Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Memories are made of this

Battle will commence in the next few days within the Labour Party. No, not the fratricide between the two Miliband brothers for the leadership of the Labour Party. Despite the Lords Kinnock and Mandelson trying their best to rubbish each others favourite son.
No, the real battle will be between the two past Labour party Prime Ministers to justify their tenure in office.
The first shot will be fired by Tony Blair when he gives his first major television interview tomorrow to drum up sales in advance of his memoirs, 'The Journey'  being published.
It is common knowledge in the corridors of power that relations between him and his then Chancellor, Gordon Brown had declined to the point of open warfare by the end of his period in office.
We can expect Blair, after his self justification of the Iraq war, to put in the boot in very heavily into Brown.
 Expect a heavy criticism of Brown's handling of the economy and more particularly of the way he dealt with the financial crisis. Blair will likely accuse Brown of creating a regularity free zone within the financial world that lead to the financial crisis. A justification with some merit.
Brown lost the election and  expect Blair to make the most of this fact. The assertion will be that it all came to grief because  Brown turned his back on Blair's New Labour reforms. Indeed he is likely to accuse Brown of lurching to the left. Although many commentators will find the word Brown and left a very strange combination indeed.
Brown himself is expected to maintain a dignified silence.
He is refusing to put pen to paper to expose the internal politics of his years in office. But his silence will not stop his many friends jumping to his defence.
We can expect a robust response to the partial accounts that are likely to stem from Blair's book. They will not let Brown's achievements be rubbished.
This infighting is more than just the vanity of two political dinosaurs trying to justify their place in history.  It is, in the case of Blair, wishing to see the next leader of the Labour Party continue with the New Labour reforms. For him the project is far from complete.
Whether David Miliband  will find the publication of Blair's book so close the ballot papers going out for the leadership contest useful remains to be seen.
The last thing that the front runner for next leader  would want is to be seen  as Blair's heir apparent.  Whilst many in the country found Blair a charismatic leader and winning three general clearly demonstrated his popular support, he never really won the affection of many within his own party. If young David is seen as his political heir it may not be such a great asset in this contest.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Assembly voting intentions

Welsh voters have judged the Liberal Democrats harshly according the latest ITVWales Yougov tracking poll. Of the Welsh voters surveyed only 10 per cent of them indicated that they would vote for them in the next Assembly elections.  A fall of 5 per cent in the votes cast for them in the last Assembly elections and half of the votes  the party gained in the May general election.
Labour are now at 39 per cent, a slight fall from the July poll but up 7 percentage points from the general election and the last Assembly elections, in both of which they polled 32 per cent. 
Plaid Cymru are on 23 per cent and the Tories on 22 per cent.
Many Liberal Democrats will have serious concerns about next May's elections given that their current position is before next Octobers major public expenditure cuts.  It would seem that the voters are heaping all the blame on them and not on the Tories who don't seem to have been affected in the current poll. 
Labour must have some concern that they are not making more progress than they are, but it is likely that they will have a bounce in the polls when their new leader is elected next month.
Plaid Cymru need to be pushing a lot harder if they are to create a gap between themselves and the Conservatives. They have a difficult balancing act ahead of them on the one hand they need to take credit for the successes of the Cardiff Bay coalition government and  on the other they need to show how different they are from Labour whom they will be challenging in the Valley seats.
The poll continues to show a positive result for the 'yes' vote in the referendum on more powers for the National Assembly.

Here is a full summary of the ITVWales YouGov tracking poll results

(compared with 2007 election and previous polls)

If there were an election to the National Assembly for Wales tomorrow, and thinking about the constituency vote, how would you vote?

                        2007 Result     May 2010 Poll    June Poll     July Poll      August Poll

Labour                    32%                  32%               42%               40%             39%

Plaid Cymru            22%                  22%               20%               22%             23%

Conservative           22%                  21%               19%               20%             22%

Liberal Democrat     15%                  20%               12%               13%            10%

Others                        8%                     5%                 6%                5%              6%

And thinking about the regional or party vote for the National Assembly for Wales, which party list would you vote for?

                           2007 Result       May 2010 Poll    June Poll     July Poll     August Poll

Labour                        30%                    30%               40%              37%           39%

Plaid Cymru                21%                    21%               19%             20%            23%

Conservative               22%                    21%               20%             20%            21%

Liberal Democrat         12%                    18%               12%             14%              9%

Others                          16%                       9%                 9%               8%             8%

(compared with previous polls).

