My Manifesto

People often ask me what I am politically as if trying to pigeon hole me, am I a Conservative, a Liberal, a Socialist, a Communist, a Fascist or a Republican? Do I vote Labour? Conservative? Lib Dem? Green? No one ever asks me about UKIP. As I get older my positions on issues change, at 18 I would have done away with all benefits, now having lived on Jobseekers Allowance I would say that more money should be spent on benefits. Less than three years ago I would have said the government should stop giving aid to foreign countries, now I think the government should be giving more and doing more for developing countries and nations that are ravaged by wars. I don’t think this makes me a hypocrite, I just think that it shows that the older you get the more your perspective changes and the more you see and experience helps you to form opinions…does this make me a pragmatist?

People also ask who my biggest political influences are I often reply glibly with Malcolm Tucker (from the BBC’s The Thick Of It and In The Loop) and Niccollo Machiavelli. But its true, Malcolm Tucker for his no nonsense, no prisoners attitude and bullish demeanour and how once he decides on a course of action that is it. Machiavelli is a personal hero of mine as he worked his way to become a major player in international diplomacy; and then lost everything and even after imprisonment after a coup he manages to climb to the top again and is recognised as the foremost political operator in European History, whose treatise is still used today. My third biggest influence, politically speaking, is the author Christopher Buckley (the genius behind Thank You For Smoking, Boomsday and Supreme Courtship). Mr Buckley’s work has shown me that the whole business of politics is a massive joke, it was his book Thank You For Smoking (and subsequent film) that led to my brief career as a lobbyist.

So now that you know a little bit more about my influences, I’d like to share with you some policies that at the moment I would want to see enacted, some are pretty right wing and some are pretty left wing, none have been costed and some would be unpopular but this is my manifesto:

Will My Manifesto Match Up With Che Guevara?
Will My Manifesto Match Up With Che Guevara or Karl Marx?

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

farmland

The continuation of farm subsidies, relaxation on the import of foreign fish, meat, poultry and game, and incentive programmes of tax breaks for farms that contribute towards biofuel research. 0% tax rate for all food farmed for domestic sale.

Culture, Media and Sport:

cms

I would put in place an increase in spending on the BBC, simplified grants process for sport clubs and the arts.

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland: 

 Map_of_N_Ireland_Scotland_and_Wales_CISCO_ACC_FLASHFORWARD_0l4o232hxlblwowbfdtgbqsxs_ACC_V01

I would introduce a reserved powers model of government for Wales, Tax varying powers for Wales and Northern Ireland and unlimited borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Transport: 

transport

It would be my governments goal to see the renationalisation of public transport, the building of a motorway from North Wales to South Wales (Wrexham to Cardiff), and also a massive investment to be made in rail connectivity throughout Britain, as well as a new Thames Estuary airport.

Energy and Climate Change: 

ecc

If elected I would scrap plans for Hinckley C nuclear power plant as it is a dangerous threat from cyber terrorism, and would not use local labour due to the skills shortage currently facing Britain and would eventually cost massively in nuclear decommissioning. As prices are index linked it would not be of any use to the public. In order to combat carbon emissions new legislation banning the production of petrol/ diesel cars would be introduce to come into effect from 2021,  and production of electric cars would take precedence (thanks to Tesla’s making public of patents there is no excuse for British car manufacturers to not be making strides in this field) with all government vehicles becoming electric by 2019 including the military.

International Relations: 

international relations

I would maintain commitment to refugees from Syria and make offers of citizenship to non EU immigrants who have been living and working in the UK for five years or more. I would commit to ground troops in Syria and Iraq rather than air strikes, and am committed to the TTIP. I would also reduce foreign aid to India (the country has the fourth largest economy in the world and its own space program) and maintain diplomatic ties with China, and commit £17 billion for the rebuilding of Iraq and Syria’s infrastructure after the ISIS threat has been resolved (to be administered by Britain not provisional governments as a counter measure to further extremist groups gaining a foothold in the region)

Education:

education

I advocate a re-examination of the national curriculum in England and Wales, the introduction of merit based grading rather than regular testing . And  would like maintenance grants to remain and tuition fees in England and Wales to be capped at £1000 per year.

