The Greatest Satires

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I work in the world of politics and I love it. I really do, I’m actually one of those people that enjoy their work. But one of the things I love the most about it, is the absurdity of it all. And this is why I love things that poke fun of the absurdities of the political world so here are some of my favourite pieces of satire from literature, film and television.

The Thick Of It

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The BBC’s television show that focuses on the life of the Secretary of State for the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, and day to day trials and tribulations of senior government, from a hostile press to an even more hostile to director of communications, this series is full of swearing and having worked political press, its right on the money. Peter Capaldi as Malcom Tucker is manages to paint a comedic genius and a satiric masterpiece.

Boomsday

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Cassandra Devine, “a morally superior twenty-nine-year-old PR chick” and moonlit angry blogger, incites generational warfare when she proposes that the financially nonviable Baby Boomers be given incentives (free Botox, no estate tax) to kill themselves at 70. The proposal, meant only as a catalyst for debate on the issue, catches the approval of millions of citizens, chief among them an ambitious presidential candidate, Senator Randolph Jepperson.

With the aide of public relations guru Terry Tucker, Devine and Jepperson attempt to ride “Voluntary Transitioning” all the way to the White House, over the objections of the Religious Right and the Baby Boomers, deeply offended by the demonstrations taking place on the golf courses of their retirement resorts. A hilarious look at the mess that social security is in, and as the retirement age has recently gone up, maybe a blueprint for the future?

Yes Minister

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Set principally in the private office of a British Cabinet minister in the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in Whitehall, Yes Minister follows the ministerial career of the Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP, played by Paul Eddington. His various struggles to formulate and enact legislation or effect departmental changes are opposed by the British Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne. His Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds, is usually caught between the two. The sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, continued with the same cast and followed the events of the premiership of Jim Hacker after his unexpected elevation to Number 10 upon the resignation of the previous Prime Minister.

Man Of The Year 

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A late night TV host runs for president and wins owing to a computer error, the film follows Robin Williams as president Tom Dobbs as an independent president not beholden to special interest groups, and until recently, the thought of something other than voters determining the outcome of an election seemed like satire, but now, who knows

Veep

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A look at Vice President of the United States Selina Meyer as the hapless and almost powerless vice president, trying to gain a toehold in the muddy cesspit on the Potomac.

Youth Politics

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I actually got a little bit angry today, which in itself isn’t a big deal, people get angry all the time, its healthy to experience some emotion. But it was the thing I got angry at which was bizarre. It was a question on a questionnaire, asking if i’d ever been involved with a youth council, or youth parliament. It was a reasonable question on a questionnaire asking for youth (under 30) responses to the role of town and community councils.

But youth councils and student politics are one of those things that I seem to have a great disdain for, I think it harks back to my time in university, when people were campaigning g for NUS elections I was actually campaigning for my first City Council election (I lost, it was depressing, I’m over it), and I even said it at the time, on the student Television network, that I really didn’t give a damn about student politics, because I was busy with the real thing.

And this is how I feel about youth councils, youth parliaments, funky dragon (the youth Welsh Assembly) and to a lesser extent model UN’s, it just feels like playing. The word youth or young attached to anything is almost an apology. It screams please don’t take us seriously, we’re only young. It loses all credibility, just at the title.

But that being said, I get why young people don’t feel confident putting themselves forward in what I’m going to call “real politics”, its still seen as the domain of the middle aged (and older), and to someone fresh out of their teens it can be pretty intimidating, and in a few cases pretty boring (if I live to be 1000, the only argument regarding standing orders that I want to be involved in starts “can we stop dicking about with standing orders and get on to the something important”.)  I know that the you may feel that you don’t have the experience to be standing for office, but the only way to get experience is by doing, and this is why playing at some Mickey Mouse version of politics, that’s safe and doesn’t really make much of a difference, and isn’t really in any way reflective of what politics (especially local government) is really about.

Now I have to ask why the under 30’s of today are scared to seek out office? Mari Black became a member of parliament at 19, William Pitt became Prime Minister at 24, I became a councillor at 27 and I’m not the youngest member of Cwmbran Council, my wife became a borough councillor at 23 (and became Mayor at 28). So as you can see age isn’t a bar to office, and in a nutshell I feel this is my real problem with youth councils et al, its that they almost convince otherwise very clever and capable young people that, just by their existence, they are too young to stand for the “real” political posts out there.

Lifting The Veil On Politics: Town and Community Councils

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I was recently asked to consider standing in the upcoming election for my local community council (Cwmbran Community Council) and it really hit me, that I have absolutely no idea what it is that community councils do, so a little research later, here we are.

