Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tribute to Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was a revolutionary leader. She was not satisfied with the old politics of "managed decline", but rather she was a visionary who wanted to lead the country into a new period of industriousness and shared wealth. When she came to power in 1979, Britain was knows as "the sick man of Europe" and in order to cure the disease, Margaret Thatcher's first Government had to tackle the nation's inefficient industrial base, rein in the powers of the trades unions and liberalise and democratise the economy.

By extending share ownership to the masses, allowing council house tenants to buy their own homes (a policy my own family benefited from) and reducing taxes on wealth creation, she forged the modern economy, gave working-class people a real stake in society and inspired politicians from all around the world to follow many of her initiatives. Some of her staunchest opponents in the Labour Party came to accept her policies and principles and did not seek to reverse these during the 13 years of the Blair/Brown administrations.

Her most ardent fans and her most bitter enemies both seek to make simplistic judgements about her, based on equally fundamental misunderstandings about her complexities as a person and her aims and objectives as a politician. She was not the knee-jerk reactionary, hater of the working-class as espoused by those on the far left. Nor was she the one-dimensional standard bearer of some new-fangled economics which put markets and profits before social justice, as painted by many of her right-wing fans. 

A working-class grocer's daughter, she knew about and understood the struggles, hopes and dreams of ordinary people. She shared the understanding of the broad number of Briton's about the the value of money, the benefit of education and the reward that hard work can bring to individuals, families and communities.

Whilst the task of modern Conservatives has been to extend the benefits of the Thatcher revolution to those who did miss out or were left behind in the 1980's, this sad death marks not only the passing of a woman, but also an icon and an era. I didn't agree with all she did, or her approach at all times, but she left the nation better off at the end of her premiership than how she had found it.

UPDATE: South Wales Evening Post reports my comments and those of the Swansea West Conservative Party Chairman, Craig Lawton, in today's paper.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Pathetic beyond letters

The much embittered Swansea West Liberal Democrat Candidate from the 2010 General Election (narrowly missed pipping Labour to the post by some 500 votes - thanks in part to the largest increase in the Tory vote in that seat since 1983) and defeated Councillor and Cabinet Member Peter May (lost his "safe" Uplands ward seat by 10 votes in the LibDem local election rout of last May) has decided to re-enter the political fray

So, does Mr May give us his considered opinions on any of the big issues facing Wales' second city, such as a proposals for two of the UK's most important renewable energy installations (the Atlantic Array wind farm and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon), the fact that the Swansea University had to locate a huge new campus outside of the City's boundaries or the crazy idea floated by a billionaire Welsh businessman to rename all the town's in South Wales "Cardiff"?

No, none of these. Mr May has chosen to take to the people of Swansea the issue of the post-nominal letters employed by the Leader of the Council. Apparently, Labour Leader Councillor David Phillips had grown so attached to some letters that signified his membership of two professional bodies that he seemingly clean forgot that he'd left one some time ago and the other ceased to exist. Hold the front page stuff, obviously!

The fact that Mr May and his rather odd partner in crime in this matter, the ever charming Peter Birch (sometime car parts salesman, now an "Independent" Member of the esteemed Mumbles Community Council - motto: "never knowingly over-elected" on account of just how many "councillors" get appointed/"elected" unopposed for a 4 year ego trip) resorted to a Freedom of Information request to the Council querying the jumble of outdated letters following Phillips' name just shows you how pathetic the LibDems and their alleged "Independent" cohorts really are. The Independents@Swansea Group, of whom Mr Birch is a Member, is actually a political party as registered with the appropriate authorities and they nearly always vote en bloc at Swansea Council on issues of policy - but they really are "independent", of course.

Hopefully, the LibDems will do the decent thing for themselves and the great City of Swansea by distancing themselves from further silly games and pathetic pranks like this one.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Whither democracy in Carmathenshire?

Hot on the heels of the outrageous treatment of active Carmarthen citizen Jacqui Thompson by Carmarthenshire County Council (taxpayer funding their CEO to defend against and counter-sue Ms Thompson) in relation to her campaign for greater transparency, I note another story in a local paper which accuses another council in the area coming down hard on those who seek to hold them to account.

I simply cannot understand how a clerk to a tin-pot little rural or town council could have the audacity to seize the notebook of a journalist during a meeting to discuss local health service issues. On what planet does this guy have to be living on to think that it is reasonable in a democratic country for someone remunerated by the taxpayer to steal notes from a journalist reporting on a public meeting?

It also seems bizarre that there were several AMs and Councillors attending the meeting and yet apparently stood by whilst this happened. One expresses shock after the meeting, but what about doing something during it? I'd have demanded the return of the notebooks and the suspension of the clerk from the meeting.

Seems that not all is well in Carmarthenshire and the Welsh Government ought to take steps to safeguard democracy and taxpayer accountability.

