a front seat in the Llanelli Labour Party.
James has previously claimed to be a centrist, but now appears to be firmly in the Momentum camp with ambitions way beyond his abilities.
He became involved with the Llanerch Fields campaign group early on, while still an ordinary rank and file member of the Labour Party and nurturing plans to oust Bill Thomas as county councillor for Lliedi ward.
Bill Thomas was everything that Rob James is not. He was broadly sympathetic to the campaigners' desire to keep Llanerch Fields as they are, and dutifully went about helping them gather detailed, technical information, even though he was probably aware that the people he was helping were plotting against him.
One of the issues the campaign group had hoped would deal a killer blow to the school plans was the presence on the fields of some underground water tanks managed by Dŵr Cymru. The tanks represented a serious health and safety hazard, the objectors claimed.
Bill Thomas did his homework and wrote to the group informing them that, "As the Councillor for the area I have never had any complaint or photographic evidence of spills until now, neither do I have any evidence that these spills contain anything. If they do then it is an issue that needs attention from Welsh Water."
Cllr Thomas, as he then was, went on to call for a full insurance and risk assessment of the site before it was cleared for development. And that is what the County Council did, to howls of protest from the campaign group who were angry that money should have been spent on making sure the site was suitable for the new school.
Bill Thomas's careful regard for evidence and honesty did not go down well with the campaigners who launched a veritable onslaught of lobbying and correspondence giving the impression that all those poor little children would spend their days wading through sewage. They also made something of a name for themselves with their often very aggressive and hectoring behaviour in public meetings.
To the campaigners' delight, Bill Thomas lost his selection battle against newcomer Rob James in October 2016, with Heather Peters, the chair of the campaign group, telling her troops:
Guess where Our Rob was tonight? Beating Bill Thomas out of his seat on the labour Lliedi seat for LLANELLI!!!!!!!
Despite his lack of local roots and inability to speak Welsh, "Our Rob" had no hesitation about giving an interview in English to Newyddion 9 a couple of weeks back.
|Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?
He supported residents who wanted to keep the green space as it is, he said. "Even if that means scuppering the plans for the new school?" he was asked.
"I don't think that is connected in any way", said Cllr James in a breathtaking display of post-factual politics, dismissing the notion that blocking plans for a new school would, um, block plans for a new school.
"Our Rob's" performance duly received ecstatic reviews on the campaign group's Facebook page, with Mike Bassett, aka Red Mick, one of the CUSC trolls (no prizes for guessing that they would be involved) commenting "Next Leader of the Carmarthenshire Labour Group. Sooner the better".
Lee Waters must be having nightmares.
The campaign against the relocation of Ysgol Dewi Sant is led by a small group of very vocal self-appointed activists calling themselves "Save Llanerch and Penygaer Recreational Fields". Most prominent among them is Mrs Heather Peters who just happens to live opposite the site of the proposed new school.
Mrs P and her deputy, Sharon Burdess, can be heard taking part in a lengthy "interview" with LlanelliOnline here, although strangely neither of them is identified by name as they respond to Alan Evans' interesting interview technique, which boils down to delivering a monologue with brief pauses to allow his guests to agree with him.
E-mail correspondence also shows that Alan was active in the campaign, dishing out advice on tactics and questions to ask of the County Council.
Let's be generous and call this campaigning journalism, although Alan Evans' collaboration with Heather Peters and Co again raises awkward questions about the objectivity of LlanelliOnline.
Heather Peters is, of course, entitled to campaign to keep the large expanse of grass outside her home, although the e-mail files show that a good number of her e-mails and some of the accompanying documents emanated from the IT network belonging to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.
She certainly does not mince her words.
Responding to one of La Peters' missives, the chair of the school's board of governors, Garry Nicholas, pointed out to her that if the threat to health of developing a school on Llanerch Fields was as great as she claimed, why had nothing ever been done about it in all the years that it had allegedly been going on? Indeed, if the site was as dangerous as she suggested, why did her campaign group want to keep it for children to play on?
Warming to his theme, Garry Nicholas pointedly noted, "No mention has been made either of the dog foul that litters Llanerch fields. Doesn’t this contribute to the contamination and health risks that are referred to? Do the campaigners want to keep Llanerch fields for the convenience of dog owners only?"
Mr Nicholas's polite refusal to be bamboozled provoked howls of outrage, with Mrs P launching a new campaign to have him removed from the board of governors, or failing that, to be given a severe dressing down.
Writing to her fellow campaigners, Mrs P asks,
Do you all agree that this arrogant jumped up Welsh tosser deserves to be pulled over the coles (sic)?
Mr Nicholas was not the only dissenter to cross her path.When a parent voiced his doubts about the validity of the campaign on Facebook, Mrs P was once again livid. It was time to re-double efforts on the group's Facebook page to counteract this sort of rank insolence:
From the comments from the pleb on Facebook we really need to start banging the drum, these parents have been brainwashed, well the few who were actually given a brain to start with.
That put the parents of Ysgol Dewi Sant in their place, but it must leave Unison wondering whether it is comfortable about lending its whole-hearted support to a campaign which dismisses working families in Llanelli as brain-washed plebs.
Taking Lee Waters' advice that "it is important that we take multiple lines of challenge", i.e. throw the kitchen sink at the campaign in the hope that at least something might stick, one member of the campaign group who is understood to work in the county council's social services department hit on what they agreed was another fundamental weakness of the school plan - Ysgol Dewi Sant did not have enough children receiving free school meals:
I know for a fact Dewi Sant pupils didn't meet the Communities First criteria. The development officers have been told not to get involved in the Llanerch fiasco as its too political but I will chase up one or two other people today who may be able to get us this info.
At least it could be another piece of ammunition to fire?!
So it would seem that the parents and children of Ysgol Dewi Sant are both brain-washed plebs and a middle class plot to gentrify one of the more deprived areas of Llanelli.
We now have to wait to find out the fate of the village green application, and the fate of Ysgol Dewi Sant and its children. More updates in due course.
Much of the material for this piece was taken from voluminous e-mail correspondence with a very large distribution. As is the way with e-mails, some of it fell off the back of a passing lorry as Cneifiwr was sauntering down the road.