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Politics

Hammond springs into inaction

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Philip Hammond: A bouncing Exchequer

P​HILIP HAMMOND, Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the Commons that he was like Tigger when delivering his Spring Statement on Tuesday, March 13.

Depicting his opposite number, Labour’s John McDonnell as like Eeyore for his constant predictions of doom and gloom, Mr Hammond alighted upon a spring-tailed pest as the best way to describe himself.

Wikipedia defines Tigger’s personality rather well.

​”​He is very confident and has quite an ego, he often thinks of himself as being handsome, and some of his other comments suggest he has a high opinion of himself… [C]an also be mischievous, and his actions have sometimes led to chaos and trouble for himself and his friends. Also, he often undertakes tasks with gusto, only to later realize they were not as easy as he had originally imagined​.”​

That Mr Hammond has some of those attributes – especially the last – is well-attested by his track record as a government minister. Often, bold announcements and new policies have withered and died under scrutiny and disappeared never to appear again. Upping self-employed National Insurance rates being a case in point.

There was not intended to be a lot of meat in the Chancellor’s statement; that will have to wait until autumn and the budget. The key point of all the statistics at the moment is that they are provisional and can be no more than provisional until the EU and UK finalise the terms of the latter’s departure from the former.

The uncertainty is reflected in the report of the Office of Budget Responsibility, which provides independent analyses to the UK government on public finances. It says that the impact on public finances of Brexit on public finances cannot be quantified at the present time.

That position is likely to change by this autumn’s budget, when the Government will have – or should have – a very clear idea of what the shape of the Brexit deal will actually be. We should certainly know whether we are exiting on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms or with a bespoke deal on trade, tariffs, and borders.

Whether or not the Prime Minister gets to that point with her current Cabinet intact is a matter of conjecture, with Liam Fox laying down a series of personal red lines that suggest the more ‘committed’ Brexiteers in the Conservative Party could cut up rough if there is a sniff of any sort of deal that falls short of their expectations.

An alternative view might have it that the Spring Statement celebrated continuing low economic growth, a dramatic fall in the value of wages, a continuing squeeze on public services, and the increasing inability of the UK economy to meet internal demand.

But Tuesday was Philip Hammond’s day to be Tigger. Everything was good news. The Government was doing well. All was right with the economy. The UK was on track. All the indicators suggested we were bouncing to glory.

Brexit remains, however, the Eeyore-ish donkey in the room and the Chancellor will be mindful that the economy could find itself in Pooh Corner sooner rather than later.

Politics

Labour win leaves every party with problems

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AGAINST all predictions, the elections to the Welsh Parliament have produced neither a coalition nor a breakthrough for either the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru.

Instead, Mark Drakeford will return to Cardiff Bay as First Minister at the head of a Labour Government.

Although thirty seats is not an overall majority, something Labour has never had in Wales, it is more than enough to form a government able to advance its policies with very little horse-trading.

The presence in the Welsh Parliament of a lone Liberal Democrat, Jane Dodds, will almost certainly lead to Labour having 31 dependable votes without having to do too many deals with Plaid Cymru to get what it wants.

CONSERVATIVES STILL WAIT FOR THE GREAT LEAP FORWARD

Red wall’s failure to crumble leaves RT with a problem

The Conservatives captured only one of their target seats, the Vale of Clwyd. They racked up impressive performances in seats they already held.

Apart from the Vale of Clwyd, they failed to make any breakthroughs in North Wales. In seats like Cardiff North and the Vale of Glamorgan, the Conservatives went backwards at a rate of knots.

Already ‘sources’ in the Conservatives claim it’s because the party in Wales didn’t capitalise on the Brexit vote. That, again, reveals a party too intent on internal faction-fighting and reliving the Brexit psychodrama than one focussed adequately on the present and the future.

It also rewrites history (the Conservatives did rather well in December 2019) and ignores an important reality.

Mark Drakeford’s profile during the last year rose.

His regular public briefings brought him and the powers the Labour Government has in Cardiff Bay into people’s daily lives.

