BY MATTHEW GRAHAM PAUL
THEY finally got him. After months of bickering, Plaid Cecru’s Assembly group this week all rounded on ‘Nasty Neil’ McEvoy and expelled him from the Plaid benches in the Senedd.
A Plaid functionary announced that the group had taken the decision permanently to expel Nasty Neil, whose behaviour had left colleagues feeling ‘undermined and demoralised’.
McEvoy, he explained, was distracting Plaid Cymru AMs from getting on with their work of serving the people of Wales and holding the Labour government to account.
This is a bit rich. Neil McEvoy is just about the only Plaid Cymru AM who – in a rough and tumble, populist way – was doing anything whatsoever to hold Labour to account. As such, he was distracting Plaid AMs from acting in their usual capacity as the official collaboration and fearlessly going along with whatever Labour want to do in the Assembly.
McEvoy had been suspended from the Plaid Assembly group since March, purportedly ‘for breaching standing orders and the group’s code of conduct through unacceptable behaviour’. The suspension followed his conviction by a kangaroo court of the Adjudication Panel for Wales, for saying blood-curdling things to a Council employee about a possible restructuring of the local authority.
For the members of the Panel, who live in mortal dread of the prospect of their public-sector sinecures being restructured, this plainly amounted to bullying.
Bullying is taken very seriously in Plaid Cymru, who recently lost no opportunity to lambast Labour for their treatment of the late Carl Sergeant. It is obviously appropriate that they should take robust action against bullying by ganging up against the one AM in their party who has repeatedly tried to bully them into cracking down on lobbying, and dealing with the Welsh Government’s cronyism, corruption and waste.
Neil McEvoy’s defenestration points towards a wider problem for Plaid Cymru. What kind of a party is Plaid supposed to be?
Few, inside the party or out, have a clue. In rural areas, the yellowy-green Plaid of the countryside come across as a Welsh-language, don’t-scare-the-horses successor to the defunct Liberals. In the party’s Westminster constituencies, a vote for Plaid is a vote against Labour, rather than for anything you could easily identify as a policy platform.
Then there is the other Plaid. The greeny-red Plaid of the valleys, which has for years made a trademark of outflanking Labour to the left. With a full-on Lenin-capped loon now in charge of the Labour Party, this strategy no longer looks awfully viable.
Which leaves Plaid Cymru with a choice. Welsh voters’ unexpected enthusiasm for Brexit, and the flash-burn success of UKIP in the 2016 Assembly elections demonstrates that Wales certainly has an appetite for a new kind of politics. Decades of red-rosette-on-a-turd electoral complacency from Welsh Labour is reaping its whirlwind in working class disaffection with the Welsh political establishment.
Plaid Cymru’s headline policy of independence for Wales is a very bad one and the party has a bit of a hill to climb in attracting voters. That said, people have fallen hook, line and sinker for some equally stinking ideas recently –step forward, Brexit– and at a time of nihilistic cynicism about politics and politicians in general, there is always some appeal in novelty. But rather than making Welsh independence the party’s raison d’etre and then selling the idea hard to the public, manifesto after manifesto has made a faint cough of apology over independence, before droning on about some new measure to promote wattle-and-daub housebuilding in Machynlleth.
If you are embarrassed about your brand, your product is not going to fly off the shelves. Neil McEvoy’s vision for Plaid was of a party prouder of its USP, less tied to economic dogma and closer to the concerns of its working class target voters. At the root of his feud with the other Plaid AMs is his support for the right to buy; one of the most popular Conservative policies in history, which brought millions of working class voters over to the Tories.
In the same week that she disembarrassed herself of McEvoy, Leanne Wood on Monday published a pamphlet ‘The Change We Need’, offering her own solution to Plaid Cymru’s identity crisis.
The new direction, it appears, is very like the old one: higher taxes and hippyism. Wood’s vision is for ‘community socialism’, where running the Stasi is presumably devolved to your local community council. The pamphlet details Wood’s aspiration to rid Wales of big business –something, unusually, that she is well qualified to achieve– and replace it with locally run chutney making and basket weaving collectives. At the same time, Plaid would massively increase investment in public services; presumably asking the Sais to pay.
