Thursday, December 13, 2018

ENJOYING VASSAL STATUS!


There has been much hot air expended about the future status of the UK state after BREXIT - whether or not it will be a vassal state. The harsh reality is that UK already is a vassal state and has been so for many years, not because of its relationship to Europe, before or after BREXIT, or its military / diplomatic relationship with the USA, but, because it's financial relationship with Saudi Arabia.  

The modern basis of this dubious dependancy relationship is not oil, at least not directly, but the money that the Saudi's have invested and squirrelled away in the UK since before the 1973 oil crisis. The UK state as it lost its empire (and its role in a wider world) was in desperate need of financial salvation - the emphasis should perhaps be on the 'desperate'.

Pandering to world power status (perhaps at best a post imperial vanity project) rather than powering down to develop a more sensible regional North Atlantic/ European approach was and still does not come cheap. The UK states changing role, while driven by harsh economic realities, was somewhat reluctantly embraced by an elite, who to the outside observer, with hindsight, looked out of their depth and floundering.  It was a direct result of poor strategic and financial decisions made, not made or quite frankly fudged, and left the UK state in dire need of hard cash. 

Efforts to lure in Middle Eastern oil money - after the battle to control the oilfields had been lost, had taken place prior to the oil crisis from the 1960's onwards. The 1973 oil crisis, when it came, saw what had been described as the most rapid transfer of economic power that the world has ever seen. The West's trade surplus in 1972 was $10 billion, by 1974 the West had a deficit of $48 billion, and the oil producers had a surplus that was estimated to be some $69 billion. 

This situation was later aggravated still further in the 1980's when Ronald Reagan (whilst making America great again) and Mrs Thatcher (while not making the UK great) cut higher taxes enabling the mega tick to avoid paying their fare share of taxation (monetarism). This plunged the USA and the UK into a deeper public deficit that they have never got back out of since.

The constant spin that has been put on the relationship between the Brits and the Saudi's (actually the ruling House of Saud) has always been that Saudi Arabia is pro-Western. This was perhaps true to a degree by way of comparison with the Colonel Nasser, Saddam Hussein (although from time to time he was the West's golden boy) and Syria - who were at times openly antagonistic to the West. 

The harsh reality was (and is) that Saudi Arabia is pro Saudi first and foremost and the Saudi state's values are directly contradicted by the pluralistic and democratic values of the West. Long before the rapid rewriting the fiscal relationship with the West in 1973/1974 the House of Saud had quietly oenly and consistently funded terrorism and funded a disturbingly fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. 

The ruling House of Saud was and still remains engaged in significant internal oppression and has long been well documented as a violator of human rights. Despite this the UK state (as a loyal and purchased friend) supported Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council - this perhaps gives life to the old adage that what was once bought stays bought.

By mid 1970's under Conservative (under Heath) and Labour (under Wilson) the Saudis had invested an estimated $9.3 billion. Saudi funds were used to subsidise the old nationalised industries to the tune of $800 million. Some $1.4 billion was also borrowed by the UK's nationalised industries. By the time this financially dependent relationship had developed, the Brits had just lost their place as the preeminent regional (if external) power in region to the USA and were fumbling about on the edge of Europe (neither in nor out).

A visible indicator of the drop in the UK states' status may be reflected in the educational choices made by the Arabian and Gulf elite. Once the children of the Arabian and Gulf elite attended public schools in England's Home Counties, now they are more likely to attend expensive private schools around Washington DC's beltway. 

For the Brit elite taking second place, even as a financial vassal state, must have stung a bit. This relationship (vassal status by any other definition) explains much, especially the repeated failures of the UK to reduce its dependence on oil and gas imports from the Arabian gulf region - and perhaps the failure to push for a renewable energy based form of energy independence. 

It also explains an obvious fact that the UK in relation to foreign policy, had largely and abjectly surrendered effective control of its foreign policy to Saudi Arabia. Saudi interests are effectively Brit interests - it also goes some way to explain the almost complete lack of Brit criticism of some of the more unpleasant public acts of brutality that have been carried out by the Saudi regime over the years.

The Brits for their part have supplied mercenaries to protect the Saudi royal household and supplied troops to fight proxy wars on Saudi Arabia's behalf. In exchange for funds invested the Brits have also helped to arm (to the teeth) one of the worlds more unpleasant regimes in on of the more dangerously unstable regions of the planet - and have happily backed and supported the House of Saud’s not so proxy war with Iran in the Yemen. 

Since the 1970’s in exchange for hard cash the Brits have continued to supply training, weapons, etc to a state, whose defence policy (as noted in February 1975) was based on ‘Jihad’. The Brit elite to be frank knew exactly what it was doing when it signed to an effective one way pact with the House of Saud - an over active developer and exporter  of Wahhabi extremism. 

