Friday, 1 July 2016

Brexit - 23rd June 2016 -a night to remember

As we don't have a whip or binding collective decisions People First did not have a "position" on Brexit. Myself, I personally always favoured getting out, basically because of the lack of democracy, poor enforcement of their much praised environmental directives locally and the disasters financially in many mameber states, especially Greece. We therefore were involved in the referendum as individuals although of those of my members who expressed a preference did overall show a preference for Leave. some also supported Remain. Its probably the demographic, In our membership we are lacking in young, well educated, wealthy metropolitan types.
At the Carmarthenshire EU Referendum Count in the Selwyn Samuel Centre in Llanelli the most surprising thing to me was perhaps the people at the count clearly surprised at the local result. Personally, having canvassed on people's views on the referendum during the Welsh Assembly Election, I had been impressed by the support for Brexit in my own town of Llanelli. I was also aware that national opinion polls suggested that  Wales might well vote for Brexit. Over the 3 months few people seemed to change their minds so the die was cast a long time before the count.

Counting the votes is in a large hall  with dozens of tables where votes are first checked and counted to check they are  correct with the number of votes cast, correctly marked , and then they are counted for each side.It is difficult to get an accurate picture at the start but as the evening progressed the result became clear. I am always impressed as to how voting trends are so often widespread, with similarity over large areas. No-one is allowed to touch votes or interfere with the process of counting but counting agents are appointed for each side or party to check the process. I was the lead polling agent for Vote Leave Cymru so also collecting data to send back to our HQ.

UKIP, always with a flair for drama, muddied the water at the start of the count by Nigel  Farage's apparent concession of a narrow defeat, My earliest assessment in Carmarthenshire was that the postal votes were approximately 50/50 but leave was around 10 % or so ahead on the first few ballot boxes. I'd seen. It was therefore looking like a reasonable win locally.

What I've learnt from the Scottish Referendum  is that once someone has made a decision on the questestion, they are unlikely to change their minds. Undecideds may go to either side but many may just not vote. In the last stages of the referendum the tactics should be to influence the undecideds and find the voters and areas supporting your side to get out the vote so your supporters actually get to the polls. You can never tell exactly but the promised last minute undecideds reverting to the status quo hadn't seemed to happen.

In Llanelli my impression was that the two  Llanelli major parties, Plaid and Labour, did not seem to have a fully realistic idea as to the way the locals were likely to vote. Perhaps they had not asked about people's views at the time of the Assembly Election and/or simply assumed all their traditional supporters would follow their party policies on the referendum. In the last days of the campaign Labour were out making an effort although probably too late. For Plaid the whole referendum campaign was quite low key. At 5.00 am on Thursday it was a novel experience to be out early in my ward with "Bore Da" leaflets reminding people to vote without any sign of Plaid cymru who usually do the same thing for their supporters.

In reality many people are deeply concerned about the deteriorating standard of living here, most clearly seen with problems in the health service and reduction in social services, benefits and deteriorating local infrastructure. Many Out supporters were fed up with being told that we "beneft" from the huge EU administered funds here in Carmarthenshire where we do  have several new buildings built with EU funds as well as the famous EU sponsored walls on roundabouts which no-one appreciates. The truth is they not obviously producing local jobs, better roads or new business start ups. Immigration was not a big issue except that people felt that wages were kept low by some eastern Europeans who naturally are attracted here to earn many times what they could back home and single people often send much of it back to their families.There is little animosity to EU citizens who have settled here with their families.

I admit that our health service is bad here , but because of chronic under-funding and terrible management both locally and from the Assembly. The lack of social housing is in part due to Local Authority financial problems and lack of both foresight and oversight, I was quite impressed at the number of farmers who had voted Out who I had presumed would have been influenced more by farming subsidies - something I did not appreciate until talking to them after the result although one of the local farmers in my ward did put up a lot of Leave posters.The restrictive and unfocused nature of the EU funding here and despair at the general outlook was a major factor. The leave vote was a significant wake up call to the political establishment.

The remain camp was complacent, at least  until close to the voting day and generally more happy about the status quo. My mother voted remain as she likes David Cameron and thought he had done his best to get EU concessions.Two of my children also voted remain, one to support LGTBI rights in the EU and one is a student who could see better educational opportunities as part of the EU. All are still talking to me although my mother still holds me personally responsible for both David Cameron's resignation and the current drop in the pound.

My moment of the night?

The tweet from Councillor John Jenkins at 02.18 confirming that Leave was now odds on with all bookies.

