How can we understand homophobia and especially the persecution in Chechnya?

I’ve just re-read the chapter of my book, The Asylum of the Universe, on homosexuality and it still does its job of helping to understand homosexuality and railing against homophobia. Its closing paragraph is, however, more pertinent than ever. Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.47.42It was written in 2010, at the time of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill going through its parliament. (I’ll post the chapter at the end of this article).

That bill proposed the death penalty for “aggravated” and/or “serial” homosexuality. Aggravated homosexuality was defined as gay sex involving under 18s or disabled people, or by anyone with HIV, irrespective of condom use. Serial homosexuality was having same sex relations more than once. Life imprisonment used to be the more lenient punishment for same-sex intercourse, but that was to become the fate for anyone caught indulging in any form of homosexual behaviour, such as kissing or holding hands, or even living together in a same-sex (but possibly sexless) marriage. Condoning or promoting homosexuality will get you five to seven years.

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.53.57I ended by suggesting that this was all just a short step away from the sort of ‘final solution’ (genocide) policies we have seen elsewhere to eradicate perceived menaces. And now we see ‘concentration camps’ and the rounding up of people in Chechnya.

As with so many spheres of life, we are clearly making no progress and the waves of fascist intent sweeping around the globe are taking us backwards alarmingly fast. It is time, I would suggest, to try and change societies mindset on theses issues.

For too long homosexuality itself has been thought of as ‘the problem’. In fact, the real problem is not homosexuality, but homophobia. Any phobia is an extreme, unjustified and/or irrational fear; it is a psychological problem that needs to be overcome and in so doing enhances the lives of all concerned.

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An alternative view

Homophobia is a pervasive, irrational fear of homosexuality. Homophobia includes the fear heterosexuals have of any homosexual feelings within themselves, any overt mannerisms or actions that would suggest homosexuality, and the resulting desire to suppress or stamp out homosexuality. And it also includes the self-hatred and self-denial of homosexuals who know what they are but have been taught all their lives by a heterosexual society that people like themselves are sick, sinful and criminal.

As I describe in my book, homosexuality is as valid a lifestyle as any other and found throughout the animal kingdom. Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.57.21Homosexuality has been practiced in all societies throughout history and has been openly accepted in many cultures. The taboo on homosexuality in so many parts of the world has largely been the result of the widespread dominance of the Abrahamic religions, with their inbred repression of any form of sexuality unrelated to childbearing.

Thus, we need to alter the discourse and stop asking questions like:

  • What are the causes of homosexuality?
  • Can you tell if you are a homosexual?
  • Can homosexuality be cured?

The questions that really need to be asked are:

  • What are the causes of homophobia?
  • How can you tell if you are a homophobe?
  • Can homophobia be cured?

In tackling these questions, we really need to look at them in different contexts. At the scale of us as individuals, the answers can be fairly obvious. But at the scale of the nation state, where things get enshrined in law, a whole set of other issues has to be involved. But a common denominator is invariably religiosity, as this piece of research shows:

The 40 or so countries examined show a statistically significant correlation that has three main exceptions: Philippines (a lot more tolerant than may be expected in a strongly Catholic country) and China and Russia (both a lot less tolerant than may be expected in supposedly atheistic states). I want to focus on Russia as it is very much in the forefront current homophobic atrocities – especially in its federated republic of Chechnya.

Russia started following a similar path to Uganda in 2011. The Russian Duma unanimously approved a law that prohibited the distribution of homosexual “propaganda” to minors. Holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships can now result in massive fines. Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.58.45Before the vote, gay rights activists who attempted to hold a “kiss-in” outside the Duma were pelted with eggs by Orthodox Christian and pro-Kremlin activists. Anti-gay protesters also gathered, with one holding a sign that read: “Lawmakers, protect the people from perverts!”

The argument that a young person can be “propagandised” into turning gay may seem outdated, but it’s actually not out of place in modern Russia. In the Soviet Union, homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison and hard labour, and Stalinist Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.59.35anti-gay policies persisted throughout the 60s and 70s. Gays were considered “outsiders” and homosexuality was thought to be the domain of pedophiles and fascists. Reports child sex scandals amongst the churches and right wing elites of the West in recent times can only have reinforced these prejudices. Measures like the propaganda ban show that many Russians still haven’t shed these views, even decades after the fall of the regime that kept homophobia in place.

Since the 90s, Russians have faced incredible economic turmoil, a loss of public services in many areas, and widespread corruption — all factors that combine to reinforce negative stereotypes. “To the degree that a given society that is insecure about its political, social, economic, and uniting cultural identity, it will mask that insecurity with a swaggering show of gendered strength,” said Yvonne Howell, a Russian professor at the University of Richmond. We can relate to the propensity for hard times (austerity) to lead to an increase in scapegoating (immigrants) in what we have seen in the UK in recent times. Homophobic hate crimes in the UK have dramatically increased simultaneously.

But let me return to the apparent fact that Russians buck another major trend in modern homophobia: more religious countries are far more likely to be less accepting of homosexuality. As pointed out, the data suggests that Russia and China seem to reject both God and gays. Russia ranks as one of the least devout countries on earth, with only 33 percent of Russians saying religion was very important in their daily life in 2009. But this hides the reality of the people’s religiosity. Even though Russians aren’t churchgoers in the traditional sense, most (80-90%) are still incredibly supportive of the Orthodox Church, which wields power both politically, as an ally of the Putin government, and as a symbol of national pride in much of the population. In satellite republics like Chechnya, the same role is played by Islam. In 2010, a poll revealed 95% of the population were muslim adherents, predominantly of the more the more homophobic Sunni Islam.

Indeed, many Russians/Chechens today view Church affiliation as a way to reaffirm their national identity. In a 2007 (Russian) poll on the subject, the majority of respondents said religion for them was a “national tradition” and “an adherence to moral and ethical standards,” while only 16 percent said it was about personal salvation. The two great ills of the world, religion and nationalism, reinforcing and supporting each other!

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 12.00.48It’s no coincidence that the punk band Pussy Riot was sent to jail for performing in an Orthodox church, specifically. Orthodox Church elders have also served as occasional Putin campaigners, issuing bizarre declarations that mash together Christianity and the longevity of United Russia. One said that “liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the Apocalypse” and referred to Putin’s presidency as “a miracle.” Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov warned once that “one needs to remember that the first revolutionary was Satan.”

In some countries, homophobic laws might seem like a sign of religious influence run amok. But in Russia, it’s part of a broader anti-opposition push and a crackdown on a wide array of civil liberties. Homophobia, more often than not, derives not just from one’s faith, but from being anti-liberal. Russia is an illiberal country, and Putin’s government capitalises on the illiberal sentiments expressed by the church. Chechnya may be a different context, but the same forces are at work.

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 12.04.26We can all, fortunately, challenge individual homophobes we encounter and help them to enlightenment. But when it gets embedded in politics and law, reinforced by religion, it is hard to envision any painless solutions. The pain in Chechnya right now, is however, intolerable.

I am not a huge fan of petitions, but we are limited in what we can do to affect things in Chechnya. Voicing our disgust and abhorrence, through any and all of the many petitions that have emerged on this issue, is therefore important.  Amnesty International are consistently at the forefront of these campaigns, so I commend this one to you in particular (and please join them, if you haven’t already).


TRANSCRIPT OF ‘HOMOSEXUALITY’ CHAPTER FROM ‘THE ASYLUM OF THE UNIVERSE’ (apologies for issues with page formatting). Click the link:


Berlin – some lessons

I have recently returned from a 3 day visit to Berlin. It was in the company of three generations of the same family: grandfather, father and son/grandson. The grandfather was born in the late around the start of World War II. The father was born just after the Berlin Wall went up. The son was born in the last few days of the 20th Century. This is of little relevance to what I am about to write other than adding, perhaps, some additional poignancy to impressions the city gave me.

