Friday, July 29, 2016

What is going on at Hinckley Point?

Must admit I was very surprised by last night's Govt statement that it was 'pausing' the final decision on signing the deal with EDF (the French Govt) and the Chinese General Nuclear Power Corporation. Like most people, I had assumed that the key decision was that of the EDF Board on Thursday, and that the Friday signing would be no more than a formality. The Chinese certainly thought so, having travelled over to Hinckley from China for the party. The marquee just flapped in the Somerset breeze - unused and empty. Actually we had two surprises. First was the degree of  disagreement and opposition within the EDF Board. And second Greg Clarke's statement that the UK Gov't was going to study the deal before signing it off. There may have been some connection. Was certainly a thought in my mind.

Anyway, it's interesting to indulge in conjecture about why. I don't think we have any real idea. Firstly it may just be that the new Prime Minister wants to have a detailed look at the books before signing it off. Fair enough, but does seem a bit late in the day. We did know the EDF decision was coming a good while back. Couldn't have been a surprise. Personally I don't think the Prime Minister (if it was her decision) was being unreasonable. So much concern about the project (particularly the technology) that it's no surprise she wants to consider it carefully. It seems not even the French are fully sold on the deal. As soon as it emerged that there would be a pause, the shares in EDF jumped skywards.

The media seem to think it's about the involvement of the Chinese - a long term security consideration. 
And not so much the £6 billion investment planned for the Hinckley Point project, but subsequent investments in Sizewell and Bradwell.  No way we can know if this is true. But if it is, it would mark a big change in attitude towards Chinese investment by the new Prime Minister/Chancellor team from previous regime. The Chinese are reported to be "bemused" and "frustrated". I suspect that's Cinese for absolutely bl*****y furious. 

Not really sure where we are now, or what view to take. I had been very much against the UK pulling out of the deal, because of the reputational damage it would do to the UK and to investor confidence. But the French Govt reaction may be a great sign of relief, that a humiliating decision had been taken for it. Since the strike price was agreed EDF has spent £2/3 billion on preparing the site. That's a very big sum to write off. 

Anyway we will have to wait and see. What I really do hope is that there is no knock-on negativity impacting on Wylfa B and Moorside. 

My submission to Sec of State re quashed wind farm decisions

Dear Secretary of State...

Re-determination of planning applications by RES UK and Ireland Ltd and RWE Renewables Ltd to build onshore wind farms at Llanbrynmair and Carnedd Wen in Montgomeryshire. 

"This letter is my response to your invitation (dated 6th July) to comment on the two above re-determinations (Carnedd Wen and Llanbrynmair) which the Secretary of State will make following the quashing of the two previous refusals made by his predecessor in 2015. It should be treated as a joint response to both re-determinations.

I am the Member of Parliament representing Montgomeryshire, and am opposed to both of these developments. I took part in the Mid Wales Conjoined Public Inquiry which took place between June 2013 and May 2014. Large numbers of my constituents made their opposition clear to the Inspector at the Inquiry. Large numbers of us cooperated in opposing the wind farm developments, particularly the associated transmission infrastructure, which we believe would cause great damage to the economy, landscapes and environment of Mid Wales. We were pleased that the previous Secretary of State refused the Llanbrynmair and Carnedd Wen proposals, and were desperately disappointed when the two decisions were quashed. We hope that the two developments will again be refused by the new Secretary of State.

My principal reason for opposing these two wind farms is the cumulative impact they would have on one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. The greatest damage would be inflicted by the necessary grid infrastructure, without which these wind farms could not be built. The central feature of this infrastructure development would be the 'Mid Wales Connection Project' proposed by National Grid to serve the wind farms. It would a 42km 400kV carried for most of its length from North Shropshire on 50 meter high pylons along the length of one of our beautiful area's narrow valleys into the heart of Montgomeryshire. It is a transmission line dedicated to wind farms, so it seems clear to us that once built, it would lead to perhaps another 15/20 wind farms, utilising the unused capacity. There is a 'trigger point' of guaranteed connection sites before the Mid Wales Connection Project would go ahead. I have been very surprised that both National Grid and OFGEM have refused to tell me what that 'trigger point' is, flying in the face of public commitments made by both bodies about transparency. National Grid has also refused to contemplate undergrounding, except for a short length around the village of Meifod. The line would cause particular damage around the village of Llansantffraid, and surrounding areas where tourism is of great importance. In the vicinity of the village, the proposed line crosses the Vyrnwy 12 times in 3 miles.

