welsh & world politics

Saturday, August 02, 2003

yesterday trinity mirror (the company behind almost all the print media in wales, including the western mail and daily post) announced that it is scrapping the welsh edition of the daily mirror. there will still be english, scottish and northern ireland editions. but not a welsh edition. given that the mirror was the only uk daily newspaper to bother to produce a welsh edition after devolution in 1999, it would perhaps be harsh to criticise trinity mirror too much.

but what does all this say about wales? rhodri morgan has spoken about wales needing to develop a civic culture to enrich national life. surely a strong, independent and dynamic media industry is at the heart of any civic culture. sadly, we don't have anything in wales remotely like a decent media. the decision of london-based executives to cut costs and scrap the only welsh edition of a major national newspaper is a further serious blow. the politicians who are supposed to make the news are equally culpable for the demise of the welsh mirror. frankly, the standard of national debate is laughably poor, the politicians petty and insular.

the welsh mirror printed some odious nonsense in its time, but at least it was there. without the mirror blazing a trail, i can't imagine any newspaper bothering to even think about wales. sometimes i despair that the whole 'devolution project', which at one time seemed so unstoppable, now appears so fragile. would it be any surprise for whitehall to follow the mirror's example and scrap its welsh 'edition'? would anyone really notice? after all, there'd be no one left to report it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

just watched the bbc's 'asylum - you decide' programme. possibly the most depressing bit of tv i've watched in a long time. the case studies were harrowing, including the case of a women trapped in a sealed container whose entire family died in front of her eyes. and yet the great [sic] british public in their infinite wisdom voted overwhelmingly to refuse her asylum application! my faith in humanity has taken a very serious dive. people are clearly heartless, zenophobic and ignorant! i suppose i should have already known that, but it still makes me feel sick to think that people are so horrible. very depressed.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

the death of dr kelly, the alleged 'bbc mole', has left the government reeling. this is a government that has shown time and again that it does not care about human suffering (how many innocent people have been killed in iraq? in afghanistan?). but the death of a respected middle class white male in the picturesque oxfordshire countryside is very different to so many deaths in far away foreign lands. perhaps this terrible personal tragedy will finally bring into focus the behind-the-scenes activities that we have until now only been able to guess at - the roles of the intelligence [sic] community, the mod, downing st and others. let's hope the truth will finally out. mind, i'm not holding my breath.

not posted for a while, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been a lot going on in welsh politics - most of it to do with the farce about where ams sit. what a disaster for devolution! no party or individual in the assembly comes out of this ridiculous row with any credit. many people are saying that, had they only known this would be the outcome, they would have voted against the assembly. i have always been a passionate believer in devolution, and i haven't given up on it yet. but i must admit this isn't the kind of brave new world i was expecting. i'm very disappointed and depressed by the whole thing.

all ams from all parties must now redouble their efforts and really connect with the welsh people. because it is hard to see any future for devolution whilst the current incumbents seem to be more concerned with where they sit than with the massive problems facing ordinary people across wales. the apathy party has won another resounding victory and rarely have politicians seemed so remote from the electorate. i fear for devolution.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

race riots in wrecsam? it seems unbelievable that a town in which 99% of the population is white could descend into racist violence. but then again, we haven't really been told the full story yet. i certainly wouldn't be surprised if the bnp/c18 were involved in some way - the thugs usually turn up whenever there's a fight, stirring up trouble and peddling their lies and filth. unlike people fleeing persecution, they aren't welcome in wales.

Monday, June 23, 2003

peter hain just can't keep out of the news at the moment! now he's in trouble for saying that the rich should pay more tax. well, there's a radical proposal! next he'll be arguing for redistribution of wealth!

if the issue of taxation is now beyond the pale, this is surely more proof (if proof were needed) that political debate is all but dead in this country. if politicians cannot argue about tax, they might as well give up and go home. democracy rip.

