Archive for July, 2013

Letter from Wales: A land in the grip of the Crachach

19/07/2013, 01:46:25 PM

by Julian Ruck

We all know that Wikipedia has to be treated with caution, but now and again it does come up with something that enjoys the virtue of both brilliant clarity and pointed accuracy.

Recently, I was drawn to a Wiki entry about the welsh Crachach.

The Wiki definition of “Crachach” is as follows:

“A pejorative term, it refers to those of the establishment in Wales who are thought of as snobs. Often welsh-speaking, they are found in influential positions in the arts, politics, academia and the media.”

Wiki goes on, “An anonymous Welsh poet was quoted in an article in the Independent as saying, “ The Crachach as we know it, has really been built up over the last 30-40 years when the establishment of Wales gravitated toward Cardiff. Its ruling elite, a lot of whom are related, when it comes to networking make the Masons look inadequate.”

And the Western Mail’s Carolyn Hitt, says “The older crachach can be fiercely nationalistic yet not averse to receiving gongs from the Queen. Younger arty crachach will always get their projects funded, however rubbish they may be. If the crachach had a coat of arms, its motto would be that old chestnut ‘It’s who you know not what you know and make sure you belong to someone on the committee’.”

To add substance to the above may I also point out, that a cursory glance at the head honchos of all Welsh institutions will be white, middle-aged and Welsh-speaking – many of them will also have translated their registered birth names to a Welsh language equivalent, and if there isn’t one then they will just make it up eg Lleucu Siencyn ie Lucy Jenkins (CEO of Literature Wales by the way, and there are plenty more of them) .

Bizarre I know, but that’s the Crachach (or Taffia as it is also sometimes referred to) for you.

Look at BBC Wales, full to the brim with sneaky top-job preference eg  Rhodri Talfan Davies Director of BBC Wales (ie Controller job re-named) since 2011, son of former Controller (1990-2000) Geraint Talfan Davies, grandson of Aneurin Talfan Davies, former Head of Programmes at BBC Wales (1966-1970), and finally Godson of Menna Richards, former Controller of BBC Wales (2000-2011).

You may also be wondering about whether 21st Century equal opportunities has ever even been a blip on the 20th Century welsh establishment’s radar, let alone the 21st’s? And I’m not even going to start on all the others eg Bestan Powys, Vaughan Roderick……….


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Labour history uncut: How the department for transport killed hopes for a Keynesian stimulus in 1930

17/07/2013, 05:33:22 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In 1930, the situation for the second Labour government was like a man wearing a bra – it looked bad and they had no idea how to get out of it.

In May, Oswald Mosley had resigned his cabinet post. He was protesting at the temerity of the party leadership who had rejected his neo-Keynesian recovery plan – a plan he felt was as effective, as necessary and as desirable as he was.

For Mosley, increased spending on public works like roads, financed through a big loan, seemed like the answer to the nation’s ills.

Oswald Mosley or Harry Enfield – you decide

Unfortunately, Ramsay Macdonald simply couldn’t get his traditionalist head around how the solution to a debt crisis could be more debt.

But that didn’t mean he was keen on continuing cuts to balance the budget either, no matter how many times his chancellor, Philip Snowden, wandered past his office waving a pair of giant prop scissors and winking.

Unemployment continued to spiral upwards.

Paralysis gripped the government and political dissension filled the vacuum. Each week the calls for something to be done, from the press, the party and the public, got louder.


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What next for the Tories after the cuts agenda?

16/07/2013, 04:10:20 PM

by Dan McCurry

You can tell what the Tory focus groups are saying by watching the way the Tories behave. Right now, they are trying to close down the perception that the government has no ideas or purpose, other than the cuts. They know they have no agenda, once the cuts agenda is done.

This explains the flurry of rather pointless ideas announced in the last few weeks. Each one of them is half-baked and each one is accompanied with same the line, “Labour did nothing about this in 13 years”.

