A Party Without Principles

It all seemed so reasonable. A few weeks ago 77 prominent Labour figures including 39 MPs put their name to this letter in the Guardian:

Next year we have the opportunity to vote for a fairer voting system – one in which everyone's vote counts and every MP is required to get the backing of a majority of voters. It means that every Labour party member and supporter, in every seat in the country, can cast their vote for Labour and then mark any other preferences, knowing their vote won't be wasted.

First past the post isn't working. When just a few thousand people determine every election result in a few swing seats, the interests of the Labour party and the people we represent go unheard. The alternative vote means the majority get their voices heard; it will shut the door on extremist parties like the BNP.

When people switch off from politics it damages Labour, not the Tories. That's why the Tories don't want fairer votes. They don't want change; they say no! Labour is the party of fairness and change. Labour says yes. It's time for change.

Guardian, 8 December 2010

The four Welsh MPs included were Peter Hain, Chris Bryant, Susan Elan Jones and Kevin Brennan.

The sad thing is that the No to AV group have just released their list of Labour MPs who are opposed to the change ... and it is much, much longer with 114 MPs in total including eleven from Wales: Ann Clwyd, Geraint Davies, Chris Evans, Ian Lucas, Alun Michael, Paul Murphy, Nick Smith, Mark Tami, Albert Owen, Nick Smith and Mark Tami.

Should I laugh or should I cry?

What is there to say about a party that simply isn't capable of operating on the issue of principle? In the Yes group, the one thing that seems to matter most is that the Tories are against the Alternative Vote ... which means, to put it more bluntly, that these people in Labour think that AV will be of more benefit to themselves in Labour than to the Tory party.

Unfortunately (I say that because I support the change to AV, even though I would prefer STV) there are even more Labour MPs who think the opposite. Yet the No camp seem to be even more involved in narrow party politics. For example, they say that they:

challenged the Yes to AV campaign to "come clean" on their links to the Liberal Democrats

No to AV, 23 December 2010

But what on earth is wrong with being associated with the LibDems on a matter in which fairness should transcend party politics? I can only conclude that whole swathes of Labour MPs, who previously were committed to the Alternative Vote (and in fact went so far as to offer to introduce AV without a referendum if the LibDems got into bed with them rather than the Tories) have changed their minds only because they hope that a No vote on 5 May will put pressure on the ConDem coalition and lead to its collapse.

It's blatant, cheap opportunism that brings politics as a whole into disrepute.

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New Welsh-medium school in Risca "a priority"

I'm not entirely sure how the story could break on Boxing Day, but it was very encouraging to read this in the South Wales Argus:

Mixed welcome for new Risca Welsh school

Councillors in Risca have mixed views regarding a Welsh medium primary school being built in the area. The idea put forward by council officers will be explored further in the new year, with it listed as a priority to be built between 2012 and 2015. It features in Caerphilly Council's 21st century schools programme and would cost £6 million.

The local authority’s leader Cllr Lindsay Whittle said a major challenge is satisfying an increasing demand for Welsh medium education. Risca was highlighted as an area with no Welsh medium provision.

Risca East councillor Stan Jenkins said: "Do we really need it? I can't see the demand. A few people speak Welsh here, but it’s not a really big Welsh-speaking area. It shouldn't be forced on people."

If plans go ahead, he is concerned one of Risca's three primaries – Ty Isaf (with around 110 pupils), Risca (350) and Ty Sign (500) – could make way for it. He added: "Even if they do learn it at primary, the comprehensive doesn’t teach it, so where would they go from there?"

A possibility is that Risca Comprehensive could provide English and Welsh-medium secondary education.

The local authority’s plans propose a Welsh-medium facility for ages seven to 14 in Islwyn, with Risca Comprehensive governor and Risca East councillor Betty Toomer suggesting it could be a suitable site. She said: "Governors thought it could be used for English and Welsh education, it's big enough and this idea has been put forward."

