Archive for April, 2013

The best peacetime PM

Margaret Thatcher 1979 electionIt is best to disregard the tributes of politicians about other politicians because they highjack the event for their own purposes.

Yesterday was no exception. Mr Cameron claiming almost that it was the blessed Margaret that had inspired his free market approach to the economy. Ed Miliband had his say politely pointing out that she’d changed the political terrain.

Well, that she certainly did.

She broke the post war consensus. And neither Blair nor Brown had the will or the inclination to reverse her undoubted reforms.

Some would say that Blair and Brown have more to answer for than Thatcher. At least she was true to her own beliefs. The Labour leaders turned their collective backs on social democracy in favour of Thatcher’s voodoo economics.

Mrs Thatcher destroyed our manufacturing base in favour of the financial sector. Blair and Brown deregulated banks and other dubious financial institutions and allowed these modern day pirates to play fast and loose with our savings. Is there any wonder the bubble burst?

Now it would seem inappropriate so soon after an old woman’s death to criticize her work. But our current crop of politicians will wrap her legacy round them and make claims that just don’t add up. All, of course, to justify their own policies.

The country is now in an economic recession that has lasted longer than that of the so-called great recession of the inter-war period.

And the cause the unregulated free markets favoured in the US under the Reagonomics and then his political heir’s Bush Senior and Bush junior. In Britain Mrs Thatcher and her Welsh born Chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s free market reforms that wiped out first our heavy industries and then our manufacturing base in favour of the spivs of the financial sector.

Thatcher and Howe killed off manufacturing a source of well-paid skilled jobs that acted as an economic multiplier in towns like Merthyr. Not only did manufacturing go, but steel and coal. It took a generation to get the economy of North East Wales back on its feet after the steel closures there. And the South Wales valley’s are still in the doldrums after the pit closure programme that her government embarked on. Industrial villages and valley communities’ still without work and without hope.

Even in the good times these areas saw none of the action. These last few years has seen hopelessness move into desperation. Is it little wonder that the benefit bill is so big? And now Mrs T’s political heirs want to slash low benefits even further. The old adage is true it’s the rich that get the pleasure and for sure with the new policy of benefit cuts it’s the poor that are getting the blame.

The right to buy was hailed as a Thatcher success story. But looking from today’s perspective was it really. The discounts offered were so great that if you were in work it would be foolish not to buy. It was such a give away that it was local asset stripping at its worse. No one would object to people buying the council homes at a fair price, so that the council could use the receipt to build replacement houses.

So today we have the perfect storm a list as long as your arm of applicants for social housing, and a lack of cash available for social landlords to be able to build new homes.  And this down in part to Mrs Thatcher’s housing policy.

Commentators have been describing her as the best peacetime Prime Minister. Well, it all depends on how you judge things.

220px-Attlee_BW_croppedThe UK was one of the most equal countries in Europe when Mrs Thatcher got the keys to number ten.  Why? Because of the work of the unassuming Clement Attlee.  He set the tone for that much talked about “post-war consensus.”

Even at a time of post-war shortages and with the country on its knees he built a consensus that there was a better way. He hit for six the nonsense economic thinking that led to much poverty and misery.  That was his branch of radicalism.

Mrs Thatcher’s radicalism has resulted in Britain now being one of the most unequal countries in Europe.  All down to Thatcherism and policies carried out in her name by successive governments since.

Dear reader, you decide which one was Britain’s best peacetime Prime Minister.

 

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Mrs Thatcher and Wales

UnknownWhen faced with a Mr. Whippy type ice cream there are those that love them a lot but in equal numbers there are those that loathe the stuff.  To those lovers of the product they can thank the inventor, a certain Hilda Roberts an industrial chemist.

In later life young Hilda left chemistry, became a barrister, married Dennis Thatcher took up politics and became Mrs. Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister. As Prime Minister she got the same emotions as with the ice cream she was both loved by many and loathed in equal numbers.

Love her or loathe her you could not ignore her. In recording her death Wales will have mixed emotions.

If you ask many a Conservative politician there is almost a religious adoration of the woman and its not just conservative politicians but many ordinary Welsh voters respected her as a firm leader. Indeed under her stewardship Wales returned more Tory MPs (14) than it had this side of the great Reform Act.

She took over the Premiership having defeated Jim Callaghan the Labour Prime Minister and Cardiff MP in 1979. She rather cheekily launched her successful election campaign in the Callaghan fiefdom of Cardiff.

But having been elected she made it clear that she was turning her back on consensual politics and embarked on a very strict monetary economic policy. A Port Talbot solicitor called Geoffrey Howe who was her Chancellor of the Exchequer implemented the policy. The policy saw a rapid increase in unemployment, especially in Wales. Her poll ratings fell dramatically. But as so often happens in politics, event came to her aid.

It came in the form of the Argentineans and their claims on the Falklands. They invaded; she sent a task force to repel them. Victory was hers. Argentina got rid of their dictator and Britain, well it got Mrs. Thatcher for a second term

Winning a war and then an election gave her the confidence to take on a running sore for the Tories, the miners. She was acutely aware that the miners had derailed Edward Heath’s administration. She was having none of it.

The miners under the leadership of Arthur Scargill went on strike at a time when the coal stocks were at there highest. Not the best time to take on a government most would agree.  The result, defeat and pit closures. A programme of closures that destroyed the economy of the Welsh coalfields and with it those communities dependent on King Coal. They’ve still to recover.