Friday, June 13, 2003

confusion reigns supreme today! blair's ill-thought out reshuffle has thrown up so many unanswered questions . . .

has the wales office been scrapped? what is charlie falconer's role (and who elected him, anyway)? how can peter hain speak for wales and also be leader of the house?

because the devolution settlement which gave us the assembly was such a dog's breakfast, there is certainly a continued need for wales to have a voice in the cabinet. when (and surely it must be when, not if) wales secures for itself a proper parliament with full legislative powers, by all means get rid of the secretary of state's role. before that time, blair should treat wales with a bit more respect.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

so phil williams, one of plaid cymru's grandees, has died suddenly. he will be sadly missed.

dr williams was in so many ways the opposite of the archetypal politician - where many use the deception of spin to hide their own intellectual inadequacies, his intellect was never in question. but he was never a great communicator. time and again he would bamboozle the assembly's economic development committee with questions and comments that would surely have been dynamite if only anyone actually understood them. unlike many of his colleagues in the bay, phil williams was never a career politician - this came across in his enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment in the political process. and you can't say that about many politicians!

Friday, May 30, 2003

with nothing really happening in wales this week, attention turns to world politics. blair has been in iraq playing the all action hero, whilst at home a political storm is brewing with news that the government's dossier on iraq's weapons was 'embellished' (to put it politely). so, the war was illegal and the issue of weapons of mass destruction was merely a fig leaf to cover the real motivation for attacking the regime of saddam hussein. what a surprise! of course it's no consolation to me, or the millions who protested against the war, that we were right all along. blair is still in power and as popular as ever, unexploded cluster bombs litter the streets of bombed out iraqi cities and thousands are dead. toppling a regime of the brutality of saddam hussein's cannot be entirely bad, but to have done so under such false pretenses and with such suspect motives is no cause for celebration.

anyone who needs disabusing of the pro-war spin should read jon henley's reports from afghanistan, kosovo and sierra leone on the guardian's website. they demonstrate that, when the fighting stops and the media circus moves on, the problems remain. cash spent on military hardware would be well spent on reconstruction. perhaps there's a need for an international rule that states that, should one country attack another, it must match its spending on the military campaign with its spending on reconstruction. one for the un, i think. not that anyone will take any notice.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

the story of abas amini, the iranian refugee who has sewn up his eyes, mouth and ears in protest at his treatment as an asylum seeker in the uk, is surely the most sobering and distressing story of this or any other week. what kind of uncivilised and barbaric country do we live in? this man waited two years for his asylum application to be granted, only to hear last week that the home office intended to appeal against the decision. this is a man who was tortured and imprisoned for writing anti-government poetry in iran. what more deserving case could there possibly be? and this isn't a one off case. i understand that one woman who fled from slavery in the sudan had her application for asylum turned down on the grounds that slavery isn't a recognised abuse of human rights!

the asylum system in the uk is a complete mockery of justice and panders to the rabid right-wing press who see all refugees as potential criminals. if the uk spent more time and enegy fighting for human rights around the world instead of persecuting those who arrive in this country after fleeing persecution, maybe there wouldn't be so many refugees.

last weekend was fantastic for welsh football with cardiff getting promoted to division 1 via a playoff final at the millennium stadium. the whole city was buzzing in the days leading up to the final and on the day itself. cardiff could really be going places football-wise, and with the national team currently going so well (if you ignore the second team losing to the us on monday) it's really boomtime for football in wales. if only the same could be said of the rugby team!

one item dominated the build up to the game - the football league's decision to play god save the queen (the english/uk anthem) and not mae hen wlad fy nhadau (the welsh anthem) before kick off. this generated an almighty row in the welsh media, with the press raging against the alleged english bias. it was top news story in wales for days in the build up to the big match, with politicians from all sides wading into the growing row. eventually, sense prevailed and no anthem was played. the whole thing summed up the sorry state of welsh politics. the football league clearly had no idea that this decision would cause so much fuss - whether you choose to call it naiviety or just ignorance, it was clearly the wrong decision. and yet was it really such an important story that it dominated the welsh media for a week? i don't think so. and for the politicians to get involved! it's a crazy, crazy world we live in.

Monday, May 19, 2003

so stephen byers, the former secretary of state for trade, has now admitted that trade liberalisation is not helping the poor and is actually increasing poverty. well, there's a surprise! could the tide be turning? i'll answer my own question. no. byers may have seen the error of his ways, but then he doesn't have his hands on the levers of power. no one in government seems to have recognised the blindingly obvious. the labour ministers are stuck in the modern equivalent of the aristocratic embrace - the neoliberal embrace!