As Labour Minister Lee Waters admitted, Mark Drakeford might be ‘a bit nerdy, a bit boring’, but he was Labour’s biggest electoral asset.

As the Conservatives in Wales cleaved to an ever-closer union with Boris Johnson’s Westminster Government, the personal contest boiled down to Boris versus Mark.



The Welsh public took one look at the calm and (yes) boring Mark Drakeford and the shambling sloganeering Boris Johnson and decided which they preferred.

The Welsh Government’s steady and cautious approach to the pandemic contrasts favourably with the scandal-mired and higgledy-piggledy approach over Offa’s Dyke.

Suppose the Conservatives in Cardiff Bay continue to behave like sock puppets for Westminster. In that case, they will never break through to a Welsh public that has not returned a Conservative majority since the nineteenth century.

Someone needs to sit down and explain that to Andrew RT Davies and his handlers in plain and honest language.

The question boils down to this: are you Welsh Conservatives with a plan for Wales or Conservatives in Wales with an agenda set by Westminster and the Welsh Office?

The Conservatives cannot ride two horses at once and need to be upfront about who and what they are.

That said, the Conservatives are Wales’ second party – and by some margin, too. The validity of conservatism as a force in Welsh politics can be neither ignored nor understated.
No matter how much abuse is flung at their candidates and activists on social media by activists from the left and/or those supporting independence, that’s a political reality and will remain so for some time.

A failure to acknowledge opposing ideas not only exist but have the right to exist is a fatal flaw in both nationalist and left-wing politics. Particularly for the former: without persuading small ‘c’ conservatives to support independence, the chances of winning a referendum are practically nil.

PLAID LOOK FOR DIRECTION AND A FUTURE

Despite Adam Price’s abilities, and try as they might, Plaid cannot break through to voters

The election was undoubtedly disappointing for Plaid Cymru. Brave talk and bold promises did not convert to votes where it mattered.

In target marginals, their vote simply didn’t materialise.


Plaid Cymru lost former leader Leanne Wood, and Helen Mary Jones was crushed in Llanelli.

Llanelli has long been the most marginal seat in Wales. Lee Waters’ new majority is some way north of 5,500 and looks to have ended Helen Mary Jones’ long political career.

In Preseli Pembrokeshire, Cris Tomos increased Plaid’s vote by over 50%. In Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Plaid’s vote-share went up by over a fifth.

That happened through a volunteer effort as resources were piled into Llanelli, where Plaid was routed.

Plaid has less money than other parties. The folly of pouring resources into a single seat shows weakness. There was no need for a paid organiser for one seat – it should’ve been a regional effort to maximise Plaid’s regional vote.


While the losses of Leanne Wood and Helen Mary Jones are undoubtedly a blow to Plaid Cymru in the Senedd, it is unlikely to upset too many more traditionally-minded party activists.

Plaid’s core problem is that its central office staff and its national executive consists of factional activists who pursue sectional interests above creating a policy agenda that speaks to the sort of voters Plaid needs to pick up.

Those small ‘c’ conservatives – socially conservative but inclined to Plaid on other issues – have no home or voice in the party.

They might vote Labour. They might vote Conservative. Far worse, they might not vote at all. And they will not vote for Plaid.

If Plaid is going to be a third party with influence, instead of a ginger group constantly on the fringes of power but without ever exercising it, it needs to professionalise its organisation and stop the nonsense which ties the hands of regional campaigns.

There’s no point having your head in the clouds if you’re hurtling towards the ground without a parachute.

TIME TO ABOLISH ABOLISH

The argument is over. The Welsh Parliament is here to stay.

A website, a slogan, a few polls. Constantly bigged-up by the London media and the BBC, Abolish the Assembly (sic.) got exactly what it deserved.

Bog all.

The Greens outperformed Abolish – again – demonstrating the farce of Richard Suchorzewski’s invitation from the BBC to the main leadership debate for what it was.

While the Abolish voice will not be silenced, its hammering will ensure it won’t be given a free pass in the future.

