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What is the future for Labour?

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Labour leadership hopefuls: L-R (in picture) Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour leadership hopefuls: L-R (in picture) Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Jeremy Corbyn.

FOLLOWING Ed Milliband’s resignation after the General Election, The Labour Party has been doing a serious amount of soul-searching. Numerous reasons have been given for the party’s poor performance, even though they gained seats in England and only lost one in Wales.

The most common reason given from inside the party is a variation on the theme that under Ed Milliband, the party veered too sharply to the left. There have been numerous ways of expressing this, from Chuka Umunna claiming that the party needed to be more ‘business friendly,’ to acting leader Harriet Harman and candidate Liz Kendall refusing to vote against the Conservatives’ welfare bill because British people have real concerns about benefit spending.

This contrasted sharply with the experiences of many canvassers who felt abandoned by the parliamentary Labour party, which made constituency candidates something of a hard sell in places. Across the country, the emergence of UKIP as, if not a credible political force, then certainly one strong enough to influence the outcome of any seat, was largely at the expense of what Labour would have considered core voters in 1997. Anti-austerity parties to the left also benefitted from Labour’s perceived lack of opposition to Conservative policies.

The election of a new Labour leader was meant to be the fairest and most transparent to date in a party that has traditionallyprideditselfonadherenceto democratic principles. Jeremy Corbyn, described ad nauseum in the press as an ‘Old Labour dinosaur,’ and a ‘veteran left-winger’ was only put on the ballot after 35 MPs, many of whom had no intention of voting for him, decided that all facets of the party should be represented. That these MPs were subsequently described as ‘morons’ by one of Tony Blair’s former advisors shows the extent to which the left-wing of the party is viewed as an embarrassment nowadays.

A strong showing ofpopular support for Mr Corbyn has led to outcry in the national press. A YouGov poll recently put him on CHECK %, leading to claims that the poll was inaccurate, and leading people to predict a schism in the Labour party similar to that which occurred when Michael Foot was made leader – something Mr Corbyn has blamed for the landslide defeat in 1983. The Daily Mirror, the only remaining left-wing tabloid, has suggested implementing an ABC (anyone but Corbyn) strategy, while on the other end of the scale Toby Young has suggested that those on the political Right join the Labour Party and vote for Mr Corbyn as a way of bringing down the Labour Party.

Mr Corbyn is certainly different to any leadership contender since the early nineties, if not before. Having said that, John Smith was considered to be on the centre-right of the party then, which shows how much the political landscape has shifted. The public spending cuts that Ed Balls claimed he would not alter if Labour were elected would have had an old One Nation Tory like Ted Heath spinning in his grave. Mr Corbyn has claimed that the role of leader should be more about facilitating debate rather than developing policies. He is known to favour the abolition of student fees, scrapping Trident, and the renationalisation of the rail industry.

There has been uproar in the Labour party about this. Apparently Labour should not be a party of protest but a party of government. It appears that from an opposition perspective, this means agreeing with most of what the party in power proposes, on the basis that they were voted in and are therefore what the electorate want. It may be facile to suggest that this makes the concept of an opposition moot, but certainly the parameters of debate will be narrowed.

Interestingly, a journalist for the Independent checked out the YouGov poll results for Mr Corbyn’s policies, and found that the public were heavily in favour, with 60% in favour of nationalising trains, for example. It appears that the claims that the Labour party has already suffered a split between the grass-roots supporters and the metropolitan ‘elite’ may have some basis in fact. A point which appears to be overlooked is that ‘three-time-winner’ Tony Blair still had the support of Labour’s core vote, until it began melting away over the New Labour years. Without this support, and without any way of either working with the SNP or encouraging Scottish voters back into the fold, the ‘swing seats’ targeted in ’97 will be increasingly irrelevant.

Andy Burnham, the politician many party insiders would like to see get the nod, is nominally on the left of centre, in the same way Yvette Cooper is slightly to the right. Mr Burnham is the only candidate to say that he would serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet. Liz Kendall, considered one of the Blairite faction’s big hopes, has performed poorly, and is fourth-placed by some margin. A spoof facebook page – Liz Kendall for Conservative Leader – had nearly as many ‘likes’ as her own page before it was deleted. A problem appears to be the unwillingness of the other three candidates to commit on issues, for fear of jeopardising their shot at the top job.

Whoever emerges as Labour leader in the coming months will be in an unenviable position. They will have to reconcile those on the political Left and Right, and attempt to appeal to disillusioned Labour voters, as well as trying to take votes from the Conservatives and UKIP and, in all probability, having to work with the SNP and possibly Plaid Cymru in Wales, both parties with a broadly left-of-centre manifesto. It is far too early to tell what sort of a party will emerge at the other end, the outcome of a leadership battle fought across such a wide spectrum, and the ensuing rise in the number of party members, many of whom are looking for a credible alternative to the Tory-lite policies of the last two decades, will mean the party will indeed be living in interesting times.

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News

Withyhedge Landfill: Multi-agency statement issued to residents

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NATURAL Resources Wales (NRW) shared the most recent findings from a visit to Withyhedge Landfill site in Pembrokeshire at a Multi-agency Incident Management Team meeting on Wednesday, 10 April. The meeting included representatives from Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC), Public Health Wales (PHW) and Hywel Dda University Health Board.

All authorities acknowledge and empathise with the impact this prolonged odour issue is having on members of the communities that surround Withyhedge Landfill.

This is a complex and ever-changing situation, and partners are working extremely hard to reach a point where the odour problems are resolved.

