Marcus is still alive and well!

Despite previously hosting many blogs, Marcus Warner's pearls of wisdom have been absent from the Welsh Blogosphere for some time - I'm sure that he'll be back in full flow before long.

However, those suffering withdrawal symptoms might get some temporary relief from his Guest Post at Liberal Conspiracy. (It's about S4C and devolving BBC Wales).


Secrecy and respect

On Freedom Central Peter Black AM repeats an allegation made by Glyn Davies MP last week that the reason for the lack of consultation with the Assembly Government regarding the future of S4C by UK Government ministers is because the UK ministers don't trust the Welsh Government to keep secrets. Peter and Glyn see this as a criticism of Plaid Cymru of course. Plaid ministers are being disrespectful, indeed childish according to Mr Black. This is not the attitude one would expect from someone who claims to be a liberal and a democrat.

The question I would expect a liberal and a democrat to ask is Why on earth should decisions about Welsh language broadcasting be made in secret?

Without any doubt a lack of respect has been demonstrated in the case of S4C reorganization. By making decisions about the future of the channel in secret without regard for the opinion of Welsh viewers, without consultation with those who will be most affected by the decision Jeremy Hunt has treated S4C's audience with a stunning lack of respect.

If Glyn's allegation that previous discussions at private meetings between the Culture Secretary and Plaid Cymru seemed to have become public within minutes, is true it does not show a lack of respect by Plaid Cymru; on the contrary it shows that Plaid ministers respect the people who they were elected to serve by not keeping them in the dark which seems to be the Westminster practice.


Lib Dem Gerrymandering for a Fair Vote is an Oxymoron

I have always been a bit of an agnostic about PR, I can see its advantages and its disadvantages.

Even under first past the post Plaid Cymru with a very small vote (in UK terms) claims to have had major achievements and to have punched far and above its weight in Westminster. If this is true there is no need for PR. Why should a party that claims that it has punched far above its democratic mandate under FPTP get even more power under PR?

On the other hand I can see the democratic deficit in the fact that the Conservatives in Scotland got 17% of the vote but fewer than 1% of the seats earlier this year! This is an example of a democratic deficit that has disenfranchised the voice of Scottish Tories that PR might equalise!

I understand the arguments for and the arguments against, but for the arguments to be realistic they must be based on a true belief in fairness.

The fact that the AV referendum is to be held on the same day as the Scottish, Welsh and NI General Elections is an exercise in unfairness.

Firstly because a proportion of the population who have more than average experience of alternative voting will have a disproportionate turnout!

Secondly because the Lib Dems froze out the SNP and Plaid Cymru in the Westminster elections, because they had much more coverage than the Nationalist parties did on an UK level. Holding the referendum on the same day is a despicable attempt to ensure that Nick Clegg gets as much, if not much more, coverage on the widest TV networks during the Scottish and Welsh General elections as Alex Salmond and Ieuan Wyn get!

As I said, I am an agnostic about alternative voting systems, but I will be voting NO in the AV referendum, because there is one thing that I do know about fair voting – you don't get a fair vote through Gerrymandering!


Is BBC news racist or just biased against the English?

I am grateful to O'Neil's elsewhere for pointing me in the direction of this letter in the Belfast Telegraph:

BBC 'racism' is clear through sports coverage

On Tuesday, October 12, Northern Ireland played the Faroe Islands in a Euro 2012 qualifying match, with an early kick-off at 4pm.
The match finished 10 minutes prior to the start of the main national news on BBC1 at 6pm, but there was no mention of the match in the 30-minute bulletin.
If the match had involved England, instead of Northern Ireland, would the match have got a mention on the national news?

Then the next day, Northern Ireland won eight medals (three gold, two silver, and three bronze) at the Commonwealth Games, but it did not merit a mention in the main national news which started at 6pm on BBC1.
If it had been England's best-ever day at a Commonwealth Games, would it have got a mention on the national news?

These are just two examples of the institutional racism that exists at the BBC. What is the BBC going to do about it?


I disagree with Mr Hastings. Not mentioning Northern Ireland's, or Wales' or Scotland's achievements on news programmes is hardly racism, no matter how flexibly one wishes to stretch the term. There might be a fair accusation of bias, but the bias isn't against Northern Ireland, or Wales or Scotland, but a bias against England.

The fact is that if I want to know what has happened in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland I can watch the national news on Newsline, Wales Today or Reporting Scotland, the one nation that doesn't have a national news programme is England (it has many regional news programmes but not a single national one), and therein lies the difficulty for BBC News at Six and News at Ten; they have to double up as both the UK "national news" and the English national news and tend to fall between two stools.

Giving details about Northern Ireland's sporting achievements, which will be repeated on Newsline 25 minutes later, crowds out English News; not giving the details of Northern Ireland's achievements upsets people like Mr Hastings.

My main news viewing is S4C's Newyddion. Produced by the BBC it is a mixture of Welsh, UK wide and international news which always gives a Welsh prospective on stories from outside Wales. It is similar in mix to the Scottish Six that was proposed in days gone by as the best way of presenting Scottish News.

