As we all know, local lockdowns have been taking place for some time. Manchester’s local lockdown began on the 31st of July. In spite of this action being taken, cases have risen from 20 per 100,000 Mancunians to around 336 cases per 100,000. This represents a 1580% increase in reported cases in little over 2 months. So what should we take from this?
We have two choices. We could double down on these local lockdowns, get more bobbies on the beat and even send in the army if you think that is proportional and necessary in order to police each and everyone’s actions to ensure that these lockdowns have their desired effect which so far, in many places, is apparently non-existent. Alternatively, we could reopen these communities, allow the local economies to begin to flourish again while bolstering personal freedom and incentivising personal responsibility. I argue the latter is the superior path that we should take.
This does not mean we should give up entirely in terms of mitigating the effects of this virus. Three important steps can still be taken by the governments, devolved and centrally with the most vulnerable in mind. Mark and Boris- listen up
Step one: Continue to track and trace as many cases as possible, including those isolating with symptoms. We know there are efforts in this regard already in existence from the app to the QR codes in restaurants. This will at least give the most vulnerable some knowledge of the risk in their local area for venturing out. This is a sound policy.
Step two: ramp up testing and keep it ramped up. This is and will continue to be worthwhile because it not only informs step one, but it also gives confidence to the business community that they would otherwise not have.
It also gives those who take their personal responsibility seriously some tangibility to work with: ‘‘I have been near to someone who has now tested positive for the virus, therefore I will wait a few days (to avoid testing during a potential incubation period) or until symptoms arise and obtain and take a test’’. This sounds like an obvious statement to make to oneself, but it would not be possible if testing were not available.Moreover, fewer people would have this mind-set if testing became scarce and kits were seen to be limited.
Step three: End the hypocrisy. I am no fan of the mob and I don’t encourage the attacks we have seen on those in and around Westminster from Dominic Cummings to Margaret Ferrier.
However, it would be of great help if the rule makers are not seen to be rule breakers. The press adore this and like it or not the polling data is clear: compliance with whatever measures are in place has fallen when these kinds of stories have broken. Whips get whipping!
Ahead of the Conservative Party’s virtual conference, Senedd Leader Paul Davies has written an interesting piece for the Gwydir website. He says that, if a Conservative Government is elected in Wales next May, he will form a Government that respects devolution, that will work with Westminster, and will not pretend to have powers that they simply do not possess.
To many on the right of Welsh politics, this will be music to the ears. One of Davies’s key pledges will be to get rid of the International Relations department in the Welsh Government. When I read this, I thought I was going to burst with a sense of overwhelming joy. The Welsh Government has never had, does not have and – if sense prevails – will never have any powers over foreign affairs and international relations. They simply have no business setting up shop in Brussels, New York, Beijing, or any of the 21 offices they have scatted across the globe. The minister does not require an air miles card, nor a carbon footprint the size of a yeti.
This, however, is Government under Welsh Labour. It is like a fancy-dress party in which everybody pretends to be something they are not. Yet underneath the exterior trappings pulled out from the costume box, there is nothing extraordinary to write home about. The critics of Davies’ remarks will tell you that Wales needs these offices to safeguard lamb exports or to promote tourism, or that it is right that Wales has a say in global affairs. And yet Wales can do all of these things, and more, as part of a strong and United Kingdom.
It is not just the international relations department that has gone too far, of course. Both Plaid and Labour have called for the devolution of Justice to Cardiff Bay, which would destroy a legal system going back some 900 years. In recent times, the Welsh Government have been quite sly about this one. They have expanded the Counsel General’s role to give Jeremy Miles responsibility for Brexit (not a devolved matter, or course), and now COVID-19 recovery, not that you’ll have known about the latter, given that he doesn’t seem to have said a word on the subject.
The Counsel General does not even have to be an elected MS – but by ensuring that he is, and piling on extra “work”, it gives some sort of justification for calling for the devolution of justice. They’ve moved on, as well, to police funding and prisons. Don’t be fooled. Labour and Plaid want home affairs as well as justice devolved to Wales. Energy and broadcasting are next. The more powers they can grab hold of, the better.