                                        Llanelli [viewed from the North Dock] - desperate for change.

 Siân Caiach,

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Referendum hots up -Pensions, Bus Passes and Remain's last throw of the dice.

After weeks of quite genteel bickering on details, the last days of the campaign are different. The Remain side have suddenly realised that this may not be a walk over for them, and have sent for Gordon Brown to tell Labour Voters to vote Remain. Legend has it that  it was Gordon who won the Scottish referendum for Stronger Together by his intervention, promising home rule if you voted NO. Almost total independence with less risk, control over everything bar foriegn policy and defense, otherwise known as Devo Max. Scotland voted No but didn't get home rule as promised by Gordo.

If this continues to follow the Scottish Referendum model, the next move is a "Vow" by the leaders of the 3 main Westminster Parties. Due to the sharp decline in the number of Liberal Democrats we may expect a trio consisting of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbin and Nicola Sturgeon promising that the EU will be reformed, immigration halted and  the economy magically turned round by a Remain vote.

Just like in the Scotland Referendum Case, the 3 leaders won't actually get together physically, too embarrassing, but will instead be photo shopped suitably for the front of the tabloids after their staff have cobbled together a vague, upbeat statement to save the day. We will be promised some European Union future so British that we will hardly realise we are part of the EU.,Promises of major EU reform and a nod to reducing immigration, followed by a guarantee of a massive turn around of the UK economy and jobs for all. Maybe Nicola will duck out of the fantasy offer and someone will dig up Tim Farron to make up the trio. A welsh edition would have Carwyn, Leanne, and ?someone else from any other Welsh party supporting Remain, or just anyone Welsh and famous.

I doubt a  "Vow" will make much difference. Most people have made up their minds and many have voted by post already. It has to be a real stunner to win it now, and if Remain do win it may well be thanks to the votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, a bizarre irony.

However, as someone who was in Scotland during the referendum campaign I feel it was the  pensions argument which made the biggest difference there. If Scotland left the UK they were told, Scots  might have to leave the UK pension system and there were warnings that the state pensions may not be paid at all after a Yes vote. Of course it probably was an empty threat, but if the state pension is a large part of your income you can't take that chance. However, .Project Fear has a lot less traction now in the UK than in Scotland 2014, as trust in politicians declines, the economic outlook is poor and the threats get so ridiculous that its hard to credit that those who "advise" us actually believe what they are saying  .

Now what could a Welsh "Vow"contain for  Wales?. Will they promise decent roads, new rail links, plans to save our Steel Industry, and jobs for our young people? Probably not.

 David Cameron, may rely on his recent threat of a possible Brexit induced economic dip which will apparently force him to cut the state retirement pension and abolish free bus passes for the elderly. However, as our bus passes are devolved to Welsh Government, and are one of the most popular policies of our devolved parliament, will Carwyn Jones back him up?

In Politics trust is hard won but easily lost. We have an interesting week ahead.

Sian Caiach,

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Pollution - can be ignored thanks to the EU directives

Although the European Union has excellent environmental directives the regulation of them is poor in the UK. At our last full council meeting in Carmarthenshire we discussed the growing air pollution problem from traffic fumes. The EU regulations have been changed, allowing less pollution on our roads and large areas of our towns now qualify to be designated  Air Quality Management Areas.

The Welsh Government are supposed to monitor and protect our environment according to EU law. Llanelli's experience is that generally they don't. Welsh water can't afford to improve the sewage system to EU quality standards and the Welsh Government does not care. Natural Resources Wales gives consents to the discharges to prevent sewage back flow flooding into homes and gardens. Sometimes even that doesn't work. Here in Llanelli sh*t really does happen, and far too often.

It is the UK government who is liable for prosecutions, not Welsh Government, Complaints are difficult to make and hard to progress without specialist legal help.In any case they may take many years for investigation and prosecutions to be completed. So if it is inconvenient or too expensive. to obey EU environmental regulations the Welsh government  and other bodies can put 2 fingers up to to the EU  and ignore the rules.The sewage pollution here was reported to the EU commission firstly by my local resident's group in Stradey where sewage flooding was a problem and they were joined later by cockle pickers when the shellfish suffered mass near extinction events annually and their livelihoods were destroyed with them. 10 years of protest so far and still no resolution.

AQMA Sandy Road, Llanelli
The EU makes the environmental laws. The problem is when your nation state,  the UK, according to the EU, breaks the rules as clearly they do in the cases of air pollution and sewage treatment in Carmarthenshire. The EU commission is reluctant to prosecute and then to give out any real punishment. In theory it can impose fines but in fact these are extracted from the money normally returned as grants. To complicate matters environment is devolved to the Welsh Government.

