Saturday, June 30, 2018


The sad demise (perhaps wilful destruction more like) of the former University of Newport, absorbed and asset stripped by the former University of Glamorgan, as a result of a combination of greed, stupidity, bad decisions and perhaps a failure on the part of the former management to really understand how politics in Wales works. The loss of the cities University has done many of the former (ex) employees and the City of Newport few favours. 

Newport's riverside City Campus
As noted elsewhere 10 years ago Newport was the home of a long-established student community which brought life, vibrancy and additional economic activity to Wales' third largest city. The controversial merger of the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales in 2013, has prompted some concern about the dwindling number of students undertaking degree courses in Newport. As noted by the Western Mail, once upon a time the University of South Wales published figures for the number of students in Newport but has now stopped and is currently rejecting Freedom of Information requests to release them. 

Despite the spin this was no merger, it was simply the removal of a smaller educational rival and a blatant barely concealed asset stripping exercise, driven admittedly by a desperately ambitious Vice Chancellor (although sitting in the House of Lords would admittedly not necessarily be the height of most people's ambitions). And what has happened since the merger has been a fairly consistent rundown of the provision of academic courses for students in Newport. Following the merger and rebrand, the creative industries courses once housed in the City Centre campus have been moved to the University of South Wales' Atrium campus in Cardiff.

In fairness to the former Management of the former University of Glamorgan, it can be said that they played a blinder, maximising the benefits of a close relationship with Leighton Andrews and Labour in Wales. Clearly all of those photo opportunities, the flattery, the dinners, the freebies, the lecturing gigs, the baubles and the trinkets, etc clearly paid off in the end. 

No wonder that heeded to use the government limousine so much, prior to his eventual and much deserved electoral demise. The same cannot be said for the former University of Newport which regularly expended significant sums feeding a rag tag bunch of Labour cronies (from various levels within the Labour machine) to little avail. 

Each year the catering departments financial surplus was pretty much eliminated ensuring that the troughs were full to feed the herd of Labourite’s who flocked into the University looking for free nosh. Sadly when in deep trouble and seeking help the best the University of Newport's leadership got was the sound of silence from a wide range of local Labour members at various levels from Newport City Council, the National Assembly and Westminster. 
Protests about the closure of Caerleon Campus
So much for cultivating 'political influence' of the local good and the great - when it came to the crunch loyalty to the Labour machine counted more than any desire the save a significant local employer (600+ jobs) in Newport (and across the former county if Gwent) and a financial contributor to the local / regional economy (to the tune of £120 million a year). The failure of the South Wales Argus to stand behind Newport University was understandable, especially in light of who was footed onto USW's board of governors. The newspaper did little to highlight the Universities demise and that impact on the city in general after the fact. 

To be fair there were failures on the part of the University of Newport's management as well  the failure to find collaborative partners (something) that might have kept the predatory UniGlam at bay - firstly with Colleg Gwent and then with Cardiff Metropolitan University (which has successfully  survived as an independent educational institution) in the long term probably proved decisive. A new larger institution based on a proper balanced partnership would probably have been difficult to absorb and destroy even with the support of the then Labour education minister. This failure combined with a failure to gain and make good of a basic understanding of the local political setup and how it worked also turned out to be if some importance.

The University like other semi public bodies locally (and nationally) the embryonic UWCN / UWN had plenty of well publicised ambitions - it ran a whole series of excellent courses ranging from archaeology to photography and teacher education (which along with photography and design the institution excelled at). Certainly the deliberate destruction of the Ancient History and Archaeology section of the Humanities Department which was a particularly dull ill thought out decision (especially considering the archaeological and historical significance the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon) along with the deliberate rundown of electronic and electrical engineering courses and the failure to develop a comprehensive self sustaining portfolio of part-time business focused courses  - like Cardiff Metropolitan University successfully did -  but help matters. 