In this week’s Plenary debate on Value for Money for Taxpayers, the Conservatives did an excellent job in highlighting that in excess of £1 billion has been wasted by successive Welsh Governments on defunct policies, abandoned projects and overspending against budgets since 2010. This is the sort of politics that people can relate to, and the Welsh Conservatives need to do more of this in the run up to next May’s elections.
This is what makes the Welsh Conservatives’ pledge for a devolution revolution so attractive. By pledging to work with Westminster, balance the books, and keep a streamlined Government that doesn’t waste its cash on salaries for an inflated cabinet, Paul Davies can present a real alternative for the People of Wales.
It’s high time that the Welsh Conservatives focussed on exposing the Establishment cartel that is the incestuous relationship between Welsh Labour and Plaid, so Paul and his team should be congratulated for having the courage to take this on. In doing so, they can pick up votes from those who have become disillusioned with devolution and for whom the Senedd is just a glorified county council, but who feel that the fringe parties just do not speak for them. There may be a long campaign ahead, but the Welsh Conservatives have just started it with a bang.
Jim Jones, CEO of North Wales Tourism Limited, has warned that Welsh Government’s new local lockdowns in Denbighshire, Conwy, Wrexham and Flintshire could wipe out many businesses dependent on tourism.
Speaking to BBC Radio Wales Breakfast this morning, he said, “Businesses are extremely and understandably frustrated, it’s another dark day,”
“They have invested so much time and gone to extraordinary measures to be Covid-compliant and make everybody safe and then all of a sudden they’ve got to cancel bookings and tell visitors to go home. Our businesses are yet again about to be decimated. The lockdowns in north Wales at this moment in time are an overreaction… a knee-jerk reaction. To decimate the entire tourism and hospitality industry for cases that are still relatively low in the scale of things… Our economy is tourism.”
Businesses like Zip World Fforest are closing for two weeks, fearing this is the beginning of a wave of economic devastation in North Wales.
Mr Jones called on the Welsh Labour Government to implement hyper-local lockdowns, echoing the concerns of the Welsh Conservatives and the Brexit Party Group in the Senedd, to minimise the disruption.
First things first, I love autobiographies. I will read the autobiography of anyone I find interesting or who I want to know more about. I find people’s own take on their lives, achievements and failures fascinating.
Secondly, lockdown has given me the time and space to read more. After staring intently at a screen all day I rarely fancy spending my evening starring at the bigger one downstairs so I have been on the hunt for some autobiographies to get into.
I am such a nerd that I pre-ordered my copy of ‘Not Just Politics’ and whilst waiting for it to arrive I got stuck into Louis Theroux’s ‘Gotta get Theroux this: My life and strange times in television’. This was possibly a little unfair on Carwyn as it was always going to be unlikely that his life and times in Welsh politics were going to be a as crazy and exciting as a man who made a career out of being fascinated by the “weird”.
That said there were some similar themes – they both clearly love their wives (not ground breaking I know) writing about them with great affection, they both had rather formative times at University (who doesn’t?) and they both have an opinion on Neil Hamilton (don’t we all?!). However, the similarities end there.
‘Not Just Politics’ isn’t a big book, which is refreshing for a political memoir. It is short, pacey, and easy to read. I read the first half in one sitting and was entertained and interested throughout. In fact at some points it went so fast I found myself Googling the dates of key Welsh events to confirm that they had been missed out.
Naturally, the first page starts with the 1984 miners strike with Carwyn’s reflections on the period, the impact of mining on south Wales and how the “injustice of the whole situation made a lasting impression”. It would hardly be a Welsh Labour politician’s memoir without such a start.
The importance of family and Carwyn’s place in it is clear from the off. He speaks with great pride about his deep Welsh roots. He talks with fondness for relatives he never knew or died when he was young and the impact his family’s history had on him. At points the deep dive into his family tree read like an essay proving how Welsh he is, which I found a little unnecessary, but I’ll put it down to his pride in his heritage and family.