The first thing that struck me was just how exceptionally flat the whole city and surrounding area is. It makes Holland seem, well, bumpy at least. The next thing I noticed was the network of blue pipes going around the city centre at about 4 metres off the ground. It turns out that these two things are connected. The blue pipes are not, as urban myth would have it, carrying beer, but are temporary installations carrying vast quantities of melt water away from deep building sites. You see, Berlin is built in the middle of a vast glacial outwash plain and is fundamentally unstable to its very foundations. That is a  major analogy for the city’s history for you!

Historical instability is evidenced at every turn in the city centre, focussed around Potsdamer Platz, which was at one time the busiest road junction in Europe. Google its name and look at images over the course of the 20th Century. There are plenty of these historical images all over the place in central Berlin. One old building caught my eye in particular.

Where had I seen something very similar? Where else but Hiroshima.

The main difference between these is that in Hiroshima, the building has been preserved within the boundaries of the Peace Park, whereas in Berlin, it has beed razed to the ground and replaced with impressive modern high rise edifices. But these have been a very recent addition (since the wall came down). Prior to this the site was in (or adjacent to) the notorious Death Strip – the barren empty wasteland, c.150 metres wide behind the Berlin Wall. Peace Park v Death Strip; a very different post war experience.

The situation in Hiroshima and Berlin in 1945 was, of course, very different. Hiroshima was pretty much abandoned initially and had to pick up the pieces with negligible foreign assistance. Berlin, on the other hand, was overrun by foreign forces from both East and West. As the capital of the Third Reich, it was a prized token of victory for all involved. It was to be carved up, in a faintly ridiculous compromise, as the tensions between the communist ‘Victors from the East’ and the neoliberal ‘Victors from the West’ manifested themselves.

As Europe found itself divided down the centre of Germany by the Iron Curtain, Berlin found itself 100 miles behind the curtain. The Western Allies were not having that! Berlin was too symbolic to be ceded entirely to the dastardly commies! Thus it was that a bunch of politicians sat around a table, a bit like they once did to crudely carve up Africa, to rip Berlin in two, half to the East and half to the West, with the Western Allies further carving their half up into three portions – British, French and American. Was this absurdity the work of the same fools that conjured up the State of Israel? Probably not, but it was symptomatic of the imperial arrogance of the victors that they felt empowered, by military success, to do pretty much as they liked with territory and people for whom that territory was home.

Not that I have a great deal of sympathy for Germans, and especially Berliners, of the time. In the final analysis, they facilitated the Nazi rise to power; they provided the massive labour to create a formidable war machine; they were complicit (by, at the very least, turning a blind eye) with all the atrocities of the regime. I have always struggled to get my head around how that could ever have happened. A visit to the Typography of Terror exhibition (on the site of the SS HQ) helps to shed some light on this. Here some extracts on display.screen shot 2017 02 19 at 11 45 48

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I have studied such material before and struggled to conceive how it actually happens like this. But the politics of the UK and USA over the last few years has seen this sort of history repeating itself via the Tories/UKIP in the UK and the Republicans in the USA. It confirms all my worst suspicions that we are on a very slippery slope indeed.

The stark clash of ideologies between the left and the right, and its ability to divide people, is graphically in your face the moment you walk out of the Typography of Terror exhibition. For there is one of the longest remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall, preserved for posterity.

screen shot 2017 02 19 at 11 56 58

This is 200m of what was once 150km encircling the whole of West Berlin. It was put up in a matter of days in 1961 by the communist East German authorities, calling it the “Anti-fascist Protective Wall” (they saw the Western neoliberals as tantamount to fascists). They had grown impatient of way the existing borders were proving porous and allowing literally millions of East Germans to ‘escape’ to the West. The reality was that prior to the wall going up, Berliners were commuting backward and forward across sectors, for work or visiting relatives, largely unhindered. This came to an abrupt end as the Cold War’s icy grip took hold of the city.

The symbolism of this outpost of western liberal values in a sea of communist oppression made West Berlin an irresistible magnet for many, especially musicians and artists; the likes of David Bowie, the Beatles, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and many more all took inspiration from time spent there.

A visit to the GDR Museum gives the lie to the propaganda that life was unremittingly grim in the East. Living standards for the poorer working classes were probably higher than the west with good quality, well equipped homes for most. But the inefficiencies of the Soviet economic model meant that access to a good range of what might be considered ‘luxury’ goods was pretty pathetic and bound to generate discontent when things were so patently different just across the wall. Nothing embodied this more than cars. While West Berliners had their Mercs, VWs and BMWs aplenty, East Berliners had 15 yr waiting lists to get their hands on a Trabant!! That today you find Trabi World just along the road from Checkpoint Charlie, paying tongue-in-cheek homage to this piece of shite simply underlines the farce of the situation.

Farce played its part in the moments that led to the wall finally coming down. Russian President Gorbachev was leading a peaceful revolution based on glasnost (creating openness) and perestroika (economic reconstruction) but the East German leader, Eric Honecker was a hardliner who was having none of it. It was a botched news conference that tipped the dominoes. Under growing pressure to make concessions similar to those in Russia, some minor changes to travel rules were to be announced. The bumbling Politburo member running the conference, Günter Schabowski, read the news release for the first time on air. Much of his reading was garbled, but a few phrases popped out: that trips abroad would be “possible for every citizen,” starting “right away, immediately.” Shorn of their context, these phrases mistakenly gave journalists and TV viewers the impression that the wall was open. With the public awaiting news eagerly and with confidence that the times were a-changing, huge numbers descended upon the wall in Central Berlin and the sheer weight of numbers forced the guards to stand aside, despite a lack of instruction to do so, and the Wall was joyously overwhelmed, and Honecker’s regime was swept away with it.

Today, fragments of Wall dominate the souvenir shops. ‘Wallpeckers’, as they came to be known, hacked away all around the wall, creating holes and breaches very quickly. It was a symbolic act and everyone would have wanted a piece of the action and a piece of the wall. Some stretches have been preserved, but even those bear the scars of the Wallpeckers.

This ‘pecked’ hole is in the preserved section that runs along where the SS HQ once was. Across the road that was once part of the death strip, is the former Nazi Air Ministry building, that survived pretty much unscathed. That authoritarianism has not been banished is symbolised by the modern CCTV on the wall. Layer upon layer of oppression in one image!

This is what I have found, looking back at my pictures from Berlin. Most of them tell multi-layered stories. These were taken from the top of one of the modern skyscrapers in Potsdamer Platz, built on the east side of the wall, in what would have been in Death Strip less than thirty years ago.

This is looking due north towards the Brandenburg Gate. Built in the 18th Century as a monumental gateway to the Prussian monarchs’ palace, it survived two world wars to then find itself just on the east side of the Wall that ran up the road from Potsdamer Platz, with Tiergarten Park on the west side of the wall. The wooded parkland extends for 210 hectares (520 acres). Originally part of royal hunting grounds, they were completely stripped of all trees towards the end and after WWII as the Berliners desperately needed firewood to survive the bitter winters. The cleared land ended up as vegetable allotments as they fended off starvation too. The trees are back today, largely replanted by Berlin residents apparently, but it still comes as a surprise to learn that none of the trees there are much more than 60 years old. The area to the east of the road/wall was once the fortified communist-imposed Death Strip. That it now has the Holocaust Memorial and huge US Embassy on it, side by side, seemed appropriate and disconcerting in equal measure. Just off picture in the Tiergarten (in the old West Berlin) are much smaller individual memorials to other groups targetted by the Nazis: homosexuals, Sinti & Roma, Russians.