In my evidence to the Inspector, which I repeat in this submission, I emphasised that the wind farms and the power line, while separate projects, should in fact be considered as one single project. The electricity cannot be transmitted to the Grid from the wind farms unless the line is built. I believe that at an early stage in the Inquiry, the Inspector asked the developers to show how the power could be transmitted without the Mid Wales Connection Project. After initially claiming this would be possible, it was admitted that this is not feasible. In addition, there has been an attempt to portray the Mid Wales Connection Project as contributing to 'a stronger network' to serve the Mid Wales economy. This is totally baseless and no more than false justification. Local protestors, including myself and Powys County Council, pressed the Inspector to adjourn the Inquiry until an environmental assessment of the impact of the transmission line was carried out. We were both disappointed and mystified why the Inspector refused to accede to this request. The absolute linkage of the proposed wind farms and the Mid Wales Connection Project was clear to all, when National Grid ceased all work as soon as the planning applications were refused.

In conclusion, this letter should be regarded as an appeal to the Secretary of State to honour the Government's 2015 manifesto commitment to only support onshore wind farms where they have the support of local people. The applications at Llanbrynmair and Carnedd Wen are very strongly opposed by local people, by Powys County Council and by both the local Assembly Member and Member of Parliament. These two wind farms, and the damage they would cause have been hanging over the heads of the people of Mid Wales for far too long.  I appeal to the Secretary of State to reaffirm the previous decisions to refuse permission for them.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hinckley Point C.

Over the last few days I've received many emails from constituents and others asking me to press new Chancellor, Philip Hammond to withdraw Govt support for the proposed Hinckly Point C nuclear power station. I cannot do that. I must explain why. For the UK to withdraw from agreements it has signed up to with the French energy company, EDF and the French Govt would seem to me to be an unthinkable breach of faith with our good friend and neighbour, France. 

At this stage I should make clear that I'm no great enthusiast for the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station which looks as if it may receive the final go-ahead this coming week. It's a huge investment and would make an important carbon-free contribution to Britain's 'base load' energy needs. It involves the construction of two EPR reactors with a combined output of 3,200MWh. A meeting of the EDF Board has been called for Thursday, when the final decision should be made to go ahead and build - after much delay. It has become a major issue for EDF and the French Govt. To understand why the UK cannot just walk away, we need to look at the background. 

The last nuclear power station to be given the go-ahead in the UK was in 1987. Because of political difficulty, Gov't's have failed to face down anti-nuclear protest, and British expertise was lost. Which meant that when the Liberal-Conservative Coalition decided in 2010 to go forward with 8 new nuclear power stations, it had to look overseas for the expertise needed to build them. While the Japenese are leading the only Welsh-based new build at Wylfa B on Ynys Mon, the French energy generating company, EDF, largely owned by the French Govt is building Hinckley Point C, with significant financial input from the Chinese. The UK's involvement is through a guarantee (the strike price) that it will pay £92.50MWh for 35 yrs. This adds up to lot of money. On the basis of this agreement, EDF and the French Govt have carried on preparing to build Hinckley Point C, at great cost. It would cause huge damage to the UK's reputation and to future investor confidence when dealing with the UK Govt if we were to walk away now. It would a shocking betrayal of the French Government, at a time when we are looking to work through with the French the Brexit negotiations.

It will be good news if EDF make the final decision to go ahead on Thursday. It will be a very strong statement that France does not see Brexit as an obstacle to investment in the UK. It will give us some reassurance that the Government's nuclear ambitions are on track. But what is absolutely crucial is that if Hinckley Point C does not proceed, it will as a result of a decision by the French, and not a U-turn by the UK, which would do huge damage to the Entente Cordiale. It's why I cannot agree with those who have written to me, demanding that the the Government tears up the agreements previous British governments have made.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Brexit means Brexit means what?