Running through the book is a strong family thread. The sections discussing the challenges of his wife’s poor health, and his daughter’s teenage years where sensitivity and emotionally written. They certainly helped the reader to see him as a person – rather than purely a politician – whilst not feeling too intrusive on his wife and daughter’s privacy.
The flow of the personal and political works well and feels natural, whilst being peppered with humour and a good number of exclamation marks! The flow generally is good and there is a pace throughout the book with very little time taken to dwell. The notable exceptions are made for big events that put Wales on the world stage such as the 2010 Ryder Cup or the 2014 NATO visit.
In fact my biggest disappointment was that so much was just touched on. There was rarely a deep dive in to any decision, legislation or political challenge – apart from the tragic death of Carl Sargeant – this surprised me. Given the audience for this book, one might expect more than a passing comment on the legislation his Government passed. In fact there was more word count given to his annoyance at the UK Government challenging the legal competency of Welsh legislation than what it was actually about and why it was a positive change for Wales.
This was particularly disappointing for me as when he did go in to more detail on a situation faced – for example the foot and mouth crisis when he was a young Minister – the writing was intelligent, insightful, and interesting.
Carwyn is clearly proud of the work his administration did in promoting Wales around the world and it was good to hear him fighting for an outward looking Wales. But I think for the majority of readers they would have appreciated more reflections on the situation and challenges he faced at home rather than abroad.
In my experience most political autobiographies have some sections added, not for their value as an anecdote, but to clear up some ‘misunderstandings’ and tell their ‘side’. Jones has a few of these including being very clear about that that time we was accused of snubbing Cameron – FYI he wasn’t. The longest and most in detailed part of the whole book was on the period in and around the death of Carl Sargeant. This was understandable and expected.
Carwyn used the pages to tell us everything we read in the papers at the time was rubbish and that, as a feminist, he made the right decisions and dealt with the situation in the best possible way. Unfortunately the tone is rather righteous and, at times, angry, which doesn’t paint him in the most favourable light.
His brief reflection on male mental health is welcome but I wish he had spoken about his mental health and its effect on him at other times in his life, rather than only following Carl’s sad passing. This would have helped the reader to build sympathy with him as person at such a challenging time.
Throughout the book there were a few editing issues which were a distraction to the content. On a number of occasions something is mentioned and then a few pages or chapter later you are retold this information as if it’s not been mentioned before. There is also times when something is mentioned in passing only to be properly explained later – again a bit odd.
Despite its weaknesses it was an easy read and I enjoyed it, but it needed more meat on the bones in certain places to be a truly satisfying auto-biography. If you have an interest in Welsh politics I would still recommend it as the book provides an insight into the man who stood at the front for a key period as Wales’ political landscape developed into what we have today.
Mia Rees is the Conservative Councillor for Whitchurch and Tongwynlais on Cardiff Council.
National Insurance, the tax created by Lloyd George in 1911 which helped develop the welfare state we know today. It was a revolutionary and controversial idea for its time, a key plank of the Liberal’s social reforms of the early 20th century.
Yet, in its 109th anniversary year, I feel the tax has lost all its meaning, what it was actually intended for. When it was initially created, it was to ensure all British citizens could access health provisions when they fall ill, benefits during tough times of unemployment or disabilities, and a pension in their old age. Today, however, it is simply another form of income tax, who’s funds go into the same pot and are divvied out to every governmental department.
I believe it is time to restore the tax to its true purpose. This can be done by totally reforming how the tax is paid entirely. Instead of the complex and bureaucratic banding system, along with differing rates forthe self employed and those who aren’t, we need to radically simplify the tax.
In an ideal world, I would scrap the entire current system and create a simple 10% rate paid for by all on whatever income. This would, I believe, dramatically increase revenue for the Exchequer. Along with this, I would explicitly say that the revenue raised from National insurance would go to what it was intentionally created for. That is for the NHS, pensions, and welfare support benefits.