To the SE of Potsdamer Platz is the what was the nerve-centre of the Third Reich. It used to be called Prince Albrecht Strasse, but was renamed by the East Germans after a prominent member of the communist resistance to the Nazis, so is now Niederkirchnerstrasse. It was a sector border street and had the Berlin Wall built along it in 1961, running up to Checkpoint Charlie.

The Government building dates back to the Prussian Landtag but was subsequently used for Berlin City government functions right up until very recently, including during the Nazi era. The Exhibition Hall, built in the late 19th century has been a cultural and art establishment throughout the turbulent times around it. It is severely pock marked by gunfire, but avoided major damage. During my visit, it was the central venue of the annual Berlin Film Festival, not that I had chance to partake. The one film that did catch my attention will not surprise regular readers – an Israeli comedy called “Holy Air”. It is set in the Arab Christian community of Nazareth, and tells the story of a man who, after his wife gets pregnant, decides it is time to make it big and provide for his family by selling bottled holy air to tourists. Sounds like the perfect scam – as bits of Berlin Wall will run out eventually. (Or will they?) The juxtaposition of this film being promoted literally next door to the exhibition describing the systematic programme to eliminate the Jews, which in turn leads to the formation of the Israeli state got my head in somewhat of a spin.

Walls, barriers, divisions. Separatism, fascism, communism, neoliberalism. All in evidence, often simultaneously, from many vantage points, but especially around Potsdamer Platz. The line of the wall is marked on the ground along its full length, except where it has been built over. This mostly takes the form of a double line of cobbles. Around Potsdamer Platz alone, this threw up some incongruous and/or poetic images.

Here we have the double line of cobbles crossing a footpath and road before disappearing for 30m or so under a new office block. Parked across it is, facing east, a woman’s bicycle; facing west, a brand new BMW i3 electric car on a free charging point. Two very different perspectives on sustainable transport staring at each other across an entrenched divide.

Here we have the line of the wall interrupted by the modern reincarnation of underground station. An historic site, it saw the city’s first rail terminus in the 1830s and the city’s first underground lines in the 1930s. The Nazi’s wanted to have it complete before the 1936 Olympics to demonstrate the magnificent state-of-the-art technology and efficiency of the Third Reich. Technical issues – largely related to the difficult geology eluded to at the beginning of this piece – meant it was not actually completed in time, much to Hitler’s intense annoyance, no doubt. In the Cold War era, it was seen as a possible weak link in the barrier that the wall represented and as such was heavily patrolled underground by GDR soldiers throughout the time of the Wall. Its ultra modern technology and efficiency today would have had Hitler purring.

There are just a few small fragments of the wall left in Potsdamer Platz today, with them utilised to give information about the sites history. Smack bang on the line of the wall in the foreground of my picture is another of those incongruities that mess with my mind. For lo and behold, it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It is really difficult to assimilate all the stories and messages to be gathered around this historic city. Very little of it is uplifting. Even the big shiny modern tower blocks remind me of instability as soon as I realise they belong to banks (e.g. Deutsche Bank)!

The two most uplifting things I saw may not inspire many. During my visit to the Espionage Museum, amongst all the 007 nonsense and displays of gadgets, was a story that ought to be more familiar to us all. At the height of the Cold War the Americans undertook some provocative military exercises that had Russian militarists convinced that the Americans were about to launch a nuclear first strike conquest. Pressure quickly mounted for a pre-emptive strike to be launched from Russia. It was only the intelligence received from spies within the American military that convinced Russia that the manoeuvres were indeed no more than exercises. In other words, the spies averted a nuclear apocalypse.

In what sense is this uplifting? It tells us that it is secrecy that is dangerous. It is the preserve of tyrants and crooks. All the time we know what is going on we can have rational responses. So hooray for all the spies, all the whistle blowers, for Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Chelsea manning et al. There is no place for secrets of any sort in democratic government. National security can never be enhanced by allowing governments to keep secrets from the people. This much we have to learn from the Nazi era. In the digital era, relationships between people and the powers that be are evolving fast. This is why we should  all be broadly supportive of the Anonymous network of activist and hacktivist entities, and why I was pleased to see the Espionage Museum promoting this too. I convinced my 17 yr old Government and Politics student companion to this viewpoint I think – such that we bought some souvenirs that will hopefully see much future use.

The other uplifting sight was to see thousands of people taking to the streets and marching on the Brandenburg Gate – this time in protest at rising violence against women. (See below)screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-19-59-18

If Berlin has anything to teach us, it is that putting our faith in governments to act in our best interests is foolhardy at best. Glasnost/openness, transparency and accountability has to be the bedrock of any true democracy. Any thing less is a sham. We live in a sham. And shams can quickly become shameful. Freedom is only possible when the masses grasp it.

The Norman Foster designed dome (the top of a gherkin anybody?) on top of the Reichstag building was added in the 1990s to symbolise the reunification of Germany and a new era of open, transparent democracy. Well, that was the theory at least.

Shut Aberthaw Power Station; reflections on a day of protest

I have been very quiet recently and keeping a low profile. With the world slowly turning into a quagmire of shite at every turn, I have consciously decided to avoid adding my voice to the cacophony of doom mongers. I look back on everything I have written in such a vein over recent years and it is all panning out even worse than the most pessimistic of predictions. Talking about it without doing anything about just seems to perpetuate self-fulfilling prophecies.

With regards most issues, knowing what to do that might change things, or at least things that I am able and willing to do, is the big challenge. For some reason, assassinating Trump just crossed my mind as an example to illustrate this conundrum.

Of the issues and campaigns that I have been involved with, the one that I cannot seem to give up on is the anti-fracking/anti-fossil fuel/pro-renewables issue. For me, this still encapsulates the essence of everything that is wrong in the world today:

  • the capitalist mantra of profits before people
  • the rancid corruption of our governments
  • subversion of democracy
  • climate change denialism – denying both the science and the social impacts
  • the lack of respect for our life support system – planet Earth
  • reckless gambling with all our futures
  • the lack of any rationality in decision making (with the concurrent rise in religiosity being no coincidence)
  • the way all of the above leads to the refusal to grasp the solutions staring us in the face – in terms of renewable energy technologies
  • the continued prevalence of Thatcherite greed and selfishness

and so on and so on.

Perhaps more importantly, in terms of my continued participation in the campaigns, is that I know what we can do to affect change. I search through their blog for fracking and coal related stuff highlights the range of options that have had impacts:

  • we have won support from democratic institutions (local authorities; notably NOT national government)
  • we have won court cases
  • we have brought activity to a halt by occupying sites and blocking access routes
  • we have persuaded people to change their energy suppliers, especially to renewables suppliers
  • we have encouraged community energy schemes
  • we have raised awareness considerably, through various media and educational programmes
  • we have built a community of experts and activists that ensure the above will continue indefinitely, for as long as is needed.

Which brings me to today’s events at Aberthaw.

A number of groups co-ordinated today’s protest. Reclaim the Power, United Valleys Action Group, Bristol Rising Tide and the Coal Action Network held a public demonstration demanding the prompt closure of Aberthaw coal-fired power station and support for renewable energy in the UK.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-53-36The forecast the day before was pretty abysmal and that, to my certain knowledge, put quite a few people off turning out (for justifiable health reasons in some cases), but as it turned out, the weather was actually about as good as it gets for hanging around Aberthaw beach in January. So a turn out of somewhere between 150 and 200 hardy souls was pretty good I would say. Considering that many had come from Aberystwyth, Bristol and Gloucestershire, with some from as far away as London and Lancashire, it is always possible to be disappointed in the numbers from more locally, but hey!

