Monthly Archives: May 2016

Corbyn’s progress (and why did Caroline Lucas resign from the Stop The War committee?)

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JC with Tariq Ali

I have just been reading Tariq Ali‘s essay in the London Review of Books entitled “Corbyn’s Progress”.  Tariq is always worth listening to, but he has not got anything particularly insightful or revelatory to say about Corbyn’s period as leader of the Labour Party to date.

The most interesting section, to my mind, was that he has to say about debates over whether bomb Islamic State positions in Syria. Ali speculates that part of Cameron’s motives were to try and make Corbyn’s position as leader untenable in the aftermath of Maria Eagle shafting him over Labour’s trident position. Ali suggests that in this light, Corbyn should not have allowed a free vote on the issue, thus allowing Hilary Benn to deliver his disgraceful tirade citing Hitler and the Spanish Civil War, and culminating with 66 Labour MPs voting with the Tories. However, the majority of the PLP did support the Corbyn position.

Ali purports that this relatively good result for Corbyn led the media to seek out someone else to blame for MPs getting behind Corbyn. That, he suggests, was ‘Stop The War’, an organisation chaired by Corbyn ever since the death of Tony Benn. The fact that Corbyn wished to consult Stop The War before the Syria bombing debate in Parliament rattled the cages of many, both inside and outside the Labour Party.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 21.46.30Curiously, it also seems to have had repercussions in the Green Party too. Caroline Lucas had been a prominent supporter and committee member of Stop The War for many years, sharing platforms with Corbyn on many occasions. She resigned not long before the Commons debate. Ali suggests that this was possibly at the behest of Natalie Bennett, who he describes as inept and fearful that Green supporters were being seduced away by Corbyn and therefore wanted to be seen as taking a different approach. I am not too convinced by this analysis, although disappointed by Lucas’ actions (for once). She offers an explanation (or is it more of an excuse) on her website.

Given that Bennett has now decided to stand down, there is enormous support (including from me) for Lucas to take on the leadership position again. If she does so, it will be fascinating to see how she seeks to position the Party. It is to be hoped that she will seek to enhance the Party’s ecosocialist credentials – rebuffing the relatively right wing elements that have effectively driven many of the Green Left ecosocialists within the Party to at least consider their positions, if they haven’t already given up (I am far from the only one in this category).

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 21.48.57The Green Parties USP is its ecologism, which is subtly but significantly different from the environmentalism found in many political parties. This gives it a vital role to play in any potential coalition of the progressive left, so long as it does not lose its socialism.

Never in my lifetime has there been so much deep-rooted inner turmoil in just about very political party simultaneously. Every party seems to be having a kind of identity crisis. There is the real possibility of the long-standing neoliberal hegemony (established by Thatcher, reinforced by Blair and maintained ever since), finally crumbling. This is largely being self-inflicted by self-serving, complacent, arrogant and ignorant Tories of various hues from blue to red via purple. Now is the time for the radical left to get its shit together, cut out the sectarianism and form a united front that can step successfully into the breach.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 21.52.57As we have seen in Wales in recent days, the first step towards that is for parties to heal themselves. It is little wonder that Plaid Cymru (itself not quite as homogenised as it likes to pretend) cannot work out whether to see Labour as friends or foes. Corbyn’s Labour ought to be seen as friends. Carwyn Jones’ red tory Welsh Labour are rightly distrusted.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 21.54.48As Tories and Labour, in particular, continue to tear themselves apart, they are both beginning to realise that FPTP may not look after them quite so well in the future. All other parties are also freshly reminded of just how un-representative FPTP is, and even Additional Member systems are. The time is ripe to bring PR back onto the agenda.

That being the case, parties need to recognise that the old sectarian habits will get them nowhere. Coalition will become the norm. For Greens and Plaid Cymru to have so very much in common, and for Labour and Lib Dems to also have significant ground in common, means that implementing the common ground ought too be a formality. What ruins this though is the vitriolic, sectarian spite that emerges over areas of difference. The dynamics within our politics need to change.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 21.57.00This, more than anything else, is why Corbyn truly shows us the way forward. Without compromising his most strongly held beliefs, he is prepared to talk to anybody in a civilised and constructive manner. It allows apologies to be made for past mistakes, compromises to be made that allows some progress in the right direction (rather than none), and for everybody, friend or foe, to be treated with dignity and respect.

Corbyn’s progress has been astonishing, but he has a long way to go, within his own party first and foremost. Tariq Ali seems to think he is getting there. That is good news for all of us.

Perhaps the best thing ecosocialists in Wales can do is to join Welsh Labour and help steer onto the Corbyn path. It is a very big ask though, and one that I for one am do not have the stomach for at present.

The Imaginal Economy – a revolution by stealth perhaps?

