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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Nigel Farage crosses a line

There is some speculation on-line as to whether UKIP's recent slump in the polls is the result of the cumulative impact of a series of gaffes by high profile candidates leading up to Farage's own defence of the terms 'chinky' and 'poofter' or just the voters finally waking up to the reality of the sheer-awfulness of this party of reactionaries and bigots.

Fortunately, the Independent has provided a useful on-line guide to UKIP's top excuses for a series of blunders that has peeled back the veneer of respectability that they have painted themselves with over the last 18 months.

These include Farage's bizarre claim that he missed a meeting in South Wales due to immigrants clogging up the motorway, the candidate who claimed that the Nazi salute he was pictured giving was just him 'imitating a pot plant', and this:

Christopher Monckton, Ukip’s former head of policy for Scotland and he of “gay men have ‘20,000 sexual partners’ in their ‘miserable lives’” fame, called on the far-right British Freedom Party (BFP) to “come back and join Ukip” in 2012.

The short-lived BFP was formed by disgruntled BNP members and was shortly afterwards to get into cahoots with the EDL. A Ukip spokeperson pointed out that members and former members of the BFP were banned from joining the party and Monckton was probably unaware of this because he had been on a tour of the US for most of the last year.

As the Liberal Conspiracy blog points out: “One of their key spokesman doesn’t know about a change in policy, and thinks far-right parties (the BFP always had far-right origins) was fine to reach out to?”

There is also this:

One to rank with the “some of my best friends are black” mantra, former Ukip candidate Anna-Marie Crampton crafted a string of excuses after an anti-Semitic Facebook post was made on her account.

The post said the Second World War, in which six million Jewish people died as a result of the Holocaust, was started by “the Zionist Jews” and that it had been financed by Jewish “banksters to make the world feel guilty”.

Following calls for her resignation and her suspension by the party, Crampton said she had “clearly been trolled” and told the party’s leadership that her account had been hacked. She then added on Twitter that she was not anti-Semitic and that her “great grandmother was Jewish on my mother’s side”.

Never has a party been so damned by the sheer number of awful candidates and officials it places in senior positions and by the crassness of its own leader. It is little wonder that UKIP are seeking to stop its candidates using social media, though we should be clear that the main reason for that is not a lack of training but the fact that they don't want voters knowing what their people really think.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Clegg - A force for good

Over at the Telegraph, Dan Hodges assesses Nick Clegg's seven years as leader of the Liberal Democrats and concludes:

But let’s step back and look for a moment at the New World Clegg has had a hand in shaping through his own eyes. He has lead his party into government. He has proved that coalition government can be stable. He has neutralised the more extreme instincts of his coalition partners. He has helped guide his country to a place of relative social and economic safety. I’ve been one of Clegg’s fiercest critics. 

As I wrote recently, he is no Gladstone or Lloyd-George. But looking at his record in the round, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Nick Clegg has delivered for his party, and delivered on the objectives he set himself seven years, and a lifetime, ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Using taxation to deliver fairness

My article on how the coalition government is implementing Liberal.Democrats policy on tax so as to assist in alleviating in-work poverty is on the IWA website here.




Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas and New Year Recess

The Assembly has not had a formal meeting since Thursday but it has still been a busy week for most Assembly Members.

On Friday I was back in Cardiff Bay in my capacity as a member of the Assembly Commission to meet staff at their Christmas brunch, and then onto Pyle, Morriston and Gorseinon for advice surgeries. I spent the weekend writing and printing a Christmas leaflet for my ward giving residents information on church services, refuse collections, PACT meetings, useful numbers, holiday chemist opening times and much more.

I will gloss over the Swansea Tottenham game quickly and move onto Monday where, in between visits to the vet with my cat, I met constituents, caught up with casework and knocked the doors of local residents.

On Tuesday, I carried on with casework, leaflet delivery and went with the governors of Burlais School to look at the new building currently under construction in Cwmbwrla Park. Yesterday, I visited Parkland School to see for myself the playing fields the council are seeking to sell off.

The loss of this open space will have a devastating impact on the school and the education of the children there. It will deprive them of a valuable green lung and leave very little room for children to play and for teachers to deliver the foundation phase. I have already written to the council asking them to think again on this proposal.

Following that visit I had a very useful meeting with Youth Cymru to discuss their Trans'form project and other work they are doing. Today I am off to Snowdonia National Park to look at projects they have underway. It means that blogging will be light over the next few days.

