Tuesday, 16 January 2007

On the integrity of Peter Hain's New Unionism

Over a coffee in my kitchen last week, before that panicky propaganda onslaught about Wales staying in the UK was unleashed in the Western Mail, a friend told me about a meeting he had a few years ago with the Right Honourable Peter Hain MP.

When he became Secretary of State for Wales in 2002, Peter held a reception for the great and the good of the Welsh music scene, following on from the example set by his boss, Tony Blair. My friend, being both Welsh and a rock star, was invited along with his fellow band members.

When my friend got to the ‘meet and greet’, the Secretary of State gripped his hand firmly, as you would a close associate, and maintaining a vice-like grip, deftly manoeuvred my friend into the best position for the photographers to get the ‘glad-shot’. Before parting, he handed my friend a business card, impressing upon him the idea that he shouldn’t hesitate to call if ever he had a problem. Then, with a few images of my friend’s tacit support duly harvested, Peter turned his attention to inducting the next celebrity-best-friend-of-the-moment.

My friend instinctively counted his fingers and, finding everything still in place, joined a party at which all had a good time, apparently at the expense of the Welsh Office.

Now, my friend never came across anything he thought worth bothering his new friend Peter with, but his dad had a problem in the village, which needed political support. So his dad called the number on the card and left a message. No reply. He wrote a letter. No reply. He sent an email. Nothing came back.

I suppose this could be the result of a series of administrative mishaps but it is just as likely to indicate that Peter Hain is without integrity.

So when he writes about the potential ‘Balkanisation’ of Britain if Wales and Scotland were to break free of England, you’d be safe to assume that he’s actually trying to scare you into believing the party line. And when he mentions that public spending is £1,000 per head greater in Wales than elsewhere in Britain, you might be right to assume it’s a bald-faced lie designed to further propagate the myth that Wales is financially dependent upon England.

Ask yourself this question. Is Peter Hain providing this information for your benefit, or is he doing it for reasons of self-interest or the interests of his party? Because if it’s the latter, then this amounts to corruption, ‘sleaze’ in other words, and he has no place being in public office.

In reality, there’s nothing to fear except, perhaps, the consequences of placing power in the hands of disingenuous people like Peter Hain and Tony Blair. Let’s have a debate about whether we want to be ‘Montenegro’ to England’s ‘Greater Serbia’ with all of the relevant information available for public scrutiny. Then, when it comes to elections, we need to look for people with integrity… and beg them to become politicians.

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

Let’s vote for us instead of them.

The Bishop of St David’s and I fundamentally disagree on a metaphysical level. Since he’s unable to prove the existence of God, our diametrically opposed views are destined never to be reconciled, what with me being a fundamental atheist and he being a bishop of the Church in Wales.

Yet I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with the crux of his Christmas message as reported by the Western Mail. (You wouldn’t catch me in a place of worship other than to marvel at man’s age-old struggle to make sense of his existence).

The Bishop’s premise was that the blame for our selfish, survival-of-the-fittest society lies firmly with our political leaders and I’ll pick that up and run with it.

“There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families”. So said Margaret Thatcher, erroneously as it happens, to justify her advocacy of unrestrained, market-driven capitalism. That, it seems to me, is where our value systems began to rot.

An eighteenth century French jurist expressed the notion that “people get the government they deserve” and it’s amazing that a sophisticated society such as ours could have elected someone lacking even a basic grasp of sociology to high office.

What Thatcher began, Blair has largely continued. In a triumph of political manipulation over moral and ethical substance, New Labour has managed to hide its insidious advancement of personal and corporate greed behind a smoke screen of social responsibility.

What of the alternatives? The Tories are philosophically not trendsetters and it seems likely that David Cameron, far from being a new broom, is actually a shameless opportunist who’ll be looking for an opportunity to increase the gap between rich and poor still further as soon as he finds an angle to dupe people into electing him.

The Liberal Democrats seem to have disappeared on a political level and, in Wales at least, the Plaid is, well, the Plaid!

Politicians have built for us a society where only wealth can insulate us against an increasingly hostile environment; where profit is everything; where home is an investment; where the poor have no security and no mobility; where revenue-raising fines are used to ‘punish’ us for everything from