Risca East councillor Rhiannon Passmore said she will wait until plans are more advanced before forming a view.

Rhian Williams of the Cylch Meithrin Welsh-medium playgroup in Caerphilly said partly because of Assembly Government legislation, more parents are learning Welsh and sending their children to Welsh-medium schools. She said: "Most primary schools teach England and Welsh, which they probably do in Risca's primaries. So, parents are thinking, why not send their children to a school that teaches Welsh all the time? We live in Wales, so Welsh should be our first language."

South Wales Argus, 26th December 2010

As people might guess, I'm delighted to see any proposals to increase Welsh-medium education. But this one is particularly satisfying for me because I set out the case for a new Welsh-medium school in Ricsa in this post in Sepetember last year.

What I said back then should go some way to giving Councillor Jenkins an answer to his question about the level of demand. For Cylch Meithrin Dewi Sant in Ty Sign already provides WM nursery provision in the area, but there is then no primary school for the children to go to.


I don't have any details of Caerffili's proposal as yet, but it is clear that this proposal for a new school was part of the 21st Century Schools capital funding bid that each local authority submitted to the Welsh Government earlier this month. Obviously there are some question marks over the extent to which these projects will now be funded. There is money allocated in the draft budget, but it still is not clear whether Leighton Andrews intends to defer some or all of the final tranche of the School Building Improvement Grant and whether this will have a knock-on effect. The statement promised two weeks before Christmas has yet to appear.

But the important thing is that Caerffili has put the Risca proposal into Band A, at the top of its list of priorities, so it does have a very reasonable hope of being built, even if delayed by a year or two. The contrast between Caerffili with 11 WM primaries (although none in this corner of the county) and neighbouring Blaenau Gwent, which only has one WM primary and has put a second right at the bottom of its list of new school priorities, could not be more stark.


As a note of caution, I would only say what I've said a number of times before in similar situations. It is all well and good to increase WM provision by building brand new schools, especially because it avoids the sensitive issue of closing English-medium schools even though they have large numbers of empty spaces. But if the bid isn't successful, or is deferred, what is Caerffili's Plan B? The point I made in the previous post was that Ty Isaf Infants was an underused building with a large number of surplus places ... and, as an infants-only school, would probably not sit well with the current education policies in any case. So my Plan B would be to consider using its surplus space in the short term to set up a new Welsh-medium starter school, this would then give a year or two of breathing space if the proposed new build WM school is delayed for any reason.

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Nadolig Llawen

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm as much into Siôn Corn and the magic of Christmas as anyone else, so I hope everyone reading this gets what they want most for themselves and for those they love at this time of year.

I thought this ecard from S4C was particularly appropriate.


But Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. And, as Ian Anderson put it back in 1972, we'd do well to remember the things he later said.


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Don't let students vote

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, it seems that the LibDems have the right to set the date of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. They have opted for 13 January and, as the Independent notes here, the reason for such an early date is obvious: it is before the start of next term, and means that over 1200 students studying at the Huddersfield University campus in Oldham will still be on holiday when by-election takes place.

For a party that owed some of its good results almost entirely to students who relied on their pledge not to increase tuition fees, not even the LibDems would be stupid enough to let those whom they let down so badly have a say in determining the outcome of this by-election.


Unfortunately, Plaid aren't standing, so the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth aren't exactly spoilt for choice. The interesting thing for us will be to see whether the Tories—who got 26.4% of the vote last time—will run a deliberately lacklustre campaign to tacitly encourage their supporters to vote LibDem. Between them, the two parties got 57.0% of the vote, so even a small switch by Tory voters would easily be enough to get the LibDems in.

If this is what happens, it will give us a very clear idea of how the LibDems and Tories might act in our own Assembly elections a few months later.

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The Corridors of Power

I've just stumbled upon a rather interesting political blog called The Corridors of Power, by Emma McFarnon, a postgraduate newspaper journalism student at Cardiff University.

Her most recent article is on the growth of the Welsh speaking community in Cardiff.

