Saturday, May 26, 2018

AVOID, DEFLECT, ATTACK, IGNORE


In most normal countries and states around the world the state of the nation's railways is understandably a matter of some economic significance, concern and civic pride. Yet the current state of our nations fragmented railways is a source of national embarrassment and collective frustration, rather than boosting our economy, they are literally dragging our economy down. 

Back in the 2016 National Assembly election's one of the Labour Party’s key flagship transport policies was that they would “deliver a new, not-for-profit, rail franchise from 2018”. The current (for how long is an open question!?) Incumbent is Cabinet Secretary for Transport, it was Ken Skates who actually authored that manifesto.

Yet, the current Welsh Labour Government has just handed over responsibility for our national railways to a French-Spanish, for-profit, consortium of transnational corporations – the former made a profit of €313 million in 2016. This means very basically that rail passengers in Wales will therefore no longer be subsidising rail passengers in Germany at least - as is the case under the current franchise with the German state-owned Arriva - we will be subsidising rail passengers in France instead.

The Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay could argue that they aren’t able to procure a publicly owned operator under the terms of the Wales Bill - they haven't. The harsh reality Labour in Wales has completely (and pretty consistently I might observe over the years) failed to ensure that the devolution settlement permitted the Welsh Government to procure a not-for-profit rail operator. 

To make matters worse, they then actually choose to vote in favour of this new devolution settlement, in the full knowledge that the settlement would stop them from being able to deliver on this important transport promise. The Welsh Government simply accepted this position, and subsequently has awarded a £5 billion rail franchise to the majority-owned French rail company, Keolis, and Spanish infrastructure corporation Amey to run the Welsh network for 15 years (2033).

As has become the sad norm for this Labour in Wales Government, when faced with awkward or difficult questions in the knowledge that they have lost the intellectual and moral argument, tend to avoid, deflect and evade challenges through personal and puerile attacks - and a blatant refusal to answer questions (as personified by Carwyn Jones's behaviour at First Ministers questions). 

The First Minister, however, as has been noted elsewhere is not alone when it comes to this behaviour. For one thing Labour cannot differentiate between itself and civic government - criticise them and they will attack you for undermining the institution be it in Cardiff Bay or Newport Civic Centre - but they will never directly answer the question or the criticism. 

In a recent debate in the National Assembly the Transport Secretary just refused to answer a crucial question that would at least have measured the sincerity of his vision for a Welsh not-for-profit rail operator. It was possible to introduce a ‘Break Clause’ to this franchise agreement which would allow the Welsh Government to end the contract before the formal contractual end date - this was not done. 

This would at least have bequeathed some future Welsh Government potential wiggle-room / freedom of movement to actually deliver a not-for-profit rail franchise if there was a change in the law made by a so minded Westminster Government. No such assurances were sought - this means the Labour in Wales Government have effectively bound the hands of not just the next administration, but the one after that, and, indeed, the one after that.

A recognisable pattern about decisions that bind the hands or limit the options of future Welsh governments may have emerged. This decision also mirrors the potential financial consequences of a commitment to the M4 Black route - which would tie up fresh acquired borrowing powers with significant loan  commitments that could effectively tie the hands of future Welsh governments (Labour in Wales or otherwise) for  years. 

The very borrowing powers themselves may have been reluctantly conceded by Westminster (by George Osbourne) with this in mind.  Now in relation to the rail franchise this could be down to a number of reasons: a lack of vision or desire from Labour in Wales, poor (if not downright questionably impartial) advice from the civil service, a lack of attention to detail, simply not being up to the business of governance with a deliberately badly designed system of devolution, or perhaps just not actually simply not being that good at what they do.

Now it can be argued that this could be down to arrogance, complacency, cynical indifference or a recognition of the realities of the current electoral system.  The partially proportional electoral system can be said to have largely been designed to deliver Labour majority government. 

It is more than possible that Labours duly elected representatives in Wales cannot envisage a non Labour dominated (minority or majority) government ever being elected. And at this moment in time who could say that they are not correct in this belief. If you were so minded, that the Labour minority government's that have been elected (periodically since 1999) have been a result of the electorate casting their votes despite the electoral system - which may say a great deal about some of the shrewd choices made by electors in our nation from time to time.

That said the Labour in Wales Cabinet Secretary questionably argued that this new for-profit franchise will deliver outcomes for passengers - something that very effectively undermines the Labour Party’s position at Westminster on nationalisation in its entirety. Plaid Cymru has long believed that Wales needs a publicly owned railway to ensure that dividends and profits are reinvested back into the Welsh rail services that have been starved of funding by successive Westminster governments. 

Recently the great leader (JC) spoke of the need for a people's railway, yet here, the only national government the Labour Party controls, are busy celebrating their achievements by brazenly and slavishly following the Conservative Party’s privatising agenda. A case of do as I say, not as I do? We have a long way to go in our country but for certain Labour in Wales is not the answer we are looking for…

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

THE COMPANY THAT YOU KEEP...


Personally I prefer my politicians to be chosen from the ranks of those who ask and answer questions (awkward and otherwise); from those who inquire, who have open minds and who tend to actually think (coherent) thoughts. Not to mention ones that tend not to come from parties that have been in receipt of donations from Russian and Serb businesspersons or are very happy in the company of filthy rich oligarchs. 

Teresa May's conduct as Home Secretary deserves scrutiny as the failure to hold an inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko - there were a number of suspicious deaths amongst the Russian emigre community (and associates) during a certain person's tenure as Home Secretary. The decision not to investigate because it may have been prejudicial to business / city interests remains questionable to say the least. 

The Brit (and City) elite are too comfortable not asking questions (let alone answering them) particularly those related to where the cash has come from. This is something that has been noted by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee has reported that London was being used to hide the "corrupt assets" of President Vladimir Putin and his allies. It's also been noted that despite the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter it remains "business as usual" for the City.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ANOTHER DIFFICULT ANNIVERSARY!


Forgetting anniversaries is a very human thing, we can all occasionally do it - its when the State has selective absences of memory that are deliberate and that it can become a problem. I wonder if the 13th April 2019 will be doubly underlined in the diary of whoever is sitting in 10 Downing Street next year - I suspect that it won't be underlined. The 13th April 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh or Amritsar massacre - which was somewhat half-heartedly referenced by then no doubt somewhat embarrassed PM David Cameron as a 'shameful event' -so much for making an attempt at a sincere if somewhat belated apology (back in 2013). Whatever you choose to call it - murder is still murder, an atrocity is still an atrocity, even if it was 99, a 100 or 101 years ago.  Perhaps in the aftermath of BREXIT (more than ever) there is a real need to temper the wave of post imperial Brit nostalgia for empire with some post colonial responsibility.