By Matthew Paul
Even though Labour –according to Jeremy Corbyn– ‘won the argument’ last Thursday, the Tories comprehensively won at the traditionally more important business of getting votes. Simon Hart, Stephen Crabb and Jonathan Edwards all held their seats; the two Conservatives enjoying comfortable majorities over Labour (though it was Hart, not Crabb, who took Alun Cairns’ vacant job as Secretary of State for Wales).
Plaid Cymru, as predicted, had a pretty rotten night. They can take a little comfort from Ben Lake’s solid win in Ceredigion, and from seeing their majorities creep up in Y Fro Gymraeg. But the Party of Wales remains a party supported by only one in ten Welsh voters. Plaid made no progress at all outside its core areas; indeed its share of the vote has (with a very slight blip in 2015) been slowly on the slide for twenty years, from the 14.1% it won in the 2001 General Election, to 9.9% last Thursday. This is not a movement on the march.
Plaid’s aggressively anti-Brexit stance, and its ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance with wishy-washy Britnat parties was a huge strategic error. Mistletoe-clad traditionalists in Y Fro know perfectly well that the party is pro-EU and didn’t need reminding. Brexity boyos in the valleys looking for an alternative to Labour found it a massive turn-off.
In Carmarthenshire West and South Pembrokeshire, Plaid’s vote share fell; Rhys Thomas having failed to mention frequently enough that he’s a doctor and was in Afghanistan. Jonathan Edwards will be spooked too. He lost half his majority in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, and the Conservatives smashed Labour into third place. With a bit of investment in the constituency from CCHQ, there is every prospect of the Tories biting Jonathan on the bum next time round.
While the doorstep in the Pembrokeshire constituencies had been showing solid support for the Tories but no reason for complacency, over in Carmarthenshire it was apparent that the Labour campaign had completely gone to bits. Labour Candidate Maria Carroll, though an avid Corbynite, was for some reason unpersoned by her party and ordered to stay away from Jezza’s big gig at Nantyci showground. The dear leader didn’t mention her or CE&D once in his speech.
Rattled, Carroll put out a video in which she adopted the conciliatory tone of a dying gypsy fortune-teller cursing the drunk driver who knocked her down: “your children and grandchildren will SUFFER!” Even this inspirational message failed to turn things around. Maria Carroll may have won the argument in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr; but only if the argument centred on whether or not she would lose to both Plaid and the Tories, and get the lowest vote in Carmarthenshire in the Labour Party’s entire history. To her credit, she achieved both. She was fortunate not to face a credible challenge from the LibDems, or Count Binface.
In receipt of this absolute shellacking from the electorate, many candidates would step back, slightly abashed, and opt for a moment of quiet reflection. Not Maria. Erupting on Twitter, she blamed every factor for her defeat except unpropitious astrological convergences, her own incompetence, and Oh! Jeremy Corbyn. Broadly speaking, she shared the view prevalent amongst members of the Corbyn cult; that the electorate got it wrong.
Certainly, the analysis among Corbynites seems to be that it wasn’t the manifesto that got it wrong; voters loved the classical socialist idea of taxing the rich until there aren’t any left, then starting on the moderately well off. It definitely wasn’t the leader either; he is a good, kind, honest, decent man who really cares for the poor. And, as we all know, there aren’t any poor Jews. No, it was vile, billionaire-owned mainstream media like The New Statesman, The Guardian and The Pembrokeshire Herald that brainwashed a majority of the electorate into thinking Corbyn was an unpatriotic halfwit who surrounded himself with commies, bomb-scatterers and anti-Semites. What made it worse was that they achieved this by the sneaky, underhand trick of reporting things that Corbyn had said and done.
Carroll tweeted that she wants to see “an end to the abusive power of the media”, and even expressed an aspiration to close the media down, so perhaps The Pembrokeshire Herald has had a lucky break.
Maria Carroll wasn’t alone on Thursday night. The Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, was finally told that his forty-year long end of the pier show was being shut down. Labour were turfed out of Sedgefield; once Tony Blair’s rock-solid stronghold. Redcar, Grimsby Fishdocks, Satanic Mills East, and a host of other seats which have been Labour since the dawn of time all voted with some enthusiasm for Boris and Brexit.
The strategy of forcing opposition parties to treat a first-past-the-post election as a referendum on a subject about which they didn’t agree worked an absolute treat for the Tories. Even so, a competently led Labour Party with a clearly defined position on Brexit could have won. In one credible poll, 43% of Labour voters who switched sides said it was leadership, not Brexit, that was their main concern.
For the time being, Corbyn remains at the helm of his stricken party, anxious to ensure that whoever succeeds him is chosen on his terms and from his cult. Any Tory with £3 in his pocket would do well to sign up to Labour now, for the unmissable opportunity of helping to elect Richard Burgon or Rebecca Long-Bailey as the Lenin-capped loon’s successor.
