Archive for February, 2014

Half term week in Welsh politics

The week 23 to 28 February

Wales

Tina Donnelly, The head of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales says an inquiry into death rates at Welsh hospitals is not needed. Last week this blog highlighted the intervention of England’s medical director in an email to his Welsh counterpart. Sir Bruce Keogh said data on rates in six Welsh hospitals was worrying but not adequate to “form a view”. The Welsh government has already ruled out an inquiry, and this stance is now  clearly  backed by the RCN leader. But she says “We’ve got to put the patient at the centre of this, this should not be politicized.” No chance of that Tina, can you imagine a politician giving up the opportunity of scoring points on any issue.

When politicians emerge from a meeting proclaiming unity, sweetnest and light you can bet your bottom dollar its to hoodwink the voter.  Welsh Tories emerged from a meeting with David Cameron in Downing Street playing down differences between the party in Wales and in Westminster. The Welsh secretary and the Conservative leader in the assembly gave a rare joint interview. David Jones said he was in agreement with Andrew RT Davies over the proposed devolution of income tax and that the policy announced in a draft bill at Westminster was agreed party policy. Oh dear, that’s not what the bulk of the Conservative Assembly Members voted for our wanted. Never mind seeing Andrew RT Davies and David Jones in sweet embrace is worth ditching a policy for. It would almost cause a run on a sick bag market.

Despite all the money Wales has received from Europe things seem to have got worse. Figures just released show the economy of west Wales and the south Wales valleys have slipped further behind the European average.The latest figures released show Wales’s Gross Domestic Product per capita was 64% per head of the European Union average in these areas in 2011, down from 65% in 2010.  £4bn of cash from Europe has been spent to build up the Welsh economy since 2000.  Money, money, money might make the world turn round, bit it certainly doesn’t turn round the Welsh economy.  Where has all the money gone? This might be an appropriate  area of research.

Its that time of year when the BBC does it’s bit for St David. Whether conducting a poll was quite what the  saintly David had in mind when he said “take care of the little things”is dubious. And what does the St David’s day poll tell us of the nations thinking? Well, it would seem that only 5% of people want to see an independent Wales. But when it comes to the Assembly over a third would like to see it gain more powers, although nearly a quarter would like to see it abolished. Overall though people in Wales back devolution but within the Union. What a cautious lot, opting for the status quo. No change here, we’re Welsh. Are you proud to be our patron Saint, David?

Rest

The Scottish referendum campaign again turned its attention to North Sea oil. Both the UK and Scottish government cabinets met in Aberdeen on Monday. Not quite in the same room but in the same city. Strange they both outlined their plans for the oil and gas industry. Both sides said warm words about Sir Ian Wood’s review of the industry. Alex Salmond has already praised Sir Ian’s work, but took the opportunity to claim Mr Cameron should be apologising for the UK government “squandering” the riches of the North Sea over the past 40 years. The future of the North Sea oil and gas industry has been a major battleground in the campaign and this is likely to continue until the vote in September. No oil on troubled waters here.

David Cameron’s efforts to reduce net migration levels to below 100,000 suffered a major setback on Thursday when figures showed levels had rise by 58,000 to 212,000 in the year to September 2013. The increase has been driven by a big growth in the number of European Union citizens coming to Britain.

Spring is in the air. How do we know because the political parties start to hold their ‘Spring’ conferences. First off the block is the  UK Independence Party. They’re down in Torquay and there Nigel Farage hopes to galvanise support ahead of May’s European Parliament elections where the polls are predicting great things for them.  Opinion polls suggest there has been a sustained increase in UKIP’s national support since the end of 2012, with it regularly getting double digit figures. There’s nowt as strange as folks.

Polls

Tuesday

YouGov/Sun         CON 33%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 13%

 Monday

Populus                   CON 32%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 15%

 Sunday

YouGov/Sunday Times         CON 32%, LAB 39%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 12%.

 Scottish referendum

ICM/Scotland on Sunday         YES 37%(nc)          NO 49%(+4).

Panelbase/SNP                           YES 37%(nc)          NO 4

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Gross profits

P81000011The HSBC have just announced an annual profit of £14 billion. As a reward the chief executive of HSBC, Stuart Gulliver, is to get allowances worth £32,000 a week – on top of his £1.2m salary – to get around the EU’s cap on bonuses.

Not so long ago Barclays bank paid out 10% more in bonuses even though the bank’s profits were down 32%. That represents a bonanza of £2.38bn for Barclays staff in bonuses alone.

What is unique about HSBC is that it’s the first UK bank to reveal how it will sidestep the pay restrictions imposed by Brussels. The new rules restrict bonuses to 200% of salary even with shareholder approval. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the other banks will follow where HSBC has led.

The EU restrictions were placed on all European banks to wrestle back some of the feckless behaviour of bankers who caused the financial crisis by taking reckless and needless risks to win excessive bonuses for themselves.

Back Gulliver, his £1.7m “fixed pay allowance”, paid in shares every three months on top of his salary, will ensure he is paid a minimum of £4.2m a year, up from £2.5m now. Nice little earner if you can get away with it.

The government’s response, yes you’ve guessed it,  back the bankers. George Osborne is taking legal action against the Brussels cap.

