LEADER of the UK Liberal Democrats Tim Farron was in Wales this week for the Welsh party’s conference, in an attempt to rally the troops before the elections in May.
With the party languishing on around 5% support according to the most recent YouGov poll, and facing challenges from four parties, Mr Farron concentrated on Welsh Labour’s perceived poor record in government, and the need for a viable alternative.
He suggested that those looking for a ‘protest vote’ should choose the Lib Dems rather than UKIP. However, considering that the Liberal Democrat policies on, for example, membership of the European Union and immigration are somewhat different to those of UKIP, this could prove to be a somewhat forlorn hope.
Referring to persistent rumours that UKIP will be fielding former Conservative MPs Mark Reckless and Neil Hamilton – something the party has yet to confirm – Mr Farron said: “I find it hard to credit, really, if I may say this as an English Liberal – why would people in Wales vote for English nationalists? That is essentially what they are and their interests are anything but the interests of Wales.”
A major problem for the Lib Dems could prove to be the number of alternative ‘protest votes’ available. Apart from UKIP, the Green Party is gathering in strength, and will be attempting to secure their first list member. An increase in the Green vote is likely to be primarily at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Farron was unwilling to say that he was ‘100% certain’ that any Lib Dems would be elected to the Assembly. However, if the YouGov poll is accurate, their vote stands to be more-than halved. With Kirsty Williams as their only constituency AM, this could have serious repercussions for the party’s list AMs – William Powell, Peter Black, Elunedd Parrott and Aled Roberts.
The collapse of the Lib Dem vote in the General Election could be put down largely to a highly unpopular Westminster coalition with the Conservatives, and it will be interesting to see whether the party’s record in Wales, where they have supported a minority Labour government, will suffer less as a result.
Mr Farron criticised Welsh Labour’s perceived ‘right to rule’ claiming that ‘Labour people’ that he met in Wales were ‘kind of insulted and offended at the notion anyone else should try and even contest them, never mind maybe beat them.’
It is worth mentioning that the only time that Labour has looked like possibly being ousted from power in Wales, in 2007, it would have required an ideological hotchpotch of the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, and the Lib Dems uniting in a ‘rainbow coalition. As The Herald has pointed out before, the leader of Plaid Cymru has ruled out any coalition with the Conservatives, while Andrew RT Davies appears to have ruled out any coalition with anyone, or had it ruled out for him.
The leader of the Westminster Labour Party also came in for some criticism, with Jeremy Corbyn described as ‘a nice bloke, but not a serious alternative to the Tories.’ Since taking over from Nick Clegg, support for the Lib Dems has dipped from 9-10% to around 6% – a trend which appears to have been reflected in Wales.
Mr Farron also claimed that Labour were ‘without doubt the most useless opposition in the history of British politics.
‘The Tories are getting away with cutting universal credit for the hardest working, poorest-paid people… because there is no one to hold them to account. What an outrage.
‘Labour have left the field of play. Liberal Democrats now fill that space.’ Other targets included the Etonian ‘sense of entitlement’ enjoyed by prominent Westminster Conservatives: “David Cameron and his Government have no idea how hard it is for people who don’t enjoy the sorts of income that they do,” he claimed. This would appear to be an attempt to try and take on Labour in Wales, as well as a significant re-invention following the exit of privately-educated banker’s son and Cambridge graduate Nick Clegg. Whether this will have any chance of success or not is open to question, but the Lib Dems may initially find it easier to gain votes from Labour than the Tories or Plaid.
Mr Farron also pledged his party’s support for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. ‘The tidal lagoon was an absolute given when the Liberal Democrats were in power. Now it’s massively at risk given that we aren’t,’ he claimed.
Support for the project in Wales has never been doubted. However, as Mr Farron pointed out, after the 2015 General Election, a certain cooling-off has been noted, especially from David Cameron, and Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb. It is unlikely, given the current political standing of the LibDems in Westminster – eight MPs, down from 57 – that they would be able to provide any serious support.
Next stage of the rollout by Open Reach
Local member of the Welsh Parliament Lee Waters has welcomed news that Open Reach is bringing super-fast fiber broadband to new parts of the Llanelli constituency.
The next stage of the rollout by Open Reach will bring full fibre to the premises broadband to thousands of homes over the course of the next few years. Provision of super-fast broadband has been a priority of Welsh Government, and the new roll out will increase provision across Wales and Carmarthenshire. The provision of broadband is the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but the Welsh Labour Government have stepped in to fill gaps in the network in Wales that commercial providers have left behind.
Lee Waters MS said:
“I’m really pleased that super-fast fibre broadband is being rolled out to more homes in the area.
“Burry Port, Llanedi, Cross Hands, Hendy, Llannon, Pembrey and Tumble will all start having full fibre installed later this year. This stage of the roll-out is being fully funded by OpenReach.
“This is on top of the investment made by the Welsh Government to get 95% of households connected to fast broadband.
AM seeks assurances for Llanelli car industry
Mid and West AM Helen Mary Jones has asked for assurances in the Senedd from the Welsh Government about the future of automotive industry in Llanelli.
Car production in the UK fell to its lowest level in almost a decade last week. It was revealed output fell 14 per cent to 1.3 million, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Production shutdowns in anticipation of Brexit is one of the factors impacting on the decrease in output.
Shadow Minister for Economy, Tackling poverty and Transport for Plaid Cymru, Helen Mary Jones AM said:
“It is just over a year since the Schaeffler automotive factory in Llanelli announced that it would be closing with the loss of 220 jobs. These were good-quality jobs, jobs that could sustain families productively. There are real concerns in the sector about the access to markets. I asked the Brexit Minister about further discussions the Welsh Government could have with the UK Government to try and ensure that we do have a voice around the table when negotiations are being made.
