Our Parliament Is Out Of Order

Crispin John

As often happens during Recess, the media try to keep people’s interest alive in politics by publishing a piece or two that’s more “general interest” rather than “current affairs”. In spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the associated political hubris, BBC Wales have republished an updated piece on unparliamentary language. We’ve seen the same sort of thing in several versions before, and to those of us who are interested in Parliamentary proceedings, it’s actually quite interesting.

After all, did we not laugh, or shake our heads in bemusement as Dafydd Elis-Thomas kicked Leanne Wood out of the Chamber for referring to Her Majesty the Queen as “Mrs Windsor”? Did we not also have a bit of a chuckle when Elin Jones, the current Presiding Officer, sent Lord Elis-Thomas a strongly worded letter for calling the Conservative benches “right wing shits”?

But therein lies a difference – and it’s causing a problem. You see, Lord Elis-Thomas used the Standing Orders of what was then the National Assembly to kick Wood out of Siambr Hywel for unparliamentary language. Jones however simply sent him a letter when he was guilty of the same offence.

YouTube is full of clips from the UK Parliament showing various speakers, from Baroness Boothroyd, to John Bercow, and Lindsay Hoyle, making denouncements from the Chair and admonishing members or kicking them out. No such material presents itself for the Welsh Parliament, for this prepubescent institution is yet to find its constitutional cajonas.

Let us take, for example, the recent case of Neil McEvoy, who turned up in the Senedd Siambr with a strip of gaffer tape over his mouth and a placard complaining that he had been “gagged by a racist”, because one of his amendments had not been selected for debate. This was, according to Standing Orders, conduct that questioned the Chair’s authority. McEvoy is now only being called for questions he’s tabled or amendments that have been selected, until he apologises.

The same did not apply to Gareth Bennett, MS for the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party and previously for UKIP. After his speech on transgender rights, he was told simply that he wouldn’t be allowed to speak until he apologised. There wasn’t any suggestion, apparently, of him being allowed to table questions in the interim. It’s a double standard, and demonstrates to me that the rules are being made up as we go along. If Members are going to take real liberties with Standing Orders, then by all means kick them out. Have the guts to do it – and certainly don’t shilly-shally with this “until you apologise” malarkey. But at the same time, we need to ask why we’ve got to where we are.

Writing on this website a week or so ago about Mark Reckless’ move to Abolish, my learned friend Daran Hill made a good point. He questioned whether or not people within the Cardiff Bay Establishment realised that people are driven to “fringe” or “anti-Establishment” outfits by the very nature of the Senedd’s attitude to what they would term as “newcomers”. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Members apparently “guilty” of “unparliamentary” language recently are exactly those people for whom the Cardiff Bay elite hope not to be renewing security passes next May.

The fact of the matter is that it isn’t just the language of our Parliament that’s problematic. In fact, the discourse is the last of its issues. As soon as the UKIP Group, and then the Brexit Party Group, started to lose Members, privileges were taken away. Leaders questions were reduced, and they always came last, rather than rotating with the main opposition spokesmen. Committee places were dropped. Members, and staff, were out of the loop on consultation about Senedd business. But this was all evident before people jumping ship. I know – for I was there. Even when UKIP had its full complement the Group was left on the sidelines.

So it’s not just the language that’s become intemperate. The Parliament itself needs to grow up and stop acting like a spoilt toddler.

The Government has rightly come under fire in recent months for its unwelcome habit of dodging Senedd scrutiny. As much as politicos and opposition politicians complain about this, and rightly so in my view; there is only one actual body that can do something about it – and that is the Senedd and its Presiding Officer.

If the Senedd is to aspire to its marketing strapline of “representing all voices in Wales”, then it can make a start by listening to those Members whose message they may find difficult. Only then can we truly take the heat out of the debate and find common ground to deal with the immediate problems that face us. Running up to an election, this is a tall order – but if the Senedd wishes to challenge those who would seek to curtail its powers or, indeed, have a Referendum on its very future, then the time to start talking is now.

