Archive for June, 2012

Better together

Two speeches in one day by leading politicians. Could it get any better? 

The first one delivered by dear old Alistair Darling. He who now has time on his hands having been evicted from Number 11. He’s now leading the ‘No’ campaign to keep Scotland from ‘buying a one way ticket’ out of the Union.

The thrust of how he and the cross-unionist party  intend convincing the Scottish people to stay in the Union is that all of us on these Isles are ‘Better together.’  

‘We’re positive about being a proud nation within a larger state and the far wider range of opportunities for our people that this creates.’  

In the book 1066 and all: there were according to the authors 103 Good Things in history. Now Alistair Darling will add the104th ‘Good thing’ and that is, staying in the Union. And presumably listening to Alex Salmond would be a very ‘bad thing’ indeed.

But whilst the ex-Chancellor was fighting for the the Union, the First Lord of the Treasury was putting a very different gloss on what it means to be part of the Union.

The Prime Minister was all from moving from the national to the regional. Forget the ‘one nation’ when money is involved. No, he wants the nations and regions to be different when it comes to hard cash.

Mr Cameron is of the view that benefit levels affect work incentives and as wage rates vary around the country. His reasoning is that what someone receives in benefits compared to what they potentially get by going into a job has an impact on the incentives they face. 

So in 1066 speak, national pay and national benefits is a ‘bad thing.’   So the Scots and the Welsh getting less benefits and less wages would be a thoroughly ‘good thing’   according to Mr Cameron.

Now whilst Mr Darling has put on his kilt and busies himself with campaigning to convince the Scots that the Union provides them with ‘shared political, economical and cultural institutions.’ The Prime Minister wants to save cash. He’s happy to  see a breakdown in some of these shared economic institutions if that means the Treasury paying less to the ordinary Taff or Jock.

If this is what the cross party campaign is about then Mr Salmond will be laughing into his porridge.  

‘Better together’ certainly won’t mean ‘Better off, together’ if Number 10 gets its way.


Because of editing commitments over the next month this blog will not be appearing, but normal service will be resumed towards the end of July.


Homes, poets and bankers

For the opening of Community Housing Cymru’s new offices  Gillian Clarke the National Poet for Wales penned a verse titled ‘Not much to ask.’

A holt, a den, a form,

like otter, fox or hare,

shelter from shadows of the night

against the bitter air,

four walls for the winds to lean on,

a roof for the rain’s knock,

a door to close against the dark,

a key to turn in the lock,

a window to watch people pass, 

a street, a tree, a patch of grass.

As night falls it’s our breath, our story

clouding the glass.

A poem about all of us having a basic need for shelter, triggered the thought that the economic storm that’s raging around Europe was initially caused  by a massive slump in the housing market in the United States.

The story starts with more and more cash lent on houses that had a low asset base.  People used the cash to buy all kinds of goods, cars washing machines you name it the money was there to buy it.  But as they say, all good things come to an end.

These banks got cold feet. They collectively decided they’d been a bit imprudent had put out too much cash on such a slender base. They decided to roll things back.

So how did they set about getting themselves out of a hole of their own making. 

The first port of call was to become heavy with those a few years earlier they’d been encouraging to take more and more cash. But just like low life loan sharks they pushed the poor householders for their cash back. 

So what happened when the pressure was put on, the owner-occupiers try to sell their houses to clear their debts. Or more often than not foreclosure happened. Homes were seized by their creditors the owners evicted. The banks then try to sell a job lot of houses.

It’s not rocket science to work out the consequences – plunging house prices and then more and more find that their  debts greatly outweigh their assets.  

Even more find themselves forced to sell. Each day, not to put to fine a point on it, the numbers finding themselves in the financial mire goes up. House prices? They’re in a spiral moving relentlessly downwards. 

Result – a massive slump in the housing market which triggered the  general slump we’re all in today.

Not only did these banks lean on those they’d handed the cash to, but they also off loaded as many of these mortgage agreements to other banks and financial institutions. 

What these banks were buying was junk. If you buy junk you eventually run out of cash and just like the householders you’re in trouble.  In banking terminology, they’re over exposed. To the rest of us they’re in a mess. So there you have it – the banking crisis in a nutshell.

What starts as a genuine need by families for a roof over their heads, becomes a financial instrument that is more and more distant from that basic need. And as they say, that’s why we’re  where we are, in a middle of a recession or perhaps even a depression.

So what’s to be done? Well,  government needs to bring back confidence to the market.  This cab be done by building more homes for rent. It also can help with mortgage rescue schemes so that families don’t loose their homes and cause creditors to further depress house prices by off loading these  homes onto the market.

The Welsh government bemoans that it hasn’t got many weapons in its economic armoury. Housing is something it has responsibility for. It could and should use housing as a vehicle to grow the economy of Wales. All it takes is a little imagination and some determination.


Nuclear free?

Carwyn Jones wants to welcome nuclear-armed submarines into the deep waters of Milford Haven. They’re not on offer yet. No, any decision will have to wait for the Scots to make their minds up as to whether they  stay in or out of the Union.

Despite the Westminster’s protest that no decision has been made on whether to deploy Trident with ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads or not.

The announcement to place a contract with Rolls Royce in Derby earlier this week for a £1.1bn to develop reactor cores provides a pretty broad hint that Cameron is only waiting until a more convenient political time before he sinks his defense budget into the project. 

So the chances are that Trident will be developed despite it not making much sense in strategic terms and despite Liberal Democrat objection.

So when it comes on stream will the Scots want it? The SNP government could theoretically after independence negotiate a defense agreement with the rump UK government. But the SNP have said they want the fleet removed from its base on the west coast of Scotland so an agreement with them on Trident is unlikely. So Faslane naval base on the Clyde would likely close.

So where then would HM government move the four Royal Navy Vanguard submarines and the naval base that services them. 

At a guess, despite Mr Jones’s dearest wish, the base is unlikely to come to Pembrokeshire. The UK government are unlikely to put all its strategic eggs in the one haven.

With a fifth of the UK’s energy and gas being handled in the deep waters of the Haven it’s difficult to imagine that our ‘so called’ nuclear deterrent would be placed in the area as well. 

So why then is the First Minister raising the issue now, after all even the decision on Trident is not due to be taken until 2016. 

The decision has less to do with Wales and more to do with the campaign to keep Scotland within the Union.

Mr Jones, who will be in Scotland for a meeting of British and Irish ministers on Friday, his remarks will be latched on there. He will no doubt be saying how he wants these prime jobs. The dog whistle message to the Scots ‘vote for the Union if you want to keep these jobs.’

Although Carwyn Jones claims to have the support of his cabinet on the issue  he is unlikely to get the backing of ordinary Labour members. Many of these  have been active in the peace movement and are unlikely to endorse a leader that wants to bring nuclear weapons to Wales. 

After all the Welsh Labour party in one of its conferences voted to abolish nuclear weapons. At a guess that policy has never changed. It will be interesting to see if there are any moves to change the settled view of the comrades. Unlikely, me thinks.  It might make for a less anodyne Welsh conference if the issue was to be debated.