Like many other semi public bodies (including housing associations) the hierarchies salaries grew - former managers now became directors and then employed managers to do the jobs that they had done previously. At Newport student numbers never grew enough to match the increasingly top heavy well salaried (at least at the top) management slanted bureaucracy. The periodic restructuring and reordering of the institutions internal and public facing departmental structures was to regular an occurrence to stabilise the institution in an increasingly competitive educational market within and without Wales. It also not do much for staff morale or help with the institutions profile in the University sector league tables. 

Prior to the end, so my sources told me the good  ship UWN was not actually in particularly good shape - by the time the merger happened the institution may have come within two or three months of actually being unable to pay the staff. Additionally the poor if not frosty and bad tempered relationship between the UWN hierarchy and Leighton Andrews, the then Labour in Wales Education minister, was deteriorating. Opportunities to take reasonable and modest steps towards survival were missed. 

In the end absorption into a greater UniGlam - rebadged for PR purposes as USW, despite warnings handed out to the management proved to be a veritable blood bath for former UWN staff - who were quietly and systematically encouraged to leave. Caerleon campus was flogged off (for housing) for the ready cash, the portfolio of courses hosted at the riverside campus had been systematically reduced. Most students now reside in Cardiff / Pontypridd and their environs - something that wrecked the buy to key housing sector in Newport. That perhaps is a matter for the medium to longer term. 

The former county of Gwent now lacks a higher educational institution to call its own, a process aided and abetted by the National Assembly who changed the definition of Wales's spacial geography to lump Gwent into a bigger south east Wales which meant that were previously there had been one HE institution there were now 3. This introduced a significant element of vulnerability to the equation, and failures to secure balanced partnerships and strong collaborative relationships with similarly sized HE institutions - perhaps more often dashed upon the rocks of senior management ego's undermined Newport University's position. 

Nearly 100 years of hard constructive work to build educational institutions which delivered quality courses to students was destroyed by the so called merger. If USW has no real interest in running a University campus in  Newport then perhaps from a Gwent focussed Higher and Further education perspective if Colleg Gwent can acquire the riverside campus (from USW) we can start the process again and build an institution that can deliver for the former county of Gwent. 

Politically the abject failure of 'the local Labour elected' to speak out and to help our former University survive in its hour of deep need speaks volumes for the reality of the way the Party formerly know as New Labour in Wales operates - putting party interests well ahead of the interests of the community they claim the represent. This is something that should be seriously be remembered before people locally think about casting their votes for them at future polls.

Monday, June 25, 2018


Westminster’s decision to reject the Swansea Bay Tidal lagoon (and the broken promise over electrification of the min line to Swansea from Cardiff amongst others) is to say the least disappointing. That said it is simply a very visible symptom of the Westminster Parliament and most Westminster parliamentarians (with a few honourable exceptions) lack of any real concern for Wales and our national interests. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves for once, Westminster is quite simply not interested in making Wales thrive, or allowing Wales to become a world-beater in the development of renewable energy technologies and to generate the technologies and jobs that go with it. As I have said previously I have long believed that Westminster government’s regardless of their political hue, before and after devolution, and before and no doubt after BREXIT, remains fundamentally indifferent to our needs, our aspirations and our national interests.  

Nothing to see here - move alone! 

It is worth remembering that every single party represented in the National Assembly backed the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and yet, Westminster has told us it’s not going to happen. In the 1980’s and 1990’s decisions made in Westminster, were largely made by Governments that the people of Wales did not vote for or endorse yet were imposed on our country. Now, even with devolution, things should be different, yet now decisions made by our embryonic national parliament can be so easily wilfully overruled by a Westminster government over the border, for whom the people of Wales did not vote for.

Our coastline and our maritime and energy resources will remain a largely untapped resource for the foreseeable future. The prototype tidal lagoon would have been a first step towards making Wales a world leader in a new and innovative technology with the potential to power our future. Not to mention the potential to create renewable and sustainable non nuclear energy supply that would not be deponent on imported oil and gas from the unstable Middle East and the Persian gulf. 

Westminster is consistently refusing to invest to create well-paid jobs in Wales, while at the same time threatening the ones which already exist, through its irresponsible stance on Brexit. The decision to pull the plug on the Tidal lagoon is a perfect demonstration of why Wales needs to gain greater control over its own future. We can no longer not afford the luxury of Westminster continuing to hold back our country’s potential for developing sustainable energy sector and the related skills that could make our country a world leader. 