Trump’s YUGE Debate Win

Tomos Llewelyn

My analysis of the final debate can be compressed into one conclusive statement: Donald Trump won. Many pundits and Biden backing outlets are calling it a draw, meaning only one thing; the President must have truly performed.

Let’s rewind briefly and remember the first debate. The stand out moments were the interruptions and insults, their multiplicity as well as the sartorial gaucherie of the format. Much of the criticism was levelled at the moderator: Chris Wallace and the Commission on Presidential debates’ rules. For the final debate with Kirstin Welker presiding as moderator, the indecorum had practically vanished. She has been praised for her handling of the discussion and the Commission praised for employing mute buttons for use during the opening statements for each question. In all honesty however, the candidates themselves were likely embarrassed by the feedback from the first debate and were attempting, at least for the most part, to avoid a repeat. The second debate was of course cancelled due to Trump’s refusal to participate virtually due to his covid-19 diagnosis.

This brings us to the final debate where as I previously indicated, Trump dominated. Take some of the topics that should have been weak points for the President, such as the coronavirus pandemic. While Biden once again tried to paint Trump as a liar who downplayed the virus, Trump hit back much harder this time by drawing attention to Biden’s apparent indictment of the President’s travel restrictions from China: his cries of xenophobia and fear-mongering the day after the ban. It’s worth noting that Biden denied this, however the damage was seemingly done as the former Vice-President’s confidence was clearly diminished after this exchange.

Even on the issue of race relations, a perceived weak point in the President’s record, Trump was able to list his accomplishments with regard to ‘historically black Colleges and Universities’, ‘opportunity zones’, prison and criminal reforms while slamming Biden for the 1994 crime bill which lead to the incarceration of ‘tens of thousands of young African Americans’. Biden responded by calling the move a mistake and jokingly calling the President Abraham Lincoln, a wisecrack that Trump abruptly shut down thereafter. This lead the President to strike while the iron was hot and paint Biden as the Washington insider, being a politician for 47 years with little accomplishment in the areas he is currently purporting to champion, ‘he’s all talk, no action’.

Climate change came up again and Biden once more would have likely won the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans on this issue. However, the American public rate the issue as being less important than many others this cycle and in actual fact, the President was able to focus the discussion on Biden and Harris’ previous opposition to fracking. Fracking is a contentious issue in the state of Pennsylvania, a constituency Trump is pinning his hopes on winning in order to obtain a majority in the Electoral College. Pennsylvanians have disproportionate numbers of workers in the fossil fuel sector. Biden, on an issue that should have been a strong point, was on the defensive again.

Accusations of corruption cropped up throughout the debate where Biden appeared to leave the discussion heavily scathed as Trump was able to reel off specific instances of potentially corrupt acts involving his son and brothers whereas Biden’s specifics consisted only of listing countries where Trump had bank accounts in the past.

On the issue of restoring the character of the nation, a central theme of the Democrat’s campaign, Biden was on message. Unfortunately for him, many even on his own side see this issue as empty and not enough to win over the country that voted Trump into office in the first place. All in all the race is well and truly NOT over. Watch this space…

In Pictures: Wales’ Lockdown Supermarkets

As Wales’s ban on “non-essential” products kicks in, we have compiled some of the odd photos taken of supermarkets complying with Welsh Government law. These images have been shared multiple times on social media and thus have no attributable source.

Source: Grant Tucker

Many complain that Wales is never given adequate coverage. Well the comedic Welsh Government has ensured Wales has now had that media interest, but for all the wrong reasons.

The Lockdown Madness Is Back

Matthew Paul

Here we go again. At 6pm today, Wales goes back into lockdown. On 23rd March, the UK Government assured us this sort of thing was necessary to protect the NHS and save lives. That was while patients in Bergamo gasped for breath in hospital corridors and the Government’s scientific advisors projected that half a million Britons might die. In March, locking the country down still seemed draconian. Now, it just looks plain crazy.

In March, we didn’t know that the survival rate of people infected with Covid-19 was around 99.8%. Despite the WHO telling us so repeatedly, a lot of the British public still don’t seem to get this. The project fear propaganda exercise has been far too successful. Young, healthy people –for whom the annual risk of dying from Covid-19 is well below the annual risk of taking one short motorbike ride– prefer to be shut into their homes than take that trivial chance with the grim reaper.