Surely the best way forward is for the BBC to translate Newyddion's format into English in Wales, to have a Scottish six and ten, to have similar programmes for Northern Ireland and to allow England to have an English National news programme twice a day!


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

A week is a long time in politics a decade is an age and 13 years is an eff of a long time ago.

An eff of a long time ago the Labour Party proposed a Devolution settlement for Wales which was sold, by the skin of its teeth, to the people of Wales as a means by which to defend Wales from future savage assault on Welsh industry and society such as those that the country had suffered under Thatcherism.

Today, the Labour Party in Wales is moaning about the fact that Tory Cuts to the Sain Tathan Bombing School, the Severn Blockade, the Newport Passport Office, S4C etc , etc are all unjustified assaults on Wales by the new Tory government. I agree, they are assaults on Wales. Wales is going to be hammered harder this time than it was the last time that The Unacceptable Face of Capitalism was in charge at Westminster, but we are going to be hammered because of the week defence that Wales was given by virtue of a wishy washy devolution settlement by Labour. The 1997 Labour promise that devolution was a form of Protection from the Tories has fallen at the first hurdle; the palisade has been breached already!

But where is Plaid Cymru, a party that should be fighting to the breach and pointing out that independence would offer ultra protection from all the whiles of Westminster, a party that should be on the rise as the stoutest defenders of a Wales under attack?

Plaid appears to be in a tavern; in an unimportant vile that the oppressors have passed by, discussing the virtues of Plaid Pickles as opposed to Lib Dem Jams!

Bloody hell, if even the Labour Party, the most anti Welsh Party ever to exist in Wales can see an advantage in upping the nationalist anti, why is Plaid going wrong?

There has never been a better time for Plaid to drop its Socialist rhetoric and promote its USP – Nationalism and Patriotism!

The London papers that talk about recessions and recoveries discuss London, not Wales. Wales has been in recession for the past 100 years, and will continue to be so unless and until Wales has the economic leavers to shape its own destiny. Why oh Why is Plaid too scared to put that message across to the people of Wales?

As for the title Labour will go for the whole hog: Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George! I hear that a Royal Wedding is in the offing as a balm for the public pain of neo Thatcherism! Royal weddings are always good for brining the nation together whilst the shit is raining!


You say a Billion Tomaytoes, I say a Billion Tomahtoes

My understanding of the word billion is that it is the number that is represented as a one followed by nine zeros in American, but the number that is represented as a one followed by twelve naughts in English; a thousand million in the USA, but a million million on this side of the pond.

So when Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne talk about a billion pounds are they:

A) Genuinely talking about a billion pounds sterling?
B) Using the American usage out of ignorance of English usage?
C) Using the American usage in order to exaggerate the reality of the UK's financial problems?
D) Bastardising the English language for some other reason?


The Belly or the Chequebook?

John Jones is unemployed.

He gets Jobseekers allowance through the Llandudno JobCenter. His benefit is clearly noted as one paid in Wales.

When he visits the JobCenter on Monday he sees a job that fits his profile so he applies for it. The interview is on Friday, so in preparation he goes to Asda to buy a new suit, he buys the cheapest one, of course (he is on benefits).

Despite buying the suite in ASDA Llandudno, Wales, and paying VAT on his purchase, that VAT isn't a tax paid in Wales; the tax will be paid in Leeds, where ASDA has its accounting office.

The person who serves him on the clothing counter lives in Wales and works in Wales, but her income tax will also be paid in Leeds, because her pay check will be taxed in head office.

John gets the job, so he comes off the Welsh benefit take, but his job is also taxed in England so he doesn't become part of Wales' contribution to taxation.

Of course it is swings and roundabouts.

John's new job may involve manufacturing a component that is created in Wales and is exported to the rest of the world, something that is measured on a Wales basis and will show up as a plus in Welsh exports.

But remember that cheep suit he bought in Wales in order to go to the interview? That was probably imported through England, so statistics that show that Wales has a good balance of payments between imports and exports might not be as good as it first looks.

The fact is that the UK produces economic statistics for UK reasons. The UK would never, ever produce economic details that promoted nationalism.

Data that proved beyond doubt that Scotland or Wales or, Heaven forbid, even England would be better off outwith the UK will never, ever be available.

Of course the complete lack of proper data is a means to an end. Without the data we can't make a proper decision based on economic policy as to whether nationalism is good for our nation's economy, or a recipe for disaster. That is precisely why the data isn't available!

We can argue these economic points till kingdom come, but why should we?

Shouldn't the campaigns for English, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh self determination come from a fire in the belly rather than from a chequebook?


Affordable Housing - a Welsh Joke!

There were questions to the Housing Minister in the Assembly yesterday.

As usual when questions about housing arise in the Assembly or in other government institution from Community Councils to the European Parliament, the term affordable housing was uttered.

Affordable Housing is a term that makes my skin crawl every time that I hear it. Mainly because affordable housing is always an add- on to every housing development proposed, rather than the core of the planning application.

