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Politics

Energy policy and the environment

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LAST WEEK The Herald looked at the energy market and the ways in which different parties have approached the question of rising domestic energy bills.

That article discussed the ways in which taking advantage of existing energy efficiency schemes and the use of the most competitive tariffs would reduce bills far more than a simple price cut on the most commonly used domestic tariff.

Labour has claimed it will create over 300,000 renewable energy jobs throughout the country and put modern low-carbon industries at the heart of a £500 billion investment strategy, championing ‘a new green industrial revolution’.

One of the big ideas underpinning that commitment is to promote the growth of local energy companies and support the development of 1,000 community energy co-operatives. That’s accompanied by a commitment to 65% renewable electricity by 2030, aiming for 85% as technology improves and diffuses.

All of which will sound very familiar to Plaid Cymru, whose Shadow Environment spokesperson, Simon Thomas AM, has called for the creation of Ynni Cymru to promote Wales’ own self-sufficiency in domestic energy. It sounds like Plaid’s clothes have been lifted by Jeremy Corbyn’s promises to invest in similar schemes and raise investment across the UK.

Labour has set out a radical commitment to set up publicly-owned energy supply companies in every region focused purely on cutting prices. Under the same proposals, Government would take ‘control of the natural monopolies of the transmission and distribution grids’ currently run by the National Grid.

The Labour leader has made big promises, and the cynical might think that Labour may as well shoot for The Moon, given the remote chances it has of forming an administration under Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to drive the green economy – to have green jobs, green growth, and make sure that we have our share of the industries of the future. Clearly there’s the climate change agenda, where we’ve got to get back on track, both nationally and internationally. And third, there is the issue of energy security, which I think is vitally important, which we need to do a huge amount of work on.”

Those were big promises, too. They were made seven years ago by David Cameron at the outset of his first term as PM, when he pledged to lead the greenest government ever. By 2013, David Cameron was keen to ‘get rid of all the green crap’, as the hopes of 2010 smashed into the economic and political realities of Treasury austerity.

The rug was pulled from under the renewables industry: following through on the pledge to virtually ban onshore wind, and slashing the feed in tariff. Overall UK carbon emissions had been falling but the growth in renewables deployment stalled, and solar companies employing thousands of people around the country went bust.

Five years later, at the outset of his second term, David Cameron pulled the Green Deal for UK homes.

On every single one of those policy decisions, commitments, and staggering reversals Theresa May went along, bobbing along like a cork on the tide of Cabinet collective responsibility. The number of times she has spoken out on energy policy in public can be counted on the fingers of one thumb. However, she merged the Department of Energy and Climate Change into a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2016.

While that suggests a rather less overtly ‘green’ approach to the PR side of politics than her predecessor, it is noteworthy that Theresa May has expressed consistent and strong positions on the issue of energy security. Her first noteworthy public policy decision was to initiate a pause on the development of Hinkley B, ostensibly due to concerns of increasing UK reliance on Chinese investment in its energy infrastructure.

In addition, in a complex and volatile international energy market, there are clear attractions for the PM in adopting measure which enhance energy security and the reduction on the reliance of overseas energy. Her concerns on energy supply were echoed in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, which said: ‘Without secure energy supplies, our country becomes less safe and less prosperous’.

And, in 2008, Mrs May said: “I am thrilled to see that after years of Conservative pressure, we have finally passed a necessary and ambitious piece of legislation on Climate Change. Britain is the first country in the world to formally bind itself to cut greenhouse emissions and I strongly believe this will improve our national and economic security.

“To stay reliant on fossil fuels would mean tying ourselves to increasingly unstable supplies which could endanger our energy security and the Climate Change and Energy Bills mark an important step for both the health of our economy and the health of our nation. It is now vital that we stick to these targets.”

The logic of Mrs May’s evident and consistently expressed concerns on security of energy supply is to make the UK more self-sufficient. There are two sides to that issues: firstly, the extension of green energy generation; secondly, the extension of fracking and nuclear power.

The second limb of that proposition is the most contentious. Fracking is a public relations disaster waiting to happen and the first time it is scheduled to take place in a Conservative-held marginal seat is when we will see just how committed the Conservative party is to its use. As for nuclear power, it requires considerable public support and subsidy to make it even marginally viable for the long term.

The only large energy project requiring anything like the level of price support as nuclear power is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, which for all its carbon-saving claims involves quarrying stone in Cornwall, building new jetties extending into the Bristol Channel and transporting the stone over by barge to Swansea by the thousands of tonnes to build a tidal barrage affecting marine life and habitats across the whole of Swansea Bay.

