Wednesday 23 December 2015

New Year and new look for People First

Up until this point People First / Gwerin Gyntaf has been a very informal organisation without official party members other than the minimum of three officers required by the electoral commission to register as a Welsh Political Party. However, now we are a growing movement and things have to change. We have too many supporters to easily keep track of without keeping lists and contact details and we need some membership fees to produce the modest funds required to run the organisation properly, promote our ideas and stand in elections.

Unlike the larger parties and groups, we have no large backers or millionaire members to fund our campaigns. We are retirees, small business owners and working people, many of whom like myself support growing families. So far everything we have done and every election we have run in has been out of our own pockets and whatever donations people are kind enough to give. In order to grow, to put more people out there and to be able to devote more time and resources to working for you, we need to start doing things a little more professionally, and with the Assembly elections approaching in 2016, I think it's time we stepped up.

We spend very little on our politics compared with the major parties. We use no public funds, have no financial sponsors and rely on  contributions from the public. A black-and-white good quality A4 leaflet for a council ward costs £50-70, a colour one £120-190. A deposit for an Assembly or General Election seat costs £500, a regional list £1,500. The money for deposits will be returned only if we get 5% or more of the vote but does give you the opportunity for a free mail drop of your leaflet. A modest colour leaflet costs around £1000 per constituency, £3000 per region. Obviously we would like to sponsor as many candidates as possible. As such, all the money we receive goes into the party account, not the private accounts of myself or any of the other members, and it will only be used to fund People First. You can see how every little amount we get helps.We have set membership at £10 per person per year and supporter status at £5.

I'll take some time to address what this changes, and what will stay the same. Obviously we will not lose our ideals and will still follow Bell's Principles, allow free thought and action and consult ordinary people as often as possible. For the first time all our candidates will be official members, and likewise members will be involved in choosing candidates, selecting local campaigns to support and formulating general policies. We will also begin producing a monthly newsletter which will keep everyone up to date on news and campaigns. We will also be able to efficiently put members in touch with others in their locality or sharing their campaign interests

We have been fortunate to have a growing number of small donations in the past year and so we are offering also a supporter status, where there is no need to commit to membership but a small donation will allow you to subscribe to the newsletter for a year and keep in touch with our campaigns.

To join up you can use the PayPal button on the right; simply choose "member" or "supporter" from the drop-down list, enter your email, click the button and follow the instructions. PayPal is well-renowned and secure, but if you prefer good old-fashioned paper you can send a cheque made payable to People First Wales or Gwerin Gyntaf Cymru or both to our treasurer:

Clem Thomas
People First /Gwerin Gyntaf
16 Tir Capel
SA14 8SW

Please remember to include your address and contact details if you wish to join as a member or supporter.

We want your help, and we want your ideas. We are a new radical party and very different to the conventional options currently available. You are very welcome to join, contribute to our policies and organisation and help us change Welsh politics to a system that represents the ordinary voter rather than the financial and political interests of the elites.

Honestly, they are doing very well for themselves and control much of our lives already. It really is time to change!

Monday 7 December 2015

Government of the People

Outlining a political strategy is no easy matter in these days. Not only is the world apparently in a degree of ecological, financial and political crisis but the true facts are difficult to ascertain. This is due to spin; plain lies and subterfuge we are fed constantly. We must deal not only with a rapidly changing picture but often with information which may be patchy or misleading or just totally untrue.

Even at local government level the culture of spin is king - hiding bad news, praising the mundane and announcing repeatedly future exciting projects which may or not materialise on time, on budget, or at all. Being elected apparently means you are not only the most popular (or least worst) of the choices on offer, but also the best person to decide what your voters now want. If something was in your manifesto you can at least assume they liked that policy.

But a bunch of policies are not necessarily all popular or even desired in any way. Maybe they just liked your party's image or your personality. Few will have read the small print and no-one has given you permission for unilateral action on the many issues which arise unexpectedly in the future

People First member and Carmarthenshire County councillor Siân Caiach engages in the arcane method of actually asking people stuff.