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-53-22I am never sure whether to be disappointed or pleased at relative lack of familiar faces at such events. There are always some familiar faces from among the organisers of the respective groups, but today there were a lot of new faces, who if they had anything in common at all, from what I learned from talking with them, was that they came from downwind of Aberthaw (Cardiff, Newport, Bristol), i.e. in the firing line for many of its worst impacts. This throws up the thought NIMBYism always plays a big role in such protests. The big problem for the climate change campaign has been in creating that NIMBY mindset for a global problem.


Pete the Temp

But wherever and for why people turned up today, on a bleak and remote beach in mid-winter, they were rewarded with a pretty good carnival atmosphere. For this, one man deserves enormous credit. Take a bow Peter Bearder aka Pete the Temp. Bristol-based Pete describes himself as a ‘poet, looper and educator’. I can’t believe I have not encountered him before. He was brilliant. Check out his Facebook page and blog. Chortle has this to say about him: ‘with fire in his belly, expert performance skills and a keen sense of mischief, he’s poetry’s answer to Mark Thomas, able to make the depressing enjoyable.’ (Here is a wee taster)

Spot on and just the tonic I needed, along with everyone else I suspect. Throw in some hot soup, homemade cakes and inspirational words from UVAC residents and the ever-reliable Marianne Owens from the PCS union and a good time was had by all in the wintery sunshine with rainbows as a backdrop. Ever an abrupt shower on the march from the beach to the gates of the power station could not dampen the spirits.

The one thing that did piss me off big time, however, and not for the first time at such screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-52-15events, was the ridiculously over-the-top policing. I anything give the lie to the Tory austerity agenda it is the criminal waste of public money that routinely seems to accompany these events. I counted in excess of 50 officers on the ground, 2 on horseback, and a relatively short-lived overhead helicopter presence (which costs around £2000 an hour in itself). When I quipped to one officer that it seemed like that there was almost as many coppers as protestors about, he laughingly agreed and said there were even more on standby ‘in case they were needed’! Welcome to Police State Britain.

By my reckoning, this must add up to a policing bill of somewhere between £10k and £15k, when half a dozen plods would have been ample to ensure the safety of the public and the protestors. What this actually represents is a paranoid security response to protect the assets of the capitalists who own and run the plant. As such, I hope (without any conviction that it will be so) that it is the company that picks up the bill rather than the taxpayer, who is told everyday how their more important services have to sacrificed on the altar of the Tory phoney austerity agenda. The police bill here would pay the annual wages of a nurse or a teaching assistant FFS.

Anyway, back to the substance of the protest.

It is my understanding that this protest was prompted, in no small measure, by the publication of a Friends of the Earth Cymru (FotEC)/Greenpeace report last September, entitled AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH IMPACTS OF ABERTHAW POWER STATION (available in pdf format here) This is yet another example of reality being even worse that I had realised. I used Aberthaw Power Station as a case study when I was a geography teacher in Barry (1995-2004). We knew then that it was a power station especially designed to burn the shitty quality coal that was left in South Wales. We knew that it faced technological challenges in burning this stuff while maintaining ‘acceptable’ pollution levels in its emissions. We were told that it was a ‘state-of-the-art’ and


The pollution from the stacks heading off towards Barry, Cardiff, Newport, Bristol ….

meeting those challenges with technological wizardry – that on closer examination seemed to amount to little more than some water sprays in the chimney stacks to ‘wash’ out the pollutants. We knew that they had been rapped my the environment agencies of the time, but were told that this simply proved how rigourous the whole regime was. I whiffed bullshit overtime I heard that on our annual school visits.

What the FotEC report, written by their then-Director Gareth Clubb and the Greenpeace coal and air pollution expert, Lauri Myllyvirta, uncovers is little short of a nightmare and national disgrace.

The full report is 25 pages long, but here is the Executive Summary:

Executive summary

The 1,500MW Aberthaw coal-fired power plant in southern Wales is among the largest
point sources of air pollution in the UK . In 2013 it had the 3rd highest emissions of nitrogen oxides of any industrial installation throughout the EU . Of the 12-highest nitrogen oxides polluters in the EU, Aberthaw is by some margin the greatest polluter relative to the electricity generated1 .

Hundreds of people’s lives are ended prematurely as a result of pollution from Aberthaw power station every year . This pollution also causes tens of thousands of days of lost productivity through sick leave, and hundreds of thousands of days of illness every year . The annual societal cost of the premature deaths resulting from Aberthaw’s NO2 pollution is £226 .4 million in total, and £37 .9 million in Wales alone .

The pollution is responsible for causing asthma symptoms in children, bronchitis in children, chronic bronchitis in adults, hundreds of hospital admissions every year, and low birth weight in babies .

Over the 45 years since it started operating, pollution from this one power station alone is likely to have caused the premature deaths of more than 3,000 people in Wales, and 18,000 across a wider area .

Governments and environmental regulators appear to be failing to comply with requirements of European legislation through failing to even monitor spikes in emissions from Aberthaw power station, let alone act on them .

The electricity produced by Aberthaw power station could be substituted by renewable sources, creating substantially more employment for Wales .

Given the particularly heavy pollutant load associated with this power station both in absolute terms and per unit of electricity generated, the serious health impact of this pollution and the massive quantities of greenhouse gases emitted, we call for the full and permanent closure of Aberthaw power station .

The data and methodology used are both rigorous and credible. The conclusions and recommendations it produces pull no punches. They underline pretty much all of my ranting points in the first bullet list above (indirectly at least). And this is why I hold little hope of any speedy resolution despite clear evidence that somebody dies and many fall ill every single day of the year directly because of this capitalist folly.
Here is the last page of the report:

Conclusions and recommendations

Extensive research into air pollution of the nature emitted by Aberthaw power station led the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants to conclude that a precautionary approach should be adopted in planning and policy development76 . It is this precautionary approach that should now be adopted by the Welsh Government, the UK Government and Natural Resources Wales . Every pressure should be applied to RWE to cease its operations at Aberthaw power station with immediate effect .

The Welsh Government does not appear to be responding to the very real harm being caused to the health of the people of Wales as a result of the pollution from Aberthaw power station . This is despite the Welsh Government’s statement:
“Controlling air pollution in Wales is a high priority for the Welsh Government. The driver is not only compliance with European legislation, but a commitment to protect human health and the environment”77 .

We can find no reference to Aberthaw power station in the Welsh Government’s three Air Quality (NO2) plans for southern Wales, nor in the Respiratory Annual Report .

On average, pollution from Aberthaw is responsible for curtailing the lives of 67 people in Wales every year . This is equivalent to 64% of the death toll on Welsh roads – yet there is no special strategy for securing the accelerated final closure of the plant.

At a wider scale, the estimated health impacts due to NO2 exposure are 400 premature deaths per year . The emissions from the power plant are estimated to be responsible for 195,000 days of illness per year, including 35,000 days of sick leave . In other words, on an average day, 530 people are ill due to the harmful health impacts of the pollution .

Aberthaw power station has been generating for 45 years . It is an old power station that belongs in a different era . The fact that its pollution has been causing respiratory sickness and prematurely ending the lives of thousands upon thousands of people in Wales and beyond for decades has eluded scrutiny .

The time for proper public scrutiny is now upon us . The Welsh and UK Governments must do everything in their power to ensure that Aberthaw power station ceases operating . For good .

So there you have it. In the quagmire of shit that the world is turning into, here is one particularly obnoxious and noxious turd right on my doorstep. But hey, what a lovely day we had highlighting this fact, here in the asylum of the universe!