After five years of faction-fighting, UKIP’s vote predictably collapsed.

Only one of its candidates – Paul Dowson in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire – came within 50 of getting 1,000 votes in any constituency.

As Welsh online media becomes more diverse and breaks through to more people in Wales, and it will, the hold of London dead tree media will decrease. The chances of fringe single-issue parties getting the coverage and exposure they enjoyed before the election will recede.

Not because those voices aren’t necessary, but because the voters – those who consume media – don’t think they’re important enough to justify coverage.

The argument about abolition is over. What remains is the debate about what powers the Welsh Parliament has in the future.

THE THREAT TO LABOUR

As Labour’s biggest asset in the election, who succeeds Mark Drakeford will be vital to Labour’s future chances

When a party has performed so far above pollsters’ expectations in an election, it sounds strange to speak of its threats and problems.

But there are issues that Labour cannot ignore.

It has no excuse left for not delivering its modest policy agenda within the five years of this Welsh Parliament.

Secondly, turnout in Labour safe seats – those with no second party threat – was humiliatingly small. Swansea East turned out barely a third of its electorate, and Merthyr and Rhymney 35%. That’s no ringing endorsement for a sitting government from its core voters.

The politics of Wales outside Labour safe seats were far more dynamic, and the electoral significantly more engaged.

Although barely half of 16-17-year-olds registered to vote, most of those who registered voted. And a basic assessment suggests they voted disproportionately for Plaid and the Green party over the big two.

Complacency is also a risk. Labour cannot just sit back; it’s got a more-or-less working majority under its own steam. There can be no excuses now.

The pandemic was the Welsh Government’s unseen friend in this election. It raised the Welsh Government’s profile within Wales and showed the public what the Welsh Government could do with its powers. It boosted Mark Drakeford’s public profile.

As the campaign went on it became noticeable other Labour ministers faded into the background in favour of a focus on Mark Drakeford’s personal qualities.

In the past, this was called ‘the doctor’s mandate’ in UK elections, and Mark Drakeford’s evident diligence and doggedness played well.

In the absence of the pandemic, it’s hard to see how Labour could’ve maintained its death-grip on the levers of power unaided.

The biggest challenge for Labour is who succeeds Mark Drakeford and when.

He said he would stand down in this Parliamentary term, and that leaves Labour a real difficulty.

The personal focus on Mark Drakeford deflected attention from the shortcomings of pretenders to his throne.


Vaughan Gething: patronising, easily rattled, waspish, doesn’t command the detail.

Ken Skates: unfairly labelled plastic but with a sound grasp of policy but almost no public profile to speak of.

Probably the ablest of the Welsh ministers is Lee Waters. He is bright and articulate but hamstrung by a reputation for being ‘difficult’.

Nine out of ten voters probably couldn’t name any other members of the last Labour cabinet. Unless you’re a farmer. In which case, you’ll have a Lesley Griffiths dartboard.

Without Mark Drakeford at the helm, there’s a distinct shortage of candidates with either the public profile or political weight to take up the post of First Minister.

Wind forward five years, Labour faces a real fight if it fails to deliver on its limited manifesto and lacks a leader who appeals to the wider Welsh public and not just Labour’s endemic tribalism.

Then the political landscape of Wales might well change.

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Politics

Three Labour police and crime commissioners elected in Wales

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FOUR police and crime commissioners have been elected in Wales. The results have been announced after the Police and Crime Commissioner elections took place on Thursday.

Labour now has three of four of Wales’ police and crime commissioners (PCCs) after Andy Dunbobbin secured a gain for the party in north Wales.

The other three PCCs were re-elected and between them all, they decide how £760m of Wales’ police budget is spent.

The voting system used means unless a candidate gets more than 50% of votes in the first round of counting, all but the top two candidates are eliminated from the election – and secondary votes on the ballot paper are then counted.

PCCs are elected representatives who work to ensure police forces in England and Wales are running effectively.

They replaced police authorities in 2012 and were intended to bring a public voice to policing.