For ecosocialists in this country, election time is generally a time of despair by and large. There are no parties that really embrace what ecosocialism is truly about. They are players within the system that will always maintain the neoliberal hegemony, by hook or by crook. Every election simply serves to underline that transforming our world for the better (as defined by ecosocialist values) through engaging with the political process is the very essence of pissing in the wind.

What are the alternatives?

History suggest that taking to streets and bloody insurrection are probably the quickest way of bringing down the established order, but that what comes in its place is seldom the panacea we envision at the outset. It is, at best, a high risk strategy that reeks a lot of collateral damage along the way. It is not an option we should select, but may become the default option foisted upon us if nothing else changes the unsustainable course we are on.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 18.55.15Another alternative (one I dream about regularly) is opting out. Find a remote spot, build an off-grid dwelling and grow your own food. Fuck the rest of the world. It may be eco, but it is not a socialist response. It flounders as a way forward for humanity as a whole. It is backward looking too – it takes us back to pre-industrial lifestyles (and will bring pre-indutrial problems along with pre-industrial benefits).

What we need are innovative solutions and new ideas, not just the revitalisation of discarded ideas because they seem less bad than the current problems. My generation and those before me are the ones that have created this neoliberal, capitalist nightmare we find ourselves in. It has provided most with material wealth and comfort that we now see as everyday essentials. Asking people to give up those comforts is a hard sell, even amongst those that accept the truth that indefinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. But maybe this isn’t the core of the problem. At the end of the day it will be self-regulating.

In many ways, the more distressing impacts of capitalist culture is how it commodifies our labour as little more than production units. There is a growing epidemic of mental illness and dissatisfaction with our lives. This leads us to take solace in consumerism as a way of gauging our success and our value. It also creates the dog-eat-dog competition that destroys camaraderie and empathy between fellow human beings.

But maybe a different world is slowly emerging, without the direction or assistance of politicians, among the new and upcoming generation. Those born around the turn of the century/millenium are now beginning to join the economic world. This millennial generation are beginning to show signs of taking some old anarchist ideas and adapting them to the new technological age to develop new working relationships that, in one form of new business organisation, is known as an IMAGINAL ORGANISATION (explained in this video:

At the recent Reclaim the Power ‘End Coal’ event I have taken part in (report), i was greatly encouraged by witnessing a young generation organise so effectively and throughly, while embracing consensus decision-making and every decent value I would recognise as belonging to good ecosocialists. I left wondering whether they could transfer these qualities into other areas of life. It appears they can.

Anton Chernikov and Giles Hutchins have written extensively about this. Together, they wrote “Redefining The Nature of Business for the Millennial Age” and Chernikov wrote a great article entitled The Imaginal Economy in the STIR magazine issue 13. Hutchins runs an interesting blog here.

In essence, there is a movement beginning to gain traction among a new generation of creative, socially minded and information-enabled young professionals and entrepreneurs who are beginning to transform our economy from the inside out. They don’t play by the established rules. They utilise the new opportunities offered by technological innovation to secure economic freedom while living lives on their own terms. It is close to the world that Bertrand Russell envisioned in his great essay ‘In Praise of Idleness’. Not that these millennials are remotely idle. They are busying away endeavouring to replace the now broken economic models of the past with a new collaborative imaginal economy.

Watch the video link above, if you haven’t done so already. An Imaginal Organisations (IO) is effectively a non-organistion. It is held together with social capital and has no need for a legal entity or a bank account. It hold no assets and pays no salaries. It is formed when a group of like-minded founders come together to form a imaginal foundation of shared values and intentions. It is all about exploring potential synergy and partnerships. Networks, skills and expertise are pooled and shared to the benefit of all. As the IO grows, some degree of leadership and management will be required, but this focuses purely on maintaining the right culture. What management there is acts as the guardian of the IO, perhaps though regular communications, get-togethers and events. They will always be leaders by example first and foremost.

It is a form of organisation that built on a culture of shared purpose, friendship and trust. On this basis not only are people more effective, but they don’t even need contacts and salaries! The idea of ‘the commons’ is fundamental to many aspects of ecosocialism. Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 19.01.48For an IO to exist and to work, members have to embrace the concepts of creative commons and radical transparency. There also needs to be a high level of consciousness and self-awareness so that tensions can be addressed before they become toxic. This may be influence the varied success rates of IOs in different cultures.

It is essentially a simple enough idea. It takes organisational concepts back to fundamentals that have all-too-often been lost in the capitalist world. It is essentially about enabling people to work together to create value that sustains them all in a way that would not be possible individually. There is no place for the fear and ego that dominates most organisations that I have worked for. There are no limits to directions that can be followed and what can be accomplished.

