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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Key candidates petition for removal of UKIP's Welsh leader

Following on from UKIP losing their only Welsh Councillor the BBC report that a petition calling for Nathan Gill to be removed as UKIP Wales leader has been sent to the party's ruling body.

The BBC say that the petition claims there is "no coherent plan" to fight the campaign and "no effective leadership" in Wales. Apparently, more than twenty members had signed the petition, six of whom were general election candidates:

"It is understood by all that UKIP in Wales is operated on the basis of mutual respect and understanding," the petition states.

"In light of the extraordinary circumstances prevailing and indeed, as a last resort, to prevent further harm and disharmony within 'the party' it is necessary to censure and remove those responsible forthwith."

The petition accused Mr Gill of showing "a lack of leadership in all aspects pertaining to this matter".

It said that "through his inactivity or unwillingness to resolve the prevailing circumstances, [he] has exacerbated the situation to the point where members no longer have faith in his ability to lead UKIP in Wales in any effective way".

UKIP general election candidates backing the petition were Joe Smyth (Islwyn), Darran Thomas (Brecon and Radnorshire), Ken Beswick (Torfaen), Blair Smillie (Alyn and Deeside), Nigel Williams (Delyn), and Paul Davies Cooke (Vale of Clwyd).

Nigel Farage is due in Llanelli this evening for Question Time. Assuming he can find the M4 this time perhaps they should ask him about this increasing dissatisfaction in the ranks of his Welsh branch.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Corbyn's Trident denial hits more problems

It is well known that Jeremy Corbyn's determination to change his party's policy on Trident is meeting resistance from MPs and Unions. However, according to the Independent the head of one of Labour’s largest supporting unions has stepped up the pressure and has rebuked Jeremy Corbyn for failing to listen to the “voice of working people” by pushing ahead with his plan to review the party’s policy on this missile system.

The paper says that Paul Kenny, the head of the GMB, has warned Mr Corbyn that his union does not intend to “stand idly by” and allow Labour to ditch its support for renewing Trident, a project on which thousands of GMB members will work.

In many ways this is more serious for the Labour leader than the resistance within the Parliamentary Labour Group. The Trade Union Bill currently proceeding through Parliament could potentially cut Labour's funding by millions of pounds. If the GMB decide that they can no longer support a party which seeks to put their members out of work, then Labour's financial problems can only get worse.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

UKIP in disarray again as their only Welsh Councillor quits

UKIP's only Welsh Councillor has quit the party in a row over the imposition of outside candidates and failed MPs as Assembly candidates in May's election.

The Political Scrapbook site reports that Kevin Mahoney, a councillor in Vale at Glamorgan County Council, will now designate himself as an ‘Independent’ in protest at the parachuting in of Farage favourites Neil Hamilton, Mark Reckless and Alexandra Phillips.

He is quite explicit in his reasoning: The thought that I would ever sanction the candidacy of Neil ‘cash for questions’ Hamilton, the rejected-by-English-voters-at-the-General-Election, ex-Tory from Kent, Mark Reckless, or Nigel Farage’s very close friend and former PR media spokesperson from Gloucester, Alexandra Phillips, as being suitable persons to make laws that affect us all in Wales is too laughable for words.

I have regularly placed on record that, along with the majority of the British public, I despise the political class from all parties. I loathe their sense of entitlement and the fact that they arrogantly view local voters as being there for their own political career enhancement, hence the cynical and parasitical hopping from constituency to constituency, pledging their undying love for any area whose constituency party will accept them as their candidate.

I had hoped that UKIP would rise above the political cronyism that has always infected the other parties, but I’m afraid that this is not the case.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror reports that Nigel Farage has launched a desperate attempt to block ex-MP Neil Hamilton’s latest comeback bid:

They say that the UKIP leader fears the bow tie-wearing former Tory will wreck the party’s chances when voters go to the polls in May and that he  has waged an internal war to thwart Mr Hamilton’s return to frontline politics:

A senior UKIP source told the Mirror: “The thing with Hamilton is that every time someone tries to flush the s*** down the toilet he keeps coming back up.

“Every single time his name is anywhere near an election it becomes a ******* s*** storm. Is there any election he won’t stand for?”

Surely some of this will stick and start to impact on their support?

Monday, February 08, 2016

Can Wales catch up as a super connected nation?

Connectivity is the key to a successful economy in the twenty first century and that does not just mean roads, railways and airplanes. We spend a lot of time in the Welsh Assembly talking about the proposed M4 by-pass around Newport, Cardiff airport and the electrification of the main line. All of these are important, but so is  superfast broadband and increasingly, the availability of 4G and 3G mobile communications. In both areas Wales is struggling to keep up.