She started her term of Office with a Secretary of State for Wales representing a Welsh Constituency, namely Nicholas Edwards a Pembrokeshire MP. The Welsh speaking MP for Conwy Wyn Roberts was his number two.

In 1987 having bested two previous Labour leaders representing Welsh seats she did the same to Neil Kinnock. Three Welsh leaders in a row. Tony Blair must be internally grateful that he lost the Labour selection in Wrexham to Dr John Marek. But that’s for another obituary. Back to Mrs Thatcher.

On Nick Edwards retirement Mrs T  took the controversial step of choosing as Secretary of State for Wales Peter Walker an MP representing an English constituency. He wasn’t ‘one of them’. Walker wanted government to intervene in the economy in the political language of the time he was a ‘wet’ to her dry. But she couldn’t sack him she could ill afford to have such an articulate critic on the back-benches making the case Keynesian economics. So the next best thing was to send him to exile in Wales.

Poor Wyn Roberts claim to the top job was overlooked again. Alas always the bridesmaid never the bride. It became a bit of a tradition to overlook Sir Wyn, the top job in Wales always going to a succession of English MPs. Indeed that tradition only came to an end when David Jones MP got the job recently.

Although coal saw its decline under Mrs. T, she did eventually give a considerable boost to the Welsh creative industry. For it was during her Premiership that S4C was created. Although it came after some considerable protest and a threat of an hunger strike. But come it did and on her watch.

Like many a political career it was brought to an end not by the Opposition but by the plotting of her own ‘loyal’ Conservative MPs. They wanted her out as soon as her popularity in the country started to wane. Ungrateful lot eh, after all that she’d done for them. Not that it won’t stop many of them eulogising her  memory. Oh its a strange world this politics.

Now Mrs Thatchers problems stemmed from an unlikely cause – the funding of local government. Not the normal cause of a revolution granted, but it did for her. She had insisted in moving from the old rating system of funding councils to a “poll” tax or to give it its official name the community charge.

It proved a disastrous policy. Demonstrations followed, imprisonment for non-payment. It was deeply unpopular.  Eventually it was dropped and so also in time was she.  Mrs. Thatcher’s premiership came to a tearful end when she left Downing Street to make way for John Major in 1990. Never to return until Mr. Brown invited her back to visit her old haunt when he had the top job.

At the next election she left the House of Commons to become Baroness Thatcher with a seat in the House of Lords.

 

 

 

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Rhodri Glyn leaves the stage

P1180002One of the most colourful characters in the Assembly has decided to call it a day. Plaid Cymru AM and former Heritage Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas is to stand down at the next Welsh assembly election.

He was part of the initial intake of Assembly members in 1999.

5565599972_d9288151ba_bThe timing of the announcement is not surprising as Plaid Cymru have set themselves the target of getting all their candidates in place by the summer. In order so to do, the pressure is on sitting members to decide on their intentions. Will they stay or will they go? More will undoubtedly be announcing that they’re moving towards the exit door shortly.

Who then? It is unlikely that Ieuan Wyn Jones will want to serve another 5 years as a backbencher.  There’s also speculation about Alan Ffred Jones. It wouldn’t be a shock then to expect vacancies in Ynys Mon and Arfon.

One name that is unlikely to feature in the list of departees –the good Lord, Dafydd Elis-Thomas. The Meirionydd-Dwyfor Assembly Member is determined to stay and will continue to be an independent voice and a bit of a thorn in the side of the Plaid establishment.

However, there are likely to be enough winnable seats for the young Turks of Plaid Cymru to aim for. And of course, there will be endless speculation as to who those candidates will be.

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The speculation has already started about Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Will the ex-MP for the area make his political come back in the same seat that he once departed to embark on academic research across the pond. Adam Price is back in Wales now and acts as a part-time advisor to Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru leader.

Adam Price has for some years been talked about as a future leader of Plaid Cymru. Apart from having the desire, there is the little task of having a seat to pursue such an ambition. Carmarthen East would do quite nicely, methinks.

But that decision is in the hands of local party members and they may not look to kindly at re-selecting someone that has already walked away from elected office representing the constituency.

Even if Adam Price was selected he would unlikely challenge Leanne Wood for the leadership if she increases Plaid representation after the next election. They are close political friends and Adam Price would remain loyal to the current leader.

Another name that will undoubtedly be associated with the seat, is that of Nerys Evans. She was an Assembly Member for the region and gave the relative security of the regional seat to fight the neighbouring constituency of Camarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, a seat won by Conservative Angela Burns.

Of the new intake of Assembly Members at the time Nerys Evans was seen as the best of the bunch. She made the most impact and was quite a formidable politician by the end of her term in the Assembly.

Helen Mary Jones as chair of the party might be tempted to throw her hat in the ring, Although she’s associated with the Llanelli seat which she fought won and then lost. Who knows the seat next door which has been in Plaid hands for a while, might prove a safer bet to re-launch her political career.

Who ever the party chooses they inherit a seat with Plaid Cymru majority of 4,148 over Labour in 2011.

And what of the other parties who are likely to go.

Well, speculation must surround two cabinet members, Jane Hutt and Edwina Hart. They’ve been in the cabinet from the very first administration and may feel that they’ve done their bit.

Carwyn Jones hinted that he would be bringing new blood into the cabinet in his next reshuffle. Was this a sign that these two were likely to leave the Assembly?

There are no signs that any Conservatives are about to announce retirement. But who knows, the one rule of politics is, to expect the unexpected.

 

 

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