This is the same dismal formula that brought Plaid’s vote share down to 7% during their disastrous coupling to the Green Party, and Plaid’s latest economic strategy sounds every bit as bad. The kind of people in Cardiff who enthusiastically voted for Neil McEvoy don’t want to live in eco-hovels and aren’t going to be impressed by hippy economics.
Politicians who get things done can be abrasive and insensitive. Nasty Neil McEvoy clearly has as much of a talent for rubbing his colleagues up the wrong way as he does for sorting out his constituents’ problems. His former colleagues may well feel undermined and demoralised. It is because they know, deep down, that he understands how to make their party a success.
Matthew Paul: Can you be arsed to vote?
TORIES in Wales could be excused for taking a dim view of Mark Reckless; the UKIP, then Conservative, and now Brexit Party AM for South Wales East.
By way of recap, Mark Reckless left the Conservative Party to defect to UKIP on the eve of the Conservatives’ 2014 Party Conference, in a way calculated to cause the greatest possible damage to the Tories. An incandescent David Cameron went around that evening’s rubber chicken circuit vowing to “kick his fat a**e” out of the Commons. After calling and winning a by-election, the fat a**e was eventually booted out at the 2015 General Election.
In what cannot be seen as a compliment to our nation’s legislature, Farage decided the following year to bestow Reckless on an appalled Welsh Assembly. After a couple of years of ferocious infighting that made even Plaid Cecru – The Party of Squabbles look disciplined, Reckless quit UKIP and made the Churchillian decision to re-rat to the Tories.
Andrew RT Davies, then Welsh Conservative leader and a committed breakfast-means-breakfast Brexiter, decided to expend a majority share of his spa**e political capital on rehabilitating the fat a**e, inviting it to cwtch up next to his own well-padded posterior in the Conservative Assembly group.
This has turned out, with the benefit of hindsight, to be every bit as bad a decision as it appeared at the time. Although it allowed the Tories to displace Plaid as the official opposition, the a**e’s presence in the Assembly’s Conservative group did not enable or block the passage of a single piece of legislation. It made centrist Welsh Conservatives regard the Assembly group with something close to disgust. Worst of all, it failed to attract a single Brexity vote. In Conservative Associations like Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, almost every single member and activist will be voting for other a**es standing for the Brexit Party next Thursday.
Now, Reckless has repaid RT’s trust by re-re-ratting to the ascendant Brexit Party. Current Tory leader Paul Davies, expressing himself a good deal more politely than the circumstances merited, thanked the a**e for its “valuable contribution as a part of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Assembly over the last two years”. Reckless will hold sway over former UKIP AMs Mandy Jones, Caroline Jones and David Rowlands in the Brexit Party Group.
While any sensible Tories in the Senedd should regard the fat a**e’s departure with something between equanimity and delight, it has left others tamping. Rattled members of Plaid are petitioning the Assembly’s comically biased presiding officer, Elin Jones, in the hope that she will change the Assembly’s rules with the specific purpose of blocking the formation of a Brexit Party group.
In this, Plaid find an unusual ally in Neil Hamilton. Until now an almost Mayite political survivor, the writing is on the wall for the wicked uncle of the Welsh Assembly. Farage absolutely detests him (as does the Brexit Party’s leader in Wales, the reptilian Nathan Gill), the UKIP voter base has disappeared and there is little to no prospect of his re-election in 2021. Gravy train, meet buffers.
Worse, the defection of the other Kippers means UKIP (i.e. Hamilton and the similarly egregious Gareth Bennett) will no longer be entitled to form an official Assembly group, with all the office support and funding that entails. The only miniscule consolation for the wicked uncle is that his group’s annihilation means Bennett can no longer claim to be the UKIP Assembly group leader, and Neil Hamilton is left, in a Berlin-bunkerish way, as the undisputed Führer of UKIP in Wales.
