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Monday, December 26, 2011

Plaid Cymru examines its own navel

For a party struggling to find relevance and a wider electoral base, today's media coverage cannot really have helped Plaid Cymru, no matter what they themselves may think. And that is part of their problem.

The nationalist party are either indulging in unpopular irrelevancies such as Welsh Independence, adopting causes promoted by narrow interest groups such as a badger cull, despite the fact that the vast majority of the population, even in the countryside, is opposed to it, or just examining their own navel by calling for more Plaid Cymru peers to be created at a time when the democratisation of the second chamber is top of the reform agenda.

It is the promotion of a badger cull that I find most puzzling. Even when Plaid Cymru had Ministers and were seeking to introduce this measure, it was obvious that it was not going to work and was not popular. That it is not in place already has more to do with the incompetence of the then Plaid Cymru Rural Affairs Minister than any other factor. She bungled it and the courts killed it off.

Things have moved on since then, but still Plaid Cymru cling to the idea of a cull and in so doing, continue to alienate voters. There is a successful vaccination field trial in Gloucestshire and even the NFU have joined with the Badger Trust to promote this alternative. The science has always been against a cull, but still Plaid Cymru persist. Are they really that incapable of adapting?
The LibDem MP for Ceredigion, and the leader of the Welsh LibDems, Kirsty Williams, has called for the introduction of a badger cull in Wales. It most certainly is not an 'unpopular measure' in the countryside. I don't think anyone (pro or anti cull) regards bovine tuberculosis an 'irrelevancy' nor is Welsh agriculture a 'narrow interest group'. I fear your latest outburst, Peter, is likely to do further damage to the LibDem vote in rural Wales, and highlighting this, a boost for Plaid. Your latest post is also inaccurate. The High Court found in favour of a cull but it was lost on appeal. To say this was a 'bungle' is nonsense. A bungle is the Welsh Government failing to disclose the findings of the independent review which has already reported on the scientific evidence over a month ago. Why don't you ask the First Minister to publish the scientific review, or are you afraid of it's contents?
Gosh, that is brave, arguing with me behind the cloak of anonymnity. I happen to think that Kirsty and Mark are both wrong and I have said so publicly. Neither they nor I though speak for the party on a cull as we have no policy specifically on this measure.

I have never said that TB is an irrelevancy, in fact I take it very seriously as do the Welsh Liberal Democrats. We do have a policy on tackling bTB and that is to improve cattle control measures. I have consistently supported that and have called for vaccination of both badgers and cattle in addition.

Welsh agriculture, despite their very small contribution to the economy are not a 'narrow interest group'. However the FUW are and they are the ones leading the charge on a cull.

My post is not inaccurate. The Welsh Government lost in the courts on three counts. All three were directly related to the Plaid Cymru Minister bungling the original order. And of course her failure to take account of the science or to build support for necessary measures in the countryside itself.

I have called on the outcome of the scientific review to be published and we have been told that it will appear in the New Year. I am not afraid of its contents but you should not assume that just because it is not yet public, all efforts to control BTB have ended. Cattle control orders are still in place.

Plaid Cymru's problem is that they are placing all their faith in a cull, which scientific studies have shown to be ineffective and ignoring the wider picture.
Details of the court judgement are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10613984
The finding that the 'Minister did not prove substantial' was because the minister did not take leave to challenge it on appeal. This would have bankrupted the Badger Trust which is not the role of the Welsh Government. On the other issue relating to the 'whole of Wales', that was dealt with in the 2010 order, as it was specific to the IAA hotspot. That remains legally unchallenged. The scientific evidence is quite clear on issues of perturbation boundaries, and while you castigate Elin Jones on this matter, please be reminded that it was she who instigated the tighter cattle control measures. So you are wrong to say Plaid are placing all their faith in a cull. That's plainly not true, as it's clear that a cull tackles one of the many vectors of transmission of this horrible disease, and a cull of badgers is only one of a number of tools to combat it.
I am not going to have a protracted discussion on this with somebody who remains anonymous.

