“Britain is walking into a national security crisis” according to Ed Miliband. Too true young Ed, but politicians of every political hue have refused to take climate change seriously.
The floods recently experienced can’t just be dismissed as an act of God as Met Office chief scientist Dame Julia Slingo said last week, the “clustering and persistence” of unusually violent storms in recent years is exceptional and points strongly to the disruption of weather cycles and ocean currents by rising temperatures.
Scientists, the world over, agree that homo sapiens activity in causing carbon emissions is a major source of the rising temperature. But governments have singularly failed to rise as fast as the flood-water, to the challenge.
Putting on Wellington boots does not a policy make. The government have failed the country during the crisis. A plethora of photo opportunities will not hide the facts.
Unlike Noah who prepared well in advance of the flood the government took the opposite course. The government’s agenda of slashing public expenditure hit the area of flood prevention just as it did other areas. 300 flood defence schemes had been left unbuilt because of the cuts at a time they should have increased flood defences. All government agencies and departments knew that this expenditure was necessary because of the warming planet. But there are many MPs on the government benches that are climate sceptics. Little wonder that Cameron could get away with the cuts with scarcely a peep.
The other problem is the government’s view of seeing everything that is private as good but the public sector is bad. With such a philosophy expenditure on public works programmes is a very low priority and to be avoided if at all possible. Floods have shown how shortsighted such an approach is. But times are a’changing now that the Tory heartlands along the Thames are affected. Money is no longer a problem, according to the Prime Minister – how reassuring.
The attempts of the government to avoid criticism by blaming the Environment Agency failed when the facts came out. They endured “massive” cuts to their budget since the Cameron government came to power. As the true blue Daily Telegraph reported “Officials working on flood risk management will be sacked as Environment Agency sheds about 15 per cent of its workforce to save money, potentially placing ability to cope with floods at risk”. Cuts on this scale are difficult to pass off as ‘efficiency savings’ when villages and regions are isolated by the floods.
Ministers might have hoped that benign weather would not reveal the folly of cutting back on flood prevention, alas nature was not compliant. Getting rid of the staff is likely to permanently cripple the ability to cope with environmental disasters at a time when they are getting more and more frequent.
Miliband was right to point the finger at David Cameron’s about turn on climate change, from hugging huskies in opposition to wishing to reject the green agenda in office. Whatever happened to it being the greenest government ever?
Economist Sir Nicholas Stern calls climate change “the greatest market failure the world has seen.” He’s right and things must change. Investment in long term planning and new technologists are urgently needed. This winter was a wake up call. Let’s hope that memories don’t fade and the climate and what to do about it dominate the debate in the lead to the next election.
A fault line is emerging within the ranks of Welsh Conservatives. It’s whether they owe their allegiance to the Welsh Assembly or whether their loyalty is to Westminster.
The schism came to a head last week when four members of the shadow cabinet refused to back their Welsh leader on his ambitious plans for income tax.
The result, a divided group. Some even going on the airwaves to cry ‘foul.’ Poor dears they’d lost their front bench status for simply backing David Jones, the Conservative Secretary of State.
It is a fact, that on many issues the Conservative group in the Welsh Assembly have taken a very different stance to that of the Westminster government.
The Conservative group profoundly disagreed that rail electrification should end in Cardiff and not Swansea. They pressed hard and eventually won the day, Mr Cameron’s government relented.
Likewise they pressed hard against the closure of the passport office in Newport again they got a change of policy. Coast guard reorganisation was also changed after their intervention. So without doubt the Conservatives in the Assembly have embraced the spirit of devolution and ploughed their own furrow.
And that’s as it should be. Although fighting tooth and claw against devolution the setting up of the Assembly gave Conservative’s a platform and a profile in Wales that they never had before. In many ways their increased representation in Westminster could be partially put down to their higher profile in Wales courtesy of the Assembly.
That the Welsh Assembly Conservative group wanted to position themselves with a different agenda to Labour is understandable. That they wanted to show themselves to be the party of low taxation is again understandable; after all it is one of their unique selling points as a party. That’s why they wanted a lower tax rate to those on high earnings. You can imagine their annoyance when the Secretary of State said no. It had to be all or nothing. All taxes down or none, that was all that was on offer.
“Not on,” said most of the Assembly Group “we don’t want a lockstep”
This put Andrew RT Davies on a collision course with David Jones. A relationship that had all the warmth of a corpse, got even cooler.
So when four members of the Tory group decided to back Jones and not their own leader, it was treachery indeed. Little wonder they were stripped of their front bench status. They knew what they were doing when the voted against their own group ‘cos it was spelt out to them in no uncertain terms before hand.
The question is why did they do it? Well the two North Wales women are very close politically to David Jones and given a choice would always back their fellow traveller. After all it was just the previous week that David Jones had welcomed Janet Finch-Saunders’s reselection as a Conservative candidate for Aberconwy.