Now, as a Conservative, what I am proposing may seem like I’ve converted to the works of Marx. But, it is natural for a Conservative to want a simpler taxation system, as well as a strong but fair safety net to support those in most need. In many senses, what I am proposing is a flat tax, whereby everyone contributes, with no exceptions to allow tax evasion of any sort. It is also important to ensure the general public feel that even though some may in the end pay a little bit more in tax, they will get the support they need in the longer run. As costs rise for the NHS and social security it is important we find radical, but fair solutions in order to pay for them.
There are also increasing demands upon the health service for areas such as social care, which is going to need cash. Let’s take the opportunity now to change National Insurance to suit the 21st century. Restoring its purpose, yet ensuring the public feel that a ring fenced tax is going towards the NHS exclusively. This may mean people on certain incomes will pay more in tax. But,in this era of COVID I am sure, as long as the public know where it is going, they will be understanding that overall it will benefit them and Britain as a whole.
This year, there have been one or two disadvantages to Party political conferences being held virtually. Firstly, of course, there are no late-night hotel bars in which to meet like-minded bright people for impromptu policy conversations. Secondly, there is no glitzy, attractive footage available to the media, meaning that, so far, Labour and the Liberal Democrat conferences have been largely passed over by the mainstream media.
Sir Keir Starmer’s speech to Labour was pushed a long way down the pecking order, as it came on the same day as Boris Johnson’s address to the Nation amid the tightening of Coronavirus restrictions. Perhaps this is why the Labour leader was allowed a “right of reply” broadcast on the BBC the following day – for I cannot think of another example where this has happened before.
This weekend, it was the turn of the Liberal Democrats to host their online oratory. Speaking to the BBC ahead of his keynote address, the new Lib Dem Leader, Sir Ed Davey, pledged to increase the number of Liberal Democrat seats in the Senedd, ahead of next year’s Welsh poll. He said that Kirsty Williams’ record as Education Minister in Wales was something to be proud of, and that his Party could shout about at the next election. He felt that this would lead to the Liberal Democrats “Winning Here”, although he wouldn’t be drawn on exactly how many seats his Party would pick up.
Of course, the latest Welsh Political Barometer polls, led by Professor Roger-Awan Scully, suggest that this is something of a pipe dream. In the most recent poll, on both the constituency and regional ballot, the Liberal Democrats were on just 3%. That’s certainly nowhere near enough to pick up any seats on the regional list.
Of course, Kirsty Williams does have something of a local following in her Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. Let’s not forget that she’s held the seat ever since the very first Assembly election back in 1999. That said, even after the debacle of the Chris Davies recall petition, Fay Jones for the Conservatives won the seat with a majority of over 7000 in last December’s General Election. Whilst Westminster polls are not directly transferable to Senedd elections, it does make you wonder if Kirsty Williams’ seat is perhaps a little more vulnerable now than it was in 2016, in a world without Brexit and COVID-19.
Ed Davey’s claim that the Liberal Democrats would win more Welsh Parliament seats attracted a fair amount of ridicule from those of a right leaning persuasion on Twitter. Even I jokingly put up a tweet asking if the Senedd were raffling off any old office furniture, suggesting that was the only way that the Party was likely to win seats. That aside, what is true is that Kirsty Williams does have a reasonable record as Education Minister. During the COVID-19 crisis, she’s had a fairly good war. She ensured that Welsh Government moved in step with parents on the question of reopening schools, although some would argue that the Welsh Government were perhaps too in sync with Unions. She deflected the exam results problem, and in press briefings has come across as credible and personable.
It will, however, take more than the record of their only remaining elected representative in the Senedd for the Liberal Democrats to live up to their slogan of “Winning Here” next May. Whether they like it or not, the Lib Dems are now ranked with UKIP, the Brexit Party and Abolish as the minor parties in the Senedd poll. Much can happen between now and next May, but although it’s not impossible for the Lib Dems to pick up one or two list seats again, they must at least double their current polling figures in order to do so. It’s a tall order.