Saturday, May 17, 2003

fa cup final day in cardiff and its raining. half the world away more bombs have been devastating the lives of people just like me - this time it's morocco that's suffering. last week it was saudi arabia. the week before iraq. quietly, out of the headlines, the bombs continue to drop in afghanistan. whether these killing machines are being used by the good guys or the bad (if it's ever possible to distinguish between the two - i don't share mr blair's moral certainties) doesn't make a jot of difference to those whose lives have been ruined. can't help feeling pretty depressed by the hopelessness of it all. as we sit and listen to the rhetoric of the 'war on terror' (possibly the most stupid and nonsensical phrase ever to enter the english language), doesn't anyone else see the blindingly obvious - that the 'war' perpetuates the 'terror', and the 'terror' perpetuates the 'war'?

perhaps its time to end the manufacture and export of these killing machines once and for all. an end to the lucrative trade in murder and destruction. oh no, hang on, blair is only against proliferation of some weapons. he's happy to see the uk exporting landmines, helicopter gunships, implements of torture and various other weapons that seem pretty bloody destructive to me but don't come under the terms of possibly the second most nonsensical phrase in the english language - 'weapons of mass destruction'.

ok, i'll finish this rant now and go and lie down.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

there's an article in today's guardian by hwyel williams about plaid. now, i'm never sure what to make of mr williams - for every article i agree with him about, he writes two that i really hate. well, today's fare is entitled 'now what's the point of plaid' (not a good start), but actually his analysis is spot on - plaid lost because they tried to fight the election on the middle ground, rather than being radical and campaigning on the constitution. in doing so, plaid ceased to emphasise their difference to welsh labour, and actually let the whole of wales down by not providing a clear alternative.

perhaps there's a need in wales for a new political party that is prepared to offer a clear left-wing and radical alternative to welsh labour. in the recent scottish elections, the scottish socialist party and the greens gained a number of seats, showing that there is room for newcomers in the brave new world of devolved politics. in europe, too, new parties have made immediate waves. holland and italy have seen new parties with radical agendas quickly became major political parties - not that i'd want to see the likes of fortyn and berlusconi in power in wales, but there's no reason why the left shouldn't be prepared to learn lessons from the right. new parties with new faces and new agendas can make a connection with the electorate that the tried and tested (and failed) parties can only dream about. it might even lead to an increase in the turnout.

Monday, May 12, 2003

so, tony blair won channel 4's poll of 'worst britons'. maggie thatcher only came third. so who really is worse, thatcher or blair?

thatcher was responsible for the destruction of entire communities across the south wales valleys and beyond. her policies brought about unparalleled disparity between rich and poor, was rabidly consumerist and individualistic. the poll tax was her big idea. she counts pinochet as a 'great friend'. perhaps her most lasting legacy was the reform of the labour party from socialism to the 'third way', or whatever the current buzzword is for neoliberalism dressed in a loin-cloth of progessive policies. which brings us neatly to . . .

tony blair, who is responsible for the abolition of student grants and the introduction of tuition fees, the slow death of manufacturing industry in the uk and the millennium dome. he has also sent troops to needless conflicts in afghanistan and iraq and is introducing foundation hospitals and ending the comprehensive system of education (fortunately not the latter two in wales). he counts bush as a 'great friend'.

so there we have it - two politicians who thoroughly deserve their places on any list of worst britons. but who's worse? it's clearly thatcher (well, it had to be, didn't it). can't think of anything redeeming for her (except maybe s4c, and then only grudgingly). blair on the other hand has the minimum wage, devolution and third-world debt reform in his column of successes. having said that, maggie isn't doing any damage at the moment, whereas blair has time on his side.

from welsh/uk politics to the feverish atmosphere of latin american politics. saw a brilliant documentary on the weekend about the venezualan populist president hugo chavez, who was ousted in a coup by the army and right wing oligarchs in april 2002. his supporters managed to stage a counter coup and the democratically elected chavez was returned to power after just 48 hours. no danger of apathy there, then.

the real story of this coup, aside from the obvious us backing for the overthrown of chavez ("in the name of democracy", to paraphrase colin powell - how he kept a straight face i'll never know!) was the role of the media in venezuala. the private media, owned by the large corporations under pressure from chavez's nationalisation programme, broadcast a steady stream of anti-chavez propaganda. in one instance, they selected images of a shootout between chavez supporters and an unknown sniper to make it appear that the chavez supporters were firing on unarmed protestors. it was this incident, a complete fabrication, which was the trigger for the coup. once the new regime was installed, the private media implemented self-imposed censorship, to deny chavez followers the oxygen of publicity. fortunately, the state owned tv channel was restored and the coup failed.