The years of foot-dragging over the fate of the Swansea Tidal lagoon should not have been unexpected, particularly from a Westminster system that remains hooked on expensive subsidies to foreign owned and foreign constructed Nuclear power stations. One reason for this is that it is perhaps easier for former energy minsters to get better paid jobs post their involvement in politics, with subsidy rich energy companies.

Interest in developing Tidal lagoons is not new; the concept has been floated around in Wales since the late 1990’s. It is worth remembering that Labour were in power from 1997 until 2010 and did nothing. The problem was that successive private companies when faced with sluggish perhaps finely calculated indifference from both government (at all levels) and the civil service have moved on or lost interest. 

Post BREXIT Wales needs the Tidal lagoons more than ever, if Westminster is serious about reducing the UK’s dependence on imported energy supplies from unstable regions, run by brutal repressive regimes – then developing Tidal lagoons could be a step towards real energy independence. So rather than watching the Westminster politicians marshal their lame tired old excuses as to why they cold not or would not buy in to the project, we need to devolve the powers related to energy generation from Westminster to Wales.

The full devolution of powers relating to energy resource development to Wales and also a Welsh government that is not sleeping walking on the job are an absolute necessity. Post BREXIT we need to step away from our low wage culture and to develop a much more economically dynamic and sustainable Welsh economy.  We are not going to get anything done with a Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay that’s too busy looking after its own personal and party political interests rather than our national interests.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


It can be argued that at one level Westminster’s consistent disregard for our nation, our people, our democracy and our national interests is day by day, blow by blow, making the case for independence. Not for nothing did a Plaid Cymru MP recently describe the 18 minutes allocated to debate matters relating to Wales, Scotland and northern Ireland during the recent debate about the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. 

When the Conservatives and the Labour Party openly and actively working to silence our nation’s voice, and simply treating our country as an irrelevance, an afterthought and an inconvenience it does not bode well for our future in a post BREXIT world.

The debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill as it relates to the devolved countries was cut short to just 18 minutes last week, following a restrictive programme motion, proposed by the Conservatives and following the insistence of the Labour Party to push 11 amendments to a vote, and thus eating into the time allocated for the debate on the devolved countries, so much for looking after our interests.

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

“Westminster’s disregard for Welsh democracy is endemic. The people of Wales would be forgiven for thinking the Labour opposition and the Tory government are colluding to deny Wales a voice.

“Not only did the Conservative Government succeed last week in placing a restrictive programme motion on the debate, the Labour Party also ensured the debate would be as short as possible by needlessly pressing ahead with 11 consecutive votes, knowing full well that they would lose – all the while eating into time for the debate on the devolved countries.

“When Plaid Cymru argued in favour of staying in the EU, we did so because we believed that small nations like Wales were better served sitting alongside the other successful small nations of Europe, as equals. We argued that the inbuilt inequality of the UK would make Wales expendable political collateral to the over-riding interests of England. And we were right.

“Brexit will be a landmark in the journey Wales takes to our own conclusion that only our own, radical solutions will prove the answer to our needs. Westminster and its parties will always treat Wales like an adjunct, an afterthought, an inconvenience. All this does is make the case for Welsh political independence.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


For a state so allegedly if somewhat selectively obsessed with its rich history it is the things that are forgotten that occasionally still have the power to surprise us. I was talking a few years ago to a family friend, who had served in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War, he was shocked to discover that the Poles were excluded from the 1946 Allied victory parade in 1946.

The 4th June 2018 was the 72nd anniversary of the great victory parade, which was held in London to commemorate the victory over fascism. It was held on June 4th 1946 by the then Labour Government, who staged an elaborate victory parade in London. 

Representatives from over 30 Allied nations gathered to celebrate the Allies collective victory over fascism. Some 134 different nationalities actually took part in the victory parade:  Czechs, Dutch, Iranian, Sikh, Norwegian, Canadian, South African, Arab, Belgians and Australians and many others marched (or flew over) through the streets of London. 