For someone as sensitive to polls as Theresa May it is worth noting that the BEIS tracker surveys on consumer views shows significantly higher support for renewable energy (at around 75-80%) than for other options. Opposition to renewables was very low at 4%, with only 1% strongly opposed.

However, and this is where energy policies and political judgement come into play, support for renewables was lower amongst those in social grade DE (72%), aged 65+ (73%), and social renters (75%).

The first two of those groups are key electoral demographics whose support Theresa May is actively courting. The triangulation of Conservative policy on energy, which now appears to have abandoned the notion that competition delivers the best results for energy users, might not swing a lot of votes, but the Conservative leader will not be shy of using every gimmick in her arsenal to court wavering voters looking for a way to justify voting Conservative.

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Politics

Carwyn Jones to step down as row over Sargeant inquiry intensifies

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales and leader of the Labour Party in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has announced he is to step down from both roles in the autumn.
Carywn Jones, who succeeded Rhodri Morgan as First Minister in 2009, made the announcement at Labour’s Spring Conference in Llandudno earlier today (Saturday, April 21).
Mr Jones was widely expected to step down during the current Assembly, but the timing of his resignation statement has come as a surprise.
Carwyn Jones has exercised power as First Minister for almost nine years in spite of having either no majority or only the slenderest of majorities in the Welsh Assembly. During his period in office he has been embroiled in a number of controversies; however, the last few months of his time in office have been dogged by a series of scandals surrounding the circumstances of the dismissal and subsequent death of former Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.
Mr Sargeant’s dismissal from office was leaked before the official announcement was made, with Llanelli AM Lee Waters revealing that he knew of Mr Sargeant’s sacking before the official announcement. A well-known Welsh journalist was also told of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal before the First Minister met with Mr Sargeant to inform him of it, as were at least two Labour MPs.
Following Mr Sargeant’s sudden death – a few days after his sacking by Mr Jones – a series of awkward questions about due process arose. Mr Sargeant was dismissed without being given the chance to respond to the allegations and the details of the allegations were not made available to him; allegations of leaking of confidential information from sources within the Welsh Government followed; and allegations of a toxic bullying culture at the heart of the Welsh Labour administration, were made.
Although questions regarding those issues focussed on the actions of politically appointed civil servants, those issues cast a long shadow over Carwyn Jones.
Yesterday, solicitors acting for Jack Sargeant, Carl Sargeant’s son who was elected to his late father’s Alyn & Deeside constituency, released a strongly-worded letter which took the Welsh Government to task for continuing delays in setting up an inquiry.
In a subsequent interview, Jack Sargeant’s lawyer – Neil Hudgell – suggested that: ‘[I]t’s been dehumanised within the first minister’s office: there’s some game-playing going on and some deliberate stalling tactics’.
Mr Jones acknowledged the pressure exerted by Carl Sargeant’s death and the subsequent furore about the involvement of civil servants both in bullying and in leaking information.
“There are people I haven’t been fair to in recent times, and that’s my family,” he said.
“In any normal political career you expect to be put through the wringer and have your everything challenged. I don’t think anyone can know what these last few months have been like, other than Lisa and the kids. They have helped me through the darkest of times. I have asked too much of them at times and it’s time for me think about what’s fair to them.”
While no direct allegations of wrongdoing were ever made against Mr Jones personally, the suspicion that something was rotten among civil service political appointees became increasingly hard to dispel. And there have been increasing signs in the First Minister’s responses to questions that he is feeling the pressure, as the Olympian sarcasm he often uses to cross-cut opposition AMs has degenerated to personal attacks on those questioning him.
Evidence of that was the abortive attempt to smear Adam Price in exchanges over the healthcare reorganisation in Hywel Dda.
A Freedom of Information Act request made by The Herald to the Health Board uncovered that civil servants working for the Welsh Government had asked for details of Mr Price’s correspondence from the Health Board and after receiving it had gone back and asked for details other AMs’ and MPs’ correspondence.
That led to an angry exchange in the Senedd last week, when Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM Angela Burns, referring to The Herald’s article about our Freedom of Information Act request and the Health Board’s response, questioned the First Minister why she was still waiting for an answer to her own request from the Welsh Government on the same lines. When Adam Price raised the spectre of a ‘smear machine’ staffed by civil servants to assist Labour in making personal attacks on opposition AMs, Mr Jones responded with a personal attack on Adam Price.
The field of candidates to replace Mr Jones is likely to number no more than four, thanks to the nomination procedure for leadership of the Assembly group. Likely runners include Ken Skates, the Economy Secretary, Health Secretary Vaughan Gething, and possibly Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford – likely to be popular with a grass-roots membership significantly more left wing than the party in the Assembly.