Today's Telegraph underlines the importance of digital communications to our economic success. They report on a survey by the Engineering Employers Federation which found that nearly half of companies in business parks were unable to access speeds above 10Mega Bits per second:

The federation warned that the poor state of digital infrastructure was threatening Britain’s ability to take advantage of the “fourth industrial revolution”.

It warned that many manufacturers were “fearful poor digital connectivity may prove a drag on future growth”.

A survey found that while two thirds reported their connectivity was acceptable, more than half of companies “say connectivity [is] not adequate for future needs”.

Half of companies said connection costs have gone up in the past two years.

Lee Hopley, the federation’s chief economist, said: “While the quality of networks isn’t an issue, companies are paying inflated sums to have proper access and are fearful they will not have competitive access five years down the line.”

The federation urged the Government to prioritise internet access for businesses, complaining that currently it is too focused on households.

But it is not just business parks where this is a problem, nor does poor internet access only blight rural areas. Homeworkers are also affected, whilst parts of urban areas such as Cardiff can only dream of 10 megabits. As an example here is a question I asked the First Minister last Tuesday:

Peter Black First Minister, can I draw your attention to a particular problem in my region, in the village of Jersey Marine. They were promised fast broadband by March 2015. They were then promised it again by July 2015. The latest update is the cabinet has been installed for six months but they still have not got it because there appears to be a problem getting the cables across a railway line, which has been there since 1890. This doesn’t auger well for the planning process of BT or their contractors. One constituent who contacted me says he’s a home-based worker, seriously disadvantaged by poor broadband at only 1 MB and cannot take part in video-conferences nor share virtual desktops. What solution would you propose for people in Jersey Marine who require this superfast broadband and are not able to access is?

Carwyn Jones - The First Minister Clearly, it is planned for them to be able to access superfast broadband, but if I could write to the Member with further details, perhaps then we could investigate what the problem has been and also to provide a more secure date in the future for those who have contacted him.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed with some urgency by the next Welsh Government.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Cameron tightens screw on social housing

Having announced last month that the Tory Government plans to put £140m into redeveloping nearly a hundred of the 'UK’s worst sink estates', the Prime Minister and his Chancellor are at it again with a scheme that will leave many families struggling to afford a roof over their heads whilst signalling a wholesale retreat from social housing in England.

The 'sink estates' scheme of course, is just a cover for the redevelopment of social housing in favour of more expensive private homes. The whole plan has many questions hanging over it, not least what will happen to the tenants of these estates and whether alternative affordable homes will be made available to them?

That has now been thrown into further doubt by plans to make families or individuals earning more than £40,000 a year in London, and more than £30,000 elsewhere pay a market rent. As the Observer reports, restricting social housing solely to the poorest in our society will mean that tens of thousands of hard-working families will be forced to leave their council homes and find themselves unable to afford a local alternative.

It also contradicts the policy of redeveloping 'sink estates' as it will ghettoise social housing, restricting access solely to the low paid and the unemployed. A sustainable and vibarant community should contain a good mix of people within a broad range of economic groups. That will not be possible if access to social housing is limited as proposed by the Tories.

The Observer says that a report commissioned by the Local Government Association found that almost 60,000 households in England will be unable to afford to remain in their council properties from April next year, as a result of George Osborne’s reform, known as “pay to stay”.

This is because far higher rents in the private sector, and soaring house prices in many parts of the south, means that many council tenants who just exceed the income cut-offs will be left in a desperate position.

In total,  214,000 households across England will be hit by the policy, whilst in London most of the 27,000 households affected will be unable to afford to rent privately or buy in the same area.

Like the bedroom tax, the justification for this policy is that the taxpayer is paying a questionable subsidy. Putting aside the fact that many affected by both policies cannot afford to pay more, what we are left with is a crude attack on the concept of social housing, an attempt to redefine it as a refuge for the poor rather than  the original concept of a secure home for working people. Harold Macmillan must be spinning in his grave.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

How badly is the Brexit campaign in disarray?

Despite apparently being ahead in the polls, the campaign to leave the European Union remains as dysfunctional as ever. The Guardian reports that an acrimonious feud among the leading groups could result in none of them being designated as the official campaign:

Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU, said that the prospect of non-designation had become “a huge worry” and that potentially this could leave the campaign at a disadvantage.

The Electoral Commission is expected to nominate a lead organisation on each side of the run-up to the  EU referendum which David Cameron has indicated could take place on Thursday 23 June.

Both lead organisations will get a grant worth up to £600,000, campaign broadcasts and free mailing. They will also be allowed to spend up to £7m, instead of £700,000, the limit that applies to other registered campaign groups.

Banks said: “If it is bitterly contested, and if designating is going to be controversial, the commission has a right to choose not to designate.”

This will obviously hit the leave campaign if this scenario does come about. My hunch though is that they will be rich enough to do without the state funding. We will see.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Gill faces backlash as Welsh candidates turn on him

The UKIP candidate selection fiasco took a turn for the worse yesterday when a number of their leading candidates decided that it was all Nathan Gill's fault and called on him to quit as Welsh leader.