NRW officers attended the site on Monday 8 April. It appears, from a visual assessment of the work undertaken on site, that the required capping work and gas well installation has been completed by site operators, RML, in line with the deadline of the S36 Enforcement Notice, issued by NRW on 13 February 2024.

However, this can only be fully assessed by NRW once survey and construction validation reports have been submitted. The operator is now preparing these and once received, a formal assessment will be undertaken.

The authorities will review the findings and revise their action plans where appropriate.

Odour Monitoring

Since the passing of the S36 Enforcement Notice deadline of Friday 5 April, and in response to continued high volumes of odour reports from the local community, NRW and PCC increased odour monitoring in residential areas over the weekend and into this week.

Other possible areas on site where odour may be coming from have been identified and the statement from the company issued 9 April provides further detail.

RML submitted plans to address these on 10 April, which are now being considered by NRW.

Air Quality Monitoring

RML has also commissioned an independent party to carry out air quality monitoring, and this work continues. PCC and NRW are providing technical advice in support of this work.

The first round of diffusion tubes monitoring results detected Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) at one of the 10 monitoring sites. Hydrogen sulphide being a colourless gas which often smells like rotten eggs and can come from the breakdown of waste materials in landfill.

More data is required for meaningful analysis and Public Health Wales continue to advocate for further air monitoring to take place as soon as possible. This is being progressed by PCC and NRW.

Reporting odour

NRW requests that instances of odour from the landfill continue to be reported via this dedicated form: https://bit.ly/reportasmellwithyhedge.

Please report odours at the time of them being experienced, rather than historically. Reporting odours in a timely manner will help guide the work of partners more effectively, particularly in the further development of air quality monitoring.

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Health

Doctors to enter pay negotiations with the Welsh Government

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BMA CYMRU Wales has suspended forthcoming industrial action for Consultants and SAS doctors following a constructive meeting with the Welsh government to resolve its pay disputes.

As a result of sustained pressure, including three rounds of industrial action by junior doctors in Wales, the Welsh Government has made a significant proposal to form the basis of talks to end the pay disputes with all secondary care doctors including Consultants, SAS and Junior doctors.

Since the meeting last week, the committees representing doctors from all three branches of practice have voted to enter pay negotiations based on this proposal.

The planned 48-hour strike by Consultants and SAS doctors due to take place from 16 April will now be suspended.

Junior doctors have paused plans to announce more strike dates whilst they enter negotiations with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh junior doctors committee, Welsh SAS committee and Welsh consultants committee will now each engage in pay negotiations, with the aim of reaching deals which can be taken separately to their respective members.

Dr Oba Babs Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey co-chairs of the BMA’s Welsh Junior doctors Committee said:

“This is a significant step forward. It is sad that we had to take industrial action to get here, but we are proud of members for demonstrating their resolve in pursuit of a fair deal for the profession.

“Whilst we are optimistic and hope to quickly resolve our dispute, we remain steadfast in achieving pay restoration. Until we reach a deal, nothing is off the table.

 “We will continue to work hard to reach an offer that is credible to put to members who will ultimately have the final say.”

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ Consultants committee said:

“The Welsh Government’s recent efforts to reach an end to the pay dispute are encouraging and so we have called off our planned strike for now whilst we allow time and space for negotiations to take place.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach a deal that sufficiently addresses years of erosion to our pay to help retain senior doctors in Wales but remain ready to strike if we’re not able to do so during negotiations.”

Dr Ali Nazir, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ SAS doctor committee said:

“As a committee, we felt that this latest development goes someway to understanding the strength of feeling of our members. We will work hard to reach a settlement that sufficiently meets the expectation of our colleagues who have faced real terms pay cuts of up to a third since 2008/9.”

In August last year, the BMA’s committees representing secondary care doctors in Wales voted to enter into separate trade disputes with the Welsh Government after being offered another below inflation pay uplift of just 5% for the 23/24 financial year. SAS doctors on some contracts were offered as little as 1.5%. This was the lowest pay offer any government in the UK offered and less than the DDRB, the pay review body for doctors and dentists, recommended last year.

As part of their disputes, SAS doctors, consultants and junior doctors carried out successful ballots for industrial action. Since then, junior doctors have taken part in 10 days of industrial action since January this year.

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Health

BMA pay disputes – Junior Doctors, Consultants and Specialist Doctors

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THE WELSH Government and BMA Wales’ three national committees representing consultants, SAS doctors and junior doctors have today agreed to formal negotiations about pay.

Planned industrial action will be suspended during the negotiations.

A mandate is being developed for the talks with all three BMA branches of practice with the aim of resolving the disputes over pay for 2023-24.

In the context of the most challenging financial position the Welsh Government has faced since devolution, a significant amount of work has been undertaken to identify funding to support the negotiations.

First Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We recognise the strength of feeling among BMA members and that industrial action is never taken lightly.

“This is a government that listens and engages to find solutions. I prioritised a meeting with the BMA directly alongside the Cabinet Secretary for Health to reinforce our commitment to that partnership approach.

“We currently face the most severe financial situation in the devolution era which makes our task far harder. Despite this backdrop, we have worked to identify a way forward that I hope will lead to the successful resolution of this dispute and ensure that doctors can return to work in NHS Wales.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Eluned Morgan added: “Even in these very challenging circumstances, we have worked in social partnership with the BMA and NHS to maintain patent safety during industrial action.

“But the strikes have been very disruptive to the delivery of NHS services – none of us want to see doctors on strike. I am pleased the three BMA committees have agreed to pause further industrial action and begin formal talks with Welsh Government and hope we can bring an end to this dispute.”

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