Community and town councils can make a significant contribution to the
localities that they serve. Community councils can provide facilities and support initiatives to respond to local needs, can organise and promote community events and can advocate and represent community interests. They work well within the structures of existing borough councils because due to their large nature, borough councils would have to take to broad a view in their decisions, whereas community councils have that local knowledge to know what needs to be done.

Community and town councils provide amenities that directly enhance the quality of life and visual appearance of Welsh communities – from floral displays to bus shelters and
Christmas lights. They played the leading role in organizing events to mark the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and are a vital source of funding for local community groups, sports clubs and charities, investing around £1 million in the
voluntary sector across Wales each year. A former colleague of mine who serves on a community council in The Vale of Glamorgan once described community councillors as the lords of small matters, because they were often dealing with things such as where to put litter bins, getting street signs moved, having bus stops cleaned and deciding how much money should go to the grandmothers choir and baroque ensemble. It does sound trivial, but you would soon notice if public bins were overflowing, streetlights weren’t working and bus stops smelled like urine.

Possibly the most important thing they do (at least from my point of view) is organise community events, anything from local village fairs and choir battles, to school plays, family fun days, outdoor cinemas and full on music festivals, community councils are the backbone for these events, the councillors and officers are the ones that give the funding and put in the hours to make sure their community is a better place live, work and play.

 

Happy Saint David’s Day

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Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March, the date of Saint David’s death in 589. The feast has been regularly celebrated since the canonisation of David in the 12th century, though it is not a national holiday in the UK.

Traditional festivities include wearing daffodils and leeks, recognised symbols of Wales and Saint David respectively, eating traditional Welsh food including cawl ,Welsh rarebit, and Welsh Cakes and women wearing traditional Welsh dress. An increasing number of cities and towns across Wales including Cardiff, Swansea and Aberystwyth also put on parades throughout the day.

The day also marked some interminable display of the Welsh Language going on in schools, suffering through that was always a hellish experience. I actually make quite a quick study in languages, speaking about four conversationally and being able to spout the basics in 7 more, but Welsh is something I’ve never been able to get my tongue around, you need both a lisp and severe throat infection to really get it and I lack both. Being a Welshman who doesn’t speak Welsh is actually a pretty common thing, about 85% of Welsh residents report having no ability to speak Welsh, and yet over 99% report speaking English. Yet every official sign and form (from the public sector only thankfully) has to be in both English and Welsh, which is ridiculous, how many trees have died just to preserve a dying language. It’s also worth mentioning that the number of Polish speakers in the UK is almost double that of Welsh speakers, but we don’t see council tax bills in Polskie do we?

Lifting The Veil On Politics: Wales

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This is the first of a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.

Wales is one of the countries that makes up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it is bordered to the east by England, the south by the Bristol Chanel and north and west by the Irish Sea. It has a population of just over three million people, English is the main language, although Welsh is commonly used (if not spoken), the currency is pound sterling and the capital city is Cardiff.

When it comes to the governance of Wales there are 5 levels of government (four after brexit finally transpires and Britain leaves the European Union) and they are:

  1. Community: The over 800 Town, Parish and Community Councils throughout Wales.
  2. Local:  Unitary authorities comprising of County, City and Borough Councils (Of which there are 22) [another blog about this will be forthcoming].
  3. Regional: The National Assembly for Wales is the directly elected parliament for Wales with 60 directly elected assembly members with responsibility for, healthcare, education, transport, business, tourism and agriculture and various devolved monetary policies.
  4. National: The UK government in Westminster which influences Wales by controlling aspects of foreign policy, defence policy and some aspects of tax policy. [another blog about this will be forthcoming]
  5. European: Governs 28 nations including the UK, with directly elected members of the European Parliament, European Commissioners and Councillors appointed by each of the member states.  Handles regulatory matters and Human Rights. [find more here]

Wales finally got its own government as a result of a referendum held in 1997. 60 Assembly members were elected to the first term of the National Assembly For Wales in 1999, 40 members elected from first past the post style constituency elections and 20 members elected from five proportionally represented regions.

As of 2011 the Welsh Government is responsible for making policy and laws for the following areas:

  • Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
  • Ancient monuments and historical buildings
  • Culture
  • Economic development
  • Education and training
  • Environment
  • Fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
  • Food
  • Health and health services
  • Highways and transport
  • Housing
  • Local government
  • National Assembly for Wales
  • Public administration
  • Social welfare
  • Sport and recreation
  • Tourism
  • Town and country planning
  • Water and flood defences
  • Welsh language

The way laws are made in the Welsh Assembly is as follows:

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Source: National Assemble For Wales

Hopefully that helps to shed a little light on how the governance of Wales works (or works in theory).