Try it the other way round: “You have two choices”, says a man who has come from the Government and is there to help. “Your first choice is that you get on the back of this motorbike and ride from Pembroke to Tenby”.

“Oooh, no thanks,” you say. “I don’t like motorbikes. Noisy, dangerous things. I might fall off and get killed! Choice two please!”

“Thought not,” says the man in uniform. “Very sensible, if I may say so. Now, you’re to stay in your house for the next four months. Your holidays are cancelled. We’re closing your business and all the local pubs, and you’ll be paying for it all for the rest of your life.”

Peculiarly, the reaction to this from the people of Wales wasn’t “Wait, what?” Instead, the majority meekly accepted the Government’s decisions, put up the shutters, hand-painted signs calling anyone who fancied a weekend break ‘rats’, and enthusiastically joined in the collective shaming of Covidiots; this century’s (equally morally abhorrent) version of the WW1 white feather.

Through the first lockdown, you could see how the Government might get away with it. Like some Arthurian golden age, economic historians will look back in wonder at the period post-2008, when financial magicians and wizards roamed the land and money could be conjured up –just like that– by clicking indeterminable numbers of zeroes into existence on an electronic balance sheet.

Rishi Sunak makes a good Merlin, and for now we still live in the age of magic money. While the state continued to pay people not to work and the spring sunshine beamed down, it was easy enough to think this wasn’t a bad way to live. Sitting in a sunlit garden beats spending eight hours a day shut in a grey office doing drudgery for the DVLA or the local authority. Those whose jobs aren’t drudgery, or whose profits depend on others doing drudgery in their employment, were always likely to see the lockdown differently.

With that generous, if esoteric, financial assistance from the state, most businesses could just about survive lockdown happening once and stay in business. We still don’t know how many actually did fold, because the furlough still hasn’t quite finished. We see pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gyms and leisure businesses shutting their doors all around us; unable to cope with the uncertainty of knowing whether or not they will be allowed to open up from one week to the next. This is just the beginning of the bad economic news; wait and see what it’s like when the newly-unemployed come off furlough to join the dole queues, locked-down businesses keep on going bust hand over fist, and the tax take from a weakened economy isn’t nearly enough to service the debt.

Another total lockdown in Wales isn’t necessary, and Mark Drakeford must know it’s not affordable, even if he thinks he can just shove the whole tab over to Merlin.

Matthew Paul

Anyone who says these businesses don’t matter –that human lives should always come above the economy– is just wrong. There are always lives that could be saved, but at a cost no reasonable society should be prepared to pay. We are doing the equivalent of banning all road travel to prevent road deaths, or prohibiting alcohol to stop cirrhosis and liver cancer. 170,000 people in the UK die of heart disease every year; 44,000 of them are under 75. If Covid logic prevailed, we would shut down every chippy and burger bar, rather than letting people selfishly chase profit by selling fatty food.

Another total lockdown in Wales isn’t necessary, and Mark Drakeford must know it’s not affordable, even if he thinks he can just shove the whole tab over to Merlin. Until now, the public have lapped up irrational, authoritarian solutions to the Covid-19 crisis –only expressing dissatisfaction that the measures weren’t strict enough– but public tolerance of being locked down indefinitely can’t last. No-one should be daft enough to think that a two-week ‘firebreak’ means what it says. Firebreaks stop fires; starved of fuel they burn themselves out. Lockdowns don’t just keep the fire lit: they store up vast tanks of fuel for the future.

Covid-19 isn’t going away. An eventual vaccine is likely to provide only partial protection. The nation is going to have to reassess its tolerance of risk, because the risk of a larger death toll from Covid-19 is nowhere near as serious as the risk of monetary meltdown, a tsunami of unemployment, a mental health crisis, and turning the country into an artistic and cultural desert. As Freddy Mercury advised: Get on your bikes and ride.

NEWS: Non-essential shops have “low impact” on COVID

The scientific advice that Welsh Government used to impose a three week circuit lockdown from Friday has been published.

