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Blue on blue violence increases

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'Wholly torn down': Minister explains views on EU

KEEN observers will know that it is a sure sign of division and disagreement when assorted MPs appear in the media saying that their party is a broad church and following that observation with a plea for unity.

Accordingly, you would have to have lived in a very deep hole indeed not to have come to the conclusion that there is something amiss within Conservative ranks.

The Brexit-ultras – the thirty to forty MPs who regard themselves as the keepers of the flame when it comes to Britain’s departure from the EU and the terms under which it should proceed – are cutting up rough. There are dark mutterings that the Chancellor is ‘selling out’ or ‘betraying’ the cause of freedom for which they and Boris Johnson fought and lied.

The mutterings against the chancellor follow the well-worn tactic of taking a pot shot at those close to the throne, rather than its occupant. Besides, off the record briefings about Theresa May’s uselessness made by those infamous ‘sources close to [insert name of one of the 57 varieties of MP groups here] are all too easy to place in the sort of newspapers whose proprietors are so fond of Britain they prefer to look at it from afar, rather than live there. Apart from the Daily Express, of course; its editorial line is not determined from afar, but from another dimension. Any day now it will pose the question of whether Philip Hammond is implicated in the deaths of Dodi Fayed and Princess Di.

The government, you might think quite sensibly, says it is proceeding with caution when it comes to determining quite what shape the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU might take. This means that all sides of the issue have to be examined. Brexiteers do not appear prepared to accept that this means potential downsides have to be considered as well as the prospect of the freebooting trade in chlorinated chicken favoured by Dr Liam Fox.

The cause of logic and clarity has, however, been thrown into disarray by the appearance of junior minister for Brexit Steve Baker MP before a Parliamentary Committee. Questioned about leaked impact assessments revealing that each of the three principal Brexit options lead to economic fallout for the UK, Mr Baker said the report needed “improvement”.

When asked about the accuracy of forecasts, the minister replied: “I’m not able to name an accurate forecast, and I think that they are always wrong.”

The leaked analysis forecasts that departing the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, as favoured by the claque of MPs around Jacob Rees-Mogg would see growth reduced by 8%.

It was not made clear what Mr Baker preferred to rely to inform his judgements, other than professional advice tendered to him in the course of his duties as a government minister. Runes, reading the entrails of sheep, possibly necromancy: on that he was noticeably not forthcoming.

As a member of the ministerial team charged with negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU, Mr Baker’s personal views on the EU are less of a mystery: ‘I think the European Union needs to be wholly torn down’.

Like Samson and the Philistines’ temple, Mr Baker appears to be resigned to the thought that pulling the edifice down could bury the UK.

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Welsh Conservatives appoint new Senedd Leader

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IT HAS been announced that Andrew RT Davies MS has been appointed as the new Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “Becoming leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd once again is a great honour and privilege, and I’m pleased to enjoy the unanimous support of my colleagues to take us forward after a difficult few days for us all.

“On behalf of the Group I want to pay tribute to Paul Davies for his service as leader. Paul is not only a colleague but a trusted friend, who has served his constituents and party with distinction, and will continue to do so.

“There is urgent work in front of all of us and our immediate focus will be continuing to hold the Labour administration in the Senedd to account on vital issues such as the vaccine rollout, and fighting May’s election alongside our excellent slate of candidates and dedicated volunteers.

“We are in a moment like no other, and the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly only served to shine a spotlight on the challenges in people’s everyday lives; challenges that have been made all the harder by twenty of Welsh Labour Government failure.

“From our fragile economy to ever increasing NHS waiting lists, people in Wales have been badly let down by successive Labour administrations. Let me be clear; devolution isn’t the issue, it is the socialists in the Labour Party, and Wales deserves better.

“In just over 100 days, the Welsh public will head to the ballot box to decide on the future they want for our country and in the coming weeks and months the Welsh Conservatives will put forward a positive plan to get Wales moving again and build back our country better than ever.

“This will be in tough election during a tough time for our country and whereas other parties want to use this period to divide and separate, we’ll seek to unite our country and deliver a strong voice for Wales, in a strong United Kingdom.”

Chairman of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Senedd, Janet Finch-Saunders MS said: “Following a meeting of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Senedd this morning, I’m pleased to confirm that Andrew RT Davies has been endorsed unanimously as our new leader in the Senedd.

“As Chairman of the Group, I want to say thank you to Paul Davies for his immense efforts in the post since 2018. Paul played a key role in our record-breaking General Election in 2019, whilst setting the groundwork ahead of May’s Senedd election.

“Our attention now turns to May and taking the fight to the Labour Party.”

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Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd

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PRESELI Pembrokeshire MS Paul Davies quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.

The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.

The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.

However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.

In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.

“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.

“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.

“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.

“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.

“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”

“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”

Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:

“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.

“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.

“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.

“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.

