Tuesday 28 April 2015

The Ghost of Election Past

Many years ago, in 1987, I stood for Parliament. My first general election. I was representing Plaid Cymru in Cardiff Central. I had been a member of Plaid for 10 years, was resident and active in the constituency and most importantly, looking back, could afford to pay for one leaflet.

Things were different then. There was no free postal delivery, a much higher bar to win your deposit back, little guidance and/or interference from the central party and, as Plaid were no hopers then in the area, little interest in our campaign.

We didn't quite get all our modest black and white leaflets delivered, with many of the members being elderly and quite frail and myself working long hours as a junior doctor and commuting to the old East Glamorgan Hospital in Church Village to do so.

There was a bitter 3 way battle for the seat between Ian Grist for the Conservatives, John Owen Jones for Labour and Mike German, Liberal. In the end Mr Grist narrowly won with Labour second, Liberals third and me a distance 4th with 550 votes.

It was clear from the start that I was going to come 4th and the main objectives for the campaign would be recruiting a few more members and flying the flag. However, since I was there I decided to try something a bit different: To use the election to launch a new campaign.
Then,as now, all the candidates had a chance to say something after the result was announced. It traditionally starts with thanks to the staff at the count, sometimes the police, the public for their votes and their party for its support. A poor man's Oscar acceptance speech, more or less, but very dramatic if you happen to be the one giving it. The count was in the grand and opulent venue of Cardiff's old City Hall.

I had kept many of the links I had made as a student with friends in the SNP, some of which have survived to this day. I was quite inspired by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the cross party and completely open campaign to revive the devolution question in Scotland. I felt we needed something similar in Wales. The executive of Plaid Cymru at that time, of which I was a member, was resistant to devolution and had the game plan of winning a majority of parliamentary seats in a future general election and declaring independence unilaterally in a blaze of glory. At 29, I knew I wouldn't live that long.

I believed that in every political party of the time there was enough civic nationalism, with the possible exception of the Conservatives, to get a devolution settlement on the move.

So, I did my little speech, pointing out that the Conservative had triumphed on a relatively small proportion of the vote and that this did not fairly reflect the wishes of the Welsh people, and announced that I was inviting the other disappointed candidates to form a campaign for a Welsh Senedd. Looking back I suppose it went rather well. We were all invited to the Labour "Victory" party - subdued atmosphere but good buffet- and the movement was off the ground running. We even attracted a few Tories to join.

Plaid officially boycotted the campaign but many ordinary members did not. Still, I was in big trouble with some of the higher-ups. Eventually I would have the satisfaction of seeing a bunch of enthusiastic new Plaid AMs enter the Assembly in 1999, some of whom had been less than appreciative of my efforts to get widespread support for devolution. I was also very pleased to see Mike German as an AM. In 1987, he had beened tipped to win in Cardiff Central by a local poll and was depressed and deeply disappointed. If he had won, I realise now, he would not have had the same amount\ of time and energy to fight for devolution.

Perhaps the Sian of 1987 would have been gratified to see a vision of how it all turned out, but at the time I had more immediate concerns. During the next year my attempts to get a medical job in Wales were not successful and I was then off to Scotland to find employment and training. When I returned, I would be a fully-fledged consultant.

Most of all, in 1987, I realised that politics is not only a team sport. Most of us want roughly the same things and are divided more by the ideology of how to achieve them than the goal itself.  

Saturday 25 April 2015

Promises, promises, but no firm predictions..

Its manifesto time and the promises are out in force. Our policy under Bell's Principles is to assess every issue on its merits, consult our constituents as much as possible and decide on the best action in their interests.

I'm not going to pretend that I can personally end austerity, heal our failing health service and stop the cuts. Under every proposed deal by the larger parties and even the SNP/Greens/Plaid progressive Alliance there will still be cuts. Many cuts are already in the pipeline and won't be halted, Some things have been undermined so much they are permanently diminished without massive new investment. The SNP suggestion of a half per cent increase in Public Spending will rely on good governance to use it wisely. We're a bit short on that in Wales.