It seeks to make the case for a firebreaker lockdown however the Technical Advisory Cell report says non-essential shops and outdoor socialising poses a very minimal impact on the rate of infection (R).

It raises concerns that the new lockdown imposed by the Welsh Government was not purely based on the scientific evidence.

Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for the Economy said in response to questions on these points: ‘The advice was that while a number of activities have small impacts on the R rate, taken together they have a significant impact. To keep schools open we need as many gains elsewhere as possible.”

Questions still remain over how closing hair salons for example, another sector said to be low risk, will impact education.

Technical Advisory Cell report

Sign Our Petition: No to Nationwide lockdown

The Prydain Review Team

Over the weekend, reports emerged that the Welsh Government were contemplating a nation-wide lockdown similar to that deployed in March.

This would be ill-advised and would be a disproportionate reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic. We instead call on the Welsh Government to resist imposing a nationwide lockdown and instead focus on implementing data-driven hyper localised lockdowns.

To do this would allow areas with low transmission of the virus to avoid being forced into lockdown. A disproportionate national lockdown punishes counties with low community transmission of the virus; will lead to an unnecessarily increase unemployment, cause the failure of businesses; and exacerbate the isolation that individuals have experienced. In addition, nationwide lockdown risks having a detrimental impact on public health denying individuals treatments, for cancer and heart disease.  

This can be avoided, but it requires the Welsh Government to instead focus on hyper- localised lockdowns and providing financial support where appropriate to those affected. 

Sign our petition here

NEWS: Clothing and non-essential retail to close in Wales

Sources tell us Welsh Government have been liaising with Welsh business leaders this morning on a decision to close clothing retail stores and other non-essential retail in a ‘fire-breaker lockdown’. It is expected to last for between two to three weeks.

There is no evidence to suggest clothing stores are spreading the coronavirus.

Closing Wales to the English is unenforceable, prejudiced and stupid

Matthew Paul

If Covid-19 has created a Blitz spirit among Britons, it’s not the spirit of stoic resilience you most commonly associate with that national struggle for survival. Rather, it is the Chief Warden Hodges, put-out-that-light tendency that seems to have prevailed. The pandemic has empowered all the country’s biggest idiots, and set them to work imposing arbitrary, irrational and superstitious restrictions on daily life.

This week, it looked as though the University of York would romp home by several lengths in the wacky ‘Rona rules races, with its unsatisfactory recommendation that in the event of fire, self-isolating students in its halls of residence should not rush precipitately outside, but spend a minute or two waiting in their rooms out of consideration to fellow residents.

It may be right that many students would prefer an agonising, fiery death to the risk of catching Coronavirus by excessive proximity in stairways or corridors. It may also be right that people in Wales prefer the complete devastation of their tourist economy and hospitality industry, to the remote risk of harm associated with welcoming Scousers on an autumn break. That, at any rate, is what the Welsh Government believes.

Here in Wales, it’s easy to find the country’s biggest idiots because they cut about wearing red rosettes and swanking the title ‘AS’, which is only one ‘S’ short of the truth. Their leader Mark Drakeford, who has now soared among the Welsh public to near-recognition as First Minister of Wales, decided on Wednesday to completely outdo York University by taking the measured and proportionate step of announcing his country closed to the English. This was in response to the perceived threat of Scouse, Brummie and other potentially contaminated English holidaymakers descending on Wales over half term, and spreading their Saxon lurgy over our pristine shores.

Welsh Covid-19 lockdown regulations already make it an offence for people resident elsewhere (including any part of England) to enter or, having entered, to remain in locked-down areas in Wales without reasonable excuse. By contrast, the Tier 1, 2 and 3 restrictions in England only limit or prohibit activities within areas subject to the restrictions; they don’t prevent people entering or leaving those areas.

This isn’t an accidental omission by English legislators; restrictions on movement between local authority areas are completely unenforceable. People often aren’t aware of what local authority area they live in, or where the boundaries lie. Millions upon millions of necessary journeys take place every day between local authority areas; many of these millions of trips will be between areas with different Covid alert levels. Expecting the police to intercept and question them all would leave little opportunity for them to do anything else; at a time when the problem of misgendering on Twitter has never been more urgent and serious, and David Starkey may already be plotting another interview.