As her profession might suggest, the blog comprises longer articles which seem to be well researched and make good use of sound and video material. I've only skimmed through a few of them, but it looks well worth reading on a regular basis.

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The War You Don't See

Last night I watched John Pilger's documentary, The War you Don't See, on ITV. It was the most hard hitting couple of hours of television I have seen for some time.

This is a short trailer which gives a flavour of what it's about:


Nothing in the documentary particularly surprised me. From what I've written here and elsewhere, people should know my opinion of what Pilger calls the "rapacious wars" the UK government and some of its allies have been and are engaged in. Nor are some of the things reported new. But so much of this film's strength lies in the thoroughness of its approach in showing the failure of the mainstream news media to give us a balanced picture of what happens in these wars.

So I'd urge anyone who missed it to carve out some time to catch it here on itvplayer.

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Yes for Wales gets off to a terrible start

I must admit to being absolutely horrified by the first of the leaflets put out by the Yes for Wales campaign. This is an extract from it:

At a time when all the talk is about cuts to public services, it’s good to know that our National Assembly is protecting schools, skills and hospitals.

Important services for the most vulnerable are also being protected, like free bus travel for pensioners and disabled people.

This has got nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the subject of the referendum. The things that are listed are policy decisions made by the Welsh Government, and indeed the line about "protecting schools, skills and hospitals" is directly from that government. It is very doubtful whether, say, Tory or Liberal Democrat AMs will agree that these particular policy decisions made by the One Wales coalition are "good" or not. I personally might think they are, but we must recognize that it is a matter of political opinion.

In short, the Yes for Wales campaign seems to have fallen at the very first hurdle. It has confused the policies that the present Welsh Government has chosen to adopt with the constitutional matter of the extent to which the National Assembly can pass primary legislation.

I have been one of those who has most actively criticized True Wales for the lies and disinformation they have circulated over the last few months. But just because one side of the argument resorts to such tactics, that doesn't justify the other side confusing the issue as well.


I have to admit that I see the advantage of concentrating on "bread and butter" political issues rather than the much more obscure and more difficult to understand constitutional issue which we will be asked to vote on. First, it's what most voters are familiar with; and second, these issues are much more directly important to people than the issue of what laws the Assembly is able to pass.

But the Yes for Wales campaign is in grave danger of producing party political pamphlets for the Labour Party and, though perhaps to a lesser extent, Plaid Cymru. This is not good for democracy.


Now of course the Yes for Wales campaign is free to do whatever it likes at the moment because it hasn't received any public money. But if I were in the Electoral Commission, I would be very concerned about whether Yes for Wales would be capable of not making party political points when the official campaign starts and public money is given to it. And as a potential donor to the Yes for Wales campaign I would be very wary of giving my money to an organization that confuses the issue at hand in the referendum with the more general issues of party politics.

There is an agenda at play. The Labour Party has made no secret of the fact that it wants to use the campaigh for a Yes vote as a springboard towards its own campaign for the Assembly elections only a few weeks later. If the other messages that the Yes campaign put out are of the same party political nature as this first leaflet, then donors to the Yes for Wales campaign might well find that they are simply giving money that will end up improving the Labour Party's chances of doing well in the Assembly elections that follow.

I would therefore urge people to think very hard before donating to this campaign, and not do so until and unless it demonstrates that it will concentrate on the issue at hand rather than on party politics on behalf of the One Wales Government. And I would urge those people from other parties, including my own, who have a say in determining the direction of the Yes for Wales campaign not to be naïve about Labour's intentions.

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One rule in law kept, another broken

In Paul Flynn's blog a few days ago, he mentioned an exchange between himself and Steve Webb, the Minister of State for Pensions:

Paul Flynn: If a private company alters its contractual obligations to pay its customers, it is likely to end up in court on a charge of fraud. The Secretary of State admits that CPI increases at a slower rate than RPI. Is not the measure just a simple theft of money from pensioners?