132,138 people across Wales voted UKIP in 2011; 13.7% of the total vote. That vote is now represented by two AMs and no group. Obviously undemocratic, but the Kippers have brought this grim outcome on themselves, by courting the far right and outright fascist thugs like Tommy Robinson.
In the European elections, it has been impossible to avert your gaze from the amazing, all-surpassing awfulness of the UKIP campaign. The Kippers have fallen way below the dignity of being a**es. Even Sargon of Akkad’s own mother probably won’t vote UKIP after the horrendous stuff their candidates have said. There may be a few –John Worboys, perhaps– who quite like the new, rapey cut of the purple party’s jib, but unless UKIP reconsiders its opposition to giving prisoners the franchise, it isn’t going to get the full benefit of the pro-rapist vote. Once a formidable force, UKIP are finished in Wales.
What lessons does this hold for the future of the Brexit Party? Slicker, mostly denazified, and with the perennially fascinating Farage back –very firmly– in charge, it is sure to do well next Thursday.
This is despite its not being identifiably a political party, as has neither policies nor members.
It doesn’t need them The Brexit Party is ultimately another incarnation of the Farage fan club. It is a Potemkin party; a giant political Ponzi scheme. UKIP had a degree of ideological consistency, but nothing unrelated to Brexit unites the views of Nancy Mogg (© 2010 David Cameron) and the IRA-supporting revolutionary communism of Claire Fox. Once the UK has seen sense and revoked Article 50, and the Brexit Party is in the invidious position of having to articulate policy, nothing will hold them together any more than UKIP held together. It will be like herding a few hundred vicious, un-housetrained Serval cats.
For now, the extraordinary political foment caused by Brexit is punishing the main parties. Life is awfully difficult if you are Dan Boucher, or any of the other three candidates for the Conservative and Unionist interest in Wales. If they are like their activists, they probably won’t even vote Tory themselves. Going about seeking election to a Parliament you don’t want to join and don’t think we should be members of must be a soul-destroying business. Dan Boucher should go the whole hog, and follow the eccentric example of one of the ChangeUK candidates in Scotland by actively campaigning against himself.
Labour’s credibility is similarly shot, because Jeremy Corbyn and his sock puppet in Wales have hijacked what was an almost entirely pro-Remain party and weaponised it to bring about Brexit. Labour is now another pro-Brexit party, and a vote for Labour on Thursday will be interpreted by its leadership as a vote for Brexit.
Happily, Welsh voters opposed to Brexit have options. ChangeUK –whatever presentational pratfalls might occur in launching an entirely new party in an unavoidable hurry– offers a genuinely fresh approach of sensible, moderate, evidence-based politics, and an unequivocal commitment to remaining in Europe.
The liberals still exist, but their positive showing in recent local elections as a share of the vote was achieved largely because other parties’ voters stayed at home, rather than by more voters choosing to vote LibDem. Fans of independence can vote Plaid, even if the destructive chaos of Wales leaving the UK would make the destructive chaos of the UK leaving Europe look like a minor disagreement about traffic cones in the Cilycwm Community Council.
Whichever flavour of Remain you prefer, what is most important is to get out and vote. Previous European elections have been met with apathy and a turnout in the low thirties. If that is repeated on 23rd May, extremists will be the winners. If you can’t be a**ed to vote, other people will choose your representation in Europe for you. And they will probably choose a**es like Nigel Farage.
Matthew Paul: Why I left the Tories
“I f*****g hate revolutionary socialists”. At TIG/ Change UK’s European election launch in Bristol on Tuesday morning an experienced Labour hand, furious with the damage Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum had done to his old party, told me what it was that forced him from his lifelong political home.
Another candidate at the launch, a primary school teacher from the Midlands with no previous experience of politics, had been a Leave voter in 2016. Mugged by the red bus, she voted for a promised Brexit dividend for public services. She won’t be a mug again.