There has similarly been no attempt by Welsh police forces to use roads policing, road blocks, ANPR or other similar means to enforce local lockdowns, and Drakeford must know (not least because Mark Bleasdale –Welsh lead of the Police Federation of England and Wales– has told him so) that the police don’t have the manpower to pull over English vehicles and interrogate their drivers: “On the face of it, this is unenforceable because of the difficulty of identifying where people are coming from and where they are going to. There will also be plenty of individuals travelling legitimately from areas which are not high risk.”

See the source image
Source: Daily Mail

Expecting the police to intercept and question them all would leave little opportunity for them to do anything else; at a time when the problem of misgendering on Twitter has never been more urgent and serious, and David Starkey may already be plotting another interview.

Matthew Paul

Even if Scousers and Brummies do choose to come to Wales for a half-term break, that is a manageable risk, and one people in mid and west Wales should be prepared to take. Instead of closing the country, Mark Drakeford and his Government should be working out ways for providers of holiday accommodation to test their guests, and setting down sensible guidance for visitors and the tourist sector to follow.

But Drakeford, for someone who hated being bullied by mean Welsh Nats when he was growing up in Carmarthenshire, is proving adept at mimicking their language when it suits him. If the Scousers and Brummies can’t be stopped on the Prince of Wales Bridge, enforcement will be devolved upon Wales’ emerging Gestapo of sneaks and grasses: “When they arrive in the far west of Wales,” the First Minister told Times Radio, “I’m afraid they will meet a local population that are fearful, that are anxious and are on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas.”

There are no border posts between Wales and England, and nor will there ever be. There is no-one, from any part of the United Kingdom, who shouldn’t be in Wales.

Quite apart from the immediate harm this prejudiced posturing will do to the tourism and hospitality industries in Wales –and they’re already on their knees– it is fuelling xenophobic strains of nationalism. The priority here isn’t public health. It’s to pick a meaningless fight with the Westminster Government, sideline Adam Price and his increasingly irrelevant party, and sway the Yes Cymru crowd towards Labour in advance of next year’s (scheduled) Senedd election.

The Welsh Government should be doing all it can to welcome visitors to Wales, and to keep them, and locals, safe. Instead, it has much the same plan for Coronavirus as the University of York has for fires: we waste time dithering inside our homes, while all around us the economy is burning down.

This article was originally published in The Pembrokeshire Herald.

EXCLUSIVE: Another Plaid Cymru Complaint Farce

Christopher Harries

In recent days, Plaid Cymru has faced criticism over the failure to take action against Sahar Al-Faifi over claims that she had posted anti-semitic tweets. Now we can raise additional concerns regarding Plaid Cymru’s approach to complaints or rather the indifference to complaints.

We have now seen correspondence which suggests that a Member of the Welsh Parliament has directly raised a complaint about the conduct of some Plaid Cymru activists with the party leader Adam Price MS. Despite raising the matter with the leader of Plaid Cymru there has been no form of acknowledgement or indeed action taken to address the concerns regarding abusive messages sent on social media platforms.

Based on the failure to address the complaint raised by a Member of the Welsh Parliament or to take action against Sahar-Al-Faifi you must wonder if Plaid Cymru are taking complaints seriously?

Breaking The COVID Consensus

Matthew Paul

Bouncing back from his bout with the Covid, Donald Trump is back on Twitter and punching hard. Under Democrat Presidential contender Joe Biden, America –Trump threatened– would be like Wales.

This is unlikely. The differences between Wales and America are probably more significant than the similarities, even if both countries have high levels of obesity, and some of the burned-out and abandoned bits of mid-town Detroit do remind you a bit of Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Otherwise, America is nothing like Wales.

