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Politics

Assembly Kippers shrink again

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On Tuesday (March 26) Michelle Brown became the fourth assembly member to leave the group since UKIP won seven Senedd seats in 2016.

UKIP HEADING RIGHT TO THE EXTREMES

Leaving the Assembly group, the North Wales AM pointed to the increasingly close relationship between UKIP’s leader, Gerard Batten, and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson).

Mr Batten’s appointed Yaxley-Lennon as an ‘adviser’, even though he is not a UKIP member. Under Gerard Batten, UKIP increasingly panders to a racist and ultra-nationalist agenda similar to that of the extremist English Defence League, of which Yaxley-Lennon is a former leader.

Batten has proposed a halt on immigration from Islamic countries and separate jails for Muslim prisoners. He has also compared Yaxley-Lennon to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Quitting UKIP, Ms Brown said: “While it is clear that the UK needs a plan to defeat extremism and fundamentalism in all its forms and identities, I fear that the current UKIP leadership believes the best way to do that is to incubate and cultivate a rival fundamentalism.”

A PARTY EASIER TO LEAVE THAN JOIN

Ms Brown’s tenure as an AM has not been without controversy. She was censured and suspended from the Assembly for describing the then-Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, as a “f**king coconut….black on the outside, white on the inside” in a secretly recorded phone call.

Meanwhile, UKIP claims she resigned from the Party to avoid internal disciplinary processes relating to what it claims is poor attendance in Plenary sessions in the Senedd.

Whatever the truth of the situation is, Ms Brown’s departure from UKIP since Gerard Batten began cosying up to ‘Tommy Robinson’ is one of a number of high profile departures from the party including former leader Nigel Farage, MEP Patrick O’Flynn, UKIP’s Scottish leader David Coburn, and members of the Party’s National Executive.

One member of the NEC who quit, former parliamentary candidate Michael McGough said Ukip had become a “national socialist, authoritarian party” run by “fundamentalist Christians and ex-convicts”.

Current NEC rules prevent Yaxley-Lennon from joining the party.

COUNTING DOWN

The election of seven UKIP AMs in 2016 is a gift which keeps on giving for lovers of low farce.

First of all the leader of UKIP in Wales, Nathan Gill, was removed as leader of the UKIP Assembly Group. He subsequently sat as an independent. That reduced UKIP’s number to six before the Fifth Assembly even convened.

When Mr Gill eventually vacated his seat, his replacement – Mandy Jones – was excluded from the UKIP group because she continued to employ Mr Gill’s staff. Some of those staff members were unpopular for criticising the UKIP group in the Senedd in briefings delivered on Mr Gill’s behalf.

In Nathan Gill’s place as leader, UKIP AMs placed the former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton. The colourful and controversial Mr Hamilton has assiduously cultivated a pantomime villain public persona which is not necessarily always an act.

Thereafter, the UKIP numbers shrank to five, when the former Conservative MP Mark Reckless semi-defected to the Conservatives. Excluded from sitting as a Conservative AM, he is nonetheless counted in as a member of the Conservative group in the sort of arrangement that left the Conservatives’ UK leadership exasperated.

With UKIP down to five AMs, there came another coup. This time, Caroline Jones was installed as leader and Mr Hamilton set aside. Mr Hamilton was not happy and a poll of the membership took place to determine who should be party leader; but only in the Senedd.

The strength of UKIP’s support in Wales was underlined by the announcement of the result of a poll of its mass membership base. Of its 876 members in Wales, 514 voted in the leadership election that returned Gareth Bennett as the Party’s leader in the Senedd with a whopping 269 votes.

Exit Caroline Jones, leaving UKIP with four AMs.

Mr Bennett’s gift for finding his mouth with his foot has been an uplifting feature of Welsh public life since his rise to prominence. A phenomenon which one Conservative AM suggested is proof that it is not only cream which rises to the top.

Aligning himself to the leadership direction of Gerard Batten, Mr Bennett’s determination to offend anyone and everyone has lowered his Party to depths previously thought of as unreachable by normal means.

Last weekend, a meeting devoted to abolishing the Assembly due to be addressed by Mr Bennett was abandoned when only three people turned up.

It appears there is further to go on UKIP’s journey before it hits the bottom.

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Politics

Pembrokeshire County Council considering ‘Fire-break’ implications

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FOLLOWING the First Minister’s announcement at lunchtime today (Oct 19) of an all-Wales ‘firebreak’ commencing on Friday, Pembrokeshire County Council is currently assessing the impact this will have on its services.

Council Leader, David Simpson, said: “I can provide assurance that detailed planning arrangements both internally, and externally with our partner agencies, are underway to ensure that we are well placed to meet any challenges which may arise.

“We will be issuing further updates over the coming days.”

Councillor Simpson added: “The First Minister has clearly said the ‘firebreak’ has been put in place due to the increasing level of cases across Wales.

“Although the restrictions do not come into force until Friday we all have to act now – early prevention can make a huge difference.”

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Politics

Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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Cardiff and London at loggerheads over who will pay the bill for the Wales-wide lockdown

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THE PLANNED national lockdown for Wales still has many details to finalise before any final announcement of its terms and length.

The major sticking point is money.

During the UK-wide national lockdown from March to July, the Westminster Government picked up the tab for paying Welsh workers’ wages and provided a massive amount of extra funding for business support.

From November 1, the UK government will support eligible businesses by paying two-thirds of each employee’s salary, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

Businesses might also be eligible for grant support of up to £3,000 a month to meet other costs.

Devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive a total of £1.3bn in increased funding this year to cover similar measures.

Businesses will only be eligible to claim the grant while they are subject to lockdown restrictions.

Council leaders across Wales have expressed their deep concern to Welsh Government ministers about the lack of any detail of what will be done to provide financial support to businesses, particularly those which are not forced to close by lockdown restrictions but close as a knock-on effect of lockdown.

Local authorities, which channelled most business support during the lockdown which began in March, have still not been told by the Welsh Government what help or how much will be available for businesses in that position, let alone how it will be delivered.

The sour relationship between the Welsh Government and Westminster is not likely to help Mark Drakeford’s administration if it looks for fresh funding help from the Treasury to bail it out of the wider economic consequences of a Wales-wide lockdown.

If the Welsh Government tries to go it alone to soften the blow, it faces making significant cuts elsewhere in its budgets.

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