An example is Theresa May’s call for a consultation of stop and search, arguing that the policy tends to target young black males. This was widely reported and became a talking point on the media, even though it was completely shallow. This is not serious policy, just a suggestion that people have a chat about something. Yet every Tory politician took to the air to attack Labour for doing nothing for 13 years.

On health they talk of a £200 deposit for foreigners entering the country. Again, MPs took to the airwaves to claim that Labour did nothing for 13 years of government.  There has been little response from Labour to this proposal, but Andy Burnham tells me that he can’t respond as he still doesn’t know the details. He doesn’t object to stopping abuse, but he does object to the idea that Labour had done nothing about the issue previously.

On prisons they seem to think they can ship convicts off to St Helena to serve their ten year sentence, then bring them back for the last six months to serve their sentence close to their family. Presumably convicts can send CDs home so that their children can grow up hearing daddies’ voice, then after several years of absence the children can get to know daddy on 6 prison visits. If they hadn’t cancelled Labour’s prison building program, then the whole sentence could have been served within travel distance of the family. Yet they say, “Labour did nothing in 13 years”.

The Tories don’t fear being called “nasty”, they fear being called “pointless”. Once the cuts agenda is finished, what is the point of them?

As usual, rather than addressing the problem, they address the presentation. They believe that if they can repeat often enough that Labour didn’t do this or that, they hope that people will perceive that the Conservatives are busy bees, while Labour are a waste of time, even though the opposite is true.


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As usual, what goes on in Northern Ireland stays in Northern Ireland

14/07/2013, 12:15:47 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So thirty-two police officers were injured, an MP was knocked unconscious by a projectile, hundreds were rioting in the streets, water cannons and baton rounds were used against civilians in a British city and yet it didn’t make the top five news stories on Friday night’s BBC Ten O’Clock News?

Welcome to Northern Ireland; that far-away place full of violent Irish people who seem to actually enjoy fighting and causing trouble. This is at least seems to be the default view of Britain’s political and media classes, that’s of course when they’re not completely ignoring the place.

There’s more attention paid to disturbances on the other side of the world than there is to the same thing happening in our own backyard. British politics long ago became acclimatised to Northern Ireland as a ‘little local difficulty.’ Not an eyelid does it now bat.

Friday was the “Glorious Twelfth” – the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when Protestant King William III of Orange defeated Catholic King James II. It’s a big deal for Ulster’s protestants and marks the high point of the “marching season”. In the rest of Britain, the celebration of royal occasions are either marked by street parties or, better still, studiously ignored.

Not in Northern Ireland, but the historical significance is merely a footnote. It’s unlikely that the loyalists throwing golf balls at police officers are history buffs, despite waving ceremonial swords in defiance of the parades commission’s ruling that a contentious Orange march could not proceed through a nationalist enclave in north Belfast.

This is where Democratic Unionist MP, Nigel Dodds, was struck by a brick and knocked unconscious. He was booted out of the Commons chamber the other day for implying the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, was lying; so he’s not had a great week. Normally, our politicians are only used to metaphorical brickbats being hurled in their direction. In response, the police fired water cannons at the protestors. In Britain the use of kettling is enough to cause liberal apoplexy.

When blasting high-pressure water jets at civilians is insufficient, the police rely on the wonderfully euphemistic Attenuating Energy Projectile instead. These are sometimes called baton rounds, which is itself a euphemism for plastic bullets. Twenty-two were fired at protestors on Friday night alone. Many of them were children and a 14 year-old was among those eventually arrested. Throughout the Troubles, seventeen people – ten aged under 18 – were killed by plastic bullets, yet their regular tactical use merits little more than a passing remark in the British media.

Last night saw another bout of violence. As the BBC nonchalantly puts it this morning: “Officers were attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks, laser pens and stones in the Woodvale area. Police fired 10 baton rounds and deployed water cannon.”


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Letter from Wales: Blackballed by the Welsh establishment

12/07/2013, 03:50:53 PM

by Julian Ruck

We live in a democracy and a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, do we not?

Well, Wales it seems has opted out.