 What is the current position in these 2 local issues?

Sewage is still being vented into the Loughor estuary from both the Llanelli and Gowerton areas. The problem is that  Welsh water can't afford to do a decent job and correct the whole problem. However, despite the finding of infringement [guilty to you and me] it is in a long negotiation as to how much time it has to gradually improve matters while hundreds of new houses are built which will possibly negate all the "rainscape" projects taking ground water out of the sewers. A final penalty or another period of grace to make things a bit better will be the likely outcome of the next hearing later this year. The complaint has made Welsh Water make improvements but the building of many new houses has probably produced little difference in the overall picture other than slightly less runny sewage which still gets dumped untreated after the frequent system overloads.

As to air pollution, the local County Council sets up the appropriate monitoring and committees but in the most severe and longstanding case of Llandeilo has done very little else. When Welsh Government declined to fund a bypass the County Council gave up and in fact built a school across the favored route of their by pass  proposals.  The County Councilllor for Llandeilo, Edward Thomas, tries to bring up the issue but only to be told that its Welsh government's fault as they won't build a by pass and nothing can be done. People die from serious air pollution which statistically increases ill health and death rates.But as no individual case can be absolutely proved as suffering due to the roads' production of chemicals and particles from traffic, the council, Welsh government and even the EU commission are off the hook. We know the pollution is there but there is no motivation for the powers that be to do anything about it.

Delegating the making of Environmental Laws to the EU then devolving the enforcement to the impoverished and somewhat shambolic Welsh Government has led to inertia and we are stuck with the toxic mess in our air and water. The more remote and inaccessible a government is to its citizens, the more difficult it is to enforce its rules where local and regional government don't want to bother.

I've been a Welsh Nationalist for most of my adult life and I'm no great fan of the UK government but I have to admit that I now have more confidence in a government in London to run environmental policy and enforcement than the EU commission in Brussels. I have to laugh when the environmental protection is given as a reason to vote "Remain". The EU environmental directives are clearly merely optional here. For this and many other reason's I'm voting to leave the EU.

Sian Caiach

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Carmarthenshire Senior Councillors - Are they worth it?

How much are our Carmarthenshire Senior Councillors worth? Well, according to them, a lot. They are, the Executive Board say, at the same level of responsibility as MP's and AM's and imply they should be paid accordingly, presumably in the region of 50-60k . So they rejected the recommendation on pay from Welsh Government, a document limiting the number of the highest paid Councillors and their salaries which suggested a modest pay cut..
The Councils's Executive is claiming that the Independent Remuneration Panel Wales was not Independent at all as they had received a letter from a WAG minister in 2015 and should therefore be ignored..

Spot the talent!

Looking at this letter, actually in an addendum attached to the report, it seems rather vague and simply reminds the panel of the general financial situation .Correspondence with the IRPW I've had since we Councillors were assured they were clearly a dodgy outfit, not surprisingly confirms that IRPW believes itself to be independent., Also that letters from ministers are routine, not an exceptional event as we were told in full council. Carmarthenshire Councillors supported the executive and voted to keep their current pay levels.If the IRPW advice was taken, a number of the executive board Councillors would be reduced to 23,000. The County Council have decided to resist this change and the status quo remains. Salaries before tax, NI and pension deductions are listed at the end of this article.

Other expenses are also usually larger for the better paid who tend to travel more, may need a personal car and driver, and attend events at Council Expense

What are the qualifications for the top jobs such as, Exec board, planning committee etc?. The civic appointments are in the gift of the Parties who take turn to nominate a trusted and loyal member as deputy chair who then becomes chair the following year. There is never a proper election for the posts. The other appointments are mysterious and usually seem to require little more than a great affection for the status quo and a willingness to grovel to the political

Over the years I've seen plenty of people from all parties here trapped in the web lured by pathetic privileges, titles and, of course, extra money, usually actually encouraged and appointed by their own parties. They present themselves as naive with good intentions at first, but soon learn the talents of spin and end up sounding like they are reading off a script issued by someone else, and one suspects they may have indeed given up the troublesome habit of speaking for themselves. Once you get used to extra money its hard to give it up and you may do questionable things just to keep in the club.
Other Councillors are rated as harmless,backbench,cannon fodder and generally ignored and the few troublemakers like me just generally harassed,dismissed as lunatics and eccentrics and occasionally bear the brunt of some unpleasant disincentives in the hope that we will go away eventually and leave the poor council to function without any serious criticism.