Absent were the Poles, who in probably one of the most despicable (even with the benefit of hindsight) gutless acts of any Westminster government, were excluded due to pressure from Stalin. The Poles, who had given so much for allied victory in almost every campaign and had done the ground work which broke the enigma codes, were perceived as a problem post war.  

Attlee's government had previously pressured the Poles to return to Soviet occupied Poland, before reluctantly granting them asylum. They were specifically and perhaps deliberately excluded - perhaps due to a combination for pressure from and a fear of offending Stalin. 

To their credit, the RAF, had consistently refused to harass the Poles to return to Soviet dominated Poland from the start, and they gave the Polish airman who had fought so valiantly in the Battle of Britain in 1940 the option to fly but they chose not to fly in the aerial victory parade in an act of solidarity with their excluded comrades on the ground.

Monday, June 4, 2018


There may be a faint glimmer, a flicker of hope or perhaps a distant green light as opposed to a red one - in relation to the establishment or perhaps re-establishment of the Ebbw Vale to Newport rail link. The new proposals from the new all Wales franchise holder include a reference to establishing a rail service between Ebbw Vale and Newport by 2021. So far there is not much detail - the resurrection of the connecting bus service (which I see trundle (empty) past me most mornings on my way to work) with more frequent but still empty freshly rebadged buses just won't do! 

Ebbw Vale to Newport by 2021?
A twice hourly rail service (at peak) and once an hour off peak between Ebbw Vale and Newport will be more than acceptable. The extra services (16) a day between Cardiff and Cheltenham must call at Chepstow and Severn Tunnel and the new stations at Llanwern and Magor - if and when they open. It's still not to late for the Welsh Labour government (and our other elected representatives) to extract a commitment to build at station to serve Caerleon / Ponthir - something that has been in both Gwent and Newport UDP's and LDP's since the 1980's. Todays news is definately a step in the right direction but I and no doubt plenty of other people will be interested in the detail. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018


The Westminster elite from time to time display's an almost desperate desire to retain a publicly perceptible closeness to US interests something that is barely concealed beneath the ever so thin veneer of so called 'special relationship '. This special relationship is worth exploring as it explains many of the decisions (and the consequences of decisions) taken over the last 60 years and much hangs on it for good or for ill post BREXIT.

This relationship in its current form exists in its current form as a direct result Suez. Thwarted by the USA, the Franco-British-Israeli alliance of convenience broke up. After a brief sulk - the Brits and the French then made two very different decisions, the French decided to pursue and independent foreign policy (and an independent nuclear deterrent), if from time to time French and US interests were the same, all well and good, if not then tough - French interests would always prevail even if they put France at odds with the USA.

This side of La Manche, the Brits made a very different decision, British and US interests it was decided would remain forever intrinsically linked - where the US went so would the Brits regardless. This was despite (in not because) of the threat of economic dislocation used by the US to effectively engineer the removal of a very ill Antony Eden from number 10 - something that should have remained relatively fresh in the Brit elites minds. 

In the late 1960's Harold Wilson, publicly (and privately) refused to commit Brit military assets to the on-going war in Vietnam. This reality was that this decision was carefully cleared in advance by Wilson with Washington (who cut the PM some slack) and was taken purely and simply for domestic political reasons rather than being a matter of high moral principal. 

The so-called special relationship was founded from combination of desperation, expediency, misunderstanding, and post war debt management. At the heart of the relationship lies a fundamental misunderstanding of US history and society which remains to this day. 

It's based from the start on a simple but fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of America. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Brit elite imagined that the Americans were basically trans Atlantic English people ( Personified as 'Brother Jonathan' so beloved by 19th century Brit cartoonists especially in Punch magazine ).

While this may have been true to a degree in Mid to late 18th century (to a degree) the opening up of the frontier to settlement (something the Brits had resisted when running their colonies in the New World) had resulted in a surge of European immigrants seeking a better life in the USA. They were joined by Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, Russians, Swedes, Mexicans, Irish and many others who flooded into America. The retention of the American form of English as a language of communication had little to do with trans Atlantic kinship with England and more to do with simple practicality.