Short term decisions have long term consequences - Saudi funding of the Taliban trained and educated fighters in Pakistan to fight the Soviet Union, twenty years later the Taliban we doing their best to kill our own soldiers in Afghanistan. Ironically the Taliban used many of the methods they had been aught by the Brits (amongst others) somewhat ironically based upon those methods used against British soldiers in Northern Ireland during the troubles. 

Brit policy was a direct result of the alliance with the House of Saud, and it was profitable, between 1985 and 1988 the Brits sold $15 billion dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The ready cash burnt some fingers in BAE and other organisations - but Westminster did nothing to curb the corruption - but acted swiftly to prevent any parliamentary investigation into corruption relating to BAE. These sort of deals appear to have bought silence from successive Westminster governments in relation to the House of Saud’s funding of radical islamic causes in the Middle east and around the world - who were opposed to political pluralism, religious tolerance and women rights. 

Things got much more complicated after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (another non democratic hereditary state) and the subsequent war to liberate Kuwait (funded to a degree by $50 billion dollars of Saudi cash) which saw the deployment of 500,000 mostly 'infidel' troops into Saudi Arabia. With Saddam weakened, but, still left in power in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia itself began to suffer from acts of terrorism. Despite this only in 1994 was Saudi funding of Bin Laden reluctantly curbed along with the removal of his Saudi citizenship. 

Before 9/11 the West largely looked the other way in relation the movement of funds for islamic inspired terrorism. The funding continued indirectly via the Pakistani military and private Saudi donors and islamic charities - a 2002 French report noted that $300 million had been moved to Al-Qaidia in recent years. 

The Brits effective economic dependence on Saudi money aside from a failure to deal with money laundering (some parts of the City do very well from this activity) has also led to Brit support for some other fairly unsavoury brutal repressive regimes in the Middle East. Ironically it was perhaps the threat of possible European regulation of banking (including money laundering in the City and off-shore dependencies) may in itself have provided the motivation for the campaign that eventually led to the  BREXIT vote.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BLUE ON BLUE


You have to hand it to the Tories, regardless of the circumstances or current political crisis, they do fratricidal blue on blue spectacularly well. It redefines self interest and idiotic in a single breath or single bound.  The fundamental split over Europe that has festered since the days of John Major, partially smothered during the wilderness years, under Michael Howard and IDS and barely papered over during the shambolic Cameron years, is back with a vengeance. Much like is was under John Major, the needs of the peoples of these islands, can go hang. Tory needs, obsessions and minutiae must come first regardless of the cost. Whatever else this self indulgent fiasco might be magnificent, but it is certainly not really meaningful politics, beyond the confines of the gothic monstrosity on the Thames. Just at the time when some real leadership would be useful, we end up here -what a mess! 

Monday, December 10, 2018

RUNNING SCARED


Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP said:

“The Prime Minister is running scared. She can only delay the inevitable loss. She made promises that she cannot deliver and now she is coming up against reality.

“The only single person who can stop a No Deal Brexit is the Prime Minister. By delaying this vote she is personally making a No Deal Brexit more likely.

“The Prime Minister wants to deny the public a say in a People’s Vote and now she is trying to deny MPs a vote too. She is denying democracy on all fronts.

“People deserve better than the chaos in Westminster.  

“Now we know the truth about Brexit, people must be given the right to decide whether the reality of leaving the European Union is what they want.”


Thursday, November 29, 2018

YES, WALES CAN


Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price today publishes an anthology of notable writings which can be seen as a ‘manifesto’ for Welsh independence.
Wales – The First and Final Colony by Adam Price, published this week by Y Lolfa, is a collection of writings by the politician and Plaid Cymru leader on the politics, history and culture of Wales. In it, Adam offers his ideas for securing a brighter future for Wales.

Adam Price was born to a working class family in a council house in Carmarthenshire the son of Rufus, a miner and Welsh champion boxer, and Angela, who moved to Wales from Worcester.

At 31 years old, he was elected an MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in 2001 and within a year he was uncovering dodgy dealings between Tony Blair and international steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. Shortly after, he led a campaign to impeach Mr Blair following the invasion of Iraq – eventually leading to the Chilcot Inquiry.

However, in 2010 he stood down from Parliament and headed to the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, before taking up a role in an innovation foundation.

He returned to frontline Welsh politics in 2016 when he was elected as an Assembly Member in his home patch of Carmarthen before subsequently becoming leader of Plaid Cymru on 28 September 2018.

Speaking ahead of the book’s publication Adam Price said, 

“I grew up in the shadow of the miners’ struggle of 1984. A struggle which shaped the politics I retain today. 

From council house to House of Commons and from Harvard to Cardiff is not a well-trodden path, but I now face the biggest challenge of my political career – leading the Welsh national movement. But mine and Plaid Cymru’s message to the Welsh people must be simple: Yes Wales Can. 