 

Dr Brexit (Or How I Learnt To Stop Worrying & Love The Abomination)

So that happened. The people of the United Kingdom (but not Northern Ireland) voted to leave the EU. After months of muck slinging and misinformation Britain narrowly voted to leave the European Union. This left Prime Minister David Cameron to be the first politician to keep a promise as he resigned his premiership , thus triggering a short leadership contest best described as mother doesn’t know best.

As well as this the Labour Party seems to be determined to simultaneously implode and rip itself apart, with the majority of  party MP’s wanting to remove “leader” Jeremy Corbyn from power and Mr Corbyn refusing to leave office triggering a party wide leadership election based on the Vladimir Putin electoral system.

Add into this 6000 extra reported hate crimes that have been logged since the Brexit vote was cast, the fluctuation of the markets that look like a cutaway diagram of Wales, and several declarations of  war on the baby boom generation,  this whole thing is beginning to sound like some sort of satirical farce, one can almost hear Malcolm Tucker exclaiming CHRIST ON A BENDY BUS whilst R.E.M plays in the background.

This is why after a month of anger, bitterness and depression I’ve decided to see the funny side of Brexit. So here are some of the funniest/ stupidest things I’ve seen regarding Brexit after polling day:

  • Google reports the most popular (non porn) search the day of the Brexit results was “What is the EU?
  • After being urged to vote leave by J.D Wetherspoon’s founder Tim Martin the firm lost £18,Million in value thanks to the post brexit slump.
  • An odious man of my acquaintance (whom I will not name for legal reasons) who campaigned strongly for brexit has now found himself fired from a leading academic establishment (which I will not name for said same legal reasons) because his position was paid for by a European Grant.
  • Proposals are now being drawn up by various special interest groups to cease the subsidising of public transport for the over 60’s in Wales in order to make up the shortfall of European Money coming into Wales (almost 80% of over 60’s in Wales voted to leave the EU)

Do you have any examples of poetic justice stemming from the post brexit fallout currently engulfing the UK?

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

Jolly Old Local Government

I was outraged to find today that a delegation of councillors from Torfaen County Borough Council have just yesterday,  at the rate payer’s expense jetted off to one of UNESCO’s world heritage site for a jolly old outing.

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Using hard won council funds a delegation of councillors led by council leader Bob Wellington traipsed areound this site of unique world heritage looking at the key examples of capital investment and beautification…all at the tax payer’s expense.

Bob Wellington Leader TCBC
Bob Wellington Leader TCBC

The delegation of councillors trip also included visis to a state of the art medical facility and a new educational establishment all at a cost £20.1 million. All of which is in an area that in less than 20 years has had over £50 million spent on it.

Using council funds for lavish private transport and to fund entertainment expenses all on their jolly outing, it’s this sort of excess that makes people despair of local government.

Still it’s nice to see Blaenavon is getting a look in.

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Right To Assembly

So today I was going to do a massive post about the political conferences of the week but illness precludes me from doing so, also it would probably be better to do a post mortem of conference season after all the conferences are over.

However in order to keep my content fresh and new here is a piece about the upcoming Welsh Assembly elections. For those that didn’t know there are approximately seven months until the Welsh Assembly elections (as well as the elections to the Scottish Parliament, Various English local authorities and the London Mayoral elections all taking place) so here’s a quick guide to the election in Wales and a brief history of the Welsh Assembly:

The Welsh Assembly as seen from Cardiff Bay
  • Candidates will be fighting for 60 seats on the 5th May 2016
  • There are 40 constituency seats that will be fought on a first past the post system
  • There are also twenty seats that will be decided on a proportional representation system.
  • Each registered voter will receive two ballot papers one for their constituency and one for their region.
  • The average turnout for assembly elections is between 45%-50%
  • There has never been an outright majority government in the Welsh Assembly the closest is the Labour Party with 30 of the 60 seats forming a government.
  • The Welsh Labour Party has been the majority party at every Welsh Assembly Election and has formed all four Welsh Assembly Governments.
  • There have been two coalition partnerships in order to form Welsh Governments, the first being between The Welsh Labour Party and the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 1999-2003 and between the Welsh Labour Party and Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) from 2007 until the most recent election in 2011 which saw the formation of a Minority Government of the Welsh Labour Party.
  • The Welsh Conservatives are currently the only party represented in the Welsh Assembly that has never formed a government and is currently the official opposition the Welsh Labour Government by dint of being the second largest party in the Assembly.
  • Polls for the election will open at 7 AM on Thursday the 5th of May 2016 and Close at 10PM with results being counted and announced thereafter.

Hope that clears everything up for you all and now I know that like the rest of us politicos, you’ll be counting the days until the election…is over. Have a lovely weekend people.