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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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Drakeford says Wales is not immune to Indian coronavirus

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MARK DRAKEFORD,  First Minister for Wales, has warned that Wales will not be immune from the Indian coronavirus variant as it becomes the dominant strain in England and Scotland.

He was speaking at the Welsh Government’s coronavirus briefing as he detailed the results of the latest three-weekly lockdown review and announced that large outdoor events are set to go ahead once again.

He also urged people to come forward to get vaccinated, even if they had missed their appointment, saying it remained the best defence against the virus – even the new variant.

He said: “It is never too late to be vaccinated in Wales – if you are not yet one of the millions of people to have had a vaccine, you can still arrange an appointment. There are details on our website about how to do that.”

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wales remain at less than 10 cases per 100,000 people, which continues to be the lowest rate in the UK. This reflects the hard work of people throughout Wales to keep themselves and their families safe.

Our vaccination programme also continues to make extraordinary progress. More than85% of the adult population has now received their first dose of the vaccination and nearly half have completed the two-dose course.

However, the emergence and the spread of the more transmissible delta variant in parts of the UK – most notably in North West England – is a cause for concern. There are just under 100 cases in Wales, including a cluster in Conwy but we expect these numbers will increase.

We have the headroom to move to alert level one but we will do this in a phased way, focusing on outdoor events and activities in the first step. This phased approach will provide time for more data on the impact of this variant to become available and for more people to be vaccinated.

The changes to coronavirus regulations from the 7 June will therefore include:

  • Up to 30 people can meet outdoors, including in private gardens, outdoor hospitality and public places.
  • Larger outdoor organised gatherings and events, such as concerts, football matches and sporting activities, like organised running groups, will be able to go ahead for up to 4,000 people standing and 10,000 people seated. All organisers planning events and activities must undertake a full risk assessment and put in place measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including social distancing.
  • Up to three households can form an extended household.

We will consider further changes to the regulations on indoor activity later in the three-week cycle, if public health conditions allow. These will include:

  • The rule of six for meeting indoors in private homes and holiday accommodation.
  • Increasing numbers for indoor organised gatherings and restarting indoor events.
     
  • Opening ice skating rinks.

We have reviewed the Public Health (Protection from Eviction) (No.2) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 and decided these will remain in place up for the time being but not exceeding June 30. We are considering further options to strengthen support for tenants. In the meantime, we would urge all tenants struggling to pay their rent to speak to their landlord and contact Citizen’s Advice Cymru or Shelter Cymru for further help and support.

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Politics

Budget cuts: Social Services and education take two-thirds of all councils’ money

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Pembrokeshire County Council: Pandemic has forced through change to digital services

How will local government services change?

THE FUNDING pressures on local government over the last decade have been a catalyst for change in local service delivery. Increasing costs and lower revenue for local authorities means some services have reduced or are being run differently.The pandemic put significant new demands on local government, exacerbating existing pressures. The future of local government services is uncertain. How it responds to the challenges will shape those services for years to come.
The shape of local authority services has changed significantly over the last decade.

Overall local authority spending has decreased by around 7% since 2013-14 (in real terms). In contrast, expenditure on social services has increased by over 10%. Spending in most other service areas has been cut, including in education.


Planning and economic development services have been hit particularly hard, as have libraries, culture, heritage, sport and recreation services.

WHERE THE MONEY GOES

Together, social services and education made up over two-thirds of total expenditure on services by the 22 local authorities in 2019-20.


But while social services have been protected from the most severe spending reductions, this won’t be enough to ensure its sustainability for the future


A 2017 report by Wales Public Services 2025 found that spending through local authorities on social care for the over 65s is not keeping pace with the growth in the population of older people. Spending may need to have increased by at least £129 million (23%) between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to get back to the equivalent spend per head in 2009-10.


The ONS estimates that, between 2021 and 2031, the population of Wales will grow by just over 60,000 (1.9%). Within that population growth, there’s a projected increase in the proportion of older people. The population of over 65s is due to increase by around 119,000 (17.5%).


Wales Fiscal Analysis notes that, while future demand for care can’t simply be linked to growth in older populations, projected growth in older people with complex care needs is highly likely to mean increased pressure on care services.


It details that the number of older adults living with severe dementia is expected to double to 53,700 by 2040.
The Inter-Ministerial Group on paying for social care estimated that in a ‘high-cost’ scenario, between 2019-20 and 2022-23, the net costs of social care could increase by almost £400 million.
Wales Fiscal Analysis projects that by 2025-26, social services could account for 55% of all local government spending pressures, with school pressures accounting for a further 21%.

INCREASED RELIANCE ON COUNCIL TAX?

Where local authorities get the money to spend on services has also started to shift. There’s been a reduction in grant funding to local authorities over the period 2013-14 to 2019-20, some of which has been mitigated by local taxes. Grant funding still makes up most local authority income.


The amount to be collected from council taxpayers (excluding council tax benefit/reduction scheme funding) was up by almost 30% over the same period.


The overall increase reflects annual increases in council tax paid by residents over the period. Average Band D council tax (excluding the police element) increasED in real terms by £186.