The Minister did not seek leave to appeal because she recognised that the order was flawed and the advice she received was that she could not win.

Yes, the 2010 order dealt with one of the three grounds for overturning the cull but it was never implemented. Equally, the other two grounds can still be tested against the new order in court of necessary. None of this detracts from the incompetence of the Minister in getting it wrong in the first place.

You are correct that Elin Jones put in place the cattle control orders and she was correct to do so. However, my judgement on Plaid relates to their current position which concentrates entirely on the cull and makes no attempt to scrutinise the impact of the control measures. It really does look like Plaid are currently putting all their eggs in one basket.

The evidence remains that a cull of badgers is ineffective in tackling bTB and may even propagate it further.
Peter I accept you open opposition to the badger cull but that doesn't change the fact that the leader of the Lib Dems in Wales is for it and the Lib Dem Westminster coalition is ibtroducing it in England. I fully appreciate your position but it seems odd to attack Plaid over or view when at the same time, although you disagree, your party has a similar if not the same stance. Does that, you aside, mean you believe that your party are examining it's naval?

As far as independence goes I imagine everyone in Plaid would accept public opinion isn't where they would want it to be but it's a core position for them? Hardly seems reasonable for you to expect them not to discuss it, or make the case for it, because it isn't universally popular. It's plaids rason d'être. Doing what you feel is right is not always what is popular and for a party whose ambition to see an independent Wales to talk about independence isn't naval gazing but putting the case for their interests? The lib dems put forward and AV referendum. That was clearly not popular but does that make it wrong or naval gazing? Personally I didn't think so?
Mark, this is a personal blog not a party political one. The views on it are my own and often take issue with that of my party. A cull is not Welsh Lib Dem policy, whereas Plaid do have it as their policy. My criticism of them therefore is legitimate.

As for Independence, yes it is Plaid's core position and as such I would certainly expect them to discuss it. It is not just their raising of the issue that challenges their credibility but the fact that it is their core position and that policy threatens the economic viability of Wales and the UK.
I understand this is a personal blog Peter. I am not seeking to create some Lib Dem split. I am just pointing out that if you say, 'The nationalist party are...adopting causes promoted by narrow interest groups such as a badger cull,' then given that other than yourself the vast majority of Lib Dem AMs and MPs support it means it is an accusation that can be put to your party. Of course this is a personal blog and fair play to you for taking a stance that is in opposition to your leader on an issue you feel strongly about. But I think its fair to point out in this instance that if you hit out at Plaid over this it does also reflect on your own members.

"It is not just their raising of the issue that challenges their credibility but the fact that it is their core position and that policy threatens the economic viability of Wales and the UK."

Plaid would obviously argue that they believe that Wales would be more economically viable if they were not confined to a UK with a government that is focused on one specific area (i.e the South East of England). It is something you can debate but I'm not sure I agree it is a legitimate argument to attack them, as you did in the originality post, for discussing it simply because it is unpopular. There needs to be more of an evidence based approach rather than just its not popular so you shouldn't discuss it.
I am not criticising Plaid Cymru for adopting a policy that is promoted by a narrow interest group but because it is the wrong policy. And as I said my party does not support this policy. Officially we are neutral on a cull with members free to take their own view. I am being entirely consistent on this, as of course are Plaid Cymru. However, I have the science and the public opinion behind my view. The former is actually more relevant in this case as it is important to adopt measures that work.

It is interesting that you argue for an evidence-based approach to the policy of independence because so far there appears to be no evidence to support it and plenty that shows that it would be damaging.
Some parties/MPs/AMs DO seem incapable of adapting. Or of listening to the people who (may or may not have) elected them. Both the Welsh and the English consultations on badger culling showed massive responses against culling - I think the English one was something like 13,000 or something like 90+% of the responses against culling. People get very fed up with politicians who 'consult' and then go ahead and do their own thing anyway. I'm not sure I can remember a consultation ever changing as a result of the response. And even if the AMs/MPs don't want to listen to the public, they could try looking at the science: in Wales the animal control measures have massively reduced incidences of bovineTB - see http://caredig.blogspot.com/2011/12/when-will-they-learn.html for the recent Dyfed stats. I fear some politicians are very blinkered though.
It is sad that the issue has become political and not science based or even take into account the reduction in bovine TB that has been achieved in the Pembrokeshire bTb hot spot area WITHOUT killing ONE badger (not legitimately any way.)