The UK government insists PCCs are not there to run local police forces but to hold them to account and respond to the needs of the public.

The roundup for each police force area is as follows:

South Wales

Alun Michael is now one of three Labour P&CCs (Pic BBC)

First round:

Alun Michael (Labour): 177,110

Steve Gallagher (Conservative): 102,465

Nadine Marshall (Plaid Cymru): 82,246

Mike Baker (Independent): 37,110

Callum Littlemore (Liberal Democrats): 19,907

Gail John (Propel): 13,263

Second round:

Alun Michael (Labour): 48,353

Steve Gallagher (Conservative): 25,379

Alun Michael has been re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner by the communities of South Wales for the third time.

The result of the election for the post was declared earlier today at the Memo Arts Centre in Barry.

Mr Michael said: “I am pleased to have had the support of the electorate across South Wales and to have been re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for the third time.  A great deal has been achieved through some very difficult years for policing but I am very keen for us to build on the firm foundations that we have put in place, and I shall be saying more shortly about my plans and ambitions for the next three years.   

“While the past 12 months have been immensely difficult for everyone, we have worked with partners in Welsh Government and Local Government to keep the people of South Wales safe and the close joint working has brought about some very positive developments as has the cooperation between all parts of the Criminal Justice System in Wales so I want to thank the public, the members of my own team and to the Chief Constable, Jeremy Vaughan, and officers and staff across South Wales Police.  Together we must now face  challenge of recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic while at the same time working hard to reduce and prevent crime in our communities and deal with new and emerging demands that have an impact on policing.  I relish the challenge and now that the election is over I will work with the Chief Constable to pursue our shared ambition of giving the communities of South Wales the best possible police service.  We will pursue that aim, along with the aim of preventing harm, by working with our partners, always achieving more together than we can achieve alone.”

Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan said: “I would like to congratulate Alun Michael on his re-election as the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales.  I have enjoyed a very positive working relationship with Alun over several years and I look forward to continuing our work to keep the communities of South Wales safe.  My focus remains on leading the force in addressing the challenges in our communities, including serious violence and knife crime, domestic abuse, drug dealing and protecting the vulnerable. By continuing to work with the Commissioner’s Team and in partnership with other organisations we can continue to protect the public and look after those who need us most.”

Gwent

Jeff Cuthbert gives his acceptance speech at Gwent count (Pic: Herald)

First round:

Donna Cushing (Plaid Cymru): 29,392

Jeff Cuthbert (Labour and Co-operative Party): 75,775

Paul Harley (Independent): 13,601

Hannah Jarvis (Conservative Party): 52,313

Clayton Jones (Gwlad – The Welsh Independence Party): 2,615

John Miller – Liberal Democrats: (7,640)

Second round:

Jeff Cuthbert (Labour and Co-operative Party):16,841

Hannah Jarvis (Welsh Conservative Party): 8,223

Jeff Cuthbert said: “I am delighted to be able to serve Gwent as Police and Crime Commissioner for another term and would like to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to vote in the election.

“I must also thank my deputy, Eleri Thomas, who I propose to re-appoint as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, and my colleagues at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for their work over the last five years.

“Working together with the Chief Constable of Gwent Police and key partners we have achieved much over the last term of which I am incredibly proud. Together we have worked to ensure that we are protecting the most vulnerable in our society, building greater cohesion within our communities, and that Gwent Police officers and staff have the resources they need to protect and reassure our residents to the best of their ability.

“I know that we still have much to do and in the coming weeks I will begin working on my new Police and Crime Plan for Gwent that will set out my priorities for the next three years

Dyfed Powys

Dafydd Llywelyn signs note of acceptance (Pic DPP)

First round:

Jon Burns (Conservatives): 69,112

Dafydd Llywelyn (Plaid Cymru): 68,208

Philippa Thompson (Labour): 48,033

Glyn Preston (Welsh Liberal Democrats) 17,649

Second round:

Jon Burns: 8,209

Dafydd Llywelyn: 26,280

Dafydd Llywelyn issued the following statement:  “I am extremely pleased to be re-elected as your Police and Crime Commissioner.  As your current Commissioner, operational, front-line policing has, and always will come before party politics. I have a strong track record of delivering on my promises and of listening to the communities of Dyfed Powys. I am proud of what I have achieved since 2016, but there is still so much to do.