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Politics

Counting down Brexit by numbers

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Working class hero: Multi-millionaire Old Etonian Jacob Rees Mogg

FROM March 30, Good Friday, the UK entered the final year of its membership of the European Union.

There have been recriminations on both sides of the EU debate since the UK voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016.

Leave side voters are divided by their victory over what type of Brexit they want, with a tiny rump of Conservative MPs apparently calling the Parliamentary tune, aided and abetted by a cavalier approach to the truth by government ministers and ever dissipating ‘red lines’. Never can so many on the victorious side have been so angry about winning or so unsure about what to do next.

On the Remain side, recriminations are even more intense. Some are sticking to the ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’ line with increasing desperation, while there are claims of foul deeds committed by the Leave campaign. Some remainers have taken to striking the attitude of Violet Elizabeth Bott – who threatened to ‘thcweam and thcweam and thcweam’ until she was sick unless she got her way.

The refusal to acknowledge that crowding 17.5m voters were prepared to vote leave and meant it is, perhaps, the most revealing and troubling attitude of some dedicated remainers. The people were misled, lied to, duped; there were terrible lies told by the Leave campaign which swayed them; they did not know what they were voting for and had they known they would not have voted to Leave.; there is a need for a second referendum, the unspoken rationale for which is that Remain campaign won’t be as lazy and complacent next time around and voters will see sense.

On March 29, Jane Dodds, the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader said: “With the devastating consequences of Brexit now clearer than ever, it is right the public are asked whether they still want to continue down this path.”

The other side of the coin is the claim by Leave voters that those who voted to remain and are still fighting their corner are – in some way – unpatriotic and doing the UK down. That is an especially popular line from fringe Conservative MPs keen to wrap themselves in the Union Flag abandoned after UKIP’s implosion and plays well in newspapers whose owners reside overseas or in tax exile. Leavers say the argument is settled in a way that they would never have accepted had the vote gone the other way and by the same margin.

On March 29, Jacob Rees Mogg compared Remain campaigners to ‘the Japanese soldier [Hiroo Onada] who finally surrendered in 1974, having previously refused to believe that the Second World War had ended.”

With no end in sight to the sniping – and anyone who thinks that next March will be an end of it is sorely mistaken – it is perhaps worth looking at some numbers both relating to the Referendum result and which might have had an impact upon it.

THE VOTE AND THE POLLS

On June 23, 2016, 72.2% of just over 46.5m eligible voters cast their ballots in the Referendum. That means that almost 33.6m voters took part in the Referendum.

Of those 33.6m voters, 17.4m voted to leave the EU and 16.1m voted to remain.

27.8% voters – a fraction under 13m – did not vote one way or the other.

In percentage terms 52% voted to leave, 48% voted to remain.

In July 2017, ComRes reported:

  • 63% of over-65s, but just 28% of 18-24s, voting Leave. Other age ranges were less divided; almost four in ten 25-44 year olds (37%) voted Leave.
  • 78% of those with a degree voted Remain, while 69% of those whose highest educational attainment was a GSCE grade D-G voted Leave.
  • Leave voters were least likely to trust either the Government or Parliament – almost two-thirds ‘distrust greatly’ both institutions.
  • Leave voters are unconvinced of the merits of immigration. While 91% of Remain voters say it ‘enriches’ cultural life, only 9% of Leave voters think the same.

While the majority of the British public still think the government should press on with Brexit, they are far more finely balanced over what sort of Brexit it should be.

A further YouGov poll of just under 5,000 respondents carried out the same month as the ComRes poll showed that 61% of Leave voters think significant damage to the UK’s economy is a price worth paying for Brexit, while the remainder where divided almost equally between those who said it was not and those who ‘did not know’.

However, that poll revealed a significant shift when the same Leave voters were asked whether they thought either losing their own job or a family member losing theirs was a price worth paying. 39% of Leave voters were prepared to throw both themselves and family members under the bus, with 61% either saying no or don’t know to the same question.

That suggests that leave voters are prepared to react with equanimity to the thought of an abstract ‘someone else’ bearing any adverse consequences of Brexit, but less enthusiastic when it comes to bearing adverse consequences themselves.

WHAT BREXIT?

Those results underline the UK Government’s quandary over meeting voters’ expectations on Brexit and further highlight a significant factor that was, perhaps, lost in the Referendum campaign and upheaval afterwards; namely, voting leave did not decide the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Voters were not electing Vote Leave – fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove; instead, voters were presented with a binary choice without any gloss.