“This is especially important with regard to both the new trade deal that we’ll hopefully have with the European Union and any other free trade deals, to ensure that there are no unintended consequences. For example, allowing access to markets for vehicles and vehicle parts from outside Wales that might have a negative effect on the supply chain that companies have put a lot of effort into building up over many years.”
The automotive sector in Wales is comprised of about 150 firms, mainly component manufacturers, employing over 18,000 workers adding £3 billion to the Welsh economy.
Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles AM said:
“We are in regular dialogue with companies in the sector, with the Welsh Automotive Forum, and with national sector bodies regarding the potential impact of Brexit. Having an ongoing and frictionless trading relationship with the EU is very important for the automotive sector, and indeed for other sectors.”
Opinon: Matthew Paul
Well, you did it, you bastards. You won. At 11pm today, the UK will have left the European Union.
This hasn’t occasioned the cataclysm that –until 13 th December– the turbulent Brexit process might have led us to expect. The weeks since Boris Johnson’s thumping majority made Brexit an inevitability have been an anticlimax on the scale of The Godfather Part III.
Three and a half years of high political drama have ended in six weeks of Brexit bathos.
On Wednesday, our representatives in the European Parliament packed up their desks, emptied their lockers and –heavy of heart and misty of eye– signed off their final, Brobdingnagian claims for expenses. Pro-EU MEPs linked arms, waved EU flags and sang a maudlin rendition of Auld Lang Syne. In return, EU president Ursula von der Leyen told the UK she loved us and always will.
The love-in lasted about three minutes, until Nigel Farage, flanked by his gang of gruesomes, stood up to crow. In the graceless and disruptive manner he has diligently maintained over twenty years in the Parliament, Nigel rubbed fellow MEPs’ noses in the Brexit Party’s mess until the mike was switched off. Then his cohort started waving little Union flags so
enthusiastically you might have assumed Prince Harry had come back. Divorced.
The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 passed through Parliament without a murmur of disapproval, a court case, any perversions of Parliamentary procedure or even a self-indulgent ORRRRDDEEEEEERRRRR from the excellent and austere new Speaker,
Lindsay Hoyle. At sundown, EU flags will be taken down from public buildings around the UK and furled forever, in a melancholy echo of the last time Britain’s influence in the world seriously declined. All except in that bastion of Brexit resistance, the Scottish Parliament, where Nicola Sturgeon –under what legal authority it is unclear– has decreed that the
twelve stars will stay put. Mark Francois no doubt imagines himself jogging up to Edinburgh with a crack TA troop to tear it down from Holyrood in a reverse Iwo Jima.
South of Hadrian’s Wall, the mood amongst Remainers is one of defeated realism. Re- joining on the terms available to accession countries is not a serious option; the EU has gone and it ain’t coming back. Even Plaid Cymru –after getting utterly pasted in December’s election, largely because their ur-Remainy stance went down like a cup of cold sick in the valleys– aren’t clinging to dreams of readmission to the continental club.
Now, having got your damned Brexit, you now have to work out what to do with the thing.
What was the point of leaving the EU? There are some fairly compelling reasons to be out of Europe if you incline to the Corbynite hard left, because the Commission always had unhelpful things to say about confiscatory taxation and state aid for lame duck nationalised industries. Get Brussels out of the way and you are only a few strands of barbed wire and an
empty supermarket away from the usual sort of socialist paradise.
On the right, the intellectual arguments of economically liberal Brexiters have always had force. There can and will be advantages to an economy where barriers to free trade are removed, where business is freer to hire and fire, and where innovation in our tech, pharmaceutical and agri-business sectors is not restrained by regulation which adheres too closely to the precautionary principle. Intellectual arguments are all very well, but the difficulty is that this hasn’t typically been the kind of economy or society around which a political consensus has settled.
Before the General Election, in a political landscape where a powerless Prime Minister was bossed around by a hopelessly divided Parliament, it was hard to expect that much could be achieved by leaving the European Union. Now, we have a PM more powerful than any British politician since Tony Blair in 1997; with just as much of a mandate to change the country.
To benefit economically from Brexit, he will have to be prepared to do things that are very, very unpopular.
Round these parts, things that damage the livelihoods of farming communities are likely to be pretty unpopular. But this week we saw Boris inviting a stampede of half-starved, flystruck Ugandan cows into the UK meat market. “I have just told President Museveni of Uganda” he said –following a conversation quite different from the sort of Ugandan
discussions with which our Prime Minister is usually associated– “that his beef cattle will have an honoured place on the tables of post-Brexit Britain.” What is good news for herdsmen around Kampala won’t be so well-received in Knighton, Keswick or Kirkaldy.
Boris will also have to decide whether we are a country closer to Europe or America. If we choose the latter, and unless the US Democratic Party seriously ups its game, we will be saddled with another four years of having The Donald as our psychopathic cell mate in a prison we built for ourselves. It’s in our interest to keep him happy, but this week’s decision to allow Huawei –the tech equivalent of coronavirus– to supply hardware for Britain’s 5g mobile networks was like carelessly reaching for the remote control in the middle of one of Trump’s favourite TV shows. There are worrying noises coming from the top bunk, as of someone sharpening a shiv to use on us in the first round of post-Brexit trade talks.
So, residents of workless Labour-voting constituencies in South Wales; farmers who didn’t like filling in the subsidy forms; anyone who hates being bossed around by foreigners but doesn’t count Donald Trump amongst their number. You voted for it. You got it. It’s here.
Enjoy it; it’s going to be a wild ride.
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