It may all sound like a utopian vision. My fear, borne by what I have witnessed myself, is that such things succeed on the back of almost limitless commitment when people are in their mid to late twenties, but then life’s other responsibilities kick in, like having a family. The ideals also seem to eventually get corrupted by those ever present human traits of greed and jealousy. But this is what happened in the past, under the old models and paradigms. We are not talking about working for soulless corporations in glass boxes according to strict schedules. We are talking about being part of a community that comes together out of choice, surrounding ourselves with people we like and can learn from. It is an environment that enhances your creativity and humanity – rather than drains it away.

Chernikov sums where we are well:

“Our world is beginning to wake up to the fact that business, society and the environment are interconnected and that many of the systems and institutions that we have today have become too big and are no longer fit for purpose. To profit at the expense of nature or the poorest in society is not a victory, it is a failure of our humanity…… In a sentence, a new collaborative, pro-social economy is emerging, and if we are going to thrive in this new economy we all need to become better at practising collaboration, not just talking about it.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 19.06.36The march of new technologies knows no bounds. From 3D printing to nano tech and robotics, it is hard to imagine the world that may be just around the corner. The good news is that much of the technology erodes barriers to to entry. Tiny start-up companies an compete and outperform corporate giants in evermore fields. Instead of using armies of workers and costly infrastructure, new IO firms can leverage with technology and shared expertise, often de-materialising into the digital world. Economic and social theorist, Jeremy Rifkin, has described the ‘Zero Marginal Cost Society’. in which there is a shift in business goals from ownership and control towards access and value. This means less emphasis on selling stuff and more on providing value and enhancing the lives of a community of stakeholders. Marginal costs of production are reduced through the use of creative commons, open source and peer-to-peer networks. This can yield products and services of bespoke quality at unprecedented speed and cost.

As Bertand Russell once imagined (back in the 1930s), technology emancipates us and can free us up from drudgery. It can eliminate the hideous commute and the soulless workplace. It can free up more time for creativity, relaxation and leisure. Under current models, technology rarely achieves these things. It is more likely to imprison and overwhelm us. Social media are more likely to breed superficiality than empathy. We get sucked into the need to constantly have bigger, faster, cheaper, more efficient. None of this actually represents any sort of human progress.

Abraham Lincoln once said that the best way to predict the future is to create the future. Add this to Einstein’s quote about not being able to solve problems with the same thinking that created them. These thoughts inform the thinking of the millennials seeking to sort out the messes that we have ctreated for them to inherit. Chernikov’s essay ends with the following vision, that offers reason for us ecosocilaists to look forward to handing over the baton to the upcoming generation:

“What would happen if we rebuild society from the ground up with IO values? What would happen if we unleash a wave of exponential organisations that are driven by purpose and consciousness rather than profit and ego? What would happen if we stopped trying to squash everyone into increasingly congested cities in the name of progress and unleashed an wave of entrepreneurial migration into the countryside? What is we could make learning fun, relevant and social for students of all ages so that they can be better prepared for the imaginal economy?”

Imagine.

Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour – what is going on? (with addendum)

Throughout the entire Welsh Assembly election campaign, it was obvious to just about everyone that the best chance of a stable government, assuming no Labour majority, would be some sort of deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru. But there is a world of difference between stable government and good government.

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Plaid Cymru have spent much of the last five years, and especially the campaign period, lambasting Welsh Labour, entirely justifiably, for their complacency, lack of imagination and shocking record in areas of key services like health and education.

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“No deal” (Fingers crossed behind back)

Leanne Wood repeatedly said that she wanted no deals with anybody and that she wanted a Plaid Cymru government. That was always a pipe dream, but more realistically, and one of the main reasons I ended up up voting for them, she also has repeatedly said that as the main party of opposition, they would provide the robust opposition so patently missing when the Tories were the main opposition party.

All this make the shenanigans of the last week hard to fathom.

Plaid Cymru took a calculated risk in standing Leanne against Carwyn last week. It almost led to Leanne becoming the First Minister – which would have been an embarrassing car crash – no way could she form a government – and had Kirsty Williams to thank for saving her from that mishappenstance. As it turned out, Carwyn got his bloody nose, and Plaid Cymru had to deal with the shame of having the full support of both Tories and the devil-incarnate, UKIP, tarnishing their public image before the new Senedd had even got started.

With both these gifts pocketed, Tories and UKIP could now manipulate things further by offers of support to Welsh Labour (with strings attached, of course) and by undermining any need for Welsh Labour to do any bargaining with Plaid Cymru by, as the Tories have done, declaring the intention to abstain in the next First Minister vote and thereby rubber stamping Carwyn RT Jones as First Minister, after a week’s fun and games.

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“What do you want from me?” (through gritted teeth)

At this point, both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour should have realised their proper places and had the maturity to take those roles more seriously going forward. There was no need for any deal at all, let alone a cosying up behind closed doors. Both will claim it was in their best interests, whereas in reality it undermines them both.