the lesson is crystal clear - a balanced media is essential for a true democracy. this is as important in wales as in venezuala. at least we have rules to prevent such obvious media bias, but subtle bias does creep in and we must remain vigilant to ensure that democracy can flourish. how may people in wales, for example, know that the welsh mirror, western mail, south wales echo and wales on sunday are all owned by the same company? that the bbc produces s4c news and controls the only two all-wales radio stations?

so claire short has resigned from the cabinet today because she's unhappy about the lack of un involvement in post-war iraq. well, there's a surprise! it has been totally obvious for months now that the us/uk coalition would only use the un if it could be persuaded to rubber-stamp their views. as the un (for once) showed some real teeth in opposing the illegal military action, did claire short really expect bush and his neoconservative cronies to allow the un to share the spoils? if she did then she's been harbouring some serious delusions. the bush administration has awarded 'reconstruction' contracts to its corporate friends - funnily enough, the same corporations that are major republican donors.

if short had followed her principles and resigned at the same time as robin cook, the government would have been put under far more pressure by the anti-war lobby. they probably wouldn't have prevented the war breaking out, but maybe we wouldn't be seeing the corporate feeding frenzy over the carcass of iraq that we're seeing now. by resigning now, she's pleased no one and not made a jot of difference to the iraqi populace. a sad end for a politician who had (until recently) much respect across the political spectrum for her dedicated support to international development.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

i'm still in shock after a positive article about wales appeared in the uk press! yesterday's guardian newspaper included a piece about wales being "the most representative country in the world", or something like that, after 30 women and 30 men were elected to the new assembly. well, nice to get some good coverage for once. actually, any coverage is a start. for the most part, wales is completely ignored in the uk press.

but i can't help thinking the guardian missed the most obvious fact - no all-white institution can ever be truly representative in twenty-first century wales. where are the black faces? where are the asian faces? once again, wales is without representation from its ethnic minority communities. this is a scandalous state of affairs. it is a myth, and perhaps one that the guardian journalist swallowed, that wales has no ethnic minorities - we have some of the oldest black communities in the uk. our rugby captain (well, one of them - thanks mr hansen) is black, our most successful athlete is black, some of our best footballers are black. yet none of our politicians are black. maybe it's time for radical action to promote bme candidates. well, it worked for women.

it is an irony that, had eleven people switched their votes from labour to plaid in llanelli, plaid would have taken the seat and labour would have won a regional seat. top of their regional list was cherry short, a black woman and commissioner for racial equality. the real story, then, is that eleven votes could have lead to a truly representative assembly. now that really would have been a story. not that the uk press would have been interested.

Friday, May 09, 2003

so the media are saying that ieuan was 'stabbed in the back' by his own assembly group. after only having 3 leaders in 50 years, this is the second leader to be assassinated by his 'colleagues' in less than 3 years! plaid are developing an unhealthy appetite for coups - only time will tell how bloody this one will be.

on reflection, i think it was right for ieuan to go. he seems to be a decent enough bloke but the plaid campaign this year was lacklustre to say the least. the communication was poor, but the message was worse. where was the radicalism? the socialist vision? the nationalist agenda? i can't help thinking the campaigns of labour, plaid and the lib dems were far too similar. in the circumstances, no wonder most of the electorate didn't bother to vote, and those that did chose the devil they knew.

thoughts turn to the future now for plaid. it would be stupid to put all the blame for defeat on ieuan. the party's programme, communication, finances, direction and leadership should all be up for debate. wales needs a strong plaid. i'm not sure we'll get it. still, all these local difficulties for the party of wales have managed to completely overshadow rhodri's new cabinet.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

well, new cabinet announced. nice to see some gogs in there but i'm not overly inspired by the appointments. a minister for social justice is interesting - not sure i understand what it means but could it signal the radical intent of the new administration? we live in hope!

ieuan wyn jones has resigned, then. it's turning into quite a day for welsh politics. not altogether surprised to see him go, as plaid did really badly in the polls. but who will replace him? helen mary jones and adam price would be my favourites. jill evans mep is a radical (if somewhat unlikely) alternative. plaid are in danger of imploding, which would be terrible for welsh politics because, without a credible opposition to labour, people will be even less inclined to vote in welsh elections. who they chose this time will be crucial to whether they become a mass party or a minority pressure group - i hope the former but fear the latter.