I am looking forward to learning about the Dolgellau Townscape Heritage Initiative, seeing the Coed y Brenin mountain biking centre, visiting yr Ysgwrn, the home of World Ward One poet Hedd Wyn and seeing the award winning hydro scheme at Plas Tan y Bwlch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Farage the messiah?

The Independent has today's story to stretch credibility with the reported comments of  Ukip’s Commonwealth spokesperson, Winston McKenzie:

In an interview with Chat Politics, he said the Eurosceptic “army” was behind their leader, who can “do no wrong”.

“Jesus was one man, we’re his army. Farage is one man, and we’re his army and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

“Farage is like (non-stick) Teflon – he can do no wrong. Everywhere he goes, it doesn’t matter what he says or does - he gets away with it.”

This is an interesting take on Farage and not one I believe he will encourage.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Story of the week

Meanwhile the Sun has this:

Animal welfare groups are prosecuting a porn film maker after she used her CAT in a bondage film.

Zorro, five, was trussed up and hoisted in the air with his legs dangling as film-maker Hera Delgado whispers: “Good boy, good boy, you’re enjoying this aren’t you?”

International animal welfare group PETA is now taking legal action against Delgado, 34, of Berlin, who has gone into hiding to escape possible repercussions from cat lovers.

Ms Delgado is convinced that the cat enjoyed it:

Delgado, who has made scores of sado-masochism and bondage films, claimed the decision to use Zorro was “spontaneous”.

She added: “The clip had no sexual component, it was not a perverse thing. It was not animal cruelty. He purred the whole time.”

A prison term is clearly not a sufficient punishment.

Headline of the day

The Western Mail has this:

Jimmy Osmond breathalysed by police on way to McDonald's

This will appeal more to those of us of a certain age. It is all kicking off in Llandudno

Monday, December 15, 2014

Is Wales getting a worse deal than the other nations?

There is an interesting article in this morning's Western Mail reporting on proposals by Alan Trench, one of the country’s leading constitutional experts. He has published a blueprint for how the different nations of the UK can work together at a time when the constitution is in a state of flux.

Mr. Trench believes that Wales get a “worse” deal than any of the other nations from the loose arrangements that determine how governments work together:

Mr Trench is concerned that UK ministers are in charge of resolving disputes – even when the UK Government is involved in the disagreement. He argues that Whitehall departments do not run the risk of sanctions if they fail to respond to grievances.

In his report, he claims this skews politics in favour of the UK Government and results in less accountability and poorer policies.

Key proposals include:

- Having an “independent and impartial” person or group of people resolve disputes;
- Introducing a more “structured” relationship between the Welsh and UK governments, with the Wales Office and the Minister for Government Business in Cardiff playing a more active role in managing relations.
- The creation of a “dedicated secretariat” for Joint Ministerial Council meetings which would be “independent of any government” and;
- Launching a devolution committee at Westminster to ensure greater coherence.

Mr Trench said: “The UK’s system of managing intergovernmental relations is fundamental to making devolution work, but it is simply not fit for purpose. It fails to recognise the way the UK’s territorial constitution works, and leaves the ball very largely in Whitehall’s court.

“This affects all three devolved governments, but hits Wales worse than the others. The UK Government needs to take a much more engaged approach rather than allowing the situation to drift along, or treat devolved governments as nuisances or adversaries.”

He concludes his report: “Is the UK Government willing to make a series of changes, some minor but some major, and some which will involve a measure of political difficulty or even embarrassment, in order to achieve those outcomes?

“Is the UK Government sufficiently committed to the union, not just in a rhetorical way but in substance, to do what is necessary to make that union function better and to help its citizens understand why they have the structure of government that they do, with some things being done differently across the UK and some things being similar or the same?

“An enhanced approach to intergovernmental relations, which improves the substance of governance but also enables the UK Government to provide symbolic answers to those questions, is a keystone of enabling devolution to work as a sustainable, durable and effective form of democratic government.”

These are all important questions and desperately need to be addressed in any discussion on future constitutional arrangements.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Vince Cable says a judge-led inquiry into British torture links may be necessary

Today' Telegraph reports on the comments of Liberal Democrats Cabinet Minister, Vince Cable that there should be a judge-led inquiry into Britain's alleged involvement in US torture if investigations by MPs and police fail to restore public confidence.

The calls come as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Commons' Intelligence and Security Committee, strongly hinted former prime minister Tony Blair and former foreign secretary Jack Straw will be ordered to give evidence on what they knew.

The Tory grandee has requested America hand over redacted sections of a controversial Senate report into CIA's involvement in torture that make mention of British involvement.