Welsh Labour will presumably have been seeking assurances that Plaid Cymru will not continue to pull stunts to undermine the government process. With Kirsty Williams

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Kirsty puckering up for Carwyn?

likely to be largely co-operative, and UKIP likely to be absent increasingly often as they get bored with provincial minutiae, I am not sure they really had much to worry about. That was very much their thinking before last weeks stunt. They have now made themselves publicly beholden to Plaid Cymru. Whatever has been agreed, that will be the perception.

Plaid Cymru will presumably have been seeking pledges to give them a few snippets from their manifesto. This will be held up as justification for the farce they have made of the first week of the new Senedd (following on from the Health Bill farce they enacted in the last week of the last Senedd before the election). However, as the lead opposition party against a minority government, I find it hard to imagine that they have been given any concessions from Labour this week that would not have been able to achieve on a case-by-case basis anyway. Wrapping up such concessions in a secretive deal behind closed doors now is going to reap more negatives than positives in terms of positive perceptions of the Party in the eyes of voters next time around. Regular public concessions as time goes by in the Senedd would have a more positive impact. It is the difference between a strong opponent putting in regular telling blows that might eventually lead to knock out, as opposed to a virtual coalition where partners prop each other up because they are both too weak to stand tall and strong.

Will we ever find out exactly what they have agreed? I somehow doubt it as they will probably both feel a bit embarrassed about all the fuss over what I suspect amounts to very little.

And where does all this leave Bridgend’s Green Leftie? Having given up on a largely clueless Green Party, I had been hoping to join a largely ecosocialist Plaid Cymru that might actually be on the verge of achieving major positive things in Wales. Their manifesto was pretty impressive overall.

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McAvoy – the ‘Bluebird Bruiser’

However, they still seem to lack the maturity and guile to convince people that they are fit to govern. I can’t be doing with such nonsense when there is so much pressing work to be getting on with immediately (e.g. Port Talbot steel in particular). Those that know the ‘marmite’ Neil McAvoy, one of PC’s new AMs, will also understand why I expect an increase in petty, immature squabbles going forward.

Many of my ecosocialist friends have been tempted to join the Labour Party in support of Jeremy Corbyn‘s vision of the way forward. I would be sorely tempted by that too, but I am struggling to find any sort of socialist in Welsh Labour (other than Mick Antoniw) and Carwyn RT Jones local branch would be my branch here in Bridgend – and a more Blairite mafia you would struggle to find.

So I guess that leaves me here sniping from the sidelines. I will continue to try of offer constructive opinions to anyone (is there anyone?) prepared to listen, and when I eventually, if ever, see evidence of a Party that actually has a clue about how to put the world to rights, not just on paper, but in practice, then I will sign up and try to do my bit.

In the meantime, although it was pretty immature in itself putting this out as an election broadcast, this Green Party video sums up British politics at the moment pretty well (a Welsh language version featuring Carwyn, Leanne, RT, Hamilton and Kirsty anybody?):

(Click image for the video)

ADDENDUM

I was wrong about them keeping the details of the deal deal quiet – Plaid Cymru have been keen to brag about what they have achieved. They have summarised it thus:Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 19.18.49

Looks impressive – but on closer analysis, especially in the context of the Welsh Labour manifesto for these elections,  what exactly have they extracted from Labour that was not likely to happen anyway? The answer is very little.

Looking at the lists above and starting with the left hand column:

  • 30 hours of free childcare is in the Labour manifesto – nothing gained.
  • National Infrastructure Commission is something gained – but commissions and commissioners are no assurance of change on the ground (e.g Electoral Commission and Police Commissioners) – it is potentailly a low cost quango offering some jobs to some mates and corprate connections, if we take a cynical view of it.
  • A new Drugs Fund is in the Labour manifesto – scope may be slightly different now, but no significant gain.
  • Welsh Development Bank – another quango gained. Labour’s manifesto pledges £2billion in devlopment investment. Overall then, a gain of dubious value.
  • Recruitment and training of GPs is too vague to have much meaning. Recruitment and training of GPs goes on all the time. The Labour manifesto cites other strategies for relieving pressure on GPs that may help stem the loss of GPs that are quitting under the strain. This may well be more effective overall. Thus, a gain of dubious overall value.
  • 100,000 new apprenticeships – exactly as in the Labour manifesto – nothing gained.
  • Support for the steel industry – surely a given and therefore, without specifics, nothing gained.
  • Campaigning to ‘Remain in EU’ – an already declared given – nothing gained.
  • Anti-smacking legislation – a gain, but not really contentious to most Labour AMs, so not a hard fought gain. May prove more contentious in wider circles.
  • Additional Learning Needs Bill and Autism Act – takes Labour manifesto pledges a little further (into legislation). Probably the most significant gain, but not a huge stride forward.
  • Strengthen Welsh Language Measure – in the Labour manifesto – nothing gained.
  • New Public Health Bill – a given after the debacle preciptated by ‘Cheap-date-gate’ in the last session of the last Senedd. Removing the e-cigarette element was a ridiculously late change of heart by PC to justify their petulance. It’s removal is a mistake in my opinion – thus I rate it a step backwards rather than a step forward.
  • A review of Health & Social Care – assuming a presumption towards better integration of these services – is in the Labour manifesto. Nothing gained.