“Your safety is my top priority. I want to ensure that the Dyfed Powys Police Force remains one of the safest places to live in Wales and England.”

North Wales

Andy Dunbobbin winner at the count in Flintshire (Pic FCC)

First round:

Mark Young (Independent): 15,907

Andy Dunbobbin (Labour): 69,459

Lisa Wilkins (Welsh Liberal Democrats): 10,149

Pat Astbury (Conservative): 75,472

Ann Griffith (Plaid Cymru): 67,672

Second round:

Andy Dunbobbin (Labour): 28,575

Pat Astbury (Conservative): 14,677

The new Police and Crime Commissioner for the North Wales Police area is Labour’s Andy Dunbobbin.

He said: “Visibility in our communities would be my top priority. We all want to be safe and secure – this really matters to us. Having a more visible police presence would reassure our communities and help towards us reclaiming the streets. I also feel that more visibility on social media platforms needs to happen and I would work collaboratively, cross-party to challenge social media companies so the police can take further action.

“There has been a decade of unprecedented cuts in policing and to Welsh Government from the Conservative UK government. This is why the Welsh Labour Government’s investment in additional PCSOs has been so vital – and why I’m so pleased the Welsh Labour manifesto has a pledge to deliver 100 more. Whereas the Conservatives have said they will end the funding for this scheme – meaning a loss of 500 PCSOs from patrolling Welsh streets.”

Mr Dunbobbin’s victory comes after the previous PPC Arfon Jones announced he would not stand again after being elected in 2016.

On Sunday the 46-year-old was elected after standing against four other candidates: Patricia Astbury, Conservative, Ann Griffith, Plaid Cymru, Lisa Wilkins, Liberal Democrats and independent candidate Mark John Young.

He won with 98,034 overall votes defeating Conservative rival Pat Astbury by 7,885 votes after second preference ballots were added in.

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Mark Drakeford says: ‘Thank you Wales for going red’

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LABOUR is staying in power in Wales after matching its best-ever Senedd election result. It won exactly half of the 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament with all results now declared

Labour has 30 seats, with the Conservatives on 16, Plaid Cymru on 13 and the Liberal Democrats one.
Mark Drakeford thanked Wales for “going red” and has vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government, as Labour looks to solidify its leadership in Wales.

Labour’s Vaughan Gething, health minister in the Welsh government, told the media that the party didn’t “have to look at a formal coalition” because they had done so well.

“We do, however, have to talk to other groups within the Senedd,” he said.

Mr Gething said Labour had a “strong mandate to govern” with 30 of the Senedd’s 60 seats.

The Wales Green Party failed to win a seat in the Senedd elections but they say they recorded their highest-ever result in Wales. Leader Anthony Slaughter said the “results demonstrate the appetite for change” across Wales.

A very happy Mark Drakeford on Saturday, May 8 (Photo Welsh Labour/Twitter)

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “We seem to be getting votes from all of the parties and support on that regional list as people increase their knowledge of the voting system.”

Adam Price, who held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr with a reduced majority, said he would not stand down as Plaid Cymru leader.

Despite no gains, Mr Price said the party had increased its share of the vote and its stance on independence had been a “net positive”.

“I’m not walking away from anything, because this is the moment when Wales needs leadership,” he said.

“This is a historic challenge, because of the way that the politics is moving in this island, but it’s also a historic opportunity for us.

On the campaign trail, Plaid leader Adam Price (Pic Plaid Cymru)

“We can move our nation forward and I’m looking forward to playing my part, it’s not something that anyone can do on their own.

“I have a role to play, we all have a role to play and that’s what’s exciting about politics at the moment. Wales is on the move Wales is on the march. I’m going to be part of that.”