Literature Wales – sister quango of the Arts Council of Wales who receives nigh on 1million a year from it – has refused outright to give me a press pass for the Wales book of the year next week (and I do write a regular column for a Welsh newspaper) albeit that all the cosy taxpayer funded Welsh literature websites, Welsh literature mags and periodicals, and all the other Welsh Establishment gravy train literary junkies will all be out in force.

The PA to CEO Lleucu Siencyn (Lucy Jenkins for all you English readers) managed to discover that all press passes had been dished out within seconds of hearing my voice without any reference to seating allocations etc etc. One must further ask how the PA to Ms Siencyn would even know this data anyway, and so quickly?

Orders from on high perhaps?

Have someone there to report on Welsh literati shenanigans who hasn’t joined the gang? And won’t be bought?

Forget it, can’t have Ruck there to spoil our fun now can we? Duw mon, he just might report some inconvenient facts!

I can guarantee a few things though. The works submitted for the Wales Book of the Year will have been written by Welsh writers replete with taxpayer bursary bucks, Welsh publishers will have been paid by the taxpayer to publish them and even the Prizes will be tax-payer funded.

It will be interesting to see what a Nielsen Bookdata printout of sales will reveal in a few months time.

Hard times? Not in Wales, and to cap it all the Welsh government will only communicate with me through their Head of News, Simon Jenkins.

Please read on.

On Tuesday this week, Martin Shipton, Chief Reporter with the Western Mail did a follow up to my Letter on Uncut (28.6.13) on the Arts Council of Wales’ taxpayer funded jolly to the Venice Biennale ie 7 people from the Arts Council going on a 3-4 day promotion of a Welsh artist exhibiting the recording of a man snoring in a telescope.


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Miliband bags the Oscar, but McCluskey wins Best Supporting Leader

12/07/2013, 01:20:36 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As he toured the television studios following Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday, Len McCluskey avoided the bear traps. He didn’t let the media frame his response. He was relaxed and reflective, positive, even, about the historic changes to party-union relations that had just been announced.

Producers will have wondered if they had booked the right Len McCluskey.

He didn’t really sound like the ogre we have been used to reading about; the fixer-in-chief wielding power and patronage to fulfil his diabolical scheme. Labour’s Dr. Evil running Unite from some disused volcano in a South Pacific island.

There was no finger-jabbing, or dark threats. Subtly made-over, McCluskey appeared before us in a snappy dark suit and designer specs, sporting a hint of designer stubble; more internet entrepreneur than industrial dinosaur.

He had decided to give Ed Miliband the boost he needed. There was no thumping return serve to the suggestion that union power should be diluted in the party. He lobbed the ball gently back across the net. The Leader’s speech was “very bold, very brave and could be historic” he said.

Encouraging ordinary trade unionists to become fully involved in the party was something he “unequivocally welcomed”. He pledged co-operation in now working out how the changes will take effect.

And then there was the accent. The Liverpool brogue does stridency brilliantly. But it has another setting: mellifluousness. ‘Len the Mellifluous’ is not what Daily Mail leader writers were expecting, but that’s what we got. It’s hard to characterise someone as a belligerent rabble-rouser when they speak softly and reasonably.

So a triumph of media training? That is too glib. McCluskey is a seasoned negotiator. You don’t get to be general secretary of the country’s biggest union without having different settings for different occasions.


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The response to the Snowden revelations must be more government, not less

11/07/2013, 02:13:30 PM

by Sam Fowles

I wasn’t that bothered when I read that GCHQ could basically have seen everything I do on the internet. Unless they’re concerned that I might be receiving secret messages from Ayman al-Zawahiri encoded in cat videos or decide to prosecute me for using a friend’s username on Lexis Nexus at law school, I can’t think of much that would interest them.

But I was wrong. Edward Snowden’s revelations should terrify. They should terrify because, with more crimes in statute and case law than even the most eminent criminal lawyer can learn (and this is before one even gets into torts), most of us would probably be guilty of something if someone was prepared to keep us under surveillance for long enough.