Entertaining as it may be to watch the Labour Party disintegrate, the Tories can allow themselves only a short gloat. Reality will start to bite soon, when they get stuck into what may not be the entirely effortless task of Getting Brexit Done.
Damaged pipe found to be the cause of the Afon Lliedi disappearance
A DAMAGED sewer pipe is now thought to have halted the flow of the Afon Lliedi in the Llanerch area of Llanelli on 16 August.
Natural Resources Wales officers have been on site continuously in shift pattern monitoring the dam and the pumps they had installed to pump water around the hole and back into the river channel downstream.
Coal Authority officers attended the incident early on Tuesday (Aug 17) morning and found that the hole was not a sinkhole as had previously been suspected.
After receiving confirmation that the site was stable, NRW officers investigated and found that a damaged pipe was at the base of the hole that was taking the water flow. After working with Welsh Water colleagues, it was confirmed that the pipe is a sewer pipe.
Ioan Williams, NRW Duty Tactical Manager for South West Wales said: “By pumping the river flow downstream and beyond the hole, our officers on site have been able to restore a good level of flow to the Lliedi. I’m very grateful to them for their quick and effective work.
“We will carry out a fish assessment of the river see if further fish have died due to a lack of water flow. We know that approximately 50 fish had died before we installed the dam and pumping equipment, and we expect that our actions have limited further damage to fish and other aquatic life in the Lliedi.
“Although unusual, a pipe such as this could well be capable of removing a large majority of river flow when the river is in low flow as was the Lliedi. Once the repair is in place, we will monitor water levels in the river.”
Discussions are ongoing between NRW, Welsh Water and Carmarthenshire County Council on the best way to repair and protect the damaged pipe and on when the closed bridge can be reopened. Once repaired, the dam and pumping equipment will be dismantled which will allow the natural flow of the river to resume.
The pumps and lights are expected to be operating overnight and are due to be removed on Wednesday 18 August.
A question of power
by Matthew Paul
For anyone who stood as a candidate for ChangeUK in 2019, and watched over the course of the six-week European Parliament election campaign as mild enthusiasm on the part of the British public cooled into vague embarrassment before crystallising into disgust, it’s nice to see the Remoaners on the rebound. Brexit is back in the news, and causing big trouble for Boris Johnson.
“But Brexit”, you exclaim, “is done! Didn’t we have a General Election to sort that out? Didn’t our MPs vote for an oven-ready deal, back on 20th December last year?”
They did, but if the deal was supposed to be oven-ready, Boris left the plastic bag full of giblets inside and it is causing a terrible stink. Those unpalatable entrails are the ongoing and irreconcilable tensions between wanting our own laws and trade arrangements, and maintaining an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
The United Kingdom is one single market; Wales cannot exclude or impose tariffs on goods from Scotland, England or Northern Ireland, and vice versa. This was the case for nearly three hundred years before the UK joined the EEC in 1973; when it did join, UK citizens swapped one single market of (then) 56 million for a single market that grew to ten times that size. The advantages of this, to our exporting economy, were obvious.
Leaving that wider single market creates a problem, which is also obvious. There is a land border between the UK and Ireland, which international law (the Good Friday Agreement) says must remain open. If the UK uses its freedom from EU tyranny to strike new trade deals and to remove ‘foreign laws’ around food safety and product standards –which was the whole point of Brexit– it compromises the integrity of European product standards by allowing chlorinated chicken etc etc to pass, unchecked and untaxed, into the EU.
There is no reason why the EU should put up with this, and throughout Brexit talks the Commission made it clear that retaining an open border in Ireland is non-negotiable. There is only one straightforward alternative: a customs border in the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. In June 2018, Theresa May was leaning in that direction, but this proposed solution –breaking up the territorial integrity of the UK to protect the integrity of the EU single market– was so detestable to the Spartans of the ERG that they passed a law specifically to stop May from doing it.
Fast forward to December 2019, and the same Spartans, cowed by Boris’ ruthless public execution of the 21 Remainers who rebelled against his Government’s Brexit policy, followed the PM like sheep through the Ayes lobby to endorse his oven-ready deal with an Irish Sea border as its defining characteristic. Boris said at the time that this would not create paperwork for businesses exporting goods from NI to the rest of the UK. He lied: the deal dictates that the UK keeps the NI/ ROI border open, implements the EU customs code in Northern Ireland, and obliges exporters to fill in declarations on goods going between NI and the rest of the UK.
Perhaps Boris just thought no-one would notice, even though everyone did. Perhaps he thought the EU would quietly back down on imposing the customs code. If this was the Government’s plan, it reinforces the impression that the Government is incapable of planning past lunchtime. The EU continued to insist stoutly on the terms of the deal being honoured. Finding himself well down in the game, Boris kicked over the card table. He presented the House of Commons with the Internal Market Bill, section 45 of which gives the Government power simply to ignore or override the Northern Ireland Protocol, to allow seamless trade and consistent regulation between all constituent parts of the UK.