Later, on social media, Adam Price said: ” I extend my congratulations to Mark Drakeford on securing a mandate to lead the next government. Although disappointed not to be returning more Members to the Senedd, I am proud that we ran a positive campaign based on a transformational programme.

“Our Senedd group will bring renewed energy and fresh ideas and I look forward to working with all my colleagues as we continue to build the case for independence. We will be a constructive but forensic opposition as we enter a crucial period of pandemic recovery.

“However, the sixth Senedd will be poorer without one of Wales’s most remarkable politicians. No one has given more to the party or to her community than Leanne Wood – an inspiring role model for so many.

“Leanne’s commitment to the Rhondda is unparalleled and I know she will continue to make an important contribution to the future of our nation and the pursuit of social justice which always has and always will drive her politics.

“Westminster’s attack on devolution is only just beginning and Wales needs a plan – that plan must focus on taking our own future into our own hands so we can build a nation that is fair and free.

TORYS CLAIM BEST RESULT EVER

The Welsh Conservatives say that they have secured the party’s best ever result in a Senedd election, winning 16 seats in the Welsh Parliament.

In a statement to the press the party said: “Today’s final election results have seen the Welsh Conservatives secure two regional list seats in both South Wales Central and South Wales East.

“Welsh Conservatives polled 289,802 votes (share up 5.0) across 40 constituencies – 26.1% of the vote – winning eight seats including gains in both the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire.

“On the five regional lists, Welsh Conservatives secured 278,560 votes (share up 6.3), winning eight seats. The result will see the Senedd return its first ever female from a BAME background, with Welsh Conservatives’ Natasha Asghar making history with election in South Wales East.

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies with Joel Williams on election day (Pic RT Davies/Twitter)

Commenting, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to our outstanding set of Welsh Conservative candidates, activists and staff who’ve worked incredibly hard throughout this campaign and secured the party’s best ever Senedd result.

“The team has gone above and beyond and deserve great credit for the positive campaign we’ve run right across Wales, and I am thrilled to see Natasha Asghar make history in South Wales East by becoming the first female from a BAME background to be elected to the Senedd.

Newly elected Conservative member of Senedd, Sam Kurtz, talking to BBC reporter Aled Scourfield (Pic J Coles/Herald)

“As a party we are also delighted to have secured constituency seats in the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire, and increased seats on the regional lists, resulting in our highest ever representation in the Senedd with 16 members.

“It’s been an unconventional campaign and it’s clear incumbency and continuity has played a significant part. To that end, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour on a successful campaign.

“The election has been fought in good spirit by political parties in Wales and I would like to pay a final word of thanks to the many officials across the country who’ve allowed this election to take place in a safe and effective manner.”

IMPACT OF PANDEMIC

Ian Price, director of CBI Wales, congratulated Labour. He said: “This is a critical time for the Welsh economy and the new parliament must have a laser-like focus on rebuilding from the devastating impact of the pandemic,” he said.
“That means all parties pulling together and working with business to protect jobs, rebuild livelihoods and create a fair and sustainable recovery that addresses the longstanding structural challenges our economy faces.”

Royal Town Planning Institute, largest professional body for town planners in the UK and Europe, commented on the election result saying: “The Welsh Labour Manifesto meets many of the issues raised by the RTPI, including tackling climate action, investing in public transport and active travel, and the delivery of quality affordable homes, including a focus on strengthening Welsh language communities.

“The manifesto commits to strengthening the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services. We have highlighted the need to invest in planning services to enable the delivery of Welsh Labour’s priorities.”

LABOUR “RESILIENT”

Speaking to the BBC, political commentator Prof Roger Awan-Scully said: “I think it’s been an astonishingly resilient performance by the Welsh Labour Party, amidst disasters for Labour elsewhere in the UK.

“The Conservatives are also performing strongly, but not quite bringing it home in terms of the number of constituency victories that they might have expected.

“For Plaid Cymru I think this has to be said to be a deeply disappointing election.”

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