Commenting on the latest developments, William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire and former AM for Mid and West Wales said: ‘Paul Davies & Darren Millar have now done the correct thing in stepping down, to allow due process to take place, both within Cardiff Council and within the Senedd.
‘While they both need to reflect and learn from recent events, the Welsh Conservatives must now be given the opportunity to select an interim leader to take their party forward into the upcoming Senedd elections.
‘Schadenfreude is one of the unattractive features of our current politics and I want no part of it. I will simply work with my Welsh Liberal Democrat colleagues to hold Welsh and UK Government to account on the management of the pandemic.
‘My own journey of Covid-19 illness and recovery is a reminder that we should unite to double down on the virus, support our NHS and other key workers and endeavour to do the right thing.’

Welsh Labour Senedd Candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire has called out Paul Davies over his involvement in his apparent disregard of COVID rules in the Senedd and has expressed her concern that no actions have been taken to suspend him by his Party.

Commenting on the Welsh Conservative Group not taking any action against Paul Davies, Jackie Jones said: “I am flabbergasted that the Tory party is sitting on his hands and failed to recognise the public concern at the events described this week. The latest revelations suggest that he didn’t’ just breach the rules once but maybe twice. Now that this information has come to light, it is only right that the Tories look again at the decision they have taken today.

“As Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd he should be setting an example, not flouting the strict pandemic rules by supposedly drinking till 2 am on Senedd premises. Paul Davies constantly criticises the First Minister and Health Minister for implementing rules that are there to protect all of us, but here he is reportedly drinking till who knows when – maybe on two occasions – totally hypocritical.”

Ms Jones added that “I’m sure the constituents of Preseli will be equally annoyed by his behaviour, when they have had to abide by the rules, not going to pubs, not seeing loved ones for months at a time. It is completely out of order.”

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Call to replace the Lords

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OVERHAULING Parliament’s London-dominated second chamber would help empower the UK’s nations and regions, writes Willie Sullivan a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society.

It’s been a year since Boris Johnson’s victory in the 2019 general election, an election won with a commitment to ‘level up’ those communities left behind.

Since then, our politics has been shaken by a pandemic that has put pressure on the already strained constitutional settlement that holds the nations and regions of the UK together.

We’ve seen attention turned to local and regional government as well as the devolved administrations. We’ve seen clearly how the over-centralising nature of Westminster can hamper and undermine public trust. The video of Andy Burnham first hearing news of Greater Manchester’s Covid funding settlement at a live press conference will go down as a low point in Britain’s patchwork devolution framework.

This is all set to the backdrop of declining faith in our politics. At the same time as the PM was returning to Number 10 last winter, polling for the Electoral Reform Society showed that just 16% of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only 2% feel they have a significant influence over decision-making.

For a government publicly committed to a levelling up agenda, this democratic malaise must serve as a warning: it will take more than economic investment or shiny new infrastructure to remedy the feeling of powerlessness that many feel outside of Westminster.

Tackling that will require some long-overdue reform. The calls for a clear framework for devolution in the UK have become impossible to ignore in recent months. Even areas of England with mayors felt sidelined this year, but the picture was even worse elsewhere – with zero guarantees that local people would be consulted on changes that would affect their lives immeasurably.

There’s a good way to start empowering the UK’s nations and regions: overhauling Parliament’s unelected second chamber.

Abolishing the outdated and unaccountable House of Lords offers a chance to rebalance politics away from Westminster – and create a representative Senate of the Nations and Regions.

Recent Electoral Reform Society analysis found that nearly a quarter of peers are based in London, compared to just 13% of the UK public. Over half – 56% of peers – live in the capital, or the east and south-east of England, while peers in the east and west Midlands make up just 6% between them – leaving many areas in which the Conservatives won seats in the so-called ‘red wall’ woefully underrepresented.

It should be said, this is only peers we know about: more than 300 refuse to state even the country they live in (some live overseas), and hundreds more do not even provide a direct email address for people to get in touch and stand up for their areas.

All this undermines the government’s stated intention to ‘level up’ the regions, when we have a chamber that is skewed towards one patch of England.

Reforming this London-dominated second chamber is a rare issue that is highly popular across all parties. 71% of the UK public back an overhaul of the House of Lords, research showed this year. The issue cuts across Britain’s divides, with an overhaul backed by a majority of those who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2019 general election, and those who voted Leave or Remain in the EU referendum.

As well as levelling up representation – with peers elected using a fair, proportional voting system – a genuinely accountable second chamber could establish a guaranteed voice for the regions of the UK, to speak as one, to scrutinise legislation and our constitutional settlement with clear communities in mind. The UK remains one of the most centralised countries in Europe – and the archaic, power-hoarding set-up in Westminster has a big role to play in why this is.

The pandemic has shown just how important it is for those outside the capital to be truly heard. There are many reasons why voters had more confidence in their governments’ Covid responses more in Wales and Scotland, but having a stake – being genuinely ‘in it together’ makes a big difference.

This is a challenge to all parties, from Boris Johnson as he tries to plot a path for recovery for the UK, to Keir Starmer as he begins to outline his own view of devolution.

One thing’s clear: the London-dominated House of Lords is undermining the voice of local communities. A Senate of the Nations and Regions could be the gamechanger we need.

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