The question on the ballot paper was:

‘Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

The question was solely about giving up (or not) membership of the European Union: there was no mention of free movement, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or an end to European-style regulation. There was no option to vote leave but remain a member of the European Economic Area. There was no option to vote remain but renegotiate the bits of EU membership you didn’t like. There was not even a requirement that Parliament to treat the result as final and binding.

The public advised Parliament that it wanted to leave the European Union and it is up to Parliament – having decided to follow the Referendum result with action to depart the EU – to determine the terms of departure.

Former industrial areas were much more likely to vote leave than to vote remain. And a clue to why that is the case can be found in the UK Government’s own statistics.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

We looked at a UK Government Briefing Paper on the employment of EU Nationals in the UK.

Across all regions, EU workers are more likely to be working in lower-skilled roles than the workforce as a whole. The proportion of EU nationals employed in elementary occupations was lowest for those living in London and highest in the East Midlands.

EU workers were also less likely to be working in high-skilled managerial and professional occupations than the workforce as a whole.

Although a higher share of EU nationals than UK nationals work in low-skilled occupations, EU nationals are more likely to be “over-educated” for the job they are doing, meaning they hold a higher qualification than was typical for people working in that occupation.

But the Briefing Paper’s findings were, perhaps, most illuminating when it came to employment levels within certain sectors in the decade leading up the Referendum.

Overall, the number of people in employment in the UK increased by around 2.5 million between 2006 and 2016, but while employment grew in some sectors it decreased in others. Even when there were periods of economic growth, more EU nationals found employment than their UK counterparts.

Well over 700,000 UK nationals stopped working in manufacturing industry between 2006 and 2016. But the number of EU nationals employed in manufacturing soared by just under 200,000. In construction, almost 400,000 UK nationals stopped working in that sector in the decade before the Referendum, but around 100,000 EU nationals found work in construction. Around 300,000 UK nationals ceased working in the automotive industry – wholesale, retail, repair of vehicles – while just over 200,000 EU nationals found work within it. And while 100,000 UK nationals ceased working in transport and storage, 100,000 EU nationals found work in that sector.

Those figures – combined with the polling evidence – suggest that voters in former industrial areas did not only perceive a threat to their economic security from membership of the EU and EU immigration to the UK, but ACTUALLY experienced adverse economic consequences as the result of inward migration of EU nationals into their regions and the subsequent displacement to EU immigrants of traditional sources of employment opportunities.

Tellingly, in the service sectors centred upon the major urban areas which voted remain there were greater employment opportunities and fewer EU migrants took up posts in those sectors.

In light of those figures, it can hardly be a surprise that areas which voted Leave by the greatest margin – notably the North West and North East of England – are precisely those areas in which the greatest number of manufacturing jobs were lost.

That economic data also suggests that the idea that re-running the Referendum to get ‘the right result’ would only serve to underline the stark economic and social divisions between two entrenched classes of voter.

A QUESTION OF CLASS

The British Election Study, which provides independent analysis of voting patterns and voters’ decision-making, found that one of the defining features of Leave voters outside of cosmopolitan areas was a nostalgic view of Britain’s past and a desire to turn back the clock.

A sense of national decline was a defining feature of the divide between Leave and Remain voters. The Study asked its respondents (who were screened to represent the proportions of the actual result) how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘things in Britain were better in the past’. Fewer than 15% of those who strongly disagreed that things in Britain were better in the past voted to leave the EU while nearly 80% of those who strongly agreed did so.

The Study established that those who viewed themselves with less control over their lives and destinies were more overwhelmingly more likely to vote leave on the basis that leaving the EU would permit them to establish greater control over their individual destinies.

Combined with the economic data, the Survey’s results support the proposition that social class was the battleground of Brexit and that attempts to overturn the Referendum result will only increase the sense that ‘the classes’ live in an entirely different world – with different expectations, a different world view, and with greater social capital – than ‘the masses’ – who feel forgotten, diminished, and left behind by shining metropolitan visions of what it means to be a UK citizen in the 21st century.

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AM calls for sweeping changes

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Neil McEvoy: The Welsh establishment don't want change

“IT’S BEEN a disastrous year for Welsh Democracy.”

Those were the eye-catching words with which controversial Cardiff AM Neil McEvoy spoke about the need for a new campaign group within Plaid Cymru.

Suspended from membership of his party and expelled from the Party of Wales’ Assembly group after demanding access to information held about him under the Data Protection Act after Plaid made a complete hash of an investigation into allegations made against him by a firm of lobbyists, Mr McEvoy was not talking about his own experiences.

Fed up of what he regards as nepotism and systemic corruption within the Welsh body-politic, Mr McEvoy offered a series of trenchant analyses of Wales’ political and social problems.

And he started by referring to the dismissal of the late Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.