And if the badgers are killed what is the best result that we can expect – a 16% reduction in bovine TB and perhaps even an increase? Killing badgers will NOT remove bTB and could cause more problems with e.g.an expected decrease in tourist numbers to the area.

I have not bought any Welsh produce since the kill was suggested for Wales and have had to source my foodstuffs from ‘Ethical’ suppliers outside Wales. So far I have not found a Welsh source that satisfies my concerns.

I sign this, not hiding behind anonymity, though I have received threats from Pembrokeshire farmers for my opposition to the badger kill. Nobody has written in police costs to protect law abiding protesters like myself.
I'm not arguing one way or another for Independence. I do think there needs to be an evidence based argument. Agree or not I think Adam Price's 'fotilla effect' aims to do that. Your origional post seems anti-independence on popularity alone. If we take that short sighted approach we may as well bring back hanging as the public support that.

For this that support the union like yourself I would argue you nee to make the economic case for the benefit for Wales rather than simply trying to make fun of the pro-independence lobby. That mistake has allowed the SNP to gain such momentum in Scotland
Yes, I agree with that. I have addressed these issues elsewhere on this blog. Specifically on Adam Price here: http://peterblack.blogspot.com/2011/08/voodoo-economics.html
Nigel raises four important points, which he is wrong on all four.
(1) bTB rates inside the IAA remains stubbornly high as opposed to the rest of 'Dyfed', the Defra consolidated statistic. There's a reason for this.
(2) Both 2009 and 2010 were bumper years for tourism in Pembrokeshire.
(3) No AM, including Peter is arguing for a boycott of Welsh produce.
(4) There have been no threats, other than from some extremists against NFU and FUW officers and Dyfed Powys Police authority already have a 'cull' budget.
I do not believe that Nigel was arguing for a boycott of Welsh produce. He was expressing his own preference.

As for him receiving threats, I suggest that he knows better than anybody what has come his way. Personally, I am not aware of threats on either side of the argument and I hope it never comes to that.

I am not sure if Dyfed Powys Police does retain a 'cull budget' since the decision was taken not to proceed with it for the time being.
Peter, in 2008 the offices of the FUW and NFU were daubed with death threats to farmers. The daubings were claimed by the Animal Liberation Front and were on the walls of offices on Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and in your own constituency of Swansea. I'm quite surprised you have not been aware of these threats, as you appear to take an interest in such matters. I trust you will wholeheartedly condemn such activity.
I was not aware of that. As I have already made clear I condemn unequivocally any violence or threat of violence and would certainly actively discourage both sides from resorting to such tactics. This is a political, scientific and judicial argument and should be settled in the appropriate arenas.
Thank you anonymous

1. There is an undisputed reduction in bTb rates in the IAA area and not one badger killed (lawfully).

2. Could you please provide figures of tourist numbers from 2005 to 2010. And don’t forget there was NO badger kill in the IAA area. If there had been??

3. I didn’t say that I was influenced by politicians to source outside Wales. It was a personal decision. As far as I am aware I’m allowed to spend my hard earned money as i see fit

4. I am a member of the public and I am not a farmer so wouldn’t be a member of the NFU or FUW. As far as I am aware no monies have been set aside to protect the general and law abiding public who wishes to protest against a badger kill (let’s not mince words – to cull is to kill). The money is earmarked for the farmers’ safety. As I said I had a personal threat albeit poorly hand written, from a person identifying themselves as a Pembrokeshire farmer who said that he spoke for ALL Pembrokeshire farmers. As I said the letter is in the hands of the police.
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