Steve Webb: No, it is not. Each year the Secretary of State has a duty to assess the general increase in prices; that is what the law requires him to do. If the law required him to link state pensions, for example, to RPI, that would be a different matter, but that is not the duty. The duty is to assess inflation fairly, which is what we are doing. I also announced today that, when companies have RPI written into their rules and no provision for changing those rules, the Government will not allow schemes to change them, precisely for the sorts of reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Read My Day, 12 December 2010

I don't want to detract at all from the point Paul was making about pensioners. But it struck me as highly significant that the spokesman for one Secretary of State should make the point that if the law required that state pensions were linked to RPI, he would be obliged to stick to it. He also make the point that the ConDem government would not allow any companies to change pension provisions that were linked to RPI.

So if laws linking funding to RPI are such an important point of principle for this UK government, why should another Secretary of State—the one for Media, Culture and Sport—be allowed to break the link between RPI and the funding of S4C?

It's another example of the blatant double standards that exist, and are allowed to exist, within the Westminster government.

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The Goddess of Health and Safety ... Gone Mad

To me "soteria" has always meant salvation or, in the Greek of the New Testament, to be made whole or in other words healed. But the Greek word is feminine—as with most abstract concepts—and so I don't much mind that the consortium that will tomorrow be announced as the PFI contractor to run search and rescue services around Britain say "Soteria is the Greek goddess of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm" ... although the more mischievous side of me thinks that in this age she might be better called the Goddess of Health and Safety.


But leaving the name to one side, this is yet another example of the privatization of what used to be a public service. And although it's been brought to fruition under the ConDem government, I'm afraid it was the Labour government before it that set the contract up back in February of this year.

     Private firm to run search and rescue helicopters

The party that is now making so much noise about what is happening to public services is the very same party that is in fact responsible for this privatization. And if there are question marks over the level of service—and of course there are, as we can read here—any blame must lie with the Labour party that instigated this privatization rather than anywhere else. That should be a sobering reminder for anyone who is still thinking of voting for the Labour party in the Assembly elections next year in response to what the ConDem coalition is doing in Westminster. Don't be fooled. There is no difference between them.


Now I don't know to what extent the rescue services that we rely on in Wales, based at RAF Fali and RAF Chivenor in Devon will be affected. Things should be clearer tomorrow. But this much is certain: the PFI contract will be for 25 years; so even though the cut backs might arguably be necessary in the present economic crisis, the chances of restoring the levels of service back to what they were after the economic situation improves are going to be severely limited by the terms of the PFI contract. For, as with any contract, things are fine when the service required can be clearly defined, but any subsequent variations to the contract that change the level of service will not come cheap.

And although the offer from Soteria looks attractive in technical terms, do we really want to be stuck with a level of service in 25 years' time that is state-of-the-art today? Of course not. That would be as silly as saying we would today be content with the same level of rescue service that we had 25 years ago. Times change and technology improves. So it is complete folly for a government to tie itself into an arrangement in which any improvement will be at whatever extra price the PFI consortium cares to name.


So why on earth are we doing it? In part it is the fetish of privatization so loved by first the Tories, then Labour, and now by the Tories and LibDems together ... but only in part. Up until now we have generally relied on our armed forces to provide the backbone of such a service, at least in terms of the equipment and facilities. There is an obvious synergy between the two, for when our island is not threatened by war we have trained pilots whose skills on the battlefield will be just as valuable when used for rescue. And our armed forces also have the flexibility to respond to any disaster without being followed by a set of accountants eager to work out how much the PFI consortium should be billed.

But the UK can now no longer follow a model that has worked well for decades. Because the UK government prefers to use our armed forces not for our defence, but to attack, invade and maintain a military presence in other countries, our armed forces are stretched to breaking point. This privatization is necessary because of that, and is in fact a direct result of the UK's foreign policy.