America has something identifiable as an economy, and it doesn’t involve sheep (there are twice as many ovines in Wales as in the whole of America, and Americans don’t get fat on lamb burgers; they only eat 500g of sheep meat per head annually). There are fewer Welsh speakers in America than you find even in South Pembrokeshire or Monmouthshire. Wales’ capital city is the size of America’s 54th largest: Aurora, Colorado. And anyone in Wales is about as likely to have heard of Aurora, Colorado as they are to have heard of, well, Mark Drakeford.

The First Minister of Wales (for it is he) actually hasn’t had a bad Covid. Although still not up there with Ant and Dec in the popular recognition stakes, the pandemic has raised Drakeford’s personal profile. The Abolish the Welsh Assembly [sic] Party’s lurid Facebook adverts are helping in this: seeing Drakeford’s face all over everyone’s timeline is prompting people to find out who our First Minister is, and to discover that they quite like him.

Locking down the economy and people’s social and cultural lives was a serious error. Repeating it now will be even worse.

Matthew Paul

Boris Johnson is helping too. While Boris faffs and blusters, all Drakeford has to do is talk slowly and quietly (he doesn’t seem to have any other register) and he immediately appears the more competent. The First Minister doesn’t altogether deserve this; state education in Wales was a national disgrace through the first lockdown, and Welsh Labour usually makes a fantastic Horlicks of managing the NHS in Wales. Still, public health measures here haven’t been any more irrational through the pandemic than those coming from Westminster or Holyrood, and in some respects have been better.

There was no need for masks when infection levels were low over the summer, and Drakeford didn’t make us wear them unnecessarily. Wales adopted a more pragmatic approach to organised outdoor sports than England. As autumn infections rise, Drakeford –unlike Nicola Sturgeon– hasn’t yet panicked and shut the pubs.

Now, in Wales as elsewhere, storm clouds are gathering again and things might be about to take a turn for the worse. On Monday, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, warned that people in Wales should stand by for rolling lockdowns –of the sort that already affect over half the population of Wales– over the winter. “We may be going in and out of those restrictions over the next few months”.

Consensus over the Welsh Government’s strategy of locking down whole local authority areas which have seen spikes in the rate of infection is already under strain. The Welsh Conservatives are voting against borough-wide lockdowns unless and until they are shown evidence proving that more localised measures (as have been imposed in Llanelli, as opposed to the whole of Carmarthenshire) won’t work. But it is time that the consensus over lockdowns was challenged more widely and more fundamentally. Locking down the economy and people’s social and cultural lives was a serious error. Repeating it now will be even worse.

Lots of people have caught the Covid. The WHO estimated this week that 10% of the world’s population had already caught the virus. We know Covid-19 is a deadly serious matter for the people most susceptible, but so is influenza; in the 2017 to 2018 winter period, there were an estimated 50,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales and no-one outside the health service batted an eyelid.

Covid-19 isn’t that serious a matter for everyone else. 90% of those recently tested positive for the virus presented no symptoms at the time of their test. Around half of all infections are completely asymptomatic. Treatments have improved vastly since March. The harm caused to public health by the coronavirus does not even begin to justify the self-harm lockdowns are causing to people’s jobs, relationships and mental health.

The UK and devolved governments’ suppression strategies worked, within their own parameters. Those parameters were misconceived: suppressing the virus among those it affects least, and through the spring and summer when it was least transmissible, stored up big trouble for the winter. If this was done in anticipation of a vaccine being ready in time, it was a crazy gamble. Not even the test and trace system is properly ready.

Locking down the economy again is as unaffordable as it is destructive. The magic money tree’s branches have been shaken bare. The feather-bed furlough scheme is over, and business faces the cold reality of an autumn in which unsustainable zombie jobs that have been dead on the branch all summer will fall away in their millions. Britain’s world-leading arts and cultural sector is on the brink of ruin, and Rishi Sunak’s best suggestion is that ballerinas, violinists and opera singers should ‘retrain’.

The Covid consensus must be challenged. On Monday, more than 10,000 doctors and public health scientists signed a declaration, calling for a rapid return to normal life for most of the population: “Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume.”

Suppressing the virus with lockdowns over the spring and summer was a foolish mistake that set back progress towards acquired immunity, and it must not be repeated. Trump is right to warn Americans not to follow Wales’ example.