For example, the news that both a doorstep and an online survey on the local government reorganisation by People First before the 2015 General Election gave the result that most people thought that a merger with the Swansea Bay area was the best idea for Llanelli, went down like a lead balloon with my County Council comrades. All the political parties in Carmarthenshire County Council  wanted to keep Carmarthenshire as is, and knew, presumably instinctively rather than by the third-rate method of actually asking, that was what their voters wanted too, thus there was no need to discuss the issue at all. We have, it was said, one of the best councils in Wales, so why change it? Asking real people their opinions is clearly a waste of time when their elected representatives know exactly what their voters want without asking them.

Most people are not interested in politics, at least most of the time. Only when there are large and well-publicised elections or a political decision effects you personally does politics touch your life. In our many-tiered government few members of the public can confidently list the various responsibilities of Westminster Government, Welsh Assembly and County or Community Councils. Too often it is only when things go wrong that the public take any notice of the bodies who act for us, and through our votes, with our authority.

On Wednesday December 9th, the Plaid Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council will propose a motion that the council not only supports the UK remaining in the European Union in the forthcoming 2017 referendum on the subject but will make every effort to persuade our citizens to vote for staying in. Even the UK government's negotiations are unfinished and the exact date and conditions of the vote unknown. As the two largest groups in the council, Plaid Cymru and the Labour party are officially in favour of EU membership the vote will doubtless be won but the real opinions of ordinary people do not factor at all in the process.

Why the CCC needs to do this, spending time and resources when the UK government and others will doubtless be generously funding a YES campaign, is beyond me, but the bottom line is that once again the opinions of our constituents are meaningless. Carmarthenshire County Council does as it wants, and if you don't like it: tough.

Friday 4 December 2015

Declarations of lack of interest

On November 11th 2015 a farcical performance played out over the consideration of two motions. Both were very similar condemning the UK Government for its new legislation on Trade Unions. Both ended by urging the County Council to write to the Westminster Government asking for the proposed legislation to be dropped.

A little late, however. Parliament had actually considered the matter and voted in favour of it the day before Carmarthenshire County Council debated the issue. So we had two motions. both of which were pointless, one of which was proposed by Plaid and the other by Labour (presumably because God forbid the two parties been seen agreeing even on an issue they completely agreed on), ostensibly asking the British government to not do something they had already done. To be fair, when you consider the antiquated wage gap issues and broadband access problems the county is rife with even as 2016 is almost upon us, this was pretty damn speedy for CCC.

To add the circus, the declarations of interest removed a large number of Councillors from the show. Now, declarations of interest are very critical in the quasi-judicial fields of council such as the planning and licencing committees where Councillors might be influenced by their own interests or those of close friends or family to the detriment of fair play. A prejudicial interest where the Councillor is not going to hear the evidence and make a fair judgement must be avoided.

However, the chair seems to have interpreted the discussion on the Trade Union Act as one which, although again completely pointless, demanded only that members of trades unions left the room. This included even retired honorary members of trades unions who were no longer workers.

No employers, the actual beneficiaries of the planned changes, were asked to declare an interest and leave.

In an attempt to not let us look like real idiots (a doomed enterprise from the start, I admit) I suggested that both proposers accept an amendment asking the County Council to write to the First Minister, not David Cameron, as Carwyn Jones had hinted that Welsh Government could probably mitigate the effects of this Bill by local Welsh legislation.

The chair, remembering that I had declared myself a member of Unison and was thus Tainted, ruled that I had to leave immediately and should not have dared to speak on the issue. I suggested that perhaps the two groups proposing the motion could amend them as they wished and left. Watching the webcast, an attempt was made to do so but the chair ruled it out of order. Yet another hour of farce at County Hall, where common sense goes to die.

There is a more serious point. Councillors not only waste time declaring non-prejudicial interests but also forget that if they chose to leave the meeting their electorate is not represented in that discussion or decision. If a Councillor has a daughter who is a nurse in his local hospital and that hospital is earmarked for closure, should he absent himself from the discussion even if there was overwhelming support from his own constituents for the hospital to be saved? In so many cases we all have some form of "interest," after all. How many of us use NHS hospitals, public transport, have kids that go to state schools, are employers or employees and thus intrinsically have a stake in decisions involving these matters?

It is absurd that some Councillors who swore to fight for their voters will walk out of their responsibility at the drop of a hat. Did you vote for your representative because they were, say, a teacher, and as a teacher yourself you wanted someone who would understand your needs and work to make them a reality? Too bad, while the debates are happening they'll be out in the hall.

Siân Caiach