Downing Street last week admitted that key passages of the report were censored at the request of British spies.
Appearing on BBC One's Andrew Marr show, Mr Cable was asked if there should be a public judge-led inquiry into whether Britain was complicit in torture.

"We certainly don't rule that out," said Mr Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary.

"At the moment we've got several inquiries taking place at the same time... Police are looking at direct involvement in I think the Libya case, the allegations there. There is Sir Malcolm's committee. I think they've got to run there course."

"If at the end of it, it doesn't appear that the truth is emerging, that people imagine there's some kind of cover-up, then of course a judge-led inquiry is the right way to proceed."

Vince is absolutely right to call for such an inquiry. We cannot associate ourselves with the sort of abuses perpetrated by American intelligence agencies under George W Bush.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Guardian looks for immigrants on the M4

There was much excitement in my household this morning when, on opening the Guardian newspaper, we found that one of their journalists and a photographer had abandoined their plush London office to  come to South Wales.

The plan is to retrace Nigel Farage's infamous but abortive journey to Margam, which was allegedly disrupted to the point of being irretrievable by hordes of immigrants doing everything they could to stop him reaching God's own country.

For once the Guardian journalist has no excuse, she cannot avoid reaching the promised land. All she has to do is to stick to the M4 and she will be here.

Will her piece carry the usual Guardian misconceptions about South Wales? Will she join many of her colleagues who have repeated clichés about so-called industrial wastelands from ivory metropolitian towers, without once visiting some of the most beautiful and spectaclar scenery in the UK? Will she actually get out of her car and experience the tremendous hospitality and friendliness of South Walians?

Well, it is difficult to say, because out of two dozen paragraphs, only one relates to her experience this side of the Severn Bridge, whilst the photographer didn't even get that far, presumably giving up because he had forgotten his passport or something:

I leave the photographer at Swindon station and continue west, wheeling over the Second Severn Crossing and into Wales. The motorway is black, near-deserted and whipped with heavy rain, and I finally reach Port Talbot seven-and-a-half hours after I set off. At least insurgent populist demagogues don’t have to conduct interviews. Admittedly, it does take me five hours to get back to London, but mostly the lanes are quite clear, the delays due to the nighttime roadworks underway and the 40mph speed restrictions as workers set out traffic cones. I peer at them as I pass: burly men in neon tabards, the air lit up by their breath. They’re holding up the traffic, it’s true, and they may very well be immigrants. On the other hand, Nigel, who else is going to mend the potholes?

Still, I cannot disagree with her coinclusion. Immigrants are vital to the continued functioning of our economy. If Farage has his way, the whole British way of life will collapse into chaos. But then, maybe that is the idea.

Friday, December 12, 2014

UKIP claim spending on constituency offices is lawful

The Western Mail finally catches up with my blogpost of 2nd October, where I queried whether UKIP was using public money to establish a campaigning base to win parliamentary seats.

The question arose because of a comment by their Welsh MEP, Nathan Gill that he had been waiting for UKIP to establish their target seats in Wales before opening an office, stating: "We've now come to a decision that Alyn and Deesside is one of our best prospects and we have therefore opened an office at 50 Chester Road, Shotton on Monday. We will soon be opening an office in South Wales too, again in a target seat."

As the paper says, European Union rules relating to publicly funded offices for MEPs state: “The premises must be used solely for the parliamentary activities of the Member.” Another states that “appropriations” [MEPs’ allowances] “may not be used to finance any form of European, national, regional or local electoral campaign”.

Mr Gill claims that it is all above board: “It’s true that my offices at Shotton and the one opening on Saturday in Merthyr are in the same buildings as Ukip campaign offices, but there are clear demarcation lines between the parts of the buildings used by me and the parts used by Ukip. I am renting part of both buildings from the local Ukip parties, and this is entirely in line with European Parliament rules.

“I have visited the Shotton office half a dozen times since it opened. I also use it for surgeries."

This is fair enough and I have no reason to doubt Mr. Gill's word. What I would like to know though is on what basis the rent is being paid? Has an independent survey established the correct proportion of rent Mr. Gill should pay his party for the use of the office for example? And what rent is UKIP itself paying for the use of the rest of the premises?
No doubt it will all come out in time.

P.S. My interest in this does not come about because UKIP worry me in the sense Mr. Gill claims but purely in the interests of properly scrutinising how public money is spent. I am subject to that scrutiny. Mr. Gill should not be an exception.

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