But they should also terrify because they will contribute to a growing distrust in “government”. Not “the government” as in the one which we have at any one time, but “government” as a concept. They should terrify because losing faith in “government” translates all too easily into losing faith in democracy.

More and more people don’t trust government whoever is running it. Apparently all politicians are liars, all public institutions are corrupt, the state is only ever out to get you.

The irony is that the left, traditionally the side of the political divide most associated with “big government” has most reason to fear it. For the last two years the Guardian has painstakingly revealed the scale to which the British state has spied on left wing political groups. The focus has been on the impact on individuals, the affairs between undercover officers and the activists they betrayed, the children conceived in relationships based on lies, the dead infants whose identities were stolen.

What hasn’t been mentioned nearly enough is that the state used undercover agents to spy on activists who were simply exercising their democratic right to disagree with those in power. These operations didn’t result in high profile prosecutions and they had absolutely nothing to do with protecting us from dangerous criminals.

This wasn’t Al Qaeda or the IRA or even the National Front. The worst that groups of this type have ever been convicted of is occupying a big chimney for a bit.

For this, five received conditional discharges and the rest got 18 months community. Hardly the stuff to threaten the peace of the kingdom. Yet someone in government felt it was necessary to embed multiple agents for up to twenty years. We’ve all agreed this is bad. Someone needs to ask why it was done.

These weren’t isolated incidents either. Along with Snowden’s revelations came the news that the police embedded undercover agents in order to smear the Lawrences.

That bears repeating: the Metropolitan police went to the expense of a full undercover operation. the target: an aging black couple who’s son had just been murdered. Their crime: criticising the Metropolitan Police. It was just a few years earlier that South Yorkshire police had mounted a campaign of defamation (including 95 prosecutions, all of which failed) after they brutally attacked picketing minors at Orgreave.

What unites these victims of the unfettered aggression of a shadow state? They expressed left wing views. Where were the infiltrations of the National Front, the BNP the EDL or even the fox hunting lobby?

All of these groups actively expressed plans to break the law. Some still do. It turns out that dissent is permitted in this country, even violent dissent. So long as it’s dissent of the right kind.


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Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday was another example of why he will make a fine prime minister

11/07/2013, 07:00:26 AM

by Ian Lucas

I enjoy how much Ed Miliband is underestimated.  I am not at all surprised that Ed has taken a bold and visionary step in seeking to redefine the historic link between Labour and trade unions. After all, he has taken similar steps before.

First, Ed talked about the “squeezed middle”.  Opponents chortled at first.  But when people understood what the phrase meant, they agreed that there are indeed more and more people in Britain who are being asked to work harder, for longer hours, and are being put under severe financial pressure.  They are the ones paying the price for the cost of the world crash, whilst, for the bankers, it seems to be business as usual.

Second, Ed spoke in his Liverpool Conference Speech in 2011 about “responsible capitalism”.  Whilst some of the initial reaction from the media was negative, when the dust settled, most recognised that Ed had a point.  Our economic system is not working for the majority of people, with many paying the high cost of subsidising profits for, amongst others, international utility companies.

Next, he spoke out for the innocent, vulnerable victims of appalling media intrusion by one of the most powerful businesses in the UK, News International.  I know that many will have told him not to take on Rupert Murdoch.  After all, he was acting against the received political wisdom of the last thirty years.  This timorous approach had debased not just our politics, but our national life.  But when it needed to be said that things had to change, Ed said it.

Now, Ed has said that he wants machine politics to end – the politics that demeans us all.   And Ed has gone further.  He also wants MPs to concentrate on doing the job we are paid to do.  At a time when the Government is freezing public sector pay and private sector pay is flat, how can any MP think it is right to draw an MP’s salary from the public purse and have an income of up to £400,000 too?

Contrast these steps with the approach of David Cameron, the man who held private dinners for Tory political donors in Downing street, promised to come clean on it, and, a year later, is yet to publish the report he promised to publish.