Communities and Local Government:

city hall

I want to see the abolition of community councils in Wales (and equivalent layer of local government in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland)

Defence:

defence

It would be my aim for a pound for pound matched funding on infrastructure development for countries where military action is deployed, I would maintain the commitment to NATO and match the monetary commitment to NATO for use on cyber defence.  I would advocate the maintenance of the Trident Nuclear Program and like to see an index linked pension for all service personal and a thorough modernisation of all military vehicles.

Tax: 

tax

My goal is for a cessation of the so called tampon tax, a reduction of alcohol duty by 2% and a freeze in council tax, I would also enact a reduction in VAT to 15% to increase spending by the public and a reduction of Corporation Tax to 5% in order to increase investment from foreign businesses.

Constitutional Reform: 

constitutional reform

If it were in my power there would be a cap on the number of members of the House Of Lords taking a party whip, an examination into additional members of the National Assembly for Wales and The Northern Ireland Assembly, there would also be further referendums on directly elected mayors and borrowing powers for city regions.

Health: 

health

I would implement daily checks on women with post term pregnancies, earlier screenings for cervical cancer, reduction of managers in the NHS, and would keep in place the nursing bursary for trainee nurses.

Work And Pensions:

job-centre-sign

If elected I would put in place an increase in the amount paid in carers allowance (to still be paid even if person being cared for is in respite care), and I would also fight for a higher rate of statutory maternity pay.

Business, Innovation, Skills and Trade: 

business

I would like to see a repeal of the trade union bill, grants for sciences and technological development and a start up program in which the government will invest money in businesses in return for a minority share of your business.

Justice:

justice

I would put in place a cap of fees for employment tribunals to be set at £1000, to be paid by losing side, where not covered ty by trade unions. Legal aid will be become available for employment matters. It would be my goal to decriminalise possession of all illegal narcotics and completely legalise the sale and distribution of marijuana (Taxed using a similar system to tobacco based products).

Science and Technology: 

science

It would be a major part of any government of mine to give grants for innovations in green energy and medical research and the applications of such, as well as giving further grants and funding to be made available in new areas of transport and audio visual equipment.

So there you have it: my manifesto for change, and whilst I doubt this post will win me a general election, it may give you an insight into what I would like the government to at least talk about. And whilst you may disagree with all, some or many of the points of this post, just remember that’s the beauty of a democracy where people can express different views and want different things and still under it all be decent chaps. So thank you for reading My Manifesto and remember that there is usually more that unites us than divides us and the most common factor I’ve often found is that at the end of the day sometimes it’s just best to have a drink and get on with things. VIVA LA COGNAC

Organ Piece

From Monday The Welsh Governments controversial plans for presumed consent of organ donation will be enacted, this means that if you have set out no provision your organs can be harvested for use after your death, thus giving countless people a new lease on life and it wont really effect you because you’ll be dead.

Some detractors have suggested that the Welsh Government’s laying claim to the organs of the deceased is just another example of the political zombies that seem to have been elected, while others have suggested that retirement homes will be little more than breeding farms or waiting rooms for those waiting for organs. But in spite of this rhetoric the Welsh Government is not actually laying claim to anything, they are just tweaking the system slightly, instead of having to opt in to be an organ donor when you die, you now have to opt out if you don’t want to be, how simple is that?

The main reasoning behind this push of presumed consent is that currently only 1% of the Welsh Population (approximately 30,000 people) managed to donate organs after their death due to the circumstances of their death (which is a lot) but the UK still has a massive shortfall of healthy organs. Under the current system though Wales comes out rather well in terms of organ donations when compared with other countries .

