Wednesday, 22 February 2012

People First / Gwerin Gyntaf - a better way to deliver democracy by Arianwen Caiach-Taylor

Nowadays, the political landscape is a dangerous place to be, both as a participant and for the concerned bystander. Relatively prosperous times have bred a climate of stuffy ambivalence, and taking up the cross of government has become just another career with petty power struggles and selfish ambition the watchwords. The responsibility towards the public has become an irritating burden, and the voters and taxpayers are seen as an annoying obstacle to be overcome instead of actual living people with very real problems and concerns.

For some, this situation has become intolerable. Veteran councillors Sian Caiach and Arthur Davies, having become disillusioned by the unsympathetic attitude of many of their fellow councillors, would like to propose an alternative to squabbling parties and unhelpful Independents. Both councillors know that the voters should be the first priority, not party or dogma, not money or power.

Sian and Arthur stand as Independents but have adopted strict principles, written by former independent MP Martin Bell. These principles ensure that representatives pledge to act on behalf of their voters, stay independent of any group or party and decide on each issue on its merits, relying on their common sense, their knowledge of their voters' needs and local consultation on major issues.

Political Parties have grown distant from the people. Instead of the people coming first, big business, outside interests, party loyalty or even the banks are given priority, as we have found to our cost. The old system has bankrupted the nation and we are now forced to pay the price.

People First/Gwerin Gyntaf is a new way of delivering democracy. A template for a new, honest politics, a system for sticking up for local communities and their services and safety. We aim to provide excellent representation for local voters. We have already begun to make an impact locally in seeking out and delivering the public opinion, and as a pressure group in the council. If you would like to support us or if you simply feel your voice is not being heard, please contact us at or Parc Farm, Trimsaran Road, Cwmbach, Carms. SA15 4RD.

People-Power Can Prevail by Lesley Williams

“There’s no point”.

“Once they’ve decided what they want, there’s nothing anyone can do”.

“We can’t change anything”.

How many times do we hear these comments and sentiments like them when the Powers-That-Be come up with some new scheme or proposal which the ordinary man and woman in the street thinks – indeed, knows – is not what the community wants, won’t work or is downright wrong and maybe damaging?

But in actual fact, we CAN be a force for change if enough people join together and are determined enough. That was borne out by the campaign to keep St Catherine Street open when people came together in mass protest against the ludicrous plan to close the street to traffic during trading hours.

A few of us called a public meeting to propose that a referendum be held in order to see whether Carmarthen’s residents wanted the closure or not.  Hundreds of people came to the meeting in St Peter’s Hall because nearly everyone in the town realised that closing the street was the most stupid and unworkable part of the mart redevelopment plan.  A referendum was unanimously called for by the people at the meeting but Carmarthenshire County Council refused to allow it. 

A “No to Closure/Na I Gau” poster and leaflet campaign followed with many of us tramping the streets of Carmarthen in order to ask every resident to display one of these posters in their windows or in their cars.  The support was overwhelming and we had to keep having the posters re-printed – thanks to many local traders who helped fund this. The Carmarthen Journal under editor Robert Lloyd, also ran many articles about the campaign.  Rather different to the tone of the Journal these days!

At this point, one extremely courageous woman, Gabrielle Sheppard, decided to call for a Judicial Review of the refusal to allow a referendum and took the council to court.  If she had lost this case, it would have meant selling her only asset – the roof over her head – in order to pay the council’s legal costs (which we, the council taxpayers, were paying anyway).

But, she won her case.  The Judge in the Court in Cardiff decreed that the case should be looked at again and a decision about whether a referendum could be held should be made by a High Court judge – it was obvious that the council was on sticky ground for refusing.

Another public meeting was called and even more people turned up for this one – standing room only in St Peter’s Hall.  (Has this ever happened before?)  It was at this point that the council capitulated – they could obviously see the writing on the wall and that they were going to lose the case. 

St Catherine Street would remain open.  The people had won.

The moral of this story is that people-power can prevail if we are strong enough and united enough in our determination to change things that we don’t like.  Never say, “there’s no point” – there’s ALWAYS a point!

A Leader or a Figure-head?

What should have been a wonderful day celebrating 15 years of Choose Life in Llanelli with Alan Andrews and his staff was spoilt by the extraordinary remarks made by Councillor Meryl Gravell.

After congratulating Alan and his staff for the years of working tirelessly to help people with their addictions, Mrs Gravell then went on to insult some of the demonstrators who were protesting outside about the proposed closure of the A&E department in Prince Philip Hospital. She quite clearly called them “rabble” but did not specify which demonstrators were the “rabble”.

She followed this by stating “Mark and I have 9000 employees (sic) and if they only worked as hard and as enthusiastically as Alan then we would have no trouble in the Council.”

We were astounded that a council leader could speak in such a disparaging manner, especially after some of our hard-working council employees have been forced to take salary cuts.

In our opinion Mrs Gravell’s scathing, unscripted, remarks about some of the protestors and about council staff were insensitive and unprofessional. Her subsequent response to councillors and to the press that her remarks have been taken out of context is misleading - as the video evidence proves.

Is this why the council is so reluctant to have their meetings filmed? The value of such recording is borne out by the YouTube clip showing the council leader’s true character – and her true remarks. It would appear that without a script and without the guidance of officers, Mrs Gravell is not competent enough to make a simple speech without alienating and enraging the public and council workers.

The council needs a real leader who enables and encourages councillors to work as a team to serve the people of Carmarthenshire; not someone who maintains the status quo of an officer-led council where councillors are merely required to rubber-stamp officers’ recommendations.

The People First Group will continue to campaign for recording council meetings and do not accept Mrs Gravell’s insincere apology. She should resign.