Jocelyn Davies mentioned that Rural Development Enablers had ensured that a massive 110 affordable homes had been built in Wales as a result of their efforts last year – Wow!

A company wants to build 100 houses in Llanbethma 10% of which will be affordable. WTF?

I accept that some housing development has to be aspirational. When I win the £112 million Euro Lottery Jackpot on Friday, I would like to think that I can build my new mansion in my local community! So I don't want unaffordable housing to be excluded from the planning process; but why should any planning authority support a development where 90% of the proposed houses are designed to be unaffordable to the community in which they are to be built?

If a company sees the potential to build 100 houses in my village shouldn't the vast majority of those homes be affordable homes for those who want or need to live here, rather than be beyond the means of locals and their children?

Making 90% of those houses unaffordable to villagers, but affordable to commuters from Cheshire and Lancashire kills the village as a vibrant community and turns it into nothing more than a boring dormer community!

Local need and local affordability should be the driving force in housing policy!


Ulster ain't British 'cos the Brits don't want it!

Every night, between midnight and 2am the blog A Pint of Unionist Light produces a post called Elsewhere.

I'm not sure whether this post is auto generated or is a lazy cull of loyal posts that have not been well read, because some of the captures are a bit odd; like a post that claims that states are immortal, so a successful referendum for independence should be rebutted, because the state is more important than popular democracy! I kid you not. Or a post that has obviously gone through the machinations of a translation machine, and doesn't make much sense because of the machines limitations.

However PUL gets his Elsewhere's he does point to some interesting posts, such as this one from Dilettante, who asks whether the Conservatives should go back to their old label of Conservative and Unionists Party.

If I remember rightly, the reason why Unionist was dropped by the Conservative party, was because in the post war years up to the beginning of the troubles in the north of Ireland the term unionism changed its meaning. Rather than being a supporter of the Union of the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland, an unionist became a supporter of a trades union; Conservative and (Trades) Unionist didn't make sense!

Of course since the beginning of the troubles in the north of Ireland the term unionist almost regained its original meaning, except that it was tainted, it was related to one of the extremes of northern Irish politics which was alien to most people on the mainland and part of the pain and confusion that the Province's politics caused.

With all respect to the likes of O'Neill, to most people on this side of the Irish Sea, the politics of the troubles was a case of Catholic nutters fighting Protestant nutters, neither side was ike us. The likes of the Rev Dr Paisley and his Unionist supporters were Irish trouble makers and very un-British.

The idea of loyalist terrorists was an oxymoron! How can you show loyalty to the crown and a unity with the rest of the UK through acts of deadly violence? There is a kind of insanity in the very concept, which made Northern Irish Unionism foreign to the majority of the British people, rather than making us feel united with them through the Union.

Northern Irish Sectarian Unionism separates Ulster from the rest of UK politics, as much as Republicanism does! The ideal way to counter that would be for voters in Ulster to have the same choice as the people of Scotland and Wales have in elections: Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Nationalist candidates. Given that choice the nationalists would probably win every seat under first past the post.

The truth of the matter is that the Union gave up on the North of Ireland many years ago, the only true choice for Ulster is union with the rest of Ireland or an independent Republic of Northern Ireland, Britain moved on without you and you are not British any more, accept it!


Benefits Abroad

I was surprised to hear on BBC news 24 that the British Government has launched a hotline in a bid to track down British benefit fraudsters living in Portugal. I couldn't understand what benefits it was possible to claim, honestly or fraudulently, if one moved to Portugal. After Googling I eventually found out from the PA that the biggest problem was people on means-tested benefits going abroad but failing to declare their absence, and individuals working while claiming sickness benefits.

There was a time that benefits could only be claimed by signing on at a benefits office weekly or fortnightly and that benefits moneys could only be obtained by cashing a Giro or a benefit payment book in a named post office; making falsely claiming benefits whilst living abroad rather difficult. As a reward to political backers from the banking community Tony Blair and New Labour decided to make benefits automatically payable into bank accounts, in order to force the 20% of people who didn't have bank accounts in 1997 to open one; so that the poor could be ripped off by punitive bank charges. A very socialist policy!

A silly thought, perhaps, but wouldn't it be better to go back to a system of signing on and getting your cash from a named PO, rather than setting up foreign hotlines for ex-pats to shop their neighbours?

Before I found the PA report I found a DirectGov site that informs claimants about which benefits they can claim abroad. There aren't that many, in fairness. You can continue to get Job Seekers Allowance if you go abroad to look for work for a very short time. If you work for the Government or a British Company abroad you can get things like Statutory Maternity Pay and Statutory Sick Pay – which, I suppose, is fair enough.

The abroad benefit that really tickled me, however, is the Winter Fuel Allowance. This a benefit paid to pensioners to make sure that they are able to heat their homes in winter. The weather in January in the Algarve, the Balearic Islands, Alicante etc is often hotter in January than it is in July and August in parts of Britain – so why on earth are wealthy ex-pat pensioners in these warm climates paid this benefit?