For Labour, the die was cast in 2013 when Ed Miliband changed his party’s membership rules, with the well-meaning if awe-inspiringly miscalculated purpose of boosting Labour’s support by giving members of the public a £3 say in electing the leader. You get what you pay for, and anyone who shelled out £3 to elect Jeremy Corbyn didn’t pay a penny more than the Lenin-capped loon is worth. They may not have realised they would get the free gift of a heavy mob of Momentum activists in every constituency Labour Party; shouting down dissent and barging moderates aside.
All political parties are coalitions; the Labour and Conservative parties were historically broad coalitions tolerant of diverse views. Brexit has made the strained coalition in the Conservative Party cease to function. For Labour, all Neil Kinnock’s reforms of the party’s constitution in the nineties and all Blair’s work to bring Mondeo Man over from Maggie was undone by Ed Miliband’s catastrophic mistake.
Both main parties have been captured by the people they exist to exclude from power. While the hard left are moulding Labour in their own image, the Conservatives are a dark political mirror, scrambling away from Cameron’s centrism alongside Nigel Farage to fill the space recently vacated by UKIP. In both parties, those left in the centre ground are looking and feeling very exposed.
There is no room left inside the Conservative Party for disagreement over Europe. Constituency parties like my own former association in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr are quick to sideline candidates sympathetic to the EU. By contrast with the party activists, most sitting Conservative MPs opposed Brexit; they know any Brexit would be a mistake and no deal Brexit a disaster.
Not that they dare say it. With a few honourable exceptions like Jo Johnson and Guto Bebb, Remain-inclined Tory MPs adopt a trite form of words about respecting the result of the referendum, while bending over backwards to find some way of leaving the EU which will minimise the damage and allow the Government to say it has done what voters ordered.
A fat lot of good it’s doing them. Conservative MPs who hope to take the sting out of Brexit by supporting Theresa May’s deal are getting exactly the same abuse as good honest Remainers. The PM is ‘treason May’; the deal described by Reesmogian colleagues in Commando-comic terms as abject surrender. To borrow the Brexiters’ imagery, any Tory MP thinking of turning back from the front line on Brexit faces a row of constituency association officers standing behind him with machine guns.
In some ways, the cod-patriotic Dad’s Army stuff reminds us of the EU’s real purpose. Never only a trading arrangement, it exists to so integrate the economies and political systems of the nations of Europe as to make war between them unthinkable.
Britain’s presence in the EEC and EU took a fundamentally good idea and improved on it. We helped Europe strike the right balance between integration and a Europe of nations; between workers’ protections and a dynamic market economy. Being proud of Britain and its role in Europe isn’t unpatriotic: quite the opposite. Shamefully, we have allowed supporters of a destructive hard Brexit to steal patriotism’s clothes and drape themselves in the flag.
If there is no place in the Conservative Party for honesty about the harm Brexit will cause, and the desirability of stopping it altogether, there is no place for me. I don’t respect the result of the referendum. It was a wafer-thin mandate for an historic mistake. It was run in breach of the Government’s own protocol on the conduct of referendums. In Switzerland, where they do referendums better, the result would probably have been struck down as vitiated by fraud.
I want to take the most effective action to stop Brexit, and in this European Parliament election, TIG is the remain alliance. The immediate priority for us is to stop Britain leaving the EU, and we won’t be told that we are unpatriotic for supporting a political settlement that together with NATO and the bomb –both of which Jeremy Corbyn also hates– has given us nearly a human lifetime of uninterrupted peace between its member states.
However, TIG/ Change UK is not just a pro-EU project. We have come together from hugely diverse backgrounds to change the way politics is done in Britain. In the wake of the eleven ur-Tiggers’ defections from Labour and the Conservatives, 59% of voters polled said they would be willing to vote for a new party that occupied the centre ground.
Standing up for democracy means decoupling radical policies from demagoguery; it means working with and defending people of good will in all parties. For effective government to reclaim the centre ground, coalitions that govern will need to be cross-party rather than within parties.
We want our patriotism back. We want our freedoms as EU citizens back. We want decent, civilised politics back. And we want our country back. It’s time for the centre to take back control.