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Why is Ed playing into the Tories hands on the union link?

10/07/2013, 06:06:30 PM

by Ian Stewart

Before I get flamed here, let me declare two interests – I am a member of both the Labour party and Unite. I am as concerned as anybody else with what may or may not have happened in Falkirk and other places, but am trying to pass comment here only upon what I know.

I believe that having a solid link between organised labour and our party is one of the great strengths we have. At its best, it means that we have to at least consider ordinary peoples’ daily lives, rather than simply what sounds good on telly.

If you were to ask most party members which legislation they would be proudest of over the past century, my guess is that after the foundation of the NHS, the list would include equal pay, anti – discrimination laws, John Wheatleys’ housing act, the wages councils, their successor the minimum wage, the dock labour scheme, the expansion of education, including the open university and health and safety at work.

It is a long list, and by no means exhaustive. What is striking is that in these cases and many others pressure for reform came not from some arid Fabian pamphlet, but from the trades unions affiliated to the Labour party. Hell, even when we had less than 100 Labour MPs back before the great war, the Liberal government passed the national insurance act, in part to head off a rising tide of militancy.

So I have watched the growing fuss over Falkirk with impotent rage. In simplest terms, those shouting loudest for my general secretary’s scalp have their own agenda. It is clear and simple to Msrs Hodges, Murphy et al – the union link must die. It is the major block to a “realignment” of the “progressive” parties in the UK, which, shorn of any link to ordinary people, could then unite and deny the Conservatives any power for a generation.

Of course, the fact that their preferred progressive partners, the Lib Dems, are in government with the Tories, and presiding over the biggest slump in living standards since 1929 may mean that this is utter tripe, but no matter. Never mind that the other parties of the centre left – the Greens, Plaid, SNP and Respect have gained votes from us by outflanking us to the left, and are looking to replace us, rather than do deals.


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How does Ed deliver his vision for union link reform? Step one, call Clegg

10/07/2013, 11:27:03 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Nick Clegg? Yes, Nick Clegg. Yesterday Ed Miliband gave a landmark speech about Labour’s relationship with the union movement, but it is Nick Clegg who will determine whether this boldest of gambles pays off for Labour’s leader.

To understand why a call to Clegg is so important, we need to be clear on the purpose of yesterday’s speech.

For all the talk of democracy and the new politics, this was only ever about dealing with the fall-out from Falkirk.  David Cameron’s recent barrage at PMQs defined the immediacy of Ed Miliband’s task: to demonstrate Labour is not in the pockets of the unions and can govern in the interests of the whole country.

Yesterday’s address was a visionary response that has the potential to transform what has been an unmitigated disaster, into defining moment for Ed Miliband.

But now comes’ the hard work. Turning aspiration into reality will be difficult and the path to success is both narrow and parlous.

Based on the details we have about the proposals, we know the arrangements for the political levy will remain the same.

Trade unionists will still contribute to their union’s political fund, unless they expressly opt out. Just as they do now.

What will change is how the political fund is distributed by the unions.

Under Ed Miliband’s plan, trade unionists will now have to “opt-in” to pay a portion of their political levy to the Labour party as an affiliation fee.

At the moment, the union leadership decide the number of members it will affiliate (for example, the GMB affiliates 400,000 of its 600,000 members) and the fees are paid in bulk, by the union, to the party.

The likelihood is that no matter how successful Labour is at encouraging union members to contribute to the party, there will be a major shortfall in affiliation fees.

Unions have estimated a potential 90% drop in affiliations. This isn’t even a particularly pessimistic assessment. Let’s not forget, the majority of trade unionists didn’t even vote Labour at the last election, let alone want to fund the party.

As the level of affiliations fall, so the portion of the union’s political fund that can be used for discretionary donations increases. The overall total in the political fund remains the same; it’s the split between affiliation fees and donations that will change.

In a scenario, where affiliation fees drop significantly, union leaders could end up with greater powers of patronage from the increased sums available for donation.


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