One of the worst countries in the world for organ donation in the developed world in New Zealand, my uncle who emigrated to New Zealand in the 90’s is currently a campaigner for organ donation (check out his site here). Now the population of New Zealand is roughly 4.5 million (based on 2012 data) and in 2012 there were only 38 posthumous donors in the entire country, this is less than  0.001% of the population, and as of 2012 there are over 500 people on organ transplant lists within the country. The number of donors in New Zealand is actually registered at roughly 48% of the population, but the decision can be overruled by families and an organs viability is 10-12 hours after death (at best) as well as this the only time to become an organ donor in New Zealand is when you get  a drivers license. I couldn’t imagine such a system in Wales, the majority of people I know use public transport and those that do drive have done so since 17 and its hard to see them ticking that box in the fervent excitement of now being independently mobile.

so  you can see the benefits of an opt out system and if you can’t just remember that you can always opt out (if for whatever reason you feel like you don’t want to save your fellow human beings you can always opt out here), and if you forget don’t worry too much as if your family know your wishes they can still refuse to give up your organs. But as far as I’m concerned I’ve been a registered donor since I was 19, and whilst I doubt any of it will by the time I’m finished with it, if it works you are welcome to it and the best of luck to you.

 

Local Government For Local People

One of the things that the Welsh Government has within its remit is a degree of control over local government organisation. So naturally not content with just getting their own house in order, the Welsh Government has decided to take the axe to local government. They have plans to more than half the number of local authorities in Wales from 22 to anywhere between 8-10.

This reorganisation will supposedly save the Welsh taxpayer £650 million over 10 years. This sounds like a considerable saving and would be welcome… If it were true. Council reorganisations don’t actually mean significant savings (beyond maybe £2 million a year in chief executive salaries) it’ll still mean a similar number of councillors, officers and other employees all doing the same job for the same pay. In many cases councils will be out money having to spend hard won funds on rebranding. I can’t see where these savings are coming from as I sincerely doubt central government is going to cough up more money so it seems local government is spending less.
It is my opinion that the Welsh Labour Government is putting this policy in place just so it appears to be doing something about the excesses of Local Government, but if the WAG really wanted to do something about local government why not take a wrecking ball to the 800+ community councils in Wales?

A Bit Of Everything

iSIS

Over the past few weeks the terrorist group ISIS has been busy with an attack in Paris, Beirut and Mali. With death tolls in their hundreds and the world rallying its support for the victims, ISIS definitely has Great Britain’s attention.

pray for paris

But who are ISIS and what do they want?

isis-flag
The Flag of The So Called Islamic State

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is an extremist militant group, self-proclaimed to be a caliphate (Islamic government) and Islamic state. It is led by and mainly composed of Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria. As of March 2015, it has control over territory occupied by 10 million people in Iraq and Syria, and through loyal local groups, has control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria and Afghanistan. The group also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world, including North Africa and South Asia.

Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi

The group proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph (Leader)As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide, and that the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes nullified by the expansion of the caliphate’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas. The group originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004. The group participated in the Iraqi insurgency that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces. In January 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in October 2006.

After the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011, the ISI, under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, sent delegates into Syria in August 2011. These fighters named themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria

After an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIS in February 2014, citing its failure to consult and “notorious intransigence”. In Syria, the group has conducted ground attacks on both government forces and rebel factions in the Syrian Civil War. The group gained prominence after it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in western Iraq in an offensive initiated in early 2014.

This map highlights the countries of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Called out are the cities of Mosul and Kobani. The area of ISIS controlled or contested territory is highlighted in red.
This map highlights the countries of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Called out are the cities of Mosul and Kobani. The area of ISIS controlled or contested territory is highlighted in red.