The BBC say that Joe Smyth, who achieved UKIP's highest vote share in Wales in 2015, said Mr Gill showed "no leadership" during its turmoil over assembly poll selections. They add that another three general election candidates, two standing in May's poll, have also called for Mr Gill to go.

UKIP are suffering the travails of being an English Party trying to make an impact in Wales, not made any easier by the personalities involved and their repeated gaffes.  The latest is a paid-delivery leaflet that looks like it has been funded by the European Parliament.

As can be seen above, even basic Welsh phrases are misspelt. I am told that the Welsh inside the leaflets is also littered with errors.

Not an auspicious start to their Welsh Assembly campaign.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Can Tories get away with one sided changes to party funding?

The Telegraph reports that reforms proposed in the Trade Union Bill, which will ban public sector bodies from automatically deducting subscription fees from workers' wages, could lead to Labour losing £8 million a year from its funding.

The Labour Party depends on the unions for millions of pounds in donations every year and under the current system all donations are automatically collected as part of the regular membership fee. However, Conservatives have argued that the approach is "outdated" and leaves the taxpayer with a £6.5 million bill every year to help fund union payments.

That may well be the case, however it is clear even to independent observers that this is not about saving the public money but has been politically motivated. I agree with Labour's General Secretary that the measures in the bill are ill considered, unfair and unsustainable. They are an attempt to sneak party funding reform through by the back door to the Tories' own advantage.

If we are to have reform of political party funding then it needs to be carried out across the board and should look at all the parties. Ideally it should be taken forward on a non-partisan basis with everybody having an input. Instead we are getting a one-sided change that benefits only the sitting Government.

The question is whether the Tories will get these changes through the House of Lords. Peers have already sent these clauses to a sub-committee to be looked at more closely. If that inquiry were to extend its scope then we might start to get somewhere with a more equitable reform.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

When stubbornness is in the public interest

Putting to one side for a moment the claim by the Secretary of State for Wales that Carwyn Jones has effectively abandoned the Union in arguing for changes to the draft Wales Bill, statements by Wales Office Ministers today have underlined the chasm that exists between them and the Assembly on the future of devolution.

The Western Mail reports that Stephen Crabb has launched an attack on the “new consensus” he claims has taken root in Cardiff Bay, suggesting that AMs are demanding the “unfettered” freedom to make laws that will have an impact outside Wales. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The paper says that the Welsh Secretary used his opening speech at the Welsh Grand Committee to launch a full-throttle attack on the “buffers of stubbornness” he claims he faces:

He said there was a view in Cardiff that a Supreme Court ruling has “effectively redrawn the devolution boundary way beyond what parliament intended for the Welsh devolution settlement and in fact way beyond in some respects the Scottish devolution settlement.”

Underscoring his opposition to this view, he said: “Now, that was never the intention of parliament when Labour ministers drafted the existing devolution settlement and nor is it the position of this Government.

"We believe it is the role of elected politicians to draw the devolution boundary – it isn’t the role of courts and the judges to decide on whether the devolution boundary is.”

Mr. Crabb faces two problems with this approach. The first is that it has always been the role of the courts to interpret legislation. If the ruling on the Agricultural Workers Act was contrary to the intention of Ministers then presumably the Government could have produced statements by them made during the passage of the last Government of Wales Act to back that up. The fact they did not suggests that Mr. Crabb's judgement is retrospective and that the Supreme Court's decision was in order.

If this is the case then the logical conclusion is that the draft Government of Wales Bill really is seeking to claw back powers and responsibilities currently held by the Welsh Assembly.

Secondly, Mr. Crabb's exasperation at the stubbornness of AMs is misplaced. This is not a party political matter. There is a cross-party consensus in the Assembly which includes the Welsh Conservatives. If we are being stubborn, then it because we all genuinely believe that the bill as currently drafted does not represent Wales' best interests.

Instead of setting his face against change, Mr. Crabb should work with us to get this right so we can all go on to concentrate on really important matters like the economy, education, health and housing.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

UKIP join the democratic society

It was such an obvious solution that I am astounded that UKIP had not thought of it before. Instead of arguing in public as to who should stand for them at the Assembly elections why not let the membership decide?

According to the BBC that is now what they have agreed to do. However, they have reached this decision after two damaging rows within their National Executive, who failed to agree a centrally-imposed list because of opposing personal interests.

According to UKIP Wales leader Nathan Gill, the decision to give party members the final say is "a great victory".

That more than anything sums up the autocratic, centralising, English-centric nature of UKIP. Any party that does not instinctively go down the democratic route for selecting their candidates is suspect in my view. And that is before we take account of their damaging policies on immigration and Europe.

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