If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales increased law-making powers, how would you vote?

                                         April 2010 Poll          June Poll    July Poll   August Poll

Yes                                           49%                      55%            48%           48%

No                                             33%                      28%             34%          32% 

Don’t Know/                              18%                       17%            19%          21%
Wouldn’t Vote  

Monday, 23 August 2010

Housing slow down affects us all

There are over a million owner occupiers unable to sell their houses according to a survey by the Santander banking group. This is much more than the 725,000 who manage to sell their properties. This again underlines that the housing market is in a bad state.  It is slowing down and there are no signs that it will change for a while yet.
This is a consequence of t buyers being unable to access mortgages. 
The financial crisis put a stop on a 100 per cent mortgages now many banks and building societies are demanding a deposit of a quarter of the purchase price of a home. Many, especially first time buyers are unable to raise such high deposits. Even the current low interest payments is of little help if access to the market is denied to those seeking homes.
Alongside the downturn in owner occupation there is likely to be a slow down in the number of houses being built for the rented market. Social landlords are predicting  a slow down in their activities.  As the public expenditure cuts that are due to be announced in October  hits their sector.  These worries, as well as the changes to the Housing benefit regime, are creating a real concern amongst social landlords that they will find it difficult to help those looking for a roof over their heads. 
All in all, a grim time ahead to those that require a home. 
These factors  will  inevitably cause a rise in the number of homeless people.
Apart from the undesirable social effects of homelessness itself, it also adds to the headache of local councils. Councils have a statutory duty towards the homeless.   An increase in the number of homeless people will inevitably mean a greater expenditure by local authorities in this area. More spent in one area means less in another. So 'non' essential services will suffer even greater cuts. So forget that new library or evening class or street flowers, they will be the first to go.
The wisdom of pushing so quickly and so hard to reduce the public sector deficit must be questioned in such circumstances. That double dip recession is looming and looks inevitable,
It may or may not put a  strain  on the coalition government, but it sure as hell will put a strain on the rest of us.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

City start with win

After a dodgy start to their season last year Bangor City having limbered up in  Europe made a better fist of things in their first match of the new season.  City started the newly revamped Welsh Premier League with a win over the full timers of Neath.
The first half was evenly balanced. Bangor drew first blood with a penalty in the 19th minute which was converted by Morley. But within 3 minutes Neath equalised with a well taken goal by Hancock. Neither side made much of an impact in the remainder of the first half.
To coin a cliche, football is a game of two halves and the second half was dominated by City. Their passing was crisper with less of the mistakes of earlier. They dominated the Neath half. A goal from City was certainly on the agenda. But City took their time to convert  advantage in play to the tangible of a goal. A penalty was missed in the 82 minute. A draw seemed to be on the cards. But before City fans could get over their disappointment Hancock found the back of the net in the 84th  minute.

Time had run out on the full timers of Neath and they will have to wait a while yet for a return on their investment.
City will face Bala next Saturday with  some confidence after this performance. The game will be televised live on S4C at 3.45pm.
Bangor City 2
Neath 1

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Dilemma for the bank

All is not well with the economy when the cost of chips in the Caerffili high street goes up a staggering 14% from 70p last week to 80p now. Now in the great scheme of things that might not sound very much but when not working for ITV it is part of my staple diet. If measured along the other staples like tea, butter fruit and fish,  and of course diesel. All  point to things not looking  too good for the Hughes household budget for a while.
But this spike in food  and petrol prices is set to hit all household budgets in the next few months.
But that's not all. Thanks to the last budget VAT will rise to 20 per cent on the 4 January hitting all households, but particularly the poor, hard. it is estimated that it will add over 1 per cent to the cost of living. Increasing costs will also mean less purchases and still further pressure on those that provide these goods and services
Now all this is going to pose a real dilemma to the Bank of England when it sets interest rates as it will tomorrow. Should it raise interest rates from the current low of 0.5 per cent to stop inflation but in doing so put the kibe-wash on any economic recovery.
If these things come to pass and all the indications are that they will, is the Chancellor not being particularly fool hardy in taking out his axe to public spending and public service jobs.  Jobs that we in Wales are particularly dependent on.
A monetary and fiscal squeeze together would seem to be a squeeze too far.
Unless there is a real rethink we face a deep downturn and at the same time much higher inflation. A recipe for real disaster particularly here in Wales. So think again Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg before it is to late.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Art and Wales

This year the Art exhibition in the eisteddfod was the best for many an year. It was as if the artists had raised their game because of the display area.  The area was a large concrete pit that once housed the machinery that made the rolling mill, roll.
Tate Modern comes to mind as one strolls the area. Even the largest canvass sits comfortably within this cavern of a building.