As a single MP I will do what is best for Llanelli. I will not single handedly cancel Trident, impose a universal living wage or decide to invade somewhere. I will support the issues that you want me to support and opposed those you don't want. In an emergency debate or issue I will make a judgement on what I feel is best for my constituents.

I could give you a date for balancing the UK Books, eliminating the defecit and paying off the national debt but it would be just a guess. Just as it is in the manifestos of the big parties. The economy is not really run by any government, but decisions on taxation, infrastructure, immigration, education and legal frameworks etc.can influence it. The decision to bail out the banks has bankrupted us all, but its done and we must live with the huge debt burden it produced as well as the huge personal debt encourged in our population. We can only speculate as to how the world economy will fare in the coming years and the effect of boom and bust in other lands.

Without a stable economy predictions are unreliable. As the future relies not just on the economy of Britain but also on  international issues, commodity prices and even sentiment, the bizzare and secret hand that causes rise and fall of stock markets with no logic.

No party or ideology has the "answer" and the reality is the best candidates are those with an open mind ready to respond positively to the future events. The future is likely to hold more instability than ever before in modern times, both political and economic.We cannot predict with any certainty, for instance, that the big party economic plans, all based on the assumption of a continuing and accelerating economic recovery without any stagnation or setbacks, are realistic targets or not.

Personally, I don't beleive there is a magic formula and I will do my best to help my town and area weather any storm and reap whagtever harvests are on offer.

Sian Caiach     

Saturday 11 April 2015

Should Carmarthenshire go it alone or join with its neighbours?

This coming week Carmarthenshire Council debates whether or not to co-operate with a local government merger or go it alone. However, what the Councillors decide can be overuled  by the Welsh Government anyway
Personally I feel that Carmarthenhsire is a basket case in many areas and would benefit from meeting up with an organisation or 2 not so obsessed with odd developments, destroying its own highways, supporting rugby regions, evangelical bowling alleys and other questionable enterprises. So far, the least popular option in your responses is remaining alone and aloof. You mayagree or disagree but please complete this general  survey which addresses the issue before the 15th. Only one response per IP address!.

Part One
Part Two

Happy box-ticking!

Sian Caiach

How things change?

The Llanelli Young Leaders Debate was a good opportunity for young people who are interested in politics to get their message across. Freya Amsbury [Green], Sion Davies [Labour], Brett John [Plaid Cymru], Llyr Powell [UKIP], Mathew Williams [Conservative] and our own People First rep, Ari Caiach presented their opinions at Llanelli Town Council on April 1st. All were able to discuss issues and generally a good time was had by all.

One incident took me back to my own youth. I was brought up a Tory by my parents who in times of social mobility and general prosperity had abandoned their own parents' Labour loyalties. At the age of 16 I was pressed into service putting out election leaflets in the two elections of 1974. Years later, at London University, I joined Plaid Cymru and spent 33 years in the party. One constant irritation to me was the criticism I received for not being fluent in Welsh. In the 70's you had to be pretty thick skinned. The personal criticism was frequent and for me, although it reduced as more English speakers joined, it never entirely went away. When I was elected as a Plaid County Councillor in 2008, it was the first time that non Welsh speaking Plaid Councillors had been elected to Carmarthenshire County Council.

Having done several courses in Welsh over the years, I'm not ignorant of the language but can't follow it easily at the speed of normal conversation or formulate answers quickly enough. I'm now despairing rather than angry at the appalling habit of some Welsh speakers who correct your language mistakes rather than answering you, something I would never think of doing to a French person speaking English, for example. However, being treated as a second class Welsh person if you don't speak fluent Welsh was something I hoped had left Plaid Cymru, at least in public anyway.