While I've always been for 'Leave' as far as EEC/EU is concerned, I sometimes sound as though I'm more of a 'Remain' man. Mainly because I've tried to point out just how difficult 'Leaving' is going to be. And I've always thought the timetable should be based on achieving the best conclusion, rather than some artificial timetable. Those calling for early invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty either have not thought it through or want Brexit to fail.

Clearly developing trade links is a key part of any Brexit strategy. The UK needs to move fast. Big responsibility on Liam Fox and his team. There is absolutely no guarantee that the UK will have access to the single market. The price may be too high. The UK needs to develop effective trade arrangements with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, India, China, Columbia, Brazil, Africa etc.. Progress on these arrangements may well make it easier to reach agreements in Europe. But this is just one aspect of Brexit, and not the subject of this post.

Let us consider the law instead. If I have to choose one reason why I voted to 'Leave' it would be about how UK law is made. And it seems to me it's the behaviour of Court of Justice of the EU over many years which more than anything else delivered the vote to leave. Up with the CJEU the British people would not put.

The majority of British people are committed to self-government, to parliamentary democracy and the prerogatives of the nation-state. Over many years, the EU has misused judicial power, and given every indication it intended to misuse it further. This is not about the European Court of Human Rights, which is often blamed and which may well not be effected. It is about the Court of Justice of the EU, which has become, in effect, a 'political court' - guilty of unacceptable 'overreach' pursuing the political objectives of 'ever closer union'. This approach to law is not British, and has been rejected by the British people. We do not want our Parliament to be effectively subjected to a foreign court.

Brexit will free the UK from rule imposed by the CJEU. She will recover parliamentary democracy, though remaining subject to the Human Rights Act and the European Court of Human Rights (which it should). In time Brexit will change the way our leading lawyers behave. Over recent years many have caught the European tendency to see common law as being secondary to law emanating from the EU. As a result of Brexit, we will see a change in how lawyers think about the British constitution. Parliament is sovereign (unless it knowingly agrees not to be), it is constitutionally entitled to decide on our laws, and the courts should faithfully uphold that principle. This principle, fundamental to Brexit, must lead to a rebalancing between the powers of the courts and the powers of Parliament. If not Brexit would not have been worth it.

I know lots of lawyers. And mostly I like them. But I fear they have become far too big for their boots. Since the referendum vote, I've received hundreds of emails from constituents asking me to agree with some Cambridge lawyer that the referendum result should be regarded as unlawful and should be ignored. Must admit I consider this to be utterly ridiculous - politically impossible. Others 'advise' that the vote should be just one of the considerations influencing Govt, because the referendum was 'advisory'. I'm afraid I thought that to be equally nonsensical - and hugely damaging to the British constitution if acted on. There are other lawyers arguing that an Act of Parliament is needed before Article 50 is involved. This looks like a simple delaying stunt. As David Cameron actually promised to do before June 23rd, it would have entirely lawful for him to invoke Article 50 on the 24th. And then we had 1000 lawyers writing to the media refusing to accept the decision of the public vote. They do not realise the destructive damage they would do to democracy, if we took the slightest notice of them. Thank goodness we seem to have a Prime Minister who grasps fully what the vote to 'Leave' meant.

I am likely to amend this when I re-read it tomorrow. I'm open to be persuaded as well if arguments are based on accepting the will and voice of the 17.4 million voters who were not fooled by the often outrageous promises of Armageddon if they voted 'Leave'. They did and it must be respected.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Boundary changes

How am I supposed to find time to blog when the political world is in such turmoil? So much going on. Starting early and working late - just to keep up with what's happening.  Today has been the 'Day of the long stiletto', more brutal than any 'night of the long knives'. I've never seen the like of it. David Cameron was a pussy cat compared with this. Mrs May has been magnificent, striding through the Westminster jungle, scything down saplings and giant oaks with abandon, giving an almighty shake-up to the cosy politics of Westminster.

But I'm blogging about a different issue. I've promised to provide an update (more a recap actually) on where we are in the process of redrawing Parliamentary constituencies boundaries.