Now of course it is up to government to decide what our foreign policy should be. I would simply note that a very large chunk of the £6bn that this contract was due to cost back in February (or whatever the revised cost turns out to be when announced tomorrow ... and whatever the inevitable additional costs will be because of the factors I explained above) will be directly attributable to our continued presence in Afghanistan ... and whatever country the US invites us to invade next.

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. The UK has gone mad.

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A few more kicks to the head

We've seen it on too many TV dramas. Someone gets beaten up by a gang and is left lying in a dark side street. Then, from out of the shadows when the big boys have gone, someone comes and delivers a few more kicks to the head.

It's not a new storyline, but we saw it acted out again today.


I am going to stand up for S4C. Whatever its failings, I don't think any purpose is served by attacking it in a way that seems, to me at least, to be vicious and vindictive rather than constructive.

We should ask ourselves why, if this is what Dafydd Elis-Thomas thinks, did he not offer some constructive criticism at a time when it might have made a difference. And I found it sad that even now he had nothing positive to offer as a way forward for S4C ... he just wanted to slag people off.

Our politics needs to be better than this.

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I'm not proud of it ... it's so unfair

Here's a short video interview with Joel Barnett which appeared on the BBC yesterday:


Is the Barnett Formula a thorn in Lord Barnett's side these days?

Well, in one sense it is: in the sense that it's so unfair and my name is attached to it ... I'm not proud of having my name attached to something that's so unfair now.

He's not saying anything new, but it's a timely reminder of why it needs to be replaced with the sort of needs based formula worked out by the Holtham Commission. And of the fact that it gives Scotland extra money at the same time as it short changes us.

But Labour did nothing to change it when they were in power, and now the Tories and LibDems are refusing to do anything about it either ... on the prextext that they have to sort out the UK's finances before they can be bothered to deal with something that's patently unfair to Wales.

But if we in Wales complain about it, we're called whingers. Remember that in next year's Assembly elections.

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Wait, wait, wait ... until 2023

In the South Wales Argus yesterday was a story about the executive in Blaenau Gwent passing their bid for capital funding under the 21st Century Schools programme. In itself, there's nothing wrong with that. The deadline for each council to make their application is today, so those that hadn't finalized their bids needed to put them together quickly.

But the exercise does have a certain degree of unreality. The BBC have collected information from a lot of the local authorities, and many of them are putting in bids that are way above anything the Welsh Government will be able to fund given the severe cutback in the Welsh block grant. They report the total so far as £2.86bn, of which £905m is for the three years from 2012 to 2015. Only about half that money is now likely to be available.

But even so, the applications do give us some idea of the priorities of each local authority. These are the priorities of Blaenau Gwent:

Blaenau Gwent council's first proposed phase, Band A costing £23.5 million and scheduled for 2012 to 2014, includes a £10 million refurbishment and remodelling of Abertillery Comprehensive School.

It also includes £7 million to remodel and address surplus pupil places at Coed-y-Garn, Roseheyworth and Ystruth schools and review the catchment areas for Abertillery, Blaina and Nantyglo.

Band A also includes the £500,000 clearing and removal of asbestos from the former Nantyglo Comprehensive School site, £500,000 to review regional provision of Welsh medium secondary education and transforming the Garnlydan School site into a £2.5 million base for the PROTEUS project, for children with emotional or behavioural difficulties.


Band B, covering 2015 to 2017 and costing £66.5 million, includes potentially closing Tredegar Comprehensive School and a primary school in the area to make way for a new three to 16 school.

It also includes building two new schools in Ebbw Vale, one in Abertillery and enlarging another Abertillery school to 420 pupils.


Band C, costing £17 million and scheduled for 2018 to 2020, includes establishing two 420-place schools to replace the existing primary schools in the area and reviewing religious schools.


Band D, costing £45 million and scheduled for 2021 to 2023, involves reviewing schools in Brynmawr and building a second Welsh medium school on a vacant school site.