To summarise, behind all the spin is only ONE gain that genuinely excites me – regarding legislation to improve services to those on the Autistic spectrum and with additional learning needs. As an educationalist, I fully recognise just how important this is, but it is, sadly, a measure of limited mass appeal across the general public.

There a few gains of dubious and/or uncertain benefit, but at least 8 things listed here that are either in the Labour manifesto or that were going to happen anyway.

And where is anything on fracking? On fossil fuels and climate change? On scrapping the Black Route option for the M4 relief road? Plaid Cymru are supposed to make the Greens irrelevant in Wales, aren’t they?

Thus my overall feelings are not changed. The whole thing has been a convoluted stunt that, when the dust settles, will have achieved very little. Indeed, I still think the negative impacts on public perceptions will prove more costly to both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour in the long run. We knew they had areas of common ground already. Cosying up together behind closed doors to do deals does not constitute the robust opposition I expected from PC, despite Leanne Woods trying to say otherwise. The best that can be said of the whole affair is that Welsh Labour may have learned a bit more humility, but that did not necessitate them choosing to kowtow to just one of the opposition parties. That takes humilty into the realms of humiliation.

An inauspicious start to the new Senedd!

 

Who is to blame for UKIP’s presence in the Assembly?

The new Senedd has only been back a few days and yet the toxicity of UKIP’s presence is already being felt.

Witness the vitriol aimed at Plaid Cymru for having UKIP AMs backing Leanne Wood‘s candidature for First Minister. Witness UKIP AMs also making unwanted overtures towards Labour. Any association with them, invited or not is pure political poison.

As someone who has supported Greens and Lib Dems at times in the past, and knowing the true values of those parties and the hard honest toil of many of their members, to see UKIP come from nowhere to claim not just a token seat, but a 7 out of 60 seats simply appals me. Lib Dems and Greens have one between them.

Some will say that this is just democracy at work, but democracy comes in many flavours. Or more specifically, it comes in many configurations. What we have in Wales is the Additional Member version, a fudge between the notoriously unrepresentative FPTP and the allegedly too representative truly proportional representation.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 17.19.43Only truly proportional representation ensures no place for tactical voting. With 60 seats available, truly proportional representation would give a seat for even 1.7% of the vote achieved. Under FPTP, Labour won 27 of the 40 constituency seats – 67.5% of the seats for 35% of the votes cast. Even under Additional Member hybrid system, Labour still achieved 29 seats , or 48% of the total, that still significantly overstates the level of support they actually have.

Working with what we’ve got, there is still a crucial role for tactical voting, not just in the established manner in FPTP votes, but also in the top-up list system used in Wales, the system that provided us with all 7 of The new UKIP AMs.

The crucial thing to grasp here is that due to their dominance in the constituencies, they can generally achieve little in terms of extra seats through the top-up lists (achieving between 0 and 2 at best in the 5 elections using this system).

This time around, the idiosyncracies of the system gave Labour 2 additional seats in there weakest region re constituencies – just one constituency AM out of 8 inMid & West Wales, despite poling less than Conservatives (0 top up seats due to winning 3 constituencies, and Plaid Cymru, 1 top-up to go with their 3 constituency wins). It also allowed Neil Hamilton to squeak in here with just 1500 more vote than the Lib Dem.

The point I am getting to is that with the exception of this region, where 45,000 Tory top-up votes were a waste, in every other region, votes for Labour were a waste, nearly 280,000 Labour votes, the most in every region bar Mid & West, achieved precisely zero AMs, while these regions yielded 6 colleagues for Neil Hamilton.

It would have been perfectly legitimate for Labour voters to have looked for better value from their vote – and for their party of choice to have helped them do this with some guidance.

In fact, Welsh Labour have influenced the outcome by deciding not to provide such guidance. Given that the polls were clear enough, then failing to head off the UKIP influx has to be interpreted as Welsh Labour being content with that outcome. And indeed, I believe that they are quite happy with it. Having the oddball collection of chancers, sleaze bags and uber-Toris in the Senedd can only make Labour look moderate and reasonable in comparison. From their perspective, that can only be preferable to having more eco-socialists in the form of PC and perhaps the odd Green present. This would only highlight the red-Tory truth of Welsh Labour under Carwyn Jones. Even extra truly-moderate Lib Dems would have done this too.