Muslim leaders around the world have condemned ISIL’s ideology and actions, arguing that the group has strayed overwhelmingly from the path of true Islam and that its actions do not reflect the religion’s true teachings or virtues. It is my feeling that those who would take something as beautiful and good as Islam and twist it and try to justify such horrors have strayed so far from the true path and teachings of the Prophet Mohamed that there is no hope for them. I’m not even a religious person (a catholic primary school beats that out of you) and it just astounds me that anyone could use teachings on how to live a loving and peaceful life, and a life full of charity, could ever find a way to use Islam to justify a single act of terror let alone this whole war. No true Muslim could do this.

The Qur'an The Holy Book Of Islam
The Qur’an The Holy Book Of Islam

And while the world is focused on these attacks in Paris and Mali and Beirut, I cant help but wonder what is coming next? Sun-Tzu teaches that shows of strength and force are often feints to distract from the subtleties associated with warfare, and in this modern age of technology could these brazen displays of terror be hiding darker acts of cyber terrorism?

Ted Koppel

In his book Lights Out  A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath the anchor of Nightline Mr Ted Koppel has set out a bleak vision of an unprepared government in the event of a cyberattack on the 3 main power grids within the United States. His book looks at what plans are in place by the US Government and finds the results worrying, with interviews with cabinet members and those ready to take their own action in the event of an attack Mr Koppel has certainly opened my eyes the dangers that we face in the modern world. A coordinated cyberattack on the Bank of England or the NHS could destroy the British economy and plunge this country into anarchy.

cropped-london

It just goes to show that in this modern age of laptop computers and personal tablets that the stylus is mightier than the sword and the knee jerk reaction may be to throw a tonne of money and half as many bombs into the middle east but I implore our government to be smart, the last thing that the middle east needs is yet another invading army, what is best for Britain is that we get our house in order (and I don’t mean silence during PMQ’s) strengthening Britain’s cyber defences is the safest thing for the British People, the biggest threat isn’t going to be a dozen blokes with bomb filled backpacks it’s going to be the spotty specky guy that was picked on in school and couldn’t get a girlfriend, but is oh so good with computers, and they’ll be working night and day on new ways to spread the “vision”that has taken a hold of them.

Sunday Guest: Spotlight Local Government

Today’s guest post is written by Councillor Jessica Powell of Torfaen County Borough Council, Jessica was elected in 2012 and is a graduate from Murray Edwards College Cambridge. Check out her blog here.

If you work in local government you’re bound to have heard this at some point. If you’re a local government councillor, chances are you hear it most days. People only want to talk to you when they have a problem, and nine times out of ten the fact they pay their council tax will be brought up as a reason why you ought to be sorting it out for them.

The thing is, we’re not just there for people who pay their council tax. If you’re a student, or are disabled, or on low income and in receipt of a CTR (Council Tax Reduction) you’re still entitled to speak to your local elected representative. It’s not like it’s a magic ticket to conflict resolution.

The other thing is that, whether you pay it or not, council tax is not the be all and end all you probably think it is. It tends to go up most years, yes, and it’s part of the give and take of you being able to do things like visit a library and send your kids to school, it’s true. But council tax only makes up, on average, a quarter of a council’s funding. In my own patch of Torfaen, just 13% of the council’s budget comes from council tax.

Your council will tell you all the details, probably via a nice leaflet you chuck straight in the bin / paper recycling.

Now I’m not saying that your council tax isn’t needed, far from it. Chances are it’s the only thing between your library opening on reduced hours or not opening at all, or some other equally emotive example of what that funding represents. What I am saying is that the UK is woeful at educating people how the services they use everyday operate. Everything is presented as black and white, all or nothing. It’s all about headlines and never about substance.

The truth about council funding is that it does largely come from tax – tax collected by central government which is then redistributed to local councils, via devolved government depending on the area you live in. The rest comes from business rates – collected by your council then largely pooled and redistributed by central government – along with any revenue the council manages to raise, and grants.