Apparently not. When Brett John revealed in answer to a question on the Welsh Language that he did not speak Welsh, Sion Davies, NUS Wales' Welsh Officer, from the audience forcefully criticised the young man for representing Plaid Cymru and not speaking Welsh. Sion himself learned Welsh at secondary school. He saw no reason why Brett could not speak Welsh and clearly disapproved of Plaid's choice of representative. Brett was a little taken aback by the criticism but handled it very well. It is saddening, though, that a young man can put himself in a stressful, public position in order to support his party, only for his greatest critics to be his own people.

Plaid has good support amongst Welsh Speaking People generally, but as 80% of Welsh Residents don't speak Welsh they do need to broaden their appeal. Although their current leader is their first leader not fluent in Welsh, she is always described by the party as a 'Welsh learner," as if she is a fluent welsh speaker in waiting. A sop to the culturalist wing which suggests that you must learn welsh to get on in Plaid, the message given to Brett.

As a County Councillor I have consistently criticised the poor standard of Welsh teaching in the English medium schools in Carmarthenshire, especially in the primary schools. There is some progress in that area .The emphasis on Welsh Medium Schools as a tool for preserving the Welsh Language has, in Carmarthenshire, lead to few youngsters being good welsh speakers after English-medium education, my own children included. A fellow Plaid Councillor accused me of hating the Welsh Language, because my children were educated in the medium of English. She does genuinely believe that any parent who doesn't send their children to a Welsh medium school is, by definition, anti-Welsh language. In fact most Welsh residents I find are pretty sympathetic to the language and the accusations of some people deliberately not learning welsh to a high standard are very unhelpful. Its ironic that people like  Sion who have learned Welsh well as a second language are unforgiving to those who have not had his opportunity or linguistic talent, but not uncommon.

It is sad that Plaid continues to harbour archaic linguistic prejudices. The truth is that Welsh will only survive with the encouragement and good will of the majority of the people who live here.  More importantly, without an economy to employ them, our Welsh speaking children will be speaking welsh outside of Wales, not building Welsh speaking communities and culture here.

I left Plaid over five years ago, not because of language policy but because of Plaid's political failings. It is the politics that mater. Very little will remain of any Welsh culture if the economic degradation of Wales, resplendent in greed, corruption and outstanding mismanagement of resources is allowed to continue. Another decade of economic collapse will not sit easier with the people of Wales just because the First Minister presiding over it can speak Welsh. Time is running out.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

A People First Manifesto for Llanelli.

Our surveys have examined the concerns of local people in Llanelli and have shown some points of consensus, and others not so clear cut.

There is agreement that the Assembly should have more powers, Wales should have parity with Scotland, and that we need less local government cuts and more council reform. Also there is overwhelming support for free prescriptions, the pensioner's bus pass and stopping the bedroom tax. Many people are concerned about immigration even though it is not a big issue locally. There was also strong support for a recall process for MPs and merging the Welsh Health Service into one body to share resources.

In the background is the economic crisis and few believe that the proposed policies of various cuts, borrowing and spending plans will make much difference. This is a very slow recovery and there are still unresolved financial issues which may yet plunge us again into recession. 

Politicians are not well thought of and the expenses scandal not forgotten. I will not take the 10% pay rise if elected and donate this amount to local charities on an annual basis. I will employ as many of my staff as possible in a Llanelli Office, use local printers and suppliers and support local businesses and organisations in every way I can. 

My campaign is modest and will cost around £1500, mainly for a modest leaflet for every household in Llanelli and District which the post office will deliver for free for each candidate. If you would like to help out with that cost please use the donate button!

Many thanks,

Sian Caiach

A short Manifesto for Llanelli 

What's Best For Llanelli. - We pledge to:

* Stop cuts to Prince Philip Hospital - its unfair to cut more in Carmarthenshire's largest and poorest area and to keep and expand services in Carmarthen. 

* Protect social services for elderly care including local care homes for the frail elderly.

* Support the old town centre by renovating buildings fully, restoring the flats above shops and helping start-up local businesses and increasing free parking..

* Have an MP who will reject the 10% salary increase, donating it to local charities instead. All MP expenses to be openly listed and published weekly.