A betrayal too far?

The schism in the Parliamentary Labour Party shows absolutely no sign of being healed. The will and beliefs of the majority of the Labour membership are clear. This translates itself into the will and belief of the vast majority of the Labour constituency parties. The will and beliefs of the Labour leadership, supported said membership and constituency parties, is also very clear.

That leadership put forward a truly important motion before the houses of parliament. It was a motion that, in the words of the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, “gave us the opportunity to send the opposite message to the world … that, while Saudi Arabia will remain a valued strategic, security and economic ally in the years to come, our support for their forces in Yemen must be suspended until the alleged violations of international humanitarian law in that conflict have been fully and independently investigated. And until the children of Yemen have received the humanitarian aid that they so desperately need,” she said.

Personally, I don’t believe we should value the Saudis as a strategic or economic ally. It is a barbaric, religiously fundamentalist (i.e. socially backward and primitive) country that should be ostracised rather than courted. Concern over its importance due to its oil wealth is also backward and primitive in a world that needs to be rapidly turning away from fossil fuels. It is only the warped logic of the neoliberal capitalists that seeks to preserve dependence on finite resources.

This reality underlines my utter contempt for the Labour MPs that abstained on this vote in defiance of a three-line whip from the Labour leadership. They not only stuck two fingers up to Party discipline; they not only chose to make a pathetic gesture at the cost of innocent children’s lives and well-being; they also underlined, in blood red, that they share the warped neoliberal, capitalist mindset of the Tories, to whom they handed victory in this vote.

It was the simplest and most straightforward of requests that was made of them. They were being asked to support the sending of message to the Saudi regime that humanitarian issues matter more (the Socialist worldview) , not less (as is the Tory worldview) than economic issues. Other Party’s MPs understood this and did the right thing:

Emily Thornberry said that she was disgusted that (all but one) Tory voted against the motion and disappointed that 102 Labour MPs abstained. That should be the other way round surely! We should never expect anything else from Tories. It is a constant disappointment that anybody thinks like a Tory. What is truly disgusting, to the point of making me want to vomit all over them, is that the proud socialist heritage of the Labour Partry, that has been trodden into the dirt consistently by the neoliberal Blairites, up to and including their humiliating defeat in the recent Leadership election, should continue to be dragged down by these contemptible, self-important bastards.

Well, now they well and truly have blood on their hands. And the rest of the world sees them for what they truly are.screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-21-53-19screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-21-53-32

To be fair, some of Corbyn’s PLP detractors refused to get involved in this most revolting of revolts. Newspapers reported one Labour MP, who is not supportive of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but voted for the motion, said he was frustrated and upset that a number of his colleagues were “using the issue as a way of trying to beat Jeremy. It is such as serious issue and it’s obviously going on the Tory side as well, but there is a massive humanitarian disaster here. It should not be an opportunity to score political points,” he said.

But nine Welsh Labour MPs were amongst those that simply could not resist. Of course, I am especially disappointed that my own MP is heading this listscreen-shot-2016-10-29-at-21-30-44but just like with Tories, we really could not have expected anything else. Her track record of cosying up to arms manufacturers goes before her these days. She will probably be the guest of Lockheed Martin UK at the next big arms traders’ banquet. She would certainly welcome them bringing jobs to Bridgend were it ever an option. Imagine her pride at having Bridgend made cluster bombs slaughtering civilians in Yemen, like their British made BL-755 bombs that have been uncovered being used against Yemeni civilian targets by ITV. 

It is patently clear that Madeleine Moon and her likeminded colleagues can have no future in the Labour party that has been re-born, re-invigorated and returned to its members. They have become insufferable boils on the face of the party. They disfigure and repulse. The sooner these boils are lanced and proper healing of the sores achieved, the better for everyone involved in progressive politics in this country.

P.S It was a surprise to see Paul Flynn on this list. I am told he had a genuine reason for being absent from the vote. I am happy to believe and acknowledge this.

Where does Jeremy Corbyn stand with the PLP, post-‘Chicken Coup’?

When enough members of the PLP signed the nomination papers to get Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper in 2015, they thought they were just paying lip service to the idea that the Labour Party was still a fairly ‘broad church’ with a few genuine lefties still hanging around. It was a sop to try and keep them in the fold, knowing that Labour needed all the help it could get in recovering from the Milliband calamity. Nobody, myself and, I suspect, Jeremy himself included, thought there was any real prospect of him pulling it off.

What Corbyn’s comprehensive victory revealed was, despite all indications to the contrary in terms of the performance of the vast majority of Labour’s elected representatives at all levels, that the majority of the party’s members were actually still socialists at heart. This was a shock to me, having spent the best part of a decade mixing with Green Party lefties that had abandoned the Labour Party at various points over the last 30 or so years. I had assumed that there were very few left in the Labour Party, given that so few made it through the ranks to prominence at Westminster, in the Senedd and in most local council chambers. It was an even bigger shock to the Blairites and centrists of the PLP.

The totally unexpected nature of the outcome meant that it was inevitable that some sort of shambles would ensue, but alongside the mess created, something beautiful arose from the quagmire. Lo and behold, socialism was seen to be alive and kicking, and even more crucially, the membership of the party saw the opportunity to wrest control of the party away from the unrepresentative cliques that had come to control the party with an iron fist (resembling an iron lady?) from the point at which Blair’s New Labour Project took over. Socialism has been a dirty word in the Labour Party for too long as a result. I’ve heard more members of the Green Party and Plaid Cymru proclaim themselves to be socialists than Labour politicians in the 25 years I have been living in Wales. This is because Tony Blair seemed to prove to them that the only electable Labour Government was a neoliberal-loving, just-left-of the-Tories (no matter how far right they go) party that only ever aspired to be not as bad as the Tories. Sticking to true socialist convictions was untenable in the modern world, or so we were told.

The election of Corbyn, and the now obvious common appeal he has, brought hundreds of thousands of people into the party (a mix of old lefties like me and, more crucially, many first time party members – of any party – under the age of 30) and meant that, from nowhere, Corbyn had a huge mandate to re-assert the Labour Party as the party of the people; a party created by its members for its members; a socialist party that stood tall and proud of everything that this should stand for; everything that had become anathema to the professional politicians that make up a huge chunk of the PLP these days.

Given the circumstances, it was always going to be interesting to see how the PLP took to their new leader and how quickly their new leader would take to the task. In short, the PLP recoiled in horror at what they had done, and Jeremy found himself in a position that he had probably never even dreamt about, let alone planned for. I watched on with initial amusement, but then increasing admiration as Jeremy grew into the job and proved his leadership quality by toughing it out against the predictable forces seeking to undermine him, both within and outside the party. When I decided to join and do what I can to support this resuscitation of the socialist agenda, I knew that the PLP were one of those forces seeking to undermine him. This underlined exactly why I had not been able to go anywhere near Labour on a ballot paper for 30 odd years, but also underlined the importance of rallying behind him to win the battle for the direction of the party. At the point of joining, there as no obvious sign (to me at least) of the treacherous lengths the PLP would go to, just a few days later, with their vote of no confidence in JC.

There is no need to rake over the revolting stinkfist that was the leadership campaign this summer, but on reflection, it may well prove even more of a seminal moment for the party than Corbyn’s initial victory. The measure of Corbyn’s second victory, given the blatant gerrymandering of the floundering NEC in denying me (and something like 200,000 other members) a vote, was effectively a vote of no confidence in the PLP members that had precipitated the whole thing.