Stupid Party alive and well on Swansea Council

Much like an embarrassingly deranged aunt or an English Democrats supporting cousin, I'm rather ashamed to have to admit my closeness to the Swansea Council Conservative Group. To a man they give the Tory Party a bad name and hold back the progress of modernising the brand and the public's perception of my lot by several years. I use the term "to a man" quite deliberately - as one notable exception to the talentless has-been's and never-were's is my successor in Mayals Ward, Cllr Linda Tyler-Lloyd.

I see that my hapless successor as Group Leader, the ever uncharasmatic Cllr Hood-Williams has this week attempted to dismiss a Labour-proposed Motion to Council in support of the Conservative Prime Minister's proposed Same Sex Marriage Bill was an attempt to embarrass the local Conservatives. Not really needing much help to cause embarrassment to himself or the Party, I found this attack a little odd. What I found even more hilariously funny was his assertion that as gay marriage had already been "decided" at Westminster, then the Motion in support of the issue was superseded by events (I've not directly quoted from him as his prose isn't very elegant). I know that many local councillors can be extremely parochial, but this takes the biscuit.

As a Group Leader of a major UK political party on Wales' second city, surely Cllr Hood-Williams ought to know even the most basic facts about the legislative process? MPs have only had one vote so far on the broad principles of the Bill at Second Reading. The Bill is currently in Committee and will come back to the Commons on at least two further occasions - Report and Third Reading (and again and again if the Lords decide to get nasty and try to insist on various wrecking amendments). So the Motion urging MPs to support the Bill remains as relevant now as it did before Second Reading.

However, given that this same chap got his wife to write to a former boss of mine to allege nonsense about me in a vain attempt to get me subject to disciplinary investigation (whilst I was still a Councillor!), nothing really surprises me! In the same way as his "wife's" letter accusing me of various misdeeds got thrown in the bin by my former employer, as will Councillor Hood-Williams' outdated views on society.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Off to Birmingham, in hope of inspiration

I've not blogged on my own site for some while. It is true to say that it is somewhat easier to get het up and hot under the collar about things other parties do when in government than your own. When the others are installed at No10, it's easy to carp and barrack and to pontificate on the perfect world that will be sure to blossom once the electorate put your side back into power. Many others have noted and written more expertly on the demise of the right-wing bloggers since Cameron set up shop in Downing Street with Clegg.

However, given that the Government has not had, it may be fair to say, the best of it over the past few months, and as a supporter of the Coalition, I feel it is time to spout my opinions and offer my analysis and views once more. This is regardless as to whether these are sought or not.

So, notwithstanding the size of my audience, here goes with my pre-Conservative Party Conference blog post!

Time is short and I've waffled to this point, so I summarise my key hopes for  the conference below, prior to some more in-depth nonsense later:

  • David Cameron has to re-establish his authority both as PM and as Leader of the Party. Since the backbench rebellion on the programme motion for Lords Reform, the PM has suffered an upswing in tantrums, hostility and plotting amongst his Honourable and Rt Honourable friends - aided and abetted by the Prince-across-the-water at City Hall, Mayor Boris Johnson. 
  • The Government must "get a grip" and pull together. A Coalition Government may not be the easiest thing to  co-ordinate but the Conservatives seem to be unable to even instil unity, a sense of purpose or a coherent line with the media amongst our own ministers. 
  • The Party needs to restate and reinforce its commitment to govern from the centre ground. We need to hear from ministers about policies that will help those on middle to lower incomes. We must demonstrate that our promise to test our policies against how they impact on the poorest in society is real and is working.
  • We need to hear about economic growth and improvements in the nation's infrastructure. We need to stop pussy-footing around on Heathrow Airport and move ahead with a third or even a fourth runway to the west of London. I want to hear about jobs, investment in training and a zeal about education reform.
Well...I wrote this whilst George was speaking and I will come back with further thoughts shortly! Now for some lunch...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

LibDem Cowardice in Swansea

This article originally appeared in the South Wales Evening Post...

THE global financial meltdown and the crisis in the Eurozone have created a precarious situation in which whole countries are on the brink of budgetary collapse.

The knock-on effect of all this on the UK is that we have to keep our national debt under control and keep a tight hand on public spending. This is true locally as it is nationally.

The rejection by the leading councillors on Swansea Council of a few sensible and relatively modest proposed spending cuts means that other proposals to save the projected £500,000 savings will have to be found elsewhere.

I cannot believe that the council has rejected the proposed cut to the £100,000 trade union grant.

Union members already pay subscription fees, so why can't the union provide workplace representatives out of their bulging coffers instead of local taxpayers?

The proposals to turn off about one-in-three streetlights across Swansea has been assessed by professional officers as a sensible cost-cutting exercise, as well as a good energy saving measure, too.

Despite this advice, the Lib Dems have U-turned and have waved goodbye to a potential saving of £250,000.