M’learned friends, blanching at the idea of tearing up treaties, were the first to cry foul. The government’s top lawyer, Sir Jonathan Jones, walked out of his job in despair. On Wednesday Lord Keen –the Government’s law officer for Scotland– resigned too, rather than adopt the intellectual contortions necessary to support the Bill. Even Robert Buckland, the likeable if impressionable Lord Chancellor, who previously mounted a sorry-faced hostage-video defence of Boris’s prorogation of Parliament and would be about as likely as the woolsack he sits on to rebel against Government policy, is shuffling uncomfortably. It’s not just the Remoaners, either; unless dark Lord of the Sith Michael Howard, and former Attorney-General and basso-profondo Brexithorn Sir Geoffrey Cox are now to be classed as Remoaners.
Some of the pearl-clutching over the sanctity of international law is misplaced. As De Gaulle observed, “Les traités, voyez-vous, sont comme les jeunes filles et les roses: ça dure ce que ça dure.” The EU regards any emanation of international law that questions the acquis Communautaire with withering contempt, and owes zillions of dollars in WTO fines for breaching international law with state aid to Airbus.
It comes down to a question of power, to a clear-headed assessment of whether or not you are going to win, and to whether the prize to be gained offsets the reputational damage of reneging on international obligations. Tearing up a treaty signed only months before is crass and looks weak. Kicking over the card table when you’re losing isn’t a great move if the other player then shoots you dead.
If the Government really wants to scare people about the effects of the Coronavirus, it could do worse than loop videos of Boris in December compared to Boris now. The hoo-ha over the Internal Market Bill is one more unforced mistake; the thickening miasma of incompetence and bad judgement is weakening this Government like a nasty dose of the Covid. On Tuesday, Boris fiddled with his phone through PMQs while Ed Miliband –Ed Miliband!– cut the hopelessly depleted Prime Minister to bits in front of a drolly amused House; Boris put up less resistance than a bacon sandwich.
Opinion: The Big Question Facing Kier Starmer – Jonathan Edwards
In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis the election victory of Sir Kier Starmer as Labour Leader didn’t achieve the column inches one would normally expect. As is customary, I would like to wish Kier well in his role. I can not claim to know him as a person having only conversed on a few occasions, however I have respect for his debating ability, his considered tone and his eye for detail. I consider him a serious politician.
The challenges he faces are enormous of course. Labour have now lost four Westminster elections on the bounce. His decision making must quickly shift from efforts to unify his party to the far more important task of presenting a credible challenge to the Conservative party at the next Westminster election.
Labour has a defining choice to make, and this decision will have far reaching consequences for all political parties operating in the British State. On the one hand, Labour could revert to its usual tribal inward-looking tendencies. However, essentially this would mean writing off the next election as a part of a wider rebuilding strategy aimed at the 2029 election. A stark admission as it would mean Labour having been out of power at Westminster level for twenty years at best.
Alternatively, Kier Starmer could acknowledge that Labour on their own will not be able to challenge the Tories for power at the next Westminster election. This path would then require Starmer reaching out to all the other opposition parties in Westminster apart from the DUP. I am talking about more than just coordination of parliamentary activity in Westminster. In a first past the post electoral system we are talking about the need for non-aggression pacts, and a joint programme of government. I would go as far as to suggest that the government itself would need to be a unity administration delivering on the agreed programme.
Parliamentary boundary changes makes the task even more pressing. Whatever one thinks of his opportunistic politics, Boris Johnson has succeeded in unifying the right of the political spectrum. However, the centre and left have a host of parties vying for support. In a political system based for two horse races, the end result is brutal as we saw in December.
What sort of programme could Plaid Cymru, SNP, Green, Liberals, SDLP, Alliance and Labour unite around? There would be little difficulty in agreeing a progressive economic and social policy platform. A proportional voting system would be a must to enable all parties to compete equally in subsequent elections. The big challenge for me seems to be the constitutional question when it comes to Scotland and Wales. For Plaid Cymru and the SNP there would need to be a commitment for a fully Confederal system leaving only foreign affairs, defence, and macro-economic policy reserved – the sort of settlement promised by Cameron and Brown on the eve of the Scottish independence poll. This should be supported with House of Lords reform into an elected Senate of the Nations of the British State. Both Wales and Scotland would also require the statutory right to hold independence referenda at time of their own choosing. This should be uncontroversial as it is the policy of the Labour Welsh Government.
This is the very simple choice facing the new leader of the Labour party. Does he want to be Prime Minister, or effectively a plumber performing a re-patching job on a tired and insular party.
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