As the first openly gay man to lead this party and indeed any party in Wales, I am a modern, inclusive leader for a modern, inclusive Wales.

I am confident that we can compose a new future for a new Wales. Labour will not be its author. And nor will it be written for us in the marbled halls of Whitehall and Westminster. It will be written in the streets and shops, the pubs and rugby clubs, the homes and hearts of our nation.

Some may shrug off our hope as blind optimism. I say to you that a successful, independent Wales is not a far-off, unachievable aspiration. It is a firm, near-term, realisable goal.”

Monday, November 26, 2018

PUTTING NEWPORT ON THE MAP?


Simply making Newport a convenient place to get to other places from it or to quickly pass by is a no brainier and does little to deal with the underlying problems that Newport faces when it comes to retail and commercial activity within the city centre and the lack of easily accessible public transport in and around the city. For whatever reason it is relative easy to come to the conclusion that Newport barely figures in the collective mind of the Welsh Government. 

Relatively recent developments have done little to counter this train of thought - 20 years ago the geographical SE of our country was for most purposes pretty the former county of Gwent - with or without Caerphilly. Now the SE for a variety of purposes includes Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan and RCT. This relatively low key change in regional geographical emphasis slipped by almost unnoticed but has done Newport few favours. 

Whereas 20 years ago long term thinkers were concerned about the Severn side agenda now we face the consequences - social, economic and political of the Cardiff capital city Region.. twenty years ago  our SE had one University (the University of Newport) the new SE at one point had  4 universities with Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan and University of Glamorgan lumped in together. 

That development combined with UWN management publically falling out with the then Labour in Wales Minister of Education meant that when up against it there would be no cavalry riding to the rescue. All those years that UWN had spent expensively wining and dining Labour in Newport and their cronies counted for nothing - all UWN got rather than support was the sound of silence. Post merger the continued visible run down of Newport City Centre campus does not provide a stable base upon which to build any knowledge and IT focused knowledge quarter. 

Transport wise our home city has missed out on the benefits of the reopening of the Ebbw Vale line to passenger traffic. Newport ceased to be (to a degree) the default initial destination for most travellers as trains run direct to Cardiff. The almost certainly deliberate decision to have trains running direct to Cardiff from Ebbw Vale (which was always the plan) but no slower hourly service to Newport significantly tweaked our regions transport geography. 

Media wise it's much the same, Newport - our country's third largest urban area barely features on our own national media - it was not until fairly recently that Newport (in Gwent) began to appear on the BBC Wales weather map. Football wise things are much the same -  Wrecsam football club gets far more media coverage on BBC Wales than Newport County ever does and this is despite the fact Newport has been in higher division for six years. 

The costly (in many ways) proposed M4 Relief road won't solve Newport and South Gwent traffic problems or cut firm on the short local journeys we have to make because of the lack of an alternative reliable method of public transport. The proposed metro, which could take significant steps towards developing some long overdue integrated public transport infrastructure appears to be more concerns with ferrying people and and out of Cardiff, rather than tackling even indirectly some of the underlying issues affecting Newport. 

We quite simply have to do better than that. What's needed - apart from railway stations at Celtic Lakes, Caerleon / Ponthir, Magor and Llanwern (with adequate, safe and secure park and ride, and other facilities) is an interested system of public transport (with rail, light rail, trams and buses) that stretches north to Cwmbran, east to Magor / Caldicot and Chepstow and West to central and eastern Cardiff providing us with easily accessible realistic alternatives to using our cars. 

Along with a decent easily accessible integrated public transport system - the norm in more than a few paces - we also need to look at creating a level playing field for our local small businesses. The Friars Walk in Newport has been a welcome exception to the last thirty five years, where across the south east, we have seen the commercial hearts of many of our communities (including Newport) seriously damaged (if not ripped out in some cases) as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains and exceptionally poor decision-making on the part of local government and central government indifference.

When combined with the rapid growth of unsustainable, ill-thought out and more than questionable out of town and edge of town retail developments which leave next to no place for the smaller local businesses and retailers and deprive consumers of real choice. When you factor in parking charges, business rates and the effect of the closure of high street banks and post offices in many of our communities and you begin to see why many of our smaller businesses and local shopping centres are up against it.

We need to focus on creating the right conditions for our local small businesses (and our communities) to not just survive, but to thrive and grow in Newport and across the SE. They are a vital part of the local economy, for as well as trading with us the consumers and customers, they also trade with each other - so the community gets twice the benefit. Money spent by and in local businesses spends on average three times longer in the local economy than that spent with chain stores which is instantly lost to the local economy which in times of recession our communities can ill afford - this are some the reasons why we need to change Newport and change Wales.  

