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Politics

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Abolishing the outdated and unaccountable House of Lords offers a chance to rebalance politics away from Westminster – and create a representative Senate of the Nations and Regions.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

MS summoned to Court over tweet

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PLAID CYMRU’s Mid & West Wales Regional Senedd Member Helen Mary Jones has been summoned to appear at Swansea Crown Court.

HHJ Paul Thomas QC ordered Ms Jones to court after she retweeted a third-party’s post which expressed the hope a defendant in an ongoing murder trial would be convicted.

The tweet referred to the trial of 70-year-old Anthony Williams, who killed his wife shortly after the start of the first lockdown in March last year.

Mr Williams had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.

However, while the trial was ongoing, a domestic violence campaigner tweeted:: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete b******t! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse.
“I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth.”
On Saturday, before the jury returned its verdict, Ms Jones shared the tweet.

There was no history of domestic abuse and no suggestion of it was raised during Mr Jones’ trial.

When the Jury returned to Court on Monday, HHJ Paul Thomas said: “It’s come to my attention that, over the weekend, there have been some highly inappropriate comments made on social media about this case.
“I should make it abundantly clear that those comments have not come from anybody connected with the case and, having been shown the contents of one such piece of social media, they clearly don’t have any idea about the evidence in this case or the issues in this case.”
None of the jurors saw the offending post and continued their deliberations.

On Monday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Williams of murder.

By retweeting the remarks made by a third party, the risk existed that the jury could have been influenced and their decision-making compromised.

On Thursday, Helen Mary Jones will have the chance to explain her actions to Judge Thomas in person.

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News

UKIP politicians vow to overturn new smacking ban in Wales

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UKIP Wales has announced that it is committed to repealing the Welsh Government’s controversial ‘Smacking Ban’ ahead of the Senedd Elections, and that this will become part of its manifesto in Wales.

The ban on reasonable chastisement was introduced in January 2020 by Labour’s Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan. The legislation removes the defence of “reasonable punishment” in cases of common assault.

UKIP Leader and Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales, Neil Hamilton, said: “Parents know what is best for their children, not politicians. Members of the Senedd need to get a foot in the real world, outside the Cardiff Bay Bubble and listen to the public.

“[The ban] received huge criticism when it was railroaded through the Senedd against public opinion. When consulted, up to 75% of parents in Wales opposed the restrictions that prohibited them from reasonably disciplining their children.

“The policy is practically impossible to enforce and is estimated to cost the taxpayer £8 million. It is another example of the Cardiff Bay politicians overextending themselves and forcing their own virtue-signalling morality on to the people of Wales.

“Senedd politicians from all parties have forgotten they are not the boss – the public are. As Members of the Senedd, their job is to represent their constituents not police how parents bring up their children.

“The Government must do everything possible to protect children from physical and psychological abuse. But this legislation has done, and will continue to do, nothing to stop cases of serious abuse. Instead, it penalises parents who take reasonable steps to discipline their children.

“In this year’s Senedd Elections, UKIP is standing up for parents to raise their children free from interference from an overarching, self-righteous political class in Cardiff.”

Pembrokeshire-based UKIP councillor Paul Dowson said: “In my opinion this is plain and simple common sense. It has cost the taxpayer 8 million pounds for a bill which is simply unenforceable.

“This over-woke labour Welsh government made up of out of touch ministers have no right to tell the public how to discipline their children.

“The latest generation have recently gone through the education system where there are no serious consequences for bad behaviour, the parents have been restricted regarding punishing bad behaviour, and the curriculum promotes 99 different genders along with a whole host of other WOKE topics above common sense and basic respect.
“Our future begins with our children and we need to be allowed to discipline our kids in a way which we see fit even if it does include a smack on the ass when required.

“The sooner we regain control of society the better.

“No better place to start than with bringing our children up properly instead of following the Drakeford formula. His own son is a prime example of poor parenting.”

Cllrs Dowson’s view is at odds with the NSPCC. The children’s protection charity said in a press release: “This is a remarkable achievement which closes an outdated loophole and finally gives children in Wales the same legal protection from assault as adults.”

Conservative AM Ms Finch-Saunders said: “With this bill the state is now stepping into the private lives of families”.

She added: “Through the involvement of the police and social services… this smacking ban this will potentially have far reaching consequences for us all.”

Julie Morgan, Deputy Social Services Minister, said it was a “historic day” after members passed the law with 36 votes for, 14 against.

Ms Morgan had campaigned for years for a ban and had broken the Labour whip over the issue when the Welsh Government did not support it, in 2015.

She said at a press conference after the vote: “This is not about the government telling parents how to raise their children or about criminalising loving parents,”

She added the government had listened to the “vocal minority” who opposed the move, but that removing the defence of reasonable punishment “is the right thing to do”.

“The children of Wales now have the same protection as adults in Wales have.”

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Comment

Comment: Badger and The Great Escape

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HELLO, readers!

Has it ever occurred to you that there’s just no pleasing some people?

Since the first asylum seekers arrived in the semi-mothballed Penally Training Camp’s palatial splendour, several groups have complained about their presence.

Now they’re being moved on elsewhere, some people are still moaning. Not that they’re moving, but that they’re even in the country.

The groups concerned can be divided broadly into three.