Professional advisors at the civic centre have also objected to the U-turn by the politicians on the proposal to close some of the smaller rubbish and recycling centres for a few days each week.

This modest proposal would have saved £100,000.

The proposed car parking charge for car parks in Morriston and Gorseinon would have brought in £100,000 and would have been in line with charges already paid by shoppers in Sketty and Mumbles. The U-turn on these charges was also opposed by the professional officers at the council.

It is easy to reverse cuts and to give in to every objection when you bring forward your proposals to save money.

It is not easy to find another £500,000 from an already pressured budget. Where will these savings have to be found? From our schools, our children's services or our highways maintenance budgets?

What is really worrying is that Swansea Council's professional advisors have sought to so publicly distance themselves from the decisions of their political masters.

While the Lib Dems are running scared from the voters and prioritising the popular over the sensible, at least we can also see the recommendations and opinions of those who are struggling to keep our council's budget under control.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Defying those who wanted to destroy

This article originally appeared on Dale & Co...

On the afternoon of the 11 September 2001, I was at my desk in Tavistock Square, London. I had been told that a flying accident had taken place in New York and that it was suspected that a light aircraft had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Centre. It seemed as though a tragic accident, certainly resulting in some loss of life and injuries, had taken place, but not something that needed to detain international intention for too long. Setting out for lunch under the clear blue skies of leafy Bloomsbury, I met up with a friend who then worked at BMA House, just across the square from my offices at Woburn House.

We chatted about the usual things - life, the universe and everything. We briefly mentioned that aircraft strike on one of the towers in New York and speculated in a vague way about the threat of terrorism and recalled the earlier light aircraft crash in the grounds of the White House on 11 September 1994, in which an intoxicated man attempted to crash a Cessna into the White House as an attention seeking suicide stunt. The damage to the World Trade Centre exactly seven years later appeared to us, at that time, to be not hugely more serious than the impact on the South Lawn of the White House.

Returning to my desk after lunch there was a considerable amount of hubbub, the usual "have you heard?" conversations, all just tea room chat. But when one colleague looked a little more serious in response to my "yes, I know a small plane crashed in Manhattan", I stopped dead in my tracks as she pulled up the BBC News website on her PC. The sight of a huge fire, billowing smoke and BOTH towers having signs of commercial airliners have struck them made me feel sick and not a little scared.

Our office had a conference room with a screen and video projector and quickly the whole building seemed to be gathered just watching the unfolding events, trying to piece together the events, grappling to come to terms with the evidence before our eyes. The second plane strike, the attack on the Pentagon and the downed fourth plane (flight 93) in woodland in Pennsylvania, seemingly en route for another major target in DC, made us all realise that accidents, technical failure, the acts of lone lunatics or drunks could not explain what we were witnessing.

Once it became clear that a coordinated terrorist attack on the world's most powerful capital city had been executed with such devastating success, the feelings of fear, anxiety and concern for loved ones and friends took hold. Whilst not knowing what to run from, the instinctive nature of the primal brain takes over in moments like these and the desire for a bolt hole, to be far from any sources of danger and to be with people who could provide comfort, kicks in. It was soon decided that employees would be able to leave for home, should they wish, given the exceptionally distressing nature of the incident. I, too, took the decision to leave work and get home.

Living in London, the sound of aircraft overhead is never far away. However, during the afternoon and evening of 11 September 2001, the eerie silence that hung over London was really noticeable. The absence of vapour trails from higher altitude aircraft and the drone and whining of planes on final approach to Heathrow was both welcome and unnerving. It was certainly the right decision to ground aircraft and close UK airspace, but it was also a sign that the situation seemed out of control and that the security services had been defeated. The fear that things could never be the same started to dawn on me. The debate about our civil liberties, as a trade off against security, was already beginning.

Jumping forward four years to 7 July 2005, I was by then living in Swansea. The feelings I had on the day that suicide bombers killed 52 innocent people in strikes on the tube and a bus in London, were perhaps more personal, more tangible, than when I had watched via television the attacks of 9/11 on a nation I have never visited and on locations I had only ever seen in films. I was watching the attacks from my office in Swansea and held my mobile, nervously waiting to hear back from friends in the capital who I had texted and called to check that they were ok. When the Number 30 double-decker bus exploded, it took me straight back to my feelings on 9/11 and of course to my former colleagues, many of whom were still working in my old office in Tavistock Square. Fortunately none were hurt, although shaken and unable to leave the building for some time whilst the emergency services attended the horrific scene across the road outside BMA House.

I was due to be in London the next day, Friday 8 July, for a friend's birthday party weekend. At no point did I feel worried about going to London, in fact I wanted to rush there, to show solidarity with the Londoners who had stoically walked home that Thursday evening and had come into work the next morning, on trains, on tubes and on buses. The feelings of running and hiding that had swept over me on 9/11 were replaced by a determination to defy those who wanted to destroy our free and open society.