South Wales Argus, 9 December 2010

Now if the initial band of £23.5m seems rather low compared with other authorities, it is because Blaenau Gwent is getting a large tranche of funding for The Works, which will include money for a brand new 3-16 school, and the relocation of Pen y Cwm Special School as part of a new Integrated Children's Centre. The original consultation document is here.

Two existing primary schools – Waunlwyd and Pont y Gof – are to be closed with their pupils transferring to the new school in September 2012. Some of the other aspects of the scheme might be problematic, but so far as primary age provision is concerned, both schools seem very eager to move to the new premises, and both are less than a mile from the site of the new school.


In September this year a Ysgol Bro Helyg opened its doors as a much needed replacement for Blaenau Gwent's only WM school in Brynmawr. Here's the video of the official opening last month:


It's a nice school ... despite its rather peculiar fenestration. Yet for reasons which made no sense to me, it was only built as a one-and-a-half form entry school with a capacity for 315 children, plus nursery. As I noted here it is already inadequate to meet the parental demand for WM education, but the council seemed to have no plans for providing a second Welsh-medium school, saying that this new school was intended to be for "the whole catchment area of Blaenau Gwent".

And now, as we can see from their 21st Century Schools bid, a second WM primary is at the very bottom of their list of priorities ... something they don't intend to start building before 2021, to be ready by 2023. It doesn't take a genius to realize that with the Welsh Government only able to provide a fraction of the funding of previous years, the projects at the bottom of the list will be delayed well beyond these dates. It certainly looks like Blaenau Gwent want to kick any plans for a second WM primary into some extremely long grass.


But it needn't be that way. In September 2012, Blaenau Gwent will have three existing school buildings available, any one of which could be used as a second WM primary. As I see things, Waunlwyd is rather remote and therefore not a good location. The other two sites seem better. Pont y Gof is more central to Ebbw Vale but perhaps tricky for buses to get to:


Pen y Cwm is a little further from the centre but without any transport problems. It is right next door to Beaufort Hill School.



Of course it would be nice to have a brand new school building. But we don't need to have one, and economic circumstances mean that we'd be very unlikely to get one any time in the foreseeable future. So instead, I think Blaenau Gwent should be looking to set up a new WM starter class this coming September with the aim of establishing a new WM primary in either the Pen y Cwm or Pont y Gof building in September 2012.

If local people want to see this happen, one way to make your views known is by completing the council's online Education Transformation Survey.

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Poor academic performance ... or just poor?

It goes without saying that the results of the 2009 PISA survey published yesterday are disappointing. But although everyone knows there's something wrong, not many people are giving a coherent reason why.

However the answer one person has given does seem to me to be more plausible than most. Professor David Egan wrote this on This is my truth today ... though it's only an extract from his full article, which is here.


Far more significant, however, was the extremely strong relationship that exists in Wales, compared to more successful countries, between living in relative poverty and disadvantage and not doing well in PISA. That is again likely to be the most important cause that explains our overall performance and it is also possible that we will have slipped further in this respect relative to other countries, including England, who have begun to address the relationship between poverty and educational performance.

Put quite directly, where you are born in Wales, who your family and friends are and the community you live in has a profound effect, despite the raw talents and potential that may be your birthright, with what you will achieve in education and thereafter to a large extent in life. In essence if we want to explain PISA, we need to look no further than the insidious effect which poverty continues to have on our nation and its people, particularly our children.

Today, one day after the PISA results were published, this article in the Western Mail shows how Wales' GVA relative to the UK as a whole has slipped yet further.

     Wales confirmed as UK's poorest nation

The full data are here but the critical figures are:

Wales GVA per head relative to the UK as a whole

1989 ... 85.4%
1999 ... 77.4%
2010 ... 74.3%

This shows that there is a fairly good correlation between Wales' worsening GVA figures and our decline in academic achievement. That, of course, does not prove a connexion, but it certainly adds weight to the probability.