It began before the 2010 General Election, at which I was first elected to Parliament. MPs had been up to all sorts as claiming their expenses, and the Telegraph printed it all. Was astonishing stuff, which seriously damaged public confidence in politicians. The then Conservative Opposition Leader reacted by making a manifesto commitment to reduce no of MPs from 650 to 600. I disapproved of this, but was in a minority of about 1%!! After the election, bill was passed by the Coalition Gov't to deliver this manifesto pledge. The Boundary Commission was asked to draw up new constituency boundaries, based on roughly an equal number of voters. But the Lib Dems (together with Labour) in the Lords reneged, delaying approval of the new boundaries for 5 years - or until Sept 2018. 

In Wales the proposals will be made by the Boundary Commission for Wales. So far we have been told that there will be a reduction from 40 seats to just 29 seats, far bigger fall than anywhere else in UK (which reflects historic over representation). The actual new boundaries as proposed by the Boundaries Commission will become public on September 13th.

This will almost certainly be a sad day for Montgomeryshire. It's almost certain that the historic Parliamentary constituency of Montgomeryshire will disappear under these proposals. Not enough people live here. We are probably about 25,000 short of the population needed. All looks so neat and tidy on paper, and "reduces the cost of democracy". It's all total cobblers of course. It destroys accessible democracy in rural areas, and the extra cost of the expanded House of Lords is far greater than 50 fewer MPs.

But there is hope. The final vote will be in Sept 2018. Who knows what will have happened by then. I know it's to my Conservative Party's disadvantage, but I do hope this anti-rural vote bites the dust. I think we all know that 3 yrs is a long time in politics!!

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

My Wales Bill Speech of this week.

Monday saw the whole House of Commons sitting as a committee to consider the Wales Bill 'line by line. We spent 6 hrs in debate and will spend another 6 hrs next week. Thought I'd tidy up my speech a bit and share it.