The CEO I'm told, apparently arranges the political coalition deals and may even suggest to groups who their leaders should be. This may be true or just another well learnt recitation to absolve Senior Councillors from blame for their more dubious actions. Its said that the corruptible may be attracted to power,my theory is that they are actively recruited here by those who can pick the most greedy and suggestible out of the pack and exploit them to the hilt. When Labour changed their leader to someone with a few principles they were out of power in no time and Plaid put in.
Are they worth it? Should they fret that they are not getting enough? Most of them are getting another income as well, either from other employment or retirement pensions, reflecting their tendency to be middle aged or elderly. Large salaries aresupposed to attract young people as councillors but at least here few younger councillors get any promotion at all to the big bucks.

We are now instructed to produce annual reports, given a template which can be filled in for us listing our committees, outside appointments and attendance in council. Are these the important things when the Council is run by a small clique, scrutiny committees do very little real scrutiny and most ordinary Councillors make very little contribution to policy or action other than supporting political group policy.? I wonder if a list of major council policy decisions in our reports together with which way we voted would give a better insight. On the other hand how many people will actually check their Councillor's annual report online?

Current salaries, for the record, are therefore just as last year's:-

Leader 48,000
Deputy leaders [2] 31,250
Other executive Councillors [7] 29,000
Chairs of committees [7] 22,000
Leader of the opposition [1] 22,000
Civic Chair of Council [1] 21,500
Deputy Civic Chair [1] 16,000
Ordinary Councillors [54 ]13,300

The pay recommendations would have led to some executive board members dropping a few thousand pounds from their salaries, Fat chance!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

How we did on the Mid and West list

Having now dug up the figures I can report that we took 1,496 votes on the list, mainly in Llanelli and the rest of Carmarthenshire which is unsurprising as we couldn't afford leaflets for the whole area but did cover most of Carmarthenshire. Our total vote in the whole mid and west area - Dyfed, Powys and South Gwynedd came to 0.7 % , as we'd never stood before, a technical 0.7% gain.
As our next project is to get County Councillors elected next year I hope all these new voters will remember us fondly. Here is the List Team:-

 As we couldn't all be in one place at the same time due to work, illness  and family commitments we did these publicity photo's separately. Above, is myself with Wayne Erasmus and Cllr Marie Binney at Park Howard, below with our other list candidates Stephen Bowen and Clem Thomas in Dafen,Llanelli.

Many thanks not only to all our supporters and those who voted for us but also to the many people who received us graciously on the doorstep and in hustings. Apart from the mysterious disappearance of field posters there were no nasty incidents and well done to all the parties for their good natured and mature campaigns.

  Siân Caiach, 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Elections-minority opinion

Elections are always interesting and sometimes surprising to me but them I've been interested in politics since my teens. The truth is that a great number of people don't vote and aren't that interested.They don't see elections as relevant to their lives. In many cases they are probably right.

In Llanelli the"final" results were:

Labour             10,416
Plaid                   9,883
UKIP                  4,233
Conservative      1.886
People First        1,112
Greens                  427
Lib Dems              355

We had 3 recounts, all of which had different results but all favoured Labour. In the third recount 100 votes not belonging to UKIP were found in the UKIP bundles, 50 for Plaid and 50 for Labour, I believe. The returning officer argued that as Plaid were still behind we should stop now and Plaid agreed.I was left thinking of exactly how accurate are the results are everywhere else? After all if they are not close, they are never checked.

As we had only 4% of the total votes cast, we lost our deposit along with the LibDems and the Greens. I don't yet have the regional list results as my duties on the school run meant I couldn't wait until 9.30 am for those results. I'll post them later.

 However, if the number of postal leaflet drops are anything to go by Labour, Plaid and the Conservatives spent at least 20 times what we did in Llanelli, just on leaflets, and we certainly spent nothing on busing in support and celebrity visits. Plaid Cymru must have spent a bit on their Spring Conference in Llanelli as well, which of course is not strictly an election expense. Many thanks to all who contributed to our campaign with time, money and good wishes.

However, for us the publicity has provided new helpers,new members and more local people's problems we can try to address. We have barely time to take breath before our next election - a Comuunity Council  By election in Hendy Carmarthenshire on May 19th,  prompted by a resignation of a current member in the face of the Llanedi Council's financial difficulties. Our candidate there is local resident and campaigner Wayne Erasmus.

 Siân Caiach