The PLP now finds itself between a rock and hard place. They are representatives, put before the electorate by the Labour membership. The views and desires of the membership are now crystal clear. The socialist values of the membership have been revalidated and given new voice and new confidence. This has seen the socialists, lost by the party over the years, returning in droves, and younger generations, that have never witnessed anything but neoliberalism in their lives, suddenly realising that an alternative does actually exist. The sense of excitement, of anticipation, of genuine hope is palpable. So what can we expect from the dissidents in the PLP now?

Some are clearly beginning to smell the coffee and recognising that they have to fall into line for the sake of their careers (the most important thing for some of them). Being the decent man that he is, but also being a bit wiser after the experience of the last year, JC has held out olive branches to those that he feels he can trust to drop the daggers. But it is patently clear that too many still clutch those daggers. Listening to a backbench MP sniping that Corbyn lacks confidence in dealing with the PLP as a group, even when acknowledging that he delivers when addressing mass rallies, makes me shudder. I know I would be more comfortable addressing 10,000 friends than a room of 150+ people holding knives behind their backs. It makes it very hard to see how this vital section of the party can be left as it is. screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-13-50-36Corbyn holds majority support in every significant section of the party now, bar the PLP. Yet it is the PLP that is the principle face of the party to the general public. Plummeting polls are bad news, of course, but history tells us that nothing discourages voters more than parties washing their dirty linen in public.

It is patently clear that Corbyn has the respect of just about everyone of a serious left-leaning disposition. He has the respect of many, maybe even most, in other parties and groups of the left. I know this is true from my own personal circle of friends and acquaintances in trade unions, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, SWP, Socialist Party, anti-racist groups, LGBTIQ groups, refugee support groups, peace campaigners, human rights organisations, and more no doubt. He is the man that all these people, groups and organisations can work with. If they all can, and in doing so unite all the opposition to the neoliberal hegemony, then the PLP simply cannot be allowed to get in the way.

Listening to my Labour MP, Madeleine Moon, sneeringly state that she would have nothing to do with anything connected to the Communist Party, to the SWP or to Momentum simply underlined the disconnect between what she herself stands for screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-13-40-36(i.e. Trident and as many jollies as she can extract from the arms industry it seems) and any appreciation of what socialism actually means. Her vicious disdain for Momentum, in particular, suggests there is nothing to build on. She clearly has no idea who Momentum members actually are. That she exhibits such derision and hostility for what Momentum stands for tells us all we need to know. screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-13-38-51That Momentum is independent, but supportive of, the Labour Party and Labour leadership is, of course, the problem. It cannot be controlled directly by the diehard controlling Blairites/centrists refusing to accept the new reality. They would love to outlaw Momentum members but wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court unless they treated their chums in the Blairite ‘Progress’ group in the same way. That Progress loves purple tells you all you need to know about it mixing plenty of blue in with the true Labour red. screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-23-04-15We all know where Nick Clegg’s Orange Book took the the Lib Dems. So beware Progress’ Purple book! When asked, Madeleine Moon quite bluntly said she has no problem with ‘Progress’ at all.

It is to be hoped that members of the PLP, like Madeleine Moon, will reflect on what is best for the Party that they try to insist they love. They have had their time and, I guess, served their purpose. However,they have wrecked the dignity of the party over the last year or so by refusing to bow to the will of the members. For the sake of their own personal dignity, they should start thinking about doing the honourable thing so that their ignominious removal does not have to be considered. In Madeleine’s case, she will be 70 by the time of the 2020 General Election; not a reason in itself to go, but an additional factor to surely be considered. Mandatory re-selection should, of course, be part of the constitution of any truly democratic party. I am sure that will come, but it would be a shame if that were to be twisted into some sort of perceived witch hunt or the like. That anybody should fear democratisation of the party simply reflects how undemocratic it has become. That is the only way that the PLP could have become so out-of-touch with the party membership in the first place, I would suggest.

So, it is clear that Jeremy still has his work cut out in dealing with the PLP. He needs to press on, along with the reshaped NEC, with continuing to democratise the party. That way he can relax and let us, the members, deal with shaping a more representative PLP that everybody, including the country at large, can believe in and take into power. But these things need resolving sooner rather than later if we are going to stand any chance of gathering the momentum needed to win in 2020. (And yes, that was a deliberate pun!)

Moon and others probably do have some valid concerns on the efficacy of JC’s team in responding to new situations like Brexit and Syria. It is to be hoped that the new Shadow cabinet steps up to the plate and ensures that this is sorted out. I (and I presume most others that support Corbyn) have faith in him and his team shaping appropriate responses. I have less faith in the rest of the PLP taking on those responses with the conviction that they should, simply because we know they don’t share socialist convictions at all. The biggest danger to all this unravelling is in Corbyn and his team wavering in their convictions.

Hearing Nia Griffiths (anti-Trident but pro-Owen Smith) state in her first serious pronouncement as Shadow Defense Secretary, that the party will not revisit its pro-Trident policy before 2020 was alarming. It was primarily alarming as, in a democratic party, this decision is not her’s (or JC’s) to make. It is a policy created partly via the back door by the 2015 Conference. TU and Constituency delegates at the time kept an anti-Trident motion from being debated. This, for a start, could easily change in the future. But the 2015 Conference actually went much further, but most probably missed it! In a little-noticed vote, it endorsed full renewal. The Britain In The World policy report included a paragraph committing the party to supporting a continuous-at-sea-deterrent, which would entail the replacement of all four submarines. Labour First, the moderate “old right” group, noted in an email to supporters: “If the rules are applied properly, this issue should not be considered by conference again until three years have elapsed!” Well, we know how the Party is a stickler for rules, but three years from 2015 takes us to 2018. It was, therefore, foolhardy and needless for Nia Griffiths, presumably with JC’s backing, to make such an announcement. If it was a sop to the centrists/Blairites, it was a poorly judged one in my opinion. It will probably, though, earn Madeleine Moon some further invites to arm dealer banquets.

So, my message to Corbyn is to stay strong and resolute. Continue the democratisation of the party and continue to have faith in the membership, that has put so much faith in you. The PLP will then either fall into line or face the decision to either jump or be shoved. Sadly, many of them have proven themselves to have little honour or integrity and further unseemliness will probably be inevitable. Ultimately we will not be able to shy away from it.

Corbyn is the will of the members. Is Carwyn?

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-18-23-0012 months ago, when Corbyn swept all before him to take the helm of the UK Labour Party, I was excited at seeing socialist ideas in the spotlight and gaining support from the grass roots – those that understand what life is really like in Tory Britain, unlike the detached and privileged senior figures of the unpalatable Blairite New Labour project. Almost immediately I was being questioned, and even pressured, by those that know my commitment to socialist ideas about whether I would join the returning flood of socialists into the Labour Party to support the Corbyn re-invigoration of the party. At that stage I just couldn’t do it and wrote this piece to explain why: “Why I simply can’t bring myself to join my local Labour Party”.

Having spent a large part of the previous decade tearing into Welsh Labour’s shocking record of complacency and underachievement, and especially being based in Carwyn Jones’ home patch, it was too daunting a prospect to put myself into, so soon after quitting the Green Party (I resigned from GPEW in May 2015). For much of the next 12 months, I kept a watching brief on Corbyn’s progress in Labour, while also taking a positive look at Plaid Cymru, but mostly taking time out from politics and campaigning, and looking after my mental health.

Jeremy Corbyn increasingly impressed me. Honesty, integrity, dignity, tenacity were his personal qualities that shone ever brighter in the face of exactly the opposite qualities in the voices opposing him, both inside and outside the Labour Party. The shameless bias, misrepresentation and shit-stirring of the media again just served to underline that this man must be doing something right! As I said on Facebook the day I signed up, it was time to stop prevaricating and properly get behind the man. I joined in mid June 2016. And wasn’t that good timing?!!