It might be unfair to describe the yobboes who scuffled with police outside the gates of Penally Training Camp on Tuesday night as NIMBYs. For one thing, several of the people who screamed estuary-accented abuse at officers must have back yards bigger than most Dukedoms, if Penally is in their back yard.
NIMBYs are generally regarded as unprincipled, and acting purely out of self-interest; you can’t make that accusation stick here. As was plain from outpourings posted on the ‘Penally against Illegal Migrant camp’ Facebook page, many are motivated by a genuine and heartfelt hatred of all foreigners: “Im siick [sic] of them all coming to our country who the hell do they think they r our govement [sic] is so weak they make me sick a bunch of usless bastsrds [sic]”, said one thoughtful, literate and generous-minded contributor. “Not far from the truth soon the whole of the uk will be an Islamic state and we will all be under sriyan [sic] law where they will make it legal for them to rape our woman [sic; though you never know what unusual domestic arrangements these knuckle-draggers might have] and children”, concurred another.
Leading Tuesday’s banjo-soundtracked carnival of fear and resentment was one Nigel Marcham, aka the Little Veteran, aka –in homage to his footy-thug mentor– Nobby Robinson. Marcham, one of the new breed of bottom-feeding fascist agitators building a following of neo-Nazi inadequates on YouTube, has had a productive summer sleeping in his car and fomenting antagonism against migrants disembarking from dinghies on the Kentish coast. Seeing the prospect of a punch-up in Penally, he brought his hoodie, beret, four days’ stubble, YouTube hangers-on, incorrectly-worn medals and racist invective down to Pembrokeshire, to whip up hatred against asylum seekers whom the Home Office intends to deposit in the Penally camp.
The decision to place 250 bored, alienated single men hailing from Iran, Iraq and Syria on the outskirts of Tenby is not necessarily a good one. The Home Office was so underhand in the way it went about repurposing Penally as migrant accommodation that even local MP Simon Hart –who sits in the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary– didn’t find out until the jungle drums started beating on social media. Even so, the behaviour of Tuesday night’s demonstrators brought shame on the county.
As the Little Veteran baited the police, other protestors complained bitterly that it was the ‘illegal migrants’ who were the criminals, giving the cameras the benefit of their sophisticated understanding of asylum law and the minutiae of the Dublin III Regulation.
There is, of course, no war or situation of political anarchy at present in Ireland, Scandinavia or on continental Europe that makes the UK anyone’s nearest place of safety. On the logic of the barrack-room immigration lawyers, Britain is pretty much off the hook for taking any refugees at all. Presumptive migrants, armchair immigration experts explain, should instead present themselves at the heavily fortified British Embassy compound in their country of origin and, without legal assistance and under the gaze of their own government’s goons, submit their application for asylum.
If this practical and straightforward course of action for some reason fails to commend itself –perhaps because the necessity of applying for asylum wasn’t apparent until the barrel bomb hit their house or the goons took away their relatives– they should repair to one of the comfortable and convenient facilities provided for refugees, and get in the queue to apply for asylum (or, at worst, take their chances with the French). This is absolutely what the Penally protestors, with the punctilious respect for the law they showed on Tuesday night, would do if they found themselves in that situation.
There is a fine line between people who would pass the Home Office’s tests to qualify for asylum, and those who might not but are still leaving conditions of dire poverty and political instability, looking for a better life. Most of them, whatever the opinion of the Penally armlifters, don’t want support from the state. They want a partner, a family, a job. They want to work hard, to succeed and to be free.
People from Iran, Iraq and Syria have genuine reasons to fear persecution in their home countries. No-one can argue that an opponent of Assad is safe in Syria, or that a Christian is safe in Iraq. No-one can dispute that gay men are unsafe in Iran, where they hang young gay men from cranes. They have genuine reasons for wanting to leave.
The UK has attractions to anyone fleeing persecution, poverty or war. Coronavirus aside, we still have one of the world’s most dynamic economies (socialist utopias for one reason or another always seem less attractive to migrants than exploitative capitalist plutocracies). We have a language more widely spoken than any other, for reasons too obvious to explain. If your blood boiled when BBC snowflakes threatened to cancel ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Proms, but you resent the children and grandchildren of Empire coming to seek refuge in our land of hope, you’re a hypocrite.