"I begin by paying tribute to the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). I have a particular personal reason for welcoming him to his position. Of all the Welsh Members of Parliament, I am probably the nearest to becoming an octogenarian, and his wonderful example gives me promise and ambition for the future. It may yet be that I will find a place on the front bench. If he can do it in his eighties, there is no reason why I will not be able to do the same. I thank him for rekindling my ambition, as well as for the great wit with which he has entertained me over many years.
The Bill is wide-ranging. Inevitably, opinions on aects of it will differ. To be passed by this House it will need an element of compromise on all sides. In his response to earlier amendments, the shadow Secretary of State said that we need to be pragmatic. He tells us that Labour intend to be pragmatic. We have differing opinions, including in my own party. I will address those later in my speech. But we all, or nearly all want this Bill pass into law. For that to happen we need compromise.
The major compromise that I have had to make personally is that the Bill transfers energy powers to the Welsh Government, the idea of which fills me with absolute horror. I would find it difficult to support the Bill, except that the Welsh Government have, quite shockingly and disgracefully, already taken unto themselves those powers through their local government responsibilities. It was one single act that in my view showed Welsh Labout to be unfit to hold power in the National Assembly for Wales. It is ironic that that hideous centralising power grab makes the Bill’s transfer of energy powersin the Bill less damaging to mid-Wales and less of an attack on the people of mid-Wales than it would otherwise have been.
The intention behind the Bill is to provide a much more stable, long-lasting and permanent settlement for Wales and to provide greater clarity. Previous speakers have suggested this Wales Bill should be a permanent settlement. I am not sure about the word “permanent”. I do not think it is wise to have a Wales Bill every five years, which is pretty much what we have been doing. But this bill is not permanent. We will come back to developing devolution at a pace the people of Wales will be comfortable with. Plaid Cymru Members spoke earlier about a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales. If at some time in the future, the body of Welsh law is no longer tiny, when it has grown to be substantial, we may have to revisit the issue. The same may be true of other aspects of devolution that we have not entirely foreseen.
Today, I want to base most of my speech on clause 16 of the Bill. Devolving responsibility for levying income tax to the Welsh Government is absolutely fundamental to the Bill. Devolving this responsibility is hugely important, ensuring that the Welsh Government becomes properly financially accountable to Welsh voters. Like the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I was opposed to devolution in 1997, but came to terms with the result almost immediately. This is the way we should do react to a referendum result when we have been on the losing side. In 1997 it was a very close result indeed, just 50.3% voting in favour on a 50% turn-out. As I was driving home from the count in Llandrindod Wells in the early hours of the morning of Sept 19th, I accepted that we would have a Welsh Assembly. The only way forward was to become committed to making a success of it. In this Wales Bill, we are doing our best to achieve that.
At the first Assembly election in 1999, I was elected to be an AM, representing Mid and West Wales. Some years later I was appointed the Welsh Conservative spokesman on finance. I was expected to speak for my party in the annual budget debate. As preparing to speak in that debate, I realised “This isn’t a budget; what we are dealing with here is just a spending plan”. When I was chairman of the finance committee on Montgomeryshire District Council, the biggest meeting of the year, by a long way, was the meeting at which we set the rates. We set aside a whole day to debate whether or not to put a penny on the rate. Every budget I have ever been involved in debating has two sides of the ledger to consider - one side relating to what will be spent and on the other relating to how the neccasary resources are to be raised.
Devolving responsibility to levy income tax is now the Government’s view. It's one of the two most important provisions in the Wales Bill. The Silk Commission’s recommendations may be the bible of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), as he told us in his earlier speech. I too welcomed the a Silk Report, but it was wrong to recommend making devolution of responsibility to raise income tax provisional on a referendum. It was a weak recommendation. The Silk Commission should have recommended that the only way to ensure financial accountability is to allow income tax bands to be varied by the Welsh Government. A referendum has been proposed in the past. I am pleased that this requirement has been dropped in the Wales Bill we are debating today.
I know from campaigning at election time that how much money the competing parties will levy in tax is a fundamental consideration. It engages the interest of voters if they are able to consider how much Monet they will have to pay in tax, and what it will be spent on. That is what elections should be about—but not in Wales. In Wales, if the Government are spending money on a popular provision that the people might generally approve of, they say, “This is what we are doing, aren’t we great?”. However, occasionally in politics we find that Governments have to support a law, or an investment that is not so popular and is difficult to argue for in public because people are not altogether convinced. It is not acceptable just to say, “We can’t do that because we don’t have enough money from the Westminster Government”. The Government have to be financially accountable to people. That is what makes a parliament.
In this Bill, we intend to change the position and allow the National Assembly for Wales to formally change it's name to a "Welsh Parliament". I fully support that. However, if it is going to be called 'The Welsh Parliament', it has to have the powers and responsibilities, and particularly the financial accountability, which we would expect a Parliament to have. That is why that is so important and fundamental to this Bill.
There is division of opinion on this issue. Some of my colleagues do not agree with me, and we have had this difference debated previously. Sir Alan, this is not an occasion on which I want to be party political, but what I am about to say could be interpreted as being so - against the Labour party. It is not intended to be, but rather it is an attempt to demonstrate point I want to make? A lot of people are opposed to granting the ability to vary income tax to the Welsh Government because they assume it will always be led by Labour. I do not know why my colleagues are quite so pessimistic. The day will come when the Welsh ​Government will not be led by Labour. In fact, we are not so far from that day now. We had a Welsh Assembly election on May 5th, in which the total Labour vote was about 30% or 31%. We then had an EU referendum in which the advice of the First Minister, who had put himself at the head of the 'Remain' side in Wales, was virtually ignored in Labour strongholds. It was ignored by the very people who usually support Labour. They just dismissed the First Minister’s leadership of the campaign. The First Minister must wake up in the night thinking, “My position is looking a bit dodgy, seriously weak. I’ve had just 30% support of the Welsh vote in May (the lowest percentage of the vote in recent history) and that may well have been halved in the EU referendum among Labour voters.” We could well be reaching the end of Labour domination in Wales.
I genuinely believe that we are on the verge of creating a proper democracy in Wales, one in which not everyone assumes that Labour will rule, but we have competition instead. People will be much more engaged and interested. My comments might be perceived as being against Labour, but they are not meant to be. I am simply saying that I am in favour of genuine political debate whenever we have an election in Wales. That can only happen if the Welsh Government is financially accountable to the voters. I believe we are not too far away from that.
One issue that has caused some controversy, on the Conservative Benches in particular, has been the need for a referendum on whether income tax powers should be devolved. I think we have had enough of referendums. As a general principle I am not in favour of them. On this particular issue I do not think one is necessary. That has been my view for a long time. I believe the referendum has been proposed, and is supported, as a blocking mechanism to ensure that the Welsh Government never become financially accountable. That is not the right way to go.