Antoinette Sandbach, who has ambitions to be a Westminster MP clearly saw that loyalty to the Conservatives centrally would do her own ambitions no harm at all.
This same consideration might have influenced Byron Davies to voice his concern and vote with the other four in the Conservative group. He was spared the sacking because he had previously being paired and wasn’t expected to vote. The jury is still out as whether he’ll join the disaffected four.
Nick Ramsay is a more complex individual. He was a rival to Andrew RT Davies for the leadership of the Assembly group but lost narrowly. It’s true to say that he didn’t quite get round to accepting the result as the settled view of his party.
Having stood on a progressive pro-devolution platform he now does the opposite. Backing the anti-devolution David Jones. A major political summersault but unlikely to advance him in the party and certainly not in the group. There’s nothing as strange as folks, eh? His chances of ever achieving the leadership are now nil. He who wields the knife seldom gains the crown.
So what’s to happen now? The last few days have done the Conservative cause in Wales little good. But these things blow over. Let’s hope that it doesn’t diminish their enthusiasm for introducing new policies. The Welsh government needs to be challenged a few policy hand grenades thrown in does not come amiss..
Democracy needs an antidote to the soft left consensus that has ruled Wales. There is a place for a centre right party but not one that simply acts as a lapdog to Westminster. The Conservatives were developing their own Welsh agenda. Let’s hope that the events of the last few weeks don’t introduce a new caution. The next test for them will be how they respond to Silk two. The hope is that they continue on their radical path.
The row continues to bubble away as to whether Wales should have income tax varying powers. It was debated in the Senedd and all four party leaders with various nuances were of like mind they wanted Silk implemented in full and no lock stop on income tax. Not so four Tory AMs so they decided not to vote on the matter. The result, they were sacked from the Opposition front bench. (See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/02/blue-blood-spilt/)
In order to buy off two of their backbenchers a government-backed vote was promised before the next Assembly election to ban the smacking of children. Deputy Minister Gwenda Thomas promised the issue would be considered as part of future legislation. The pledge came after at least two Labour AMs threatened to rebel and vote for a Plaid Cymru amendment in favour of a ban. Labour AMs were ordered to vote against it. A smacking ban has widespread support across the assembly chamber and would be expected to achieve a comfortable majority in a free vote. In the event the Plaid amendment was lost. Clearly, the government tactic worked and they snuffed out any potential Labour rebellion.
Labour won the by-election, triggered by the death of Labour MP Paul Goggins. The Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election in Manchester saw a sharply reduced turnout. Labour’s candidate, Michael Kane, retained the seat with 13,261 votes, a majority of over 8,000 on a low turnout of 28.24%. A total of 10,141 postal votes were cast and only 13,883 on the day. Ukip’s John Bickley came second with 4,301 votes, the Tories’ Daniel Critchlow third on 3,479 votes and Mary di Mauro of the Lib Democrats trailing on 1,176 votes in a seat in which they once took more than 25% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats lose their deposit for the eighth time in the 15 by elections held since 2010. The result was as predicted in Lord Ashcroft’s poll of a week earlier.
The week was dominated by the politics of rain (or blame). Local Government Minister Eric Pickles tried to blame the Environment Agency for the floods, this was rebuffed by Lord Smith, the Agency’s Chair, who highlighted the cuts his organisation had received since 2010. Cameron then took the initiative and said it wasn’t a blame game and money was no object in sorting out the mess. Alas it wasn’t quite so, there was no new money on the table as the Opposition pointed out. Meanwhile right wing Tories and Ukip still deny global warming, a bit of water doesn’t dampen their prejudges. Lord Stern, the author of a 2006 report on the economics of climate change, said the flooding and storm damage was a clear indication of the dangers of climate change and demonstrated the need for Britain and the rest of the world to continue to implement low-carbon policies to reduce the probability of greater tragedies in the future.
The three Unionist parties united to tell the Scots none of the three would countenance a currency union with an independent Scotland. This was based on advice that Osborne had received from Treasury civil servants saying that a sterling zone between the UK and an independent Scotland would be unworkable, unstable and damaging to both countries. Salmond retaliated by saying that Scotland would refuse to pay its share of the UK’s debt. The arguments matter because private polling showed that economic security was a crucial factor for the “middle million” of Scotland’s voters who have yet to make up their mind on independence. (See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/02/cry-freedom/)
YouGov/The Sun Con 33%, Lab 39%, LD 9%, UKIP 12%
YouGov/The Sun Con 32%, Lab 39%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%
YouGov/The Sun Con 34%, Lab 39%, LD 10%, UKIP 11%
ICM/Guardian CON 34%(+2), LAB 38%(+3), LDEM 10%(-4), UKIP 11%(+1).
YouGov/Sunday Times CON 35%, LAB 39%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 10%