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-18-24-3728th June saw the infamous vote of no confidence by the 172 (wide range of adjectives possible – I’ll settle for:) mischievous MPs, closely followed by Angela Eagle‘s pathetic leadership bid, who was then usurped by fall-guy par excellence, Owen Smith. Oh what a Summer it has been!

One consequence of all these shenanigans was the decision to ban party meetings until after the leadership contest, and deny me a vote despite joining before any leadership contest was initiated. I went to my first ward branch meeting the day the voting closed, just last week. But it also meant that the support for Jeremy got organised, through screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-18-28-01Welsh Grassroots/Momentum, and I quickly came to realise that Corbyn has much greater support in Wales than I had previously realised. Realising I was not alone has been an important step in giving me renewed strength of purpose. Finding some longstanding local Labour members that were beginning to smell the coffee, and relish the new direction of the party, further heartened me.

So now we find that Corbyn is re-elected with a huge mandate from members and supporters (forget the 62% of the vote – it must be around 80% if all the gerrymandering by the NEC is factored in). There can now be no question as to which direction the Party is heading. Hallelujah! There are still battles to be fought and won (Trident is going to be a messy one), but the Blairite red tories must now realise that they are caught between a rock and a hard place i.e they have to fall into line or push (or be pushed) off. Personally, I think they should just keep calm, keep quiet and exit right.

Which brings me around to Mr Carwyn Jones. One of the last bits of fiddling done by the outgoing NEC was to secure a seat for a Welsh representative on the NEC. In itself, this could be seen as a positive thing, but in typical Carwyn/Welsh Labour fashion, there was no consideration as to who should take that seat – it was handed straight to Carwyn, in line with the NEC’s desire to boost the anti-Corbyn element of the new NEC, in light of all the seats beholden to the membership going to Corbyn supporters. This makes Carwyn beholden to the ‘centrist’ and/or Blairite factions, as if there was any real doubt that that is where he belongs.

Corbyn’s huge margin of victory is a clear signal that Labour members are no longer going to allow the relatively right wing PLP to call the shots. Having sold its soul to the devil when allowing Blair and Brown to run amok under the New Labour banner, followed by the tame Tory-lite acquiescence of the Millibland (sic) years, 21st century socialism is alive and kicking and the new name of the game. Welsh Labour, and Carwyn Jones in particular, has always tried to pretend that it is a distinct and separate entity to the rest of the Labour Party. It is not, although it may become so at the will of the membership. But that does not seem likely. Welsh Labour discouraged constituency parties from holding nomination meetings to endorse one or other of the leadership candidates, despite one of them being one of their very own – ‘valley boy made good’ Owen 29″ Smith. The outcome was, however, emphatic:


I make that 14 constituencies backing Corbyn and a mere 3 backing Smith (with 23 not nominating).
That is 82%, of the CLPs that voted, backing Corbyn in Wales – much in line with the mandate he would have overall from an undoctored vote across the whole membership. All things considered, you would like to think that Carwyn Jones would be considering his position, wouldn’t you?

Remember those words I used to describe Corbyn earlier: honesty, integrity, dignity, tenacity. Carwyn could score one out of four at best, I would suggest.

What has been Carwyn’s response to Corbyn’s re-election this week? I have yet to see him pass comment on it at all, let alone congratulate the man, and most certainly not to welcome the result. Instead, he embarks on an another relaunch of priorities for the next five years. They are the usual meaningless bluster that could have been summarised in one over-riding priority i.e. cling to power for long as possible while exerting or utilising that power minimally. It is the same priority as the last 17 years of Welsh Labour in government in Wales.

I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting Welsh Labour and Carwyn’s record – that has been done repeatedly elsewhere – but a quick look at his latest declared priorities, in relation to their record to date, is worthwhile. Welsh Labour has many achievements it can point to – which is only to be expected after 17 years – but as a former school teacher used to writing reports, pointing out the positives cannot be allowed to gloss over underachievement in relation to potential. After 17 years, they can surely only be given a screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-18-30-14grade C, at best, for effort and for attainment. Attainment in some areas can only really be given a E grade. For the complacent and unambitious, that is often accepted as good enough. But Wales deserves at least grade ‘A’ effort, accepting that if you do your very best, top level attainment can still be elusive due to extraneous factors

You can read a good summary of Carwyn’s masterplan for the next five years here at walesonline. Opening up with the highly dubious assertion that “Wales is punching above its weight” certainly invites scrutiny. Hands up those of you that are sitting there thinking “Yep, all the evidence around me supports that assertion”. Anyone? If pressed, I’m sure Carwyn would have a few stats to back it up, but there has always been lies, damned lies and statistics!

He picks out a number of key areas of policy:

  • Education
  • Health
  • Economy
  • Housing
  • Living wage

He may well pick on these areas, as they areas of dire need, despite 17 years of continuous Labour administrations looking after them.

Education. screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-15-50He is proposing to throw some more money at it. An extra £100m to drive up standards – but why are those standards the lowest in the UK and amongst the worst in Europe after 17 years of Welsh Labour controlling it (and getting worse if anything)? screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-17-06£2bn on refurbishing our schools – but why have they been allowed to become so appallingly and shamefully dilapidated after 17 years of Welsh Labour looking after them? Student support better than in England (where it is amongst the worst in Europe so setting the bar very low). Where is the ambition to do everything possible to boost the higher educational attainment of Welsh Students?


Health. Improved access to GPs is promised – although this is already among the best (least bad) in the UK. Reduction of waiting times through investing in facilities is promised, which I guess is a nice reversal of closing facilities down (just don’t use the ‘downgrading’ word!). A new treatment fund is to be established to eradicate the postcode lottery of drug availability. Why is there a postcode lottery in drug availability after 17 years of Welsh Labour controlling this? There will be more investment in health professionals supposedly. But no suggestion that this can come from anywhere but overseas, as pay and conditions remain unattractive (and even below living wage levels in many cases). 41% of doctors in England and Wales come from outside of England and Wales, with over 20% coming from Asia. Investing in the salaries of overseas workers is importing skills, with all that this means in terms of exporting wealth and de-skilling poorer countries that seem to be able train up medics far more readily than we can, only to see them scarper overseas to work for our sick, elderly and invalided. This is the what happens when neoliberalism rules instead of socialism. Why are neoliberal policies still dominating our NHS after 17 years of a Welsh Labour government?

Economy. Carwyn talks of relentlessly driving improvement in our economy, while lining up his excuses in the form of ‘uncertainty caused by Brexit’. But his recipe has the same ingredients that he has been relying on for years. More business rates relief for small businesses. More childcare provision. More apprenticeships. More investment in transport in the Cardiff city regions with the much heralded Metro plans. (Nothing about rail links up the west coast, or upgrading the A470 through mid Wales and helping link North and South Wales). Is any of this going to start addressing the following shameful economic indicators, when they have failed to do so to date?

Who said doing the same things and expecting different results was madness? Someone brighter than Carwyn for sure.

Housing. Investment in housebuilding is another restated priority, but, again, the story to date has been of a lack of ambition that has left the country as whole running to stand still after 17 years of Welsh Labour. Housebuilding arguably has unrivalled economic and social value, yet Welsh Government’s own figures show that only 289 homes for registered social landlords were completed in the Apr-Jun quarter of 2016, with 1342 in the private sector and none at all in the local authority sector. This equates to an annual rate of barely 6,500 new homes a year currently. The best annual figure I could come across was just under 10,000 a few years back. Now, all of a sudden, Carwyn is promising 20,000 affordable homes a year (very few private housing developments fall into the affordable category). And of course this is only part of the problem. Neoliberal policies allow vast amounts of housing benefit to leave the public purse, to go into the hands of private landlords, who are allowed to have tenants in fuel poverty due to the inadequacies of the accommodation.  In total, 23% of Welsh households are in fuel poverty.  Another shameful legacy after 17 years of Welsh Labour in government.