Never underestimate the importance of grants. Nor the strict rules surrounding their application. Grant money has to be used for a specific purpose, laid down in writing, and failure to stick to that agreement will result in clawback or even fines, leaving you worse off than you were before. Again, if you work in local government you get lots of comments about how disgusting it is the council is wasting money on x when it should be spending it on y because, like I said earlier, there is just no understanding that most of the time x is happening through grant money and y has to rely on the ever decreasing central budget.

Will public perception on all this change? My guess is not until the school curriculum on ‘citizenship’ and its ilk includes public finance. Given that the Chancellor himself seems fixated on pretending that public finance is the same as a household budget (the fallacy of composition), I’m not going to hold my breath!

La Lingua Franca of Wales

I live in Wales and to be honest the Lingua Franca of Wales is defiantly English, now I’ve run media and political campaigns in both English and Welsh (and once en Espanol but that is defiantly a tale for another time) and if anything I’ve learned its that Welsh just costs money and takes time.

The Welsh Language costs the taxpayer millions of pounds to accommodate but its spoken fluently by around 8% of the population. Now my local council (Torfaen) has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on the provision of Welsh language services and has had one request for dealings in Welsh, and this came from the Welsh Language Commissions mystery shopper.

The reason of the Welsh Language Commission was set up was to provide guidance and support for businesses, charities and government bodies in relation to their legal position for the use of the Welsh Language. Except from what I see it doesn’t, in recent months I emailed the commission asking for guidance on what the legal position is for the use of Welsh Language in the production of political campaign literature…3 months later I’m still waiting for an answer. But my specific case aside this is not the only time that the Welsh Language Commission has dropped the ball when it comes to doing their duty. In recent times the WLC has issued new standards for public bodies with a whole system of fines in place for breaches, which is great public sector bodies should be held accountable over their use of language but surely some guidelines would be nice, a few little clues as to how to implement the new standards? Nope, these are being left entirely open to interpretation, but watch yourself, you get it wrong and you pay the price.

From my point of view though Cymraeg yn boen yn y gwaelod

Guy Fawkes and Guy Fakes

Remember remember the Fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot.Guy Fawkes

I take a lot of pride in the history of Britain, but one of the main things that baffles me is that year on year every 5th of November we celebrate the life of a terrorist…although burning his effigy isn’t exactly a glorious tribute.
In recent years Guy Fawkes has become a folk hero and his image is a used as a symbol for anti government feelings and a voice of civil discontent. Works such as Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta have romanticised Guy Fawkes as a freedom fighter trying to throw of the yoke of a totalitarian autocracy. In the Graphic Novel the eponymous V takes up the mantle of Guy Fawkes in order to overthrow a fascist dictatorship that has swamped Britain in an almost Orwellian dystopia. It is worth mentioning that one of the most prevalent images associated with Guy Fawkes now is the mask of V from V for Vendetta and is now even the symbol of online hacktivists and vigilante group Anonymous.
V for Vendetta
But here’s the rub Guy Fawkes wasn’t actually anti government, he wasn’t even anti monarchy, he was just anti King James the 1st. The reason that Guy Fawkes chose Westminster Palace was fairly simple, firstly it was accessible from the river, secondly the labyrinth of cellars provided a decent hiding place and thirdly it was a place he knew the king would be. The initial bombing was planned for the state opening of parliament an event in public during which the king would have to be in attendance and stay for the duration. Guy Fawkes actually had a great admiration for the work of government and the only reason he was caught was that he was stupid enough to warn a member of the House of Lords about what was going to happen. And the rest is history.

Guy-fawkes-1
So how has Guy Fawkes gone on to become the symbol of anti government feeling? Well blowing up parliament will do that. But in this day and age Guy Fawkes is seen as the last honest man to enter parliament (a claim which I find highly insulting). I think that sometimes though it’s nice to have a reminder of what people are capable of when they are unhappy with the status quo and whilst I don’t agree with his cause and certainly don’t agree with his methods I think that Guy Fawkes does symbolise that sometimes the actions of those in charge need to be questioned and that positions of power are only as stable as the people that put them there.

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