Firstly, those who live near the Camp. They were hit by the lack of notice and consultation. They were, understandably, alarmed by the turn of events thanks to misinformation, disinformation, and a lack of information. After all, readers, if their local MP – a Cabinet Minister – didn’t know what was going on, how could they?

Secondly, some understood the Camp was unsuited to accommodating asylum seekers due to its location and condition. They might have had better impulses but preaching to the choir loses the congregation.

Finally, there were volatile and violent arm-lifting bigots. They exploited the asylum seekers’ presence to push their own hateful agendas of division, racism, and Tommy Robinson-lite PayPal patriotism.

The whole affair revealed an essential truth about Pembrokeshire and some of its inhabitants.

As part of a new tourism campaign for Pembrokeshire, Badger proposes the following snappy slogan:’Pembrokeshire: a warm welcome if you’re white. Badger’s suggestion has a particular benefit for a tourism campaign: it’s true.

Forget the sweeping views of the coast; the images of the Preselis; families enjoying themselves on our beaches. Leave out the pitch for coffees overlooking rural landscapes, tents pitched on cliffs, and people enjoying fish and chips in the sunshine.

Cast them aside.

Instead, picture a gang of thugs chanting hate and congregated outside Penally Camp. It more accurately captures the sort of warm welcome that awaits those who don’t meet the desired racial profile of Pembrokeshire’s guests.

The only thing that’ll have to be photoshopped into the image is a flaming cross and a lynched corpse hanging from a tree.

People will come from as far afield as Milton Keynes, Swansea, and Manchester to holiday in Pale Pembrokeshire to practise a form of ‘Apartheid through Leisure’.

And if that sounds a bleak and harsh assessment: good!

It’s meant to be.

The whole series of events at Penally has revealed the worst of Pembrokeshire. Insular, bigoted, racist, cowardly, nasty, bitter, mean-spirited individuals seized by a sense of entitlement and innate superiority have come to The Herald’s social media pages and vented their spleen or spewed their bile. Quite frankly, with a million visits a month, it’s been the devil’s own job to police the filth and remove comments and ban users for persistent trolling and offensiveness.

Free speech is free under the law. Free speech is not a licence to incite hatred or encourage violence, whether directly or indirectly. The idea – the very notion – that Neil Hamilton made a point of coming to Penally to lie through a loudhailer is as loathsome as his presence in the Welsh Parliament. He’s got about as much to contribute to Pembrokeshire as he does to Wales. Sod all.

It is proof that when it comes to UKIP and the rest of the fringe right, getting to the top demonstrates that shit floats and it isn’t only the cream that rises.

The presence of far-right anti-migrant activists and their capacity to pander to certain personality types demonstrates equally that some will say anything, do anything, and agree with anything to get attention.

It’s like listening to a lousy tenor warming up: ‘ME-ME-ME-ME-ME’.

Jesus wept, readers.

And if he’d read the hatred hurled over our Facebook comments, he’d have cried a river.

So-called Christians – they aren’t, of course – claiming some sort of moral authority for their bigotry.

People demanding that our brave ex-servicemen on the streets should be housed first. Yeah. Stick the same ex-servicemen in a hostel near them and see what happens to their ‘compassion’.

Plans for such a hostel in Carmarthen were withdrawn by an armed forces charity after it got planning permission because locals were so opposed and unwelcome. Pembrokeshire wouldn’t be any different. If a proposal came forward to put such a hostel on a leafy street in any town in Pembrokeshire, there’d be an outcry. Locals would fulminate against it. The usual online trolls – hello Fishguard and Pembroke – would go dull.

‘House our own homeless first!’ Well, that’s a laugh. They moved homeless people into Johnston and Fishguard during the first lockdown. The result was non-stop whingeing and the demonization of every person who found themselves stuck in intolerance central.

Along the way, it’s struck Badger that there is no law so clear that people can misunderstand it and – in most cases – deliberately misrepresent it.

The law on asylum is unambiguous. Asylum seekers apply for refugee status. Those whose claims are approved get refugee status. Only at that point are they given limited permission to stay in the UK. Of those who do not get refugee status, some might be ‘economic migrants’. That’s, however, a determination for the end of the process, not the beginning. And only the decision-maker in the process can make that judgement: not ‘I’m not racist, but Bob (or Beryl) on social media.”

Besides, there is no legal requirement for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first ‘safe’ country they land in. That is simply a lie. A lie. A lie. A lie. The UK’s own case law says it’s a lie.

The hard of thinking, wilfully ignorant, brainwashed, and bigots appear to believe the contrary proposition is true. To them, Badger suggests reading the law or – better – get someone to read it to them. In small and easy to understand words.

These short words would be a start: “People who come to the UK and apply for asylum have rights under UK law. What you want to believe isn’t true. What kippers and other fringe ding-dongs say isn’t true.

“Don’t listen to lies. Some people will lie to get you to lie. They feed off the hate they incite in you when you spread their lies. Others have used the Camp to boost themselves. They are vermin.”In the Second World War, your grandad probably went to Europe to shoot people who thought as they do.”

Badger has written this column for almost eight years now.
From the first edition in 2013 to this week, he has used this space to pick and probe and mock. Never has he felt the urge to say that Pembrokeshire would be better off without some people.

And it’s not the asylum seekers.

They’ve had a great – and lucky – escape.

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