The Bill is broad-ranging and hugely important to the future of how Wales is governed. It is the next step forward in making the Welsh Assembly into a Parliament. It will settle the constitution for some years to come—I would not like to predict how long it will be until we are back here talking about another Wales Bill; I might even join the Shadow Secretary of State as an octogenarian by then. The Bill before us today is an important step forward and I very much hope that it passes through this House, and the other place largely unchanged."

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Come on Waaaales

Yeaterday, I wrote my column for my local weekly, the County Times. It comes out tomorrow but you can read it here. Only one story in town. Can Wales make the Euro16 final.

"What an astonishing two weeks it's been. The people of Britain, of Wales and of Powys have voted to favour of Britain leaving the European Union. The Prime Minister has announced his retirement about two years sooner than we expected. The Labour Party (Her Majesty's Official Opposition) is in a state of chaos/meltdown. Despite all of this, the biggest news and talking point in Wales today is Football. And the man of the moment is Gareth Bale.

As I write this column, I do not know whether Wales has defeated Portugal to reach the final of Euro 2016. But whether they have or haven't doesn't change what's happened. The players and management which has represented Wales in Euro 2016 have been magnificent. They have performed with skill, determination and a commitment to each other and their country that must make every Welsh person proud. I'm a rugby man, and know team spirit to be a crucial element in success. The team spirit on the Football pitch when this Wales team is playing is special to behold.

For a long period in the 1980s/1990s I was involved in promoting Wales abroad. I was trying to persuade overseas visitors to Europe to come to Wales. I wanted people the world over to think of Wales as the proud nation of Owain Glyndwr, Powis Castle, John Charles, Gareth Edwards, Anthony Hopkins and Tom Jones. I wanted to stop Americans in particular thinking of Wales as 'a part of England'. We needed Welsh heroes that could reach out across borders. Welsh heroes that are proud to fly the Welsh flag. I've been involved in spending millions of pounds of public money in an effort to achieve all this.

And then this amazing thing happened at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff. Two boys emerged together to take the world of sport by storm, Sam Warburton and Gareth Bale. And it's not just their sporting prowess which makes them great. It's their humility, their appreciation of how lucky they have been, their realisation that their team-mates are as important as they are. Whenever either of them are interviewed, I listen with admiration. They speak with great respect for their opponents, who they know are doing their best as well. There's a total absence of vulgar chest beating we so often see in sport. And in politics. It puts Prime Minister's Questions to shame.

At present British politics is in a very strange place. There are five Conservative MPs bidding to become Prime Minister. I know them all. Even though I've said I will be voting for Stephen Crabb, I admire all five. There is little philosophical difference between them and any of them would make a good Prime Minister. They will all respect the British people's decision to take the UK out of the EU. They are all One Nation Conservatives, committed to governing for everyone, particularly vulnerable groups. And they all believe the only way to achieve this is through popular capitalism. Whoever wins, will develop their own style. I hope they have been watching the way Wales and Iceland have performed in France. And I hope they have watched the way the supporters of these two small nations have acted as ambassadors for their countries. We should all be unstinting in our admiration. Politics can learn a lot from them."

Could UKIP oust Labour in Wales.

You might think it a bit odd, but I'm interested in the impact the resignation of Nigel Farage as UKIP leader will have in Wales. Must admit I've never cared for Nigel Farage, even while conceding he has his strengths. Where some see a 'cheeky chappie', I see a 'pub bore'. I concede he may have played a part in Brexit, through pressurising Prime Minister, David Cameron to agree to an In/Out referendum in early 2013. But over last few months he has attracted a negativity that  has damaged UKIP. We do not know who will replace him as UK UKIP leader, but it seems to me there is a chance that UKIP Wales will seek to rebrand itself as a more modern Welsh left-of-centre party, seeking to represent the people who have traditionally supported Labour - and now feel alienated from today's Labour of Carwyn Jones and Jeremy Corbyn.