The eisteddfod by their successful use of such a space raise an important question as to why Wales hasn't got a permanent gallery for the visual arts.
The National Museum is fine but inadequate to house all the nation's art works. No we need a bespoken venue and surely we have inherited enough buildings from our industrial past to create an iconic space to rival the best in the world. Who'll follow these in such a campaign?

Referendum talk

Carwyn Jones, Wales' First Minister put a compelling case as to why a 'yes' vote was essential to a meeting of Cymru Yfory at the eisteddfod. Many in the audience had never heard him speak with such passion before. He certainly was on fire, speaking with passion and without notes. It was like that old time religion!
On the subject of devolution Carwyn Jones's commitment has never wavered. He was in a small group within the Labour party that were pushing for more powers even when that cause was far from popular  within his party.
But despite the revivalist feel to the meeting and the warm embrace he received from that audience. And they would, wouldn't they. It's not that audience that needs convincing, but the vast majority that would never be seen dead at an eisteddfod.
There is a big job of work needed to be done out there and as yet there is little signs that there is a coherent campaign underway to convince people of the merits of the Welsh Assembly being the sole legislator in those areas already devolved from Westminster.
Its seems that no one wants to take the plunge and launch a 'yes' campaign. This complacency could backfire on the those that advocate more powers. Many in this camp may be buoyed by a seemingly large lead in the opinion polls. But such leads can vanish overnight.
Times are going to get  tough. And  the electorate  has a habit of lashing out indiscriminately at such times. So the referendum may be their opportunity to teach  a bunch of politicians a lesson.
So, those that want to win a 'yes' vote better stop making speeches to each other in a collective bit of navel gazing at eisteddfodau and get out to the real Wales and start winning hearts and minds.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Society Pavillion at eisteddfod

The eisteddfod is more than a cultural event it is also the one week of the year that institutional Wales holds its jamboree. Almost every organisation in Wales is represented. Productivity in our country must take a real dip during the week. And for all the movers and shakers its their opportunity to get things off their collective chest.
Today, was no exception. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Ieuan Wyn Jones, opened up a debate about the future of the Welsh media. Or, perhaps, more accurately what could be described as a lack of future unless a cross party consensus can agree on a way forward. His contribution is a six part plan based on the premise that broadcasting should be devolved and  the National Assembly should be given the powers to; 
1.        Set the budget of S4/C.
2.        Establish the terms of reference and aims of the Welsh language channel and protect its budget to ensure quality of production.
3.        Establish, in the short-term, a Welsh BBC trust to ensure that its financial, editorial and strategic decisions are made in Wales, with the aim of providing a better service to audiences in Wales.
4.        Establish formal structures to scrutinise the BBC, S4/C and Channel4.
5.        Control the distribution of FM frequencies in Wales, and ensure that new DAB stations such as Radio Wales and Radio Cymru are available throughout Wales.
6.        Have a say in how the ITV licence is decided in Wales.

His ideas received a warm welcome by the audience, but they would wouldn't they - they were to the man or women either employed or had a vested interest in the Welsh media.  The jury is still out as to whether an audience with less of a vested interest would find his ideas as attractive.
Elsewhere on the Maes the National Assembly itself was promoting debate. During the week they are sponsoring a  series of lectures and today's offering  was historian and journalist Hywel Williams casting a satirical look at Wales' heroes. He took an irreverent look at Nye Bevan, Owain Glyndwr, Dylan Thomas and even had Tom Jones in his sight.
My guess is that if the 'werin' had heard it then there would have been a rapid increase in the nation's blood pressure as many of their heroes were knocked off their pedestal.
The eisteddfod in providing such a platform performs a valuable service. But do the two pavilions set aside have to be so dingy. Surely, they could do better!