Pembrokeshire doesn’t need vicious little race-baiters like Nigel Marcham descending on Penally to cause trouble. Worse than a disgrace to the Queen’s uniform, the Little Veteran is a disgrace to his own hoodie. The armlifters whipping up hate outside Penally camp need to wind their necks in: they’re an embarrassment to us all.
This article was originally published in The Pembrokeshire Herald.
Andrew RT Davies MS, Shadow Health Minister for the Welsh Conservatives, has called for hyper-local lockdowns in recent days. Such an approach should be applauded- it is easy to slip back into the train of thought that national lockdowns or severe restrictions are the only means to control this virus. He is also right to say, that we have to live with this virus. COVID-19 is unfortunately, like other coronaviruses, here to stay.
Wales enters a new period of national restrictions, being advised for example to only travel when necessary, and it will unfortunately have dire consequences on the economy, just as adjustments to people’s personal and premises licenses to sell alcohol are after 10pm will also. This of course feels like a step-back from our efforts against COVID-19.
However, the Davies Approach could be a sustainable way forward. The so-called local lockdowns now affect twenty-five percent of Wales, with other counties possibly going to join that club, with outbreaks in Cardiff, Swansea and Carmarthenshire too. This seems implausible going forward and is surely a failure on Wales’ test and trace system which was supposed to prevent such measures. Moreover, if the data is good enough, Welsh Government will know where these outbreaks are by town, village and even postcode detail. There was great success in containing the outbreak on a hyper-local level around Wrexham Maelor Hospital several months ago, as was the case around an area of Weston Super Mare over the border.
It is important Welsh Government seeks to minimise disruption at every possibly opportunity and does not default to the weapons we have deployed against COVID-19 fairly unsuccessfully so far. The Davies Approach of hyper-local lockdowns needs serious exploration, and given Drakeford and co are quick to say our test and trace system is better than England’s then they should put that hypothesis to the test.
Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance held a press conference today detailing the latest data on the transmission of the coronavirus. Make no mistake- it was setting the conditions and framework to justify national lockdown. One such piece of data showed us a graph of potential COVID transmission with an exponential curve, a worst-case scenario presented as fact.
The problem for the lockdown orthodoxy, is that people are now asking more questions. Why is it that we’re even talking lockdown when apparently we have a truly exceptional test and trace system? Why is it we’re talking lockdown when deaths are still remarkably low? Why do we think lockdown is the answer when it clearly didn’t bloody work before? How can our economy possibly take an in-out, in-out, shake-it-all-about COVID strategy?
The lockdown earlier this year was understandable. A virus we didn’t know much about; a virus running havoc in our elderly population and a global consensus that this was the only thing we could do.
But Sweden was a control in this scientific experiment and their approach has been vindicated- in fact it is the only approach.
The UK Health Secretary yesterday took to the airwaves to say essentially, that it is on us. No Mr Hancock- it’s not on us or the governments of the UK- yes there’s a few numpties who openly flout the rules but they are not causing widespread community transmission. What is on the Government though, Welsh, Scottish, UK or otherwise is to conjure up a coherent, realistic strategy. Leaders have after all had six months to prepare for wave two.
That coherent strategy already exists- it was the one SAGE originally produced, that of pushing the peak into the summer but instead it was decided to suppress it. And with little population immunity we are virtually back to where we started.
Schools are stuck in a quagmire of red tape; shops are shutting and patients are denied access to essential care.
The virus has spread like wildfire since the kids have gone back to school. Politicians say it’s pubs that will close first, schools last, but the pubs aren’t really the problem. And we cannot possibly lose the schools again.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus is endemic. All we can do is wash our hands regularly and thoroughly; maintain social distancing (but impossible to do in schools); get test and trace back on its feet; roll out mass testing and aggressively protect the vulnerable by reinstating shielding immediately. The idea of a second nationwide lockdown is rightly being rejected by the public.