Playing chicken with Putin
BY MATTHEW PAUL
WELL, that’s Putin told. Sounding more than ever like a primary school headmistress who has found a drawing pin on her chair, Theresa May told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom” and announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats / spies to show how annoyed we all are.
Ten times more lethal than VX and a hundred times deadlier than Sarin, the Novichok family of nerve agents – one of which was used in the attempt on Sergei Skripal’s life – are nasty stuff. The poison smeared on the door handles of Skripal’s BMW was developed in Russia, its production is way outside the capacity of a talented amateur, and its use was tantamount to a calling card from the Russian state.
May’s ability to respond alone is limited. Passing effective economic sanctions against Russian business interests in London – after the manner of America’s Magnitsky Act – would be the embodiment of a punishment that, in the words of headmistresses past “is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you”. The stern tone and substantive timidity of May’s response demonstrates just how few options we have in any confrontation with Russia. In any game of chicken with a nutter, the odds are pretty good that the nutter is going to win.
However strong the evidence against Moscow, it will never be enough for some folk. In particular, the Lenin-capped loon and his horrid deputy Seamus Milne proved that their ability to surprise and disgust their own party has not been wholly erased by last summer’s election result. While not quite suggesting that it was a false flag attack by MI5 or Israel, Corbyn cast doubt on the intelligence that pointed to Russian responsibility, and said everything he could to get Putin off the hook, to audible hissing from his back benches.
His front bench have already broken ranks. Shadow Defence Secretary and Llanelli MP Nia Griffith strongly supported the Prime Minister’s response. She said it was clear Moscow was behind the attack, saying this was the view of the shadow cabinet as a whole. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry accepted that the Kremlin was responsible and gave her support for all the measures taken by the UK Government.
The Russian government has reacted with a predictable display of confected indignation to the diplomatic sanctions. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said claims that Russia was behind the assassination attempt were “absolutely boorish” and “unacceptable”. Another spokesman called the accusations insane. Moscow made it clear we would not be waiting long for a response.
Mostly, though, Vlad is laughing it off. The Russian embassy in London, which seems to devote the greater part of its resources to trolling Her Majesty’s Government on the internet, tweeted out a picture of a thermometer at -23. “The temperature of 🇷🇺 🇬🇧relations drops to -23, but we are not afraid of cold weather!” In their last few days in London, the embassy staff May has expelled will probably be going around Kensington smearing Vaseline on car door handles for the lolz.
The Skripal assassination attempt –which in due course is likely to prove successful– is scarcely out of character for Russia. In 2006, the Duma (Russia’s parliament) specifically authorised the liquidation of terrorists and ‘enemies’ overseas. Showing this wasn’t just hot air, the Russian state murdered Alexander Litvinenko in London with a fatal dose of polonium-210. One of Litvinenko’s assassins, Andrey Lugovoy, is now himself a member of the Duma. Russia has repeatedly refused requests for his extradition on a charge of murder.
In 2010, when Skripal and other spies were released from custody in Russia and swapped for –amongst others– the delightful Anna Chapman, President Putin promised that these traitors “would choke on their 30 pieces of silver”. It looks as though he was as good as his word.
Russia is behaving with absolute disregard for international law, and does so with almost complete impunity. Little individual wet jobs like Skripal and Litvinenko, annoying though they may be for their host countries, are Russian state malevolence in miniature. On a larger stage, Russia has invaded and annexed sovereign territory of neighbouring states, indiscriminately bombed civilians in Syria to prop up Assad’s blood-soaked regime, and lent separatist thugs in Ukraine anti-aircraft BUK rockets, with which they shot down a Malaysian airliner.
Putin’s army of trolls delights in hacking elections and spreading disinformation. The Kremlin’s aim is to sow confusion amongst democracies, and to assert Russia’s position as a world power to rival the USA and China. When dealing with little countries like the UK, Putin is confident that there is no diplomatic or military game of chicken that he can’t win.
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