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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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Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats wants more pensioners to keep their free TV Licences

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Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats have expressed their concern at the decision taken by the BBC to save £450m a year from 2020, to remove the free TV licence for those over 75 years of age from those pensioners not in receipt of Pension Credit.

This could see 3.7m pensioners currently benefitting from a TV licence, having to start paying from 2020. The decision was made by the BBC following the government’s decision to transfer the funding of licences from the government to the BBC.

Liberal Democrat Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson Jane Bonham-Carter said “Concessions for over 75’s are a social cost which should not be paid from the licence fee, but from central Government funding.

Government, not the BBC should be responsible and accountable for their social policies. If the Conservative Government does not want to pay for free licences for over 75’s then they should be upfront about their policy. However, passing the buck onto the BBC is underhand and risks undermining the BBC’s financial viability to provide what the license fee payer expects.”

Age UK have said that 1 in 4 over the age of 65 say that TV is their main form of companionship.

Alistair Cameron, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire said “There has been much coverage of this issue on TV and social media since the BBC made the announcement that it was withdrawing free TV licences from all pensioners except those on Pension Credit.

Many pensioners over the age of 75 are not able to get out a lot. For them, the TV is a really important part of their lives.

A lot of pensioners have to survive on a low income, including those who do not claim pension credit. Having to pay for a TV licence will be very hard on them.”

Andrew Lye, the Chair of Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats said “Many people are annoyed at the decision and rightly so.

I can appreciate that the wealthy over 75 currently receive a free TV licence as do those on a basic state pension. We must remember that there are many pensioners not in receipt of pension credit and struggle to manage on their pension. MP’s need to remember that the Conservative 2017 Manifesto committed them to free TV licenses for the over 75’s for the duration of this Parliament, and the ‘grey vote’ will remember this broken promise at the next General Election.”

Andrew Lye went on to say, “Of course with the latest released figures showing £3.1bn of unclaimed Pension Credit in the UK, I would call upon pensioners in Pembrokeshire to phone 0800-991234 as the website https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim states that phoning them is the quickest way to find out if you qualify. Who knows, you may get money that you are entitled to”.

Andrew Lye added, “We call upon the Government to resolve this issue as it is unfair that it will affect millions of pensioners and we hope that Pembrokeshire MP’s, Stephen Crabb and Simon Hart will make representations to the Prime Minister. Just because you do not claim or get Pension Credit, you cannot automatically assume that they are all well off on their pension. With the growing problem of loneliness in the elderly, especially where a partner has died, the TV is a vital lifeline and we should treat our pensioners better”.

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Review of polling districts and places

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has launched a review of polling districts and polling station locations across the county.

The aim is to ensure that all polling districts and polling places are, as far as possible, suitable and accessible to all voters.

The Council welcomes comments from those satisfied with the present arrangements but is also keen to hear from those with a different view.

Suggestions on more suitable premises for polling stations than the current ones would be appreciated, as would any specific issues relating to access.

To find out more and pass on views visit: here

Alternatively, telephone the Council’s Customer Contact Centre on 01437 764551 for hard copy documents.

The review runs until 26th July.

Representations received will be considered and final recommendations will be discussed at Full Council on 10th October.

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First Minister calls for a second EU referendum

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has called for a second EU referendum in response to the imminent change in Conservative leadership.

After the results of the European Parliamentary Elections were announced, Mr Drakeford issued a statement, saying: “I warmly congratulate Jackie Jones on her election as a member of the European Parliament. Jackie, along with Matthew [Dorrance], Mary [Wimbury] and Mark [Whitcutt] served our party as candidates in what has been the most challenging of circumstances.

“Ever since the referendum in 2016, the Welsh Government has respected the result by arguing for a form of Brexit which would protect Welsh jobs and our economy. Labour colleagues in Westminster have done the same, most recently in negotiations with the UK Government.

“The election of a new Conservative leader changes all of that. It eliminates the chances of any agreed form of Brexit and it hugely increases the very real danger of a catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU. We cannot and will not stand by while that takes place.

“Faced with the damage of a hardline Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour Government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU.

“We will work with any others who seek the same outcome.”

Last Thursday (May 24), Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will quit as leader of the Conservatives on June 7, with it thought that a new leader could be in place by the end of July.

Many believe the party will elect a right wing leader who would be willing to propose a no deal Brexit, although there has been a majority against that option when Parliament voted on it before. Brexit policy was also key to the European Parliamentary Elections, where the Labour Party failed to attract votes, with its lead candidate Jackie Jones narrowly taking the final MEP seat in Wales.

The party claimed just 15.3% of the vote in Wales and 14.1% UK wide, with many pointing at the party’s indecision regarding its stance over Brexit as the reason for the loss of voters.

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised by many in his party over his reluctance to openly support another referendum, as he attempted to appease both remain and leave voters with his Brexit policy. Mr Drakeford had been similarly reluctant to definitively back another referendum, but with this statement has gained the support of many in the party who wish for a second vote.

The European election results were also poor for the Conservatives, getting just 6.5% of the vote in Wales, and 9.09% across the UK. Governments often perform poorly in European elections, as the public express their disappointment with the ruling party, but this was the Conservatives’ worst ever result in a nationwide election by some way.

The party did not manage to come first in a single council area. The Brexit Party gained 32.5% of the vote in Wales, with Nathan Gill and James Wells claiming two of the country’s four MEP seats for Nigel Farage’s party. Plaid Cymru won 19.6% of the vote, with Jill Evans retaining her seat as Plaid beat Labour for the first time in a Wales-wide vote.

Andrew RT Davies, AM for South Wales Central and former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, said: “The European Elections proved extremely difficult for the two major parties, but a second referendum is certainly not the answer. Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote, but rerunning the referendum would completely tear up this pledge.

“Regrettably, the First Minister has buckled at the first sign of discontent from his Labour colleagues who have been in denial ever since the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union back in 2016. That’s not leadership.

“People in Wales voted to leave and that should be respected and now delivered – anything else will have severe consequences for democracy as we know it in this country.”

In the 2016 referendum, Wales saw a turnout of 71.7% of its eligible voters, with 52.53% voting to leave and 47.47% voting to remain.

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