Let's consider the state of Labour. In the recent Assembly election, Labour secured only just over 30% of the vote - the lowest % in modern times. And six weeks later, surely half of those hard fire Labour voters totally ignored Carwyn Jones in the EU Referendum. He has become disconnected from traditional Labour voters. UKIP Wales are hoovering them up. Carwyn Jones should be very concerned. He put himself at the head of the Remain campaign in Wales, and the head fell off. 

This is interesting to me because it changes the context in which we are debating giving income tax powers to the Welsh Parliament (without a referendum). I've favoured this for many years, making the Welsh Government financially accountable. The first time I 'argued my case' on this a few years ago, it was from a minority position in the Tory Party. There was minimal support at Westminster. Today there was an attempt to derail the proposal when the Wales Bill was debated in committee, but it went down 285 - 7. It doesn't come much more comprehensive than that. 

The problem for some Welsh Conservatives is that there's always been an assumption that Labour will always be the ruling party. And that Labour has a tendency to put up taxes. Well, not any more. Today, though there has been very little comment on it, Welsh Labour looks a bedraggled group struggling to find a resonating message. And a Labour leader in Wales who looks increasingly isolated. Neither he nor his party look to be in touch with their traditional support. Maybe it's too big an ask to expect traditional Labour supporters to back the Tories. Some things are just too ingrained. But Welsh UKIP is an entirely different matter. Labour at Westminster are in despair. Labour in Cardiff Bay should be.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Post referendum emails.

Ten days on from the EU Referendum, the fallout continues. The next few weeks will be about the election of a new Prime Minister. But there's a lot more too. Here's a flavour of what's being said.

Had a stack of emails from constituents over last week, asking me to take positions I simply cannot agree to. Most have been calling on me to back a re-run of the EU Referendum. Now wait a minute! 17.4 million people voted to leave - the biggest vote in the  history of Britain. And I'm told only 72.2% of the voting population actually voted, as if that is a low percentage, justifying a re-run. It's an astonishingly high percentage. And it so happens that no-one has told me to my face that I should renege on my promises, and the Gov't's promises, to accept the Referendum result. Some have told me they abstained because, after much thought, they did not know which way to vote. Much as it disappoints me not to accede to constituent's requests, there is no way I will support a 2nd referendum - in the foreseeable future anyway. 

It seems that the claims of the campaign team backing Leave have conned millions of voters! "Lies, lies, lies" they shout. Let's consider this. So happens I agreed with the criticisms of the claims about £350million a week going into the NHS. It was an unsustainable claim. My colleague MP, Sarah Woollaston jumped sides and voted remain because she could see it was unsustainable. I said it was unsustainable. It was one reason why I did not campaign for Leave at all. But the reality is you would have to have been very very gullible to have believed it. Not sure it had much impact at all.

I thought the claims of the Remain side were far far worse. Mainly because they were being made by the Gov't, and connected parties like Mark Carney, who let himself and the Bank of England down. The claims were so ridiculous that very few actually believed  them. And we need to remember that the Leave side had no official support to prepare their arguments, while the Remain side had the entire Civil Service. In my view a lot more voters believed the Gov't backed Remain 'false nonsense' than believed the Leave side 'false nonsense'. So I don't think that impacted on the vote either.

The one comment in many of these emails that really 'narked' me is that those of us who voted Leave have sacrificed the future of our children and grandchildren - (almost knowingly) as if they care about theirs more than I care about ours. The reason I've always opposed membership of the EU (and the EEC before it) is to ensure that my children and grandchildren are not governed by an undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels, rather than a Government they can remove from office if they want to. As soon as I read that line about "children and grandchildren" a surge of resentment washes over me.

Also being asked whether I think a PM who voted remain can take the UK out of the EU. I certainly think they can. What matters is not which side they campaigned on, but how determined they are to implement the clear majority decision of the voters of the United Kingdon, the voters of Wales and the voters of Powys. I believe Stephen Crabb and Theresa May would do that. 