However, local authorities have consistently warned that raising council tax is not enough to fill future funding gaps

Following the UK Budget 2021, Wales Fiscal Analysis notes that “the UK government’s medium-term spending plans make for a more austere outlook for the Welsh budget and Welsh public services” and outlines the possibility of a return to austerity for parts of the Welsh budget.


The financial impact of the pandemic on local government is likely to be felt for many years.
Audit Wales notes that, even in local authorities generating a budget surplus in 2018-19, some had significant overspends in demand-led services like social services. It suggests those pressures are likely to intensify because of the pandemic.

TRANSFORMINGPUBLIC SERVICES:

Local government has embarked on a journey to transform how it delivers services.
Local authorities are thinking differently about improving services for users while reducing the cost of running them.


An example of this is one-stop-shops or ‘hubs’. These hubs host multiple council services under one roof, such as libraries, money advice and adult learning services.

One of the most significant aspects of the transformation programme is to make better use of technology and digital tools.


The Digital Strategy for Wales, launched in March 2021, sets out a national vision for digital transformation. The Strategy seeks a cultural shift in how public bodies “deliver and modernise services” designed around user needs.
Over the past year, local authority resources have been diverted from some of this transformational work. Anticipated financial savings are now uncertain.
The WLGA recently suggested there’s doubt about when, and indeed if, some of those savings will now happen.

MIND THE GAP

Corporate Joint Committees (CJCs) are bodies designed to enable greater regional working and collaboration in areas like education and transport.


However, questions remain about how these new bodies will operate.

Responses to a recent consultation on CJCs by the previous Welsh Government show there’s still uncertainty about how they’ll function and their associated costs and benefits.


Despite the recent increase in the local government settlement for next year and the substantial funding support in response to the pandemic, significant challenges remain.

Wales Fiscal Analysis suggests that to meet cost pressures over the next few years, spending on local services needs to increase, on average, by 3.4% a year (in cash terms) between 2020-21 and 2025-26.


The WLGA recently reported that core pressures, the financial gap in money coming in, and what’s needed to pay for services could amount to £822 million by 2023-24.

Leaning on local taxation, such as council tax, to support critical services like social care and education won’t stem the demand for and cost of providing those services.

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Politics

Voter registration opens for Welsh Youth Parliament elections

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YOUNG people across Wales are being encouraged to get involved with their Welsh Youth Parliament by registering to vote in the 2021 Elections in November.

The registration process opened yesterday, Thursday, June 3, on the Welsh Youth Parliament website.

It takes just 5 minutes, and registration will remain open until November 12.

This is an opportunity for Wales’ young people, aged 11 – 18 years old, to use their voice in choosing the Members who will represent them and their area in the next Welsh Youth Parliament.

This will be the second Youth Parliament, made up of 60 young people in Wales to represent different areas and backgrounds.

By meeting regularly, consulting with young people and conducting inquiries, they discuss the issues that matter most to young people to bring their views to the attention of the elected politicians of the Welsh Parliament.

The online election in November will choose 40 Members to represent all regions of Wales, the other 20 Members will be put forward by partner organisations to ensure a diverse representation.

The application process for interested partner organisations is also now open.

Organisations and charities are invited to apply to work with the Youth Parliament and to have a representative among the 60 Members.

Talulah Thomas and Cai Thomas Phillips, former members of the Welsh Youth Parliament, hosted an online panel discussion to mark the opening of voter registration which coincided with the Urdd’s Eisteddfod T.

The panel session focused on the importance of young people’s relationship with democracy.

A month since 16- and 17-year-olds were able to vote in the Senedd 2021 Election for the first time, getting involved with the Welsh Youth Parliament is one way that young people can make sure their voices continue to be heard.

Talulah Thomas, former Member for Clwyd South, says; “Be part of a Youth Parliament which gives us a voice on the issues that matter now and in our future. Register now to be able to vote in the Election, send in your ideas for topics and I also encourage you to consider standing to be a member too. When the opportunity comes. Go for it – be part of something great!”

YOUR FUTURE –  THE ISSUES THAT MATTER

With the opening of voter registration, young people are also asked to put forward their suggestions for topics they would like to be prioritised by the next Youth Parliament. A form is available online for young people to contribute to the conversation and highlight the issues that matter most to them and their communities.

Last time, the Youth Parliament chose to prioritise three topics: Mental Health, Life Skills in the Curriculum, and Littering and Plastic Waste, holding inquiries and publishing reports to present to the Welsh Government.

Cai Thomas Phillips, former Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire says; “Young people’s voices need to be at the heart of important decisions as we emerge from the pandemic; a better way of working, economic recovery after COVID and tackling environmental degradation. I really hope the next Youth Parliament will take their chance to look at these issues and much more. It’s an amazing opportunity for anyone to give new ideas and opinions to the decision makers.”

Llywydd of the Senedd, Elin Jones MS encouraged Wales’ young voices to get involved in their Welsh Youth Parliament; “The first Welsh Youth Parliament showed us how passionate young people are about the issues which matter to them and their communities. Their voices need to be heard now more than ever.

“I encourage young people across Wales to get involved, to register to vote and be part of the conversation about the topics that should be prioritised by the next Youth Parliament. Your voice is powerful, and your views are important to us all.”

More information about registration, topics and how to be part of the Welsh Youth Parliament are available on the website – https://youthparliament.senedd.wales/

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