It is fair to say that the link between educational achievement and poverty is a subject that Professor Egan has raised on a number of occasions, for example here in March last year. I thought the figures in this table were particularly informative:

The percentage of children not meeting the expected grade in the lower Cynon Valley:

•  Age seven ... 25.1%
•  Age eleven ... 32.9%
•  Age fourteen ... 58.8%
•  Age sixteen ... 77%

Assuming this pattern is going to be pretty much the same for other areas of higher poverty in Wales, this probably does most to explain why Wales does relatively well compared with England in the early key stages, but that performance then declines markedly when children enter secondary school ... and it should be remembered that the PISA tests are taken by those aged fifteen. It would also explain why Wales then starts to do relatively well (at least when the Welsh Baccalaureate is taken into account, as I noted here) in post-GCSE education. This would be because children from more disadvantaged areas are less likely to be taking A levels and the Welsh Bac Diploma.

It is not a matter of poverty, but of relative poverty. Many of us will remember a generation where we were much poorer than we are now in absolute terms, but in a situation where the gap between rich and poor is widening rather than being narrowed, those who are already poor must feel an increasing sense of hopelessness about whether education—which always used to be the obvious route out of poverty—can now still bridge a gap that is continually widening.


If this analysis is true, then it would seem to suggest that the problem of our poor academic performance is not really going to be solved by focusing only on education, and in particular will not be solved simply by spending more money on education. To me, that solution seems to be a knee jerk response. People will suggest it either because they feel we have to "do something" no matter what, or because they are involved in education and want to see education cushioned from the severity of the cuts.

Money, particularly investment, is needed. But I think the target should not so much on changing the way we teach, for the changes we have made in the past few years seem to me to be perfectly reasonable, and need time to work through before we can judge them. Instead, the more pressing need should be to change the attitude of hopelessness that seems to be growing as the relative poverty of the most disadvantaged parts of our communities increases. I think Professor Dave Adamson's quote in this clip from the link above hits the nail on the head.


There's almost a social isolation that can occur, and young people can get locked in a local culture where they have very low aspirations. They don't expect to do well in school, their parents don't expect them to do well and, sadly, their teachers often don't expect them to do well. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that they won't do well.

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Liar Liar

With a hat tip to Bella Caledonia, here is the video of a song by Captain SKA that they hope will be this year's Christmas No. 1


I hope it makes it. It's relevant, fun, and definitely for a good cause:

"Liar Liar" official Launch date is 12th December. Will be available on all digital platforms. All proceeds will go to: Crisis, Disability Alliance, Women's Health Matters and FalseEconomy.

Launch gig is on 13th Dec at the Vibe Bar in London, featuring Captain SKA, comedian Josie Long, The Hackney Colliery band and DJ Jamie Renton (Chilli Fried).

Tickets from WeGotTickets search for 'Captain SKA vs The Cuts'.

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The WRU and its Vice Royal Patron

In view of some of the comments, and with the benefit of a good night's sleep, I thought I should clarify that my previous post was not in any way directed against the monarchy (I can do that in other posts) or against William Windsor personally. Nor, for that matter, has it anything to do with the English bid for the World Cup; which I'm sad they lost, but don't think they ever had any realistic chance of winning.

The organization I most wanted to address was the Welsh Rugby Union.

The WRU is the sort of organization that frequently drives me to despair. It should be one of the prime focuses of Welsh national identity, but all too often seems to deny its Welshness. Perhaps this is understandable since, in historical terms, sport has been one of the few ways in which our national identity could be expressed, but it had to be done within an over-arching sense of Britishness because to do anything else would have been considered disloyal if not subversive. This led to a certain "over-compensation" in which the WRU had to make a particular show of its loyalty ... and this in turn led to it having more than its fair share of sycophants, each (as Macsen put it in one of the comments) eager for their OBEs.


But something that happened over the weekend gave me hope that things could be different. The BBC fiasco over the start of the Wales v New Zealand game resulted in deserved criticism from nearly every quarter in Wales. Roger Lewis, chief executive of the WRU, made the point particularly well in his article in the Western Mail on Tuesday, but it was the way he closed it that particularly caught my attention:

The creeping perception of the irrelevance of Wales in London by the media and for that matter by the politicians must be addressed. The voice of Wales, our voice, must be heard. It must be heard in Wales and in the corridors of the decision makers and opinion formers in London as well as in Cardiff.