Sunday, November 11, 2018

WELSH VETERANS LET DOWN BY TWO GOVERNMENTS


Plaid Cymru calls for improved veterans’ care on Armistice Day centenary

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, has said that Welsh veterans are being let down by both the Welsh and Westminster governments.  

In September Plaid Cymru uncovered statistics that showed that across the UK 66,000 veterans are either homeless, in the justice system or suffering with mental health conditions. The information obtained through a combination of parliamentary questions and research from military charities and academic research shows that former armed forces personnel are being let down by the Westminster Government, and are disproportionately represented compared to the general public, in homelessness, mental health and justice system statistics.

Ms Saville Roberts has also campaigned for residential veterans’ care to be made available in Wales. There is currently no residential treatment facilities for veterans in Wales. The only easily accessible facility, Audley Court in Shropshire announced at the end of 2017 that it would stop offering residential treatments.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP has called on the Welsh Government to “put its money where its mouth is” and fund residential treatment facilities for veterans, which are shown to have profound benefits for treating mental health issues and helping veterans live fruitful lives following military service.

Liz Saville Roberts, who will be representing Plaid Cymru at the Cenotaph in London today, said:

“Today we remember the sacrifices made by so many in order for us to be here today. Their legacy will never be lost to history and their sacrifice should never be underestimated.

“It is not just words that best honours their memory – we need actions too. Action so that their fellow servicemen and women are today treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

“It is shocking that in twenty first century Britain 66,000 veterans are either homeless, in the justice system or suffering with mental health conditions. We may not forget those that gave their lives, but for today’s suffering veterans it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.  

“With no residential care facilities for veterans in Wales, and the last facility within reasonable distance across the border closing, the Welsh Government needs to put its money where its mouth is and invest in the services that make a difference to veterans lives.  

“Fundamentally, Welsh veterans are being let down by governments in Cardiff and London.”

ENDS
________________________ 

Notes:
  • The information provided by Plaid Cymru suggests that some 10,000 veterans are either in prison, on parole or under the supervision of the probation service; around 50,000 are suffering with mental health conditions and a further 6,000 are homeless.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

REMEMBERING (REMEMBRANCE)


This Sunday will be the 11th November, at 11am it will be one hundred years to the moment when the Great War - at least on the Western Front came to an end - with the armistice. There are no more living veterans from the First World War, yet people will pause to publically and privately remember the veterans and survivors of more historic and more recent conflicts and particularly those who never came back. 

In Flanders field...
The 947,023 military casualties (with 744,702 of them from these islands) between 1914 and 1918 (by way of comparison with the 264,000 military dead from 1939 - 1945) should still shock us even now.  My family like far too many others in Wales (and elsewhere on these islands) had relatives who served and survived and also relatives who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts. 

My lost relatives (and their missing descendants) have been playing on my mind over the last few years - one of my maternal grandmother’s lost two brothers in the First World War and its aftermath. Her elder brother was a regular soldier, who wrote home and told them not to allow his younger brother to join up and to come out to France. It was too late the younger brother had already joined up was killed in action in 1918 and buried near Amiens. My paternal great grandfather (and my grandfather) both served in the First World War and survived but came back as changed men (as did many).

Coming from a relatively large extended close family, I grew up with a generation of older relatives a number of whom had seen active service in the second world war in the Navy, Army, Air Force and the merchant navy. They like many from those generations rarely talked about their actual experiences of the war, and then perhaps save only occasionally to those whom they had served with, who would have understood, because they had survived similar experiences. Younger relatives have also served in more recent more modern conflicts around the world. 

As I have said previously I have absolutely no problem remembering those who lost their lives and the courage, comradeship and their endurance of those who served in the First World War and other more modern conflicts (and not necessarily those who served in the armed forces). What I have no time whatsoever is rose tinted sentimental nostalgic flag waving foot-tapping pap. As has been said elsewhere, soldiers don’t go into conflict aiming to die - not for the politicians, for patriotism or even us - but they often can end up dying with their friends and comrades with whom they served. 

The first world war was the first conflict when real concerted efforts were made to remember and record all of those who had fallen - particularly because of the decision (taken for a variety of reasons) not to bring the fallen home for burial. One consequence is that far too many literally still lie in corners of foreign fields, are names on war memorials, faded photographs, faded memories or too many literally have no grave at all. 

Speaking of another bloody conflict, US President Abraham Lincoln rightly noted at Gettysburg the fallen had given their last full measure of devotion. And that what we do or say does not really matter in comparison with what the fallen (and those who survived) had done. It may be more true today that the world will little note the current crop of political leader’s lyrical offerings on conflict (recent or older) or long remember them. 

What we should never forget what the former soldiers and veterans did and what they went through. We should not just cherish their memory but should ensure that after their military service they remain fully honoured as is the military covenant. Never again should it be found that dead heroes are cheaper to honour  than live ones.