Neil McEvoy writes: It took just three anonymous complaints about a Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary – which were not investigated, not proven, not deemed serious enough to go to the police or even written down. They led to him being sacked and judged guilty by the mob, without the opportunity to defend himself. We know the rest.

The Permanent Secretary of the Civil Service is refusing to release documents that the democratically elected National Assembly has demanded. I’ve had to invoke a clause in the Government of Wales Act used for the first time, to force the publication of the report into the Carl Sargeant leak, because I am not going to sit in our Senedd and let Wales be disrespected.

My motion is supported by the Conservatives and even UKIP, but we have to wait until after recess for Plaid Cymru to confirm if they will or will not back my motion. For the sake of the Welsh National Interest, I hope they do.

Investigations into the First Minister’s involvement into the shoddy sacking affair are being whitewashed. We’ve been hearing about a toxic culture at the heart of Welsh Government. When we campaigned for the Welsh Assembly is this where anyone thought it would end up?

Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales – has to rise above this kind of politics and lead the way.

FREE SPEECH UNDER THREAT

Neil McEvoy had strong words about the threat posed to free speech in Wales.

Nowadays, being offended is almost a hobby for some people. They’re dismissed as virtue signallers in many parts of the world. But they don’t get dismissed in Wales. They actually make it onto the news. Too many of them have made it into our Assembly. Mock outrage everywhere on Twitter from politicians who joke about the same things in private.

The reality is that we have imported America’s culture war into Welsh politics. Instead of uniting people we’re dividing people up. Some people are said to be oppressors, simply because of their gender or race. People talk about male white privilege. Are white men in the valleys privileged? Really?

In Wales, we should know where the oppressor is, because it’s been the same for a thousand years. It’s the elite in London who have taken the wealth from our country to make themselves rich while keeping us poor.

It’s the new elite in the Bay Bubble, copying their London masters.

I’m not interested in turning people against each other because of their gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation. I know what my political purpose is. It’s addressing the injustice of our country being exploited for centuries.

WE MUST DEFEAT THE ELITE

We have to defeat the elites, they are very powerful people. They’re the political elites that don’t represent us. The London media elite that doesn’t talk about us, unless they have something condescending or negative to say. The financial elite that keeps their money off shore, so we can’t benefit from it.

But where are we now? I was thrown out of the Plaid group for questioning why we can’t sell council houses so long as the money is used to buy new ones. That’s a really popular policy that has helped tens of thousands of working class people own their own home and become independent. That’s real sovereignty as far as I’m concerned, because how can you ever be sovereign when someone else owns the house you live in?

The establishment here has had warnings. The huge rise in the UKIP vote. It didn’t matter how incompetent they were. The less competent the better in order to send a message to the establishment. And they beat us in so many elections as a result.

The Brexit referendum. The establishment didn’t see it coming. They couldn’t understand that faced with voting for the status quo or voting for the unknown, then people would pick the unknown, because that risk was better than keeping things the way they are. I voted remain but I can tell you, I understand why so many people didn’t and I’m not judging anybody for that.

A lot of people voted leave because of immigration, and there is a migration problem in Wales. Our political Leaders choose not to talk about it. Because our economy is bad, our young, talented and economically active people have to leave. And they’re replaced by older, economically inactive people because Wales is a cheaper, more beautiful place to retire.

The best thing we can do about this is become wealthy. That way the young people stay and it will be the talented, economically active people coming to our country because of the opportunities we’ll have here.

DANGER FOR THE ASSEMBLY

People are crying out for change, but nobody is providing it. The establishment in Wales don’t want change. The status quo is working great for them so they’ll fight to keep it.

What we need is equality of opportunity, which means ending nepotism and ending corruption, because nothing hurts equal opportunity more than nepotism and corruption. You can see that in Cardiff Bay. Millions dished out to the third sector, who often seem to spend a lot but deliver little. Those organisations are packed with Labour members.

We’ve got lobbyists running rampant in Cardiff Bay, selling access and information to the highest bidder. Anyone who gets in their way is smeared in the most personal and damaging way. These people are poisoning our democracy and must be dealt with.

But how can we when we’ve had the same Labour party in charge in Wales for 20 years? That’s not healthy for any democracy.

I can tell you where this is heading. People will not be voting for a sovereign Wales in future. They’ll be voting to abolish the Assembly. Because they’re looking at what’s going on and they’re thinking the Assembly is too broke to fix. But too many of us worked too hard to get a national parliament to see it fail like this.

So what are we going to do about it? We are going to get organised and we are going to change the direction of this party, change the direction of its politics and change people’s minds about voting for us. We’re going to propel Wales forward.

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