Living wages and zero hours contracts. Some of Carwyn’s vaguest promises covered these areas. He will ‘take further action’ on living wages and ‘limit the use’ of zero hours contracts. Perhaps he could crack the whip on welsh councils for starters, including Labour administrations including his very own CBC in Bridgend. At the turn of 2016, only 6 out of 22 Welsh Councils had implemented the living wage for their staff. Bridgend CBC? Not a chance. At the end of 2014 there were 8 councils, including Labour strongholds in Bridgend and Swansea, using zero hours contracts as well!  Nothing undermines politics like hypocrisy from leaders.

And what of incomes overall in Wales after 17 years of Welsh Labour administrations? The answer is record levels of poverty.

  • 23% of the population and 33% of the children in Wales living in relative poverty (less than 60% of median household income) – the worst in the UK.
  • Wales is the only region of Great Britain in which disposable income in every area is below the UK average.
  • The proportion of peoples incomes made up of benefits reached 26% in 2012 – the worst in the UK.

The overall message here is that Welsh Labour’s leaders have an appalling legacy of underachievement, due in no small measure to adhering to Blairite neoliberalism and shunning their socialist roots and origins. They have survived, indeed thrived, on the back of communities that have developed a blind loyalty to the Labour Party that did so much for them in its heyday. That so many of their supporters have had their heads turned by UKIP, and others, does not reflect that their values have significantly changed, in my opinion, but more that they have finally woken up to the fact that Welsh Labour no longer have any answers that have any impact on their lives. The anti-establishment, anti-immigrant bluster of blaggards like Farage and Hamilton hints at easy answers that are what people crave.

The true answers to the needs of the vast majority of people in Wales are in the 21st century socialism that has seen Jeremy Corbyn sweep all before him, despite the best efforts of the out-of-touch, ‘self-interest first’ cabal that wrenched control of the party away from members in the Blair era. It is brave and it is bold.

screen shot 2016 09 30 at 16 49 03


These are two qualities that cannot be ascribed to Carwyn and most senior members of Welsh Labour. They have had it too easy and too comfortable for far too long. They need to move aside and facilitate a refreshing new wind of change, to blow the cobwebs away and bring about the change that Welsh Labour and Wales truly need. If he is any doubt about that, Carwyn needs to put it to the membership in Wales.

The party will bend to the will of the members or disintegrate.

Over to you Carwyn!

British education retreats further towards the Dark Ages

During the Middle Ages, schools were established to teach Latin grammar to the sons of the aristocracy, as part of preparation also for the entry of some into the clergy and religious orders. The church preserved literacy and learning during this period, and education was closely tied to the religious vocation, in order to read the Bible and related documents. The Protestant Reformation had a major influence on education and literacy in England, as it encouraged the reading of the Bible in the vernacular of the people. In the 19th century the Church of England sponsored most formal education until the government established free, compulsory education towards the end of that century. However, unlike the French, who followed a strict policy of secularisation of publicly funded education, a strong voluntary-aided church sector has maintained a strong presence in the British system.

The half-baked attempts at comprehensive education in this country were accompanied by the scaling back of grammar schools and religious schools during the middle of the twentieth century. That comprehensive schools were never as good as they could and should have been was partly down to them being undermined by the continued existence of grammar, church and independent schools, alongside the usual resourcing and training issues. But what we have seen with the establishment of the Thatcher/Blair/Cameron Tory hegemony of the last 35 years is non-sequitur thinking that the way forward in education is to go backwards. screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-19-48-20Thus the support for an ever-increasing diversity of ideologically driven schools, often overtly religious and fundamentalist in character. Organisations such as the British Humanist Association (BHA) have done crucial work in attempting to ensure some balance, and especially in terms of getting non-relgious world views considered alongside the religious. But this is now under direct threat and and we are seeing disturbing trends in the very essence of education in this country.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE, led by Conservative MPs Fiona Bruce and David Burrowes, has voted to remove the study of non-religious worldviews from its purpose. Since its foundation, the purpose of the group has been ‘To provide a medium through which parliamentarians and organisations with an interest in religious education can discuss the current provision of religious education, press for continuous improvement, promote public understanding and advocate rigorous education for every young person in religious and non-religious world views.’ This has now been amended to remove ‘and non-religious’.

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-19-40-35The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed its shock at the decision. In addition, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), which until a few months ago provided the secretariat for the group, and National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), have both expressed their disappointment.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Non-religious worldviews, including Humanism, have been part of RE in English schools for over half a century. Their study alongside religions is supported by a huge majority of teachers, parents, and pupils and contributes to a broad and balanced curriculum. Their study is vital for children to understand today’s society in Britain and globally, as well as our history and heritage as a country; it is vital for the moral education of the majority of children who are not religious; and it is vital for their intellectual development. More than that – it is the law. This alarming development by ideological parliamentarians – all of them conservative Christians – places them almost as far outside the educational and general mainstream as is possible and guarantees their irrelevance at the same time as it illustrates their prejudice.’

With aspects of science, such as evolution, undermined in some of the Government’s academy schools, and blatant disregard of attempts to control illegal teaching of it until some had to be forcibly closed, it may have been hoped that things war improving. But it is far from being so.

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-19-51-31Newsnight, earlier this year, found that a number of illegal strictly orthodox Charedi Jewish schools in North London are, not only carrying on regardless of the law, but have been granted charitable status. Only pressure from the BHA is seeing this situation finally be investigated.

As I have said repeatedly before, the existence of extreme sects of any religion is only possible as offshoots of a main body. This means the pressures for schools to serve these extreme sects can only grow in some sort of proportion with the number of supposed mainstream church schools. The news that the Church of England is seeking too open more than a hundred new schools by 2020, as part of the Free Schools programme that gave rise to the creationist and Charedi problems, is therefore cause for great concern. This concern should be heightened by the the Church being remarkably open about its motivations. In the face of declining church attendance and diminishing proportions of adherents in their schools, they are now openly stating that the evangelising of children must be engaged with ‘a new sense of urgency’, a view echoed by the Catholic Church and cross-denominational groups.screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-19-53-01

Given this impending assault, aided and abetted by the Christian Right in parliament, we are very much in danger of seeing the hideous sort of politics we currently see purveyed by the Christian Right  in the USA becoming more prevalent here.

Scary stuff. God help us? If only!!

One last point – if you want to help counter this growing tide of religiosity in our schools, you might like to consider supporting the BHA’s “What is Humanism?” Book Appeal.  The appeal aims to send a copy of the an important new book aimed at helping primary school children have some perspective on some big questions.
screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-19-33-11What does it mean to be a humanist? Is humanism a new idea? How do people live their lives without religious beliefs? The first of its kind aimed at  a new curriculum for upper primary and lower secondary school children, this book will examine how humanists respond to fundamental questions about morals and ethics, the origins of life, religion and the state. It will look at how humanists mark the milestones of birth, marriage and death. How do people without belief in God live moral and fulfilled lives, with respect for humankind and the universe? A thought-provoking approach will encourage readers to think about the big questions for themselves.
The book includes contributions from a number of prominent humanists, such as Stephen Fry, Camila Batmanghelidjh, Philip Pullman, Jim Al-Khalili, Natalie Haynes and Shappi Khorsandi, who will explain their own philosophy and tell us what is important to them.

Every home should have a copy!