Thus, I for one, hold Welsh Labour responsible for this tainting of the Senedd. They could have done something about it. However, the sobering fact is that with 13% of the popular vote, that translates, under a truly proportional system, to …….. erm…. (big sigh) EIGHT seats. So perhaps UKIP are the only ones who actually got close to what they deserved!!

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 17.17.34This means the battle to expose UKIP’s ideology and unsavoury under-belly has to be rejoined (Stand Up To UKIP) . Just don’t expect any help from Welsh Labour in doing so!

Have Plaid Cymru done themselves like a Kipper?

What an interesting start to the new Senedd term!

The selection of the First Minister is usually a formality, being at the bequest of the largest party when they have a working majority. But on this occasion it has become anything but a formality.

Let me start my analysis by stating that what I’m about to say is my reading of events based, in no small measure, on conversations that I have had today with 4 AMs from 3 different parties. So what happened?

Firstly, it appears that Plaid Cymru suggested to Labour that the selection of First Minister be postponed while inter-party talks were undertaken to work out the working relationships in the new Senedd. I am not at all surprised that Labour saw little point in this as they were always going to work on the assumption that they were going to form a minority government with Carwyn Jones at its head.

It was equally unsurprising that Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, who both aspire to leading the government of Wales one day, would jump on this as the arrogance of Welsh Labour exercising their sense of entitlement to govern in Wales, irrespective of what sort of mandate they are given from the electorate.

Having had talks with Labour rebutted, Plaid Cymru decide to stand Leanne Wood against Carwyn Jones in the First Minister selection process. From what I can gather this has never happened before. The Labour minority governments of Rhodri Morgan saw him selected unopposed, or when in coalition, saw him selected as first minister with a coalition partner as Deputy (LD Mike German in 2000 and PC Ieuan Wyn Jones in 2007) thrashed out in the coalition agreement negotiations. PC’s move seems to have been a response to Labour dismissing any discussion of a possible working relationship. I think this was very ill-advised on PC’s part. I said earlier in the week that they should stay well clear of a coalition with Labour and focus on being an effective opposition force, with a possible confidence and supply arrangement over matters of policy that PC would want to support. I think they will be regretting this strategy as the implications of what has emerged from it sink in.

As soon as they resolved to stand Leanne against Carwyn, they notified the other parties of their intent. This is a far as it went – and I am very confident that this is the fact of the matter. It was, however, a clear invitation for the other opposition parties to give Carwyn a bloody nose at the start of the new term. But it provided an opportunity for them to wound PC into the bargain. And with UKipper familiarity with the dark arts of politics in particular, it was an opportunity too good to miss. They thrive on chaos.

Leanne Wood, and all her PC colleagues, had taken very opportunity possible during the election campaign to stress that they would not work with either the Conservatives or UKip. What happened today was not PC so much working with them, but it was a opportunity to be seen to back Leanne in way that would have no adverse consequences for them , but would effectively tar and feather PC for being seen to even associate with and talk to them.

Initially, I was pretty disgusted that Kirsty Williams, the lone Lib Dem, chose to support Carwyn. It smacked of supporting the establishment party yet again. However, I now think she has done everybody a favour. Had she backed Leanne, Leanne’s bluff would have been well and truly called and she would have become  First Minister without a snowball’s chance in hell of actually being able to form a government. It would have been a complete farce. Why so?

Firstly, attempting to form a coalition of all the opposition would be completely untenable as well as political suicide of the most absurd kind. It would be even more unforgivable than the LD coalition with the Tories in Westminster. I suspect at least two thirds of the membership would resign immediately. Secondly, not only have Labour already effectively ruled it out, but a coalition with Labour would also not go down well with the PC members. Relationships between the parties, especially in Cardiff, and especially after ‘cheap-date-gate’ are at an all time low, and set to drop even lower after this episode. Again PC would likely haemorrhage members and support if they went down this route. It is all nonsensical.

So what happens next?

I presume they try again, next week I am guessing. If it is not resolved with 28 days, Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns (if not forced to resign over his bloated election spending), will have the option of dissolving the Assembly and calling another election. This would certainly be an interesting prospect.

If PC decide to put Leanne up against Carwyn again, I expect the Tories and UKip to do as they did this time. This would give Kirsty an interesting casting vote scenario. Would she be tempted to call Leanne’s bluff, perhaps in a deal that saw her offered her a ministerial position? Would Labour then feel forced into some form of coalition with PC? They may not want to risk another election so soon having seen so many supposed safe seats become marginals now last week’s election.