If we want Wales to win, not just in rugby but beyond the field, we all have to take responsibility.

We have to take responsibility for ourselves. And that means convincing the powers that be, wherever they are, to have confidence in us and our abilities to make the right decisions.

To do that, we must have the confidence in ourselves.

All of us in Wales, in whatever walk of life, must be prepared to take control of our own destiny. In the tough times ahead we must be loud as well as proud, and we must be prepared to stand up together for what we believe to be right and fair. Wales may not have a haka, but we have a passion and a pride and an ability to shape our future around our own unique national identity.

Western Mail, 30 November 2010

As he made clear, he was talking about much more than just a bad decision by the BBC, more than just rugby, and more than just sport. He was talking about Wales as a nation. If we are to take control of our own destiny, then there is one small but highly significant step that the WRU could take to demonstrate that we do indeed have confidence in ourselves and our own abilities. It can insist that William Windsor resigns his position.

As I said, this is not because of anything that's wrong with him as a person, but because he has now chosen to identify himself as English ... which means that he can no longer identify himself as Welsh. By being British, he could identify himself with each of the nations of Britain ... that might at times have been awkward, but his position was just about tenable. Now it isn't.

Two things have come together in the past week: an expressed willingness on the part of the WRU to shape its future around our own unique national identity, as Roger Lewis put it; and William Windsor's own choice to identify himself as English. So let us raise our voices to make sure that he steps down as Vice Royal Patron of the WRU. There could not be a better time to do this than now, and the impending changes to his personal life provide a perfect opportunity for it to happen in a seemly fashion.

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We English love football

The position of the royal family with regard to the nations of Britain has always been a bit of a muddle. We've seen some members give support to one or other of these countries, and that's fair enough. Neither is it unusual to support another nation, especially if your own is not involved.

But on the news this evening, we can see William Windsor say that he is English, which is a very different thing from saying that he supports England ... or indeed that he backs their bid to host a sporting event.


I'm sure most people have never been in any doubt that he's English, even though he likes to call himself Wales. But for him to actually admit it in such an impassioned way must surely make his already dubious position as Vice Royal Patron of the Welsh Rugby Union completely untenable.

It's now time for us to insist that he resigns.

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Enviroparks wins planning permission

I'm very pleased to see that Enviroparks have been granted planning permission for their proposed waste treatment and energy plant in Hirwaun.

     £120m waste energy park for Rhondda approved

I wrote an article in March explaining why I thought this was a much better way of dealing with waste than any other process currently available. It's too long to repeat here, but this is a short extract which explains the basic technology:

The process is multifaceted, but involves recycling, the separation of food and non-food waste with food waste going to an anaerobic digester to produce gas to be used as fuel, the plasma gasification (as opposed to incineration) of other waste to again produce gas, and burning the gas from both sources to produce electricity. This animation shows how these processes work together:

The crucial difference between this and incineration is that burning the gas is clean, whereas burning waste directly gives rise to high emissions of dioxins, nitrous oxide, toxic metals and particulates. The plasma arc breaks these down into individual atomic elements.

The Wiki article is here, including a list of projects planned or already operational. Enviroparks own website is here.

Enviroparks ... a better way to deal with waste, 5 March 2010

There was quite a lively discussion in the comments section of the original post. But the way I see it, it is only by embracing this sort of technology that we can avoid the much more damaging effects of waste incineration on both public health and the environment.


Update: This video from the Enviroparks website should give some idea of the size and layout of the plant:


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A Preview

For those who've been waiting so long for it, this is the logo for the Yes Campaign:


And if you're into facebook, the Yes for Wales / Ie dros Gymru page is here. Still a few days to go before the official launch.

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