And the final comment I'll make is about the odd way the losing side has persuaded the media to search out voters who claim to have changed their minds. The position is that the BBC in particular wanted us to vote Remain, and are intent on undermining the voters decision. It's not going to happen.   I recall the vote to create a Welsh Assembly in 1997, which the media generally supported. 50.3% voted Yes on a 50% turnout. No-one went around then searching out those who had 'changed their minds'. I do also recall that there were huge numbers who were opposed to devolution and thought not voting was an effective way of stopping it. Those, like me, who had opposed devolution simply accepted the result. That's the proper response to a referendum result.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Race to No 10.

I've never felt the need to tell my journalist friends how I intend to vote in secret ballots. They are secret for a reason. It's my business. And it limits scope for a late change of mind! But sometimes I succumb to the 'natural human urge to expose' when contemplating a blog post. To date, I've not wanted to make public my thoughts on the runners and riders in the current race for the keys to No 10. I suppose I did have to share some of my thinking with Vaughan Roderick on O'r Bae yesterday. Incidentally, failed to use my phrase of the day. Whenever I make an extensive appearance on a Welsh Language programme, I like to use a new word/phrase. Yesterday planned to use 'cyfalafiaeth' (capitalism) but didn't manage to squeeze it in !

There are 5 candidates in the race. I know them all reasonably well, two rather better than that. All 5 have great strengths, though in terms of political philosophy there are no huge differences. For me it's  an embarrassment of riches. I would be content to see any of them as PM. No doubt you will read everything from their primary school careers to shoe size in the media. So I'm just going to reflect on my own (current) thoughts. Have sent out invite to all Montgomeryshire Tory members (the electorate in this case) to join me when the two runners who make it into the 'home straight' are known.

I am minded to support Stephen Crabb in the first vote on Tuesday. I've known Stephen for 20 yrs and been knocking doors in Pembrokeshire campaigning for him. Very calm, sound and thinks things through carefully. I suppose he's not much experience of high office, but has been an MP for 11 yrs. Not yet had long enough in difficult job at Work and Pensions to make his mark. But he has much more experience than David Cameron had when he became our Leader! So not sure great experience matters that much. I look on Stephen as a good friend, and when I mix in loyalty with respect, he probably wins my vote.

I also know Andrea Leadsom well. Andrea was the energy minister who responded to the Inspector's Report following the Conjoined Public Inquiry into onshore wind farms in Mid Wales. I so approved of her decisions that I feel I owe her now. I've also been involved in many long discussions with her as a member of Energy and Climate Change Committee. Had two hrs on Wed discussing Investor Confidence in energy generation. Andrea is tough, and single minded. More than a touch of 'Maggie' about her. I think she will make last two and be difficult for me not to support her at that stage.

Runaway favourite at this stage is Theresa May. She has been to Montgomeryshire a fair few times. Came to Dyffryn Farm, Meifod a few weeks back, home of Jonathon Wilkinson to meet farming representatives. First time I met her was in 1997, when she came door knocking with me around Argae Hall and the Revel. Caught the eye of Dai Pryce in very short skirt and open top BMW Sportscar. (Theresa not Dai). We had lunch in the Talbot. Great experience and very safe hands. Most interesting would be who she appoints to implement Leave, and to the Treasury. And of interest to me who she appoints to lead at DECC. 

And then there is Michael Gove. Michael is not how he's portrayed. Very funny, bright and emotional. A nonstop fount of ideas. Radical, progressive and driven by logic. But many Tory MPs will not forgive him for derailing the Boris bandwagon. Not universally popular in our house. We have an English school teacher amongst us!! Sense he won't make last two. But he really believes in what he does. Would be great choice to negotiate UK exit from EU. Be no backsliding then.

And then there is Liam Fox. Nothing wrong with Liam. He'd be good PM. But I sense it's just not his time. 

Must add a word about Boris. He delivered the vote to Leave. Wouldn't have happened without him. In reality Boris has had more impact on British politics already than several previous prime ministers have had. What really surprised me was Michael Gove deserting him basically because Boris doesn't do detail. We knew that already. Boris does engagement with the popular vote. Also has fearsome ability, which does his best to hide. What would have mattered would be who he employed to do the detail. Also generates strong antipathy in some. Lot of Remainers will never forgive him for defeating them. Anyway it's all over for Boris (for now anyway). 

By tmrw morning, it might all look totally different!