I hope this is not what happens. I cannot see it ending well for anybody. It is a political stunt that is danger of back-firing badly on PC, but what has been done cannot be undone. I would like to see PC take a step back and re-assess what is the best way forward from here. Carwyn has had his bloody nose; let’s move on. I am assuming that it was never the intention for PC to try and force their way into government, with or without Leanne as first minister. It may have been the intention to try and force a new election and capitalise on the Rhondda result and host of near misses. However, given that mud sticks, the ‘working with UKip and Tories at the first opportunity’ mud would remain far to fresh and sticky for that to really stand any chance of working.

The best way forward is for them to do what they probably should have done in the first place. That is, do not stand Leanne against Carwyn but abstain from the vote for First Minister if there is a contest. A minority Labour government with Carwyn at the helm is a recipe for continued mediocrity, which may not be the best thing for the welsh public, but does allow other parties and PC and the LD in particular some leverage on policy making irrespective of formal agreements. It is the best way to maintain the Party’s identity – which this episode is sadly in danger of seriously tarnishing and blurring – and given a spell of effective opposition, is the best way of building support come the next election.

Election review – hugely disappointing overall

And so nothing will change once again.

LABOURget away with it. Labour lose around 50,000 votes and drop from 42% of the vote to 35% of the vote and yet still have a workable minority government position. On the basis of a 45% turnout, that means we all have to suffer another 5 years of Welsh Labour’s Blairite red tory complacency on the back of just 19%, less than one in five, of the electorate voting for them. If that doesn’t highlight just how far away we are from any form of truly proportional representation we are still, I don’t know what would. It seems that they were saved by the fact that the FPTP constituency element saw them lose votes everywhere, yet with big majorities for the most part, they were still safe as houses with just a few exceptions.
Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 14.30.15Of course, losing Leighton Andrews so spectacularly was a big blow. His Assembly career has been a bit chequered. His surplus places policies and school banding crap tarnished his time in charge of education – contributing nothing but anxiety and doing nothing to address Wales dismal performance in PISA comparisons. He oversaw an alarming decline in performance in all core subject areas.And yet this appalling legacy probably didn’t do for him as much as his pathetic “cheap date” quip against Plaid Cymru in the last session of the Senedd before it was dissolved for this election. Boy, did Leanne Woods capitalise on that in her constituency (even if the reaction in the Senedd, blocking the Health Bill, was poorly judged). His belligerency may be missed by some, but as a potential leadership challenger, I doubt if even Carwyn will be too gutted he is history.

PLAID CYMRUthe bare minimum necessary progress made. Leanne Wood’s trouncing of Leighton Andrews was a ringing personal endorsement of Leanne on her home patch. Leighton Andrew’s contribution to his own downfall aside, it showed how Leanne is capable of connecting with people and persuading people when they get to know her. That her good TV debate performances were not enough to spread the ‘Leanne effect’ far and wide (a la Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland) tells me that this is not the format she should be relying on.
This map is hugely telling. That blob of yellow surrounded by red is Leanne’s Rhondda seat right in the very heart of Labour’s South Wales heartland. It should be seen as the first domino to fall. For Plaid Cymru to ever sweep to government (like the SNP in Scotland) they have to connect with Labour voters. Some of the neighbouring seats saw decent PC progress (Pontypridd and Aberavon, both +5% and second place; +9% in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney and a spectacular +31% and a very close second in Blaenau Gwent.) Add to this a whole raft of other second places, some much closer than others, and there are plenty of places for Leanne to spend increasing amounts of time, not too far from home, where she needs to sprinkle her magic dust.
They also still have issues with their messaging. It was clear from a whole raft of messaging boards and from comments made in response to things like the political compass indicating that Plaid Cymru should be their party, that the language issue remains a barrier. I know that this is controversial, but it is also incontrovertible. Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 14.40.11Just a glance through the names off their candidates highlights their their over-riding Welshness . Leanne Wood is the least welsh name among them! So another priority for them has to be in addressing greater diversity in their candidates (even their only openly gay AM is called Price!) and finding ways to ensure that the vast majority of Labour voters, especially those of relatively low educational attainment, feel perfectly comfortable voting Plaid Cymru despite having no welsh and/or no desire to learn or embrace the language. That this is a message that will be resented and resisted by many members will simply prove my point.
Overall then, very disappointing, but with enough encouragement to foster the belief that major advances are tantalisingly close still. They need to resist any deals with Labour, continue to press the ecosocialist agenda that is way forward for developing a Welsh economy and Welsh society that succeed and stand strong in the face of neoliberal assaults from Westminster, Brussels and, indeed, Cardiff Bay while Carwyn and his Red Tory crew remain in charge.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 14.44.13

Ouch!