Oh, well it was always thus, the Conservatives helping the stinking rich. Whatever happened to “we’re all in this together.” They’d rather help banks such as HSBC that were fined £1.2bn in 2012 by the American authorities for money laundering for Mexican drug dealers than ordinary people. Cut benefits, but don’t touch bonuses

But you can’t ignore £14bn profit you can almost hear the government say. Well when a large part of if is a direct benefit from the regime of quantitative easing, the taxpayer can rightly demand that the banks should restrain from lavish payouts to their top brass. After all being handed interest-free state finance to strengthen their balances is hardly them being innovative.

As TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “It would be great if banks put the same effort into lending to small businesses and investing in infrastructure as they do to getting round EU rules on boardroom bonuses.”

In a speech a few week’s ago Miliband said inequality was the number one issue in contemporary politics. He’s got a point when the top 1% – or even a top 0.1% – soaring into the stratosphere with their rewards. This latest bonus is a prime example of the rewards that some people get.

It does little good for society to have a forever widening gap between the rich and the rest. It warps the country, it distorts the economy Miliband is right inequality is not good.  But the question to him is “What are you going to do about it?”

There should be more than a windfall tax on banks, although that is sorely needed. Rather than reduce taxes for the rich the country should get back to a proper redistributive income tax system.  Additionally a proper wealth tax is also needed.

On a score of 0 to 10 how likely is Miliband to enact such measures. If Labour’s past record is any indication, highly unlikely is the answer.

 

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Another week in the political world

Week 16 to 21 February

Wales

A spat over the number of deaths in Welsh Hospitals has arisen between Labour and the Conservatives. The Conservatives want an inquiry but Health Minister Mark Drakeford was dismissive calling it a “nonsensical trap”. It comes after the medical director of the NHS in England suggested that the Welsh rates were worrying and should be probed.  Transparency is the name of the game, after neglect and abuse at Stafford Hospital led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths between 2005 and 2008 and prompted a public inquiry. But there are such things as damned lies and statistics or as Mr Drakeford would put it rather more delicately data for England and Wales is collected differently and can’t be compared. Expect the row to continue as the Conservatives use  the Welsh Labour government’s ‘failures’ to taunt Ed Miliband.

Mr Cameron visited Pembrokeshire in his tour of flood-stricken areas. Quick as a flash flood Natural Resources Minister Alan Davies demanded that the bundle of cash the Prime Minister was promising to repair the damage caused would also come into Welsh Government’s sticky hands too. (See also http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/02/noah-was-right/)

The Welsh Assembly Conservative group  meeting was a lively affair in the aftermath of four of their number been stripped of their front bench responsibilities. Threats and counter threats. Well, nothing new there then. The old adage that the political opposition are in the other parties but that political enemies are in the party’s own rank seems to be very true amongst Welsh Conservatives. (See also  http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/02/no-vote-no-job/)

Rest

The volume of retail sales was down for January by 1.5% having shown a strong performance in the Christmas period, according to the Office for National Statistics. It still 4.3% higher than the previous January year. So despite shoppers been spent out by Christmas there are still enough flashing the old plastic to keep the retail sector sweet.

The Scots having been told that they can’t use the pound or stay in the EU after independence were hit by further bad news by that purveyor of gloom, Alistair Darling.  He now says that Lottery cash would dry up. Gosh, that really is  hitting below the belt. Not true, says Scottish Finance Secretary Swinney, Scotland would still receive Lottery funding following a “Yes” vote in the referendum. How about a little punt on who’s saying porkies.

Polls

Thursday

Scottish referendum

TNS BMRB          YES 29%, NO 42%, 29% (DK) (the fieldwork was completed a fortnight ago).

Survation/Daily Mail. YES 38% (32%) NO 47%(52%) 16% (DK).  The poll was taken after Chancellor Osborne’s intervention, it gives some credence to the view that the more the Westminster government intervenes in the debate the more Scottish voters are moved to vote.

Monday

Wales poll

The Yougov poll conducted for ITV Cymru Wales and the Wales Governance Centre were published on Monday. (in brackets are the December results for comparison).

The Assembly Poll would give Labour 30 seats unchanged from now, the big difference is what happens with the Opposition parties. The Conservatives loose 3 seats and Plaid Cymru 2 to UKIP. The Liberal Democrats retain their current 5. With such a fragmented opposition Labour would be in a strong position to push through its programme of government.

If the polls are accurate Plaid Cymru would loose  their 1 European seat to UKIP. Parliament since it’s members has been elected. The brackets are

Westminster          CON 22%(+1), LAB 47%(+1), LD 7%(-1), Plaid 11%(-1), UKIP 9%(-1)

Welsh Assembly (Const): CON 21%(+2), LAB 42%(-1), LD 9%(nc), Plaid 19%(-1), UKIP 5%(-2)

Welsh Assembly (Reg): CON 19%(nc), LAB 39%(-1), LD 9%(nc), Plaid 17%(+2), UKIP 10%(nc)

 European: CON 17%(-3), LAB 39%(-2), LDEM 7%(-1), Plaid 12%(-1), UKIP 18%(+5)

 Sunday

YouGov/Sunday Times                    CON 32%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%.

ComRes/Indep. on Sunday          CON 32%(+2), LAB 37%(+2), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 15%(-4).

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