Archive for March, 2010

Golowg Column translation: Parliament poorer at the end of term

At one time a barrel of beer would be enough to decide who would represent a Borough in Parliament. And there was not much choice of candidate either. It was either a Tory or Whig and the decision was in the hands of the local landed gentry. Westminster was in the hands of the upper classes and the vast majority of society had no representation.

In truth it took until the middle of the last century until we had a parliament that was truly representative of all. A representative democracy at last.

Perhaps. There is a long way to go before there is fair representation of women and members of the ethnic communities in the building. But the success of the twentieth century was the election of members of the working classes to parliament.

And indeed the islands have profited greatly from their contribution. What kind of society would we have today without the massive working class contribution to Parliament?

People like Jim Griffiths.

We remember him as the first Welsh Secretary of State. But he made his name as a Minister in Clement Atlee’s government where he was responsible for creating the welfare state. His background? A miner that left school at 13 to work in a the Betws pit near Ammonford.

Aneurin Bevan had a similar background – the architect of the National Health Service. From England we had people like Ernest Bevin, a labourer and a lorry driver who became one of our best Foreign secretaries.

There are plenty of other examples as to how the House of Commons has profited from having politicians from the working class under its roof.

As this Parliamentary term comes to a close there are over 140 MPs that have declared that they are not standing again. In this cohort there are many members of the working class retiring.

The vast majority of those chosen as replacements are middle class. With a large number of these having down nothing but made their living from politics.

Straight from school to unioversity to red politics and economics. Out of university and into the office of a politician as a researcher or advisor. Taking advantage of the position to find a seat and with a fair wind a Member of Parliament in no time at all. Experience of nothing but the world of politics. Never coming out of the bubble, and certainly little experience of the world that the rest of the population inhabit.

Ther is no doubt about it, if there are less and less politicians that understand and are sympathetic to the working class, that class will turn their backs on conventional parties and look to more extreme ones to represent their interests.

No, the big parties are recruiting their candidates from the same pool, they are all of the same mould. There is no place in todays politics for a Jim Griffiths or a Nye Bevan.

Consequently its our loss.


Golwg COLUMN: Referendum Lost?

Strike. That’s the last act in a dispute between an employer and workers. The debate comes to an end, neither side has anymore to say on the issue. The situation has reached an impasse and the only way to solve the dispute is to do battle until one side yields. The strike is the final stage of the dispute.

As Wales was the birth place of the industrial revolution the ‘strike’ plays an important part in our history.

There are many examples, strikes in the quarries of North Wales, like that in the Penrhyn in Bethesda. Strikes in the docks on the railways and of course a long history of disputes in the Welsh coalfields.

The last strike in the coal industry was the contest between Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher, who was the then prime minister. The strike went on for over an year and resulted in a victory for Maggie. Yes, it was a story of defeat for the miners and even today some of the South Wales valleys are suffering the effects of the pit closures. Coal, for better or worse, was what bound these valleys together and once the pits went there was very little left to maintain them.

Yes, a victory for Mrs Thatcher but Jim Callaghan was not so successful.

A series of strikes took place towards the end of his period as Prime Minister. It was public sector workers that were unhappy with their lot during this time. And some part of the sector was on strike or working to rule during this period.

Literally, there was litter on the street and the dead remained unburied. It was called the winter of discontent. The public lost their patience with the government and as a consequence first the referendum on devolution of powers to Wales was lost. And secondly, Mr Callaghan and his Labour government were thrown out of office. Yes, the keys to number ten were given to Mrs Thatcher. And as they say , the rest is history.

The economic landscape of Wales has changed since then. The old heavy industries like steel and coal have almost vanished. Gradually, our economy has moved away from manufacturing sector to the service sector.

But one thing that is very clear in our economy is the massive growth in the public sector. Now one in every four of those in work are employed in the public sector. Yes, a quarter dependent on the taxpayer for their wages.

Unfortunately it looks as if the taxpayers benevolence is coming to an end. In order to get the country’s finances ‘tidy’, all parties are promising large cuts in public expenditure sooner or later.

This is why the largest civil service union has started on a series of strikes. Not strikes for more pay but strikes for fair redundancy terms. Without doubt, many in the civil service will lose their jobs and not only civil servants but also local government workers as well.

As a consequence its not difficult to foresee a future when strikes are on the increase. And as night follows day dissatisfaction with the government of the day will also increase.

Will we see history repeat itself. Will the next referendum be lost for the same reason as the first?


Golwg Column: Vote on television?

I have never voted. My wife and children have, but I’ve resisted the temptation. Despite family pressure, I up to now, have mastered the art of saying , no.

Despite my refusal many million have voted as part of the television phenomena – the reality show. Big Brother and I’m a celebrity and talent shows like X factor and Britain’s Got talent gather millions of votes. There is no apathy, almost everyone want a share in the outcome.

If this is true about something that is of little importance, why is it not true about elections, where the results are important to both individual and his society? Is there anything special in a television programme that makes people want to vote or has politics declined so much that we turn our back on the process?

Well, we’ll see what influence television has and whether or not it energises the general election. The three leaders of the British Parties – Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg – have agreed to debate with one another over three television programmes on ITV1, Sky News and the BBC in the weeks leading up to the general election. In Wales the three channels will have a debate that also include Plaid Cymru.

We will see if these historic debates have an effect on the vote. It is possible, as opinion polls in an election campaign tend to show the lead between parties narrowing, to see whether the debates have an effect on the eventual results. If Britain follows the USA example, it could make a big difference.

It is very likely that the television debate between Richard Nixon and J F Kennedy, lost it for Nixon. Why?Because President. Nixon looked shifty on the box. Of course, things are different here, we are not electing a President but a Member of Parliament. And of course, there are other influences at play when electing a local Member.

But there is no doubt that the leaders personality is important and can make a big difference to the result. We have moved closer to the US in our electioneering over the years and it is to there the parties will be looking for the specialists to advise on the three television programmes.

But there will be one big difference between these historic programmes and reality programmes. The voting.

All of us will have to leave the warmth of home and bother to go out and cast our votes. It won’t be a question of lifting the phone after the programmes end. Well that’s the way it is at the moment but who knows about the future?

And what about the referendum? Is this the way to increase the vote. A television debate between Cymru Yfory and True Wales and a phone poll afterwards? And Andrea Benfield announcing the results after the phone lines are closed!

I guess it will be a little while yet, before the ballot box get and honourable place in Saint Ffagans.