 

CONSERVATIVES – On the one hand it always good to see Tories take a kicking, but that they lose 3 seats to the ultra-Tories of UKIP is not really any good to anybody. However, it was still good to see them drop below Plaid Cymru’s contingent into third place overall. It means that we Leanne does at least become the leader of the opposition in every sense.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 14.46.32

Private Eye, April 1997

 

UKIP – I’ve little more to say than WTF!!!! It just goes to show how you can fool some of the people much of the time. The worst thing about their ‘success’ is that with their awful track record of attendance at any institution they get elected to, partly because they have no friends and nobody is interested in listening to them anyway, it hands Labour a working majority to all intents and purposes. Hamilton and Reckless will quickly get bored and I’ll be surprised if any other than those living locally are seen much at all. It will be interesting to see how all those egos get on together. Gill better keep watching his back methinks.

LIB DEMS – Woeful. Sad. Good people lost. The end.

GREENS – I told you so. If you are ready to listen, you know where to find me. Stick the fivers you owe me in the party kitty – it must be desperately bare by now.

 

And so it goes on. The Senedd should become a bit more lively, with a few loud and brash characters added to the mix (try to calm down a bit now, Neil McAvoy) and nothing having an easy ride through, but the Welsh people have had their say. They haven’t changed enough and so they can’t expect any real change.

Perhaps another 5 years of mediocrity will shake them from their stupor.

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Opencast mine companies running away from their restoration responsibilities near Bridgend

A timely tale from close to home.

Today saw a special meeting of Bridgend CBC’s Planning Committee to discuss the mess (both figuratively and literally) that is the former Margam/Parc Slip opencast site, just outside Bridgend.

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr covers the saga well, but things are coming to something of a head. The two relevant councils , BCBC and NPTCBC, have long since given up on seeing Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 21.15.37Celtic Energy restore the site fully, as was a condition of their planning consents, in no small part because of Caerphilly-based Celtic Energy pulling that classic capitalist con trick of transferring ownership of the sites to a transferred ownership of the opencast sites to a British Virgin Islands registered subsidiaries, namely Oak Regeneration, Pine Regeneration, Beech Regeneration and Ash Regeneration, none of which appear to have the assets required for restoration. Five senior executives at Celtic Energy walked away with benefits worth more than £10m… according to George Monbiot.

Oak Regeneration (etc.) have proven typically slippery customers. With inadequate assets to do the work, they tried ‘twisting the arms’ of planners to grant them more opencast licences (towards Pencoed I believe) to pay for the work. Both councils fanned about, not attempting to enforce conditions straight after mining stopped and giving Oak encouragement to squirm further. This squirming eventually led to attempted fraud charges being levelled and then dropped for lack of evidence, but the overall picture remained much the same – the company only had £8m to its name to do work expected to cost £157m.

Thus we have something of an impasse. Any attempt to enforce compliance on Oak Regeneration will bankrupt it and under the Tory-inspired planning system, the corporate bosses walk away scot-free, while our Councils and Wales Government are left to pick up the pieces and do the work from public money.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 21.24.01.pngPlaid Cymru AM, Bethan Jenkins, has been at the forefront of attempts to raise this issue in the Senedd. Labour minister, Carl Sargeant has been just as evasive and ‘careful’ in his language over this issue as he has over fracking – i.e. uninspiring and untrustworthy. Carwyn Jones has had notably little to say – even though it impacts on his constituency.

So where do we find ourselves today?

The most pressing issue regards the 600 by 400 metre water-filled hole, up to 108 metres deep in places.

Parc Slip lake

 

Oggy cites a report on the dangers this feature presents which includes this chilling scenario:

“It predicts within 2 hours of a breach, 1.75 million cubic metres of water would flow into the River Kenfig, resulting in floods – between 2 metres (6’6”) and 4 metres (13′) deep in some areas – downstream at the Crown Road area of Kenfig Hill, North Cornelly and the Kenfig Industrial Estate which would be, in the report’s own words, “potentially catastrophic and life threatening”.

The only plan on the table from Celtic/Oak involves using an overflow channel to slowly drain this lake into the River Kenfig. It is just about the only option within Oak’s manipulated budget. But having seen the water in Ffos-y-fran this week, that is a scary enough proposition within costly monitoring and remedying of water quality going into a river that flows into the Kenfig National Nature Reserve!!Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 21.27.37

The interesting development this week, again echoing the fracking issue, is that apparently a request has been made for the application(s) to be “called-in”. That means a full public inquiry could be held, while the incoming Welsh Government minister (please, please, not Sergeant!) with responsibility for planning would decide the application themselves.

It is to be hoped that the next Wales Bill will devolve sufficient autonomy to Wales Government to allow them to address this wilful dodging of responsibility. Only when directors are held personally liable for the decisions they take on behalf of their corporations are we going to see these appalling attitudes change.