The Brits, were at the end of the 19th century genuinely alarmed at US hostility towards Britain during the border dispute with Venezuela. Forgetting that support from Britain for the Confederacy during the civil war, with military supplies, the supply and construction of blockade runners and naval vessels was freshly and angrily remembered by the generations of US politicians that held power from the civil war until the start of the 20th century.

The USA buoyed up by manifest destiny within the continent, and the Monrow doctrine - a  policy of preventing external inference in both north and South America set out from the 1890's onwards to thwart, undermine and destroy the British Empire - and by and large they succeeded - partially as a result of the First and Second World wars and partially because that was the real price (aside from the hard cash, gold reserves, financial bonds and the sell off cheaply of UK assets within America) to pay for lead lease.

Despite the best efforts of Brit leaders to persuade people within the UK to the contrary the USA's oldest ally is actually France. The French supported the insurgent United States against their former imperial overlords.  The USA is the end result of a vast melting pot of peoples from across and around the globe - a number of whom had little love for Britain. 

Labour in power in 1945 perhaps hoped that by withdrawing from India - they might yet retain the potentially mineral rich in perial territories in Africa. This would help pay if the war debt and lessen the financial consequences of the loss of India. This illusion disappeared pretty rapidly after Suez - with the famous Winds of Change speech  calling down the curtain on the Empire in Africa. The hasty withdrawal from Africa that followed was a direct consequence of economic and political impotence following Suez.

This side of the pond, the Westminster / Brit elite over the last 50 years despite generating a lot of rhetoric to the contrary have consistently wound down the UK defence establishment to the point where it as shrunk to insignificance and moved the UK from potentially useful Ally to potential liability.

The over reliance on US defence equipment, some of dubious worth in some cases has become self fulfilling as the aerospace and armaments industrial sector had been run down and weakened to the point of destruction. The production of 2 aircraft carriers (which will have no aircraft for the foreseeable future) is merely a blatant example of poor decision making coming home to roost. 

The consequences of 5 defence reviews since the late 1950's rather than cutting our cloth to match realities have merely run the defence sector into the ground and cutting the armed forces to the very edge of impotence. The thousands of jobs in Westland in Yeovil and aerospace in Bristol (and many dependent jobs in the extended supply chain) were sacrificed in plain sight along with the coal and steel jobs in Wales and elsewhere. 

In the last decade the UK has moved from being unsinkable aircraft carrier and useful ally to a modern day version of Austria-Hungary - overblown with pomp and circumstance, politically unstable, unreliable and ill-equipped in less than 25 years. The decline economic and strategic is no doubt perceived as quite shocking in most of Europe's chancelleries. The UK's last 6 sea harriers were retrieved from storage to bomb Ghadafis Libya. Over last Christmas and the New Year all the Royal Navy's 15 surface ships were in home ports - something that had probably not happened since the days of King Alfred. 

The inhabitants of these islands are now going to be living on the edge of Europe, we're the UK (for good or ill) will have little influence having burned our bridges with the EU and irritated the USA by ceasing to be their boy inside the EU tent. Blair and Bush's much trumpeted New World Order, envisaged somewhat triumphantly when the USSR disintegrated has crumbled rather rapidly into a New World Disorder.  

Despite the tabloid and broadsheet headlines / delusions Empire 2.0 is not going to coming riding to the rescue. That ship rather than sailing away was quietly scuttled or abandoned in the early 1970's when the UK joined the then EEC - leaving potential commonwealth partners to sink or swim. Thanks to Brexit (potentially a gift that will keep on taking in so many different ways) the Brit elite finds itself about to be outside of the EU. 

The UK may well be doubly diminished- as its no longer as far as the other European's are concerned the USA's observer / representative in the EU tent. From the US perspective the UK is also diminished in US eyes as it's less useful bring unable to observe or influence events in the EU. Post BREXIT the UK may find itself dependent on the so called special relationship with the US largely because they have not got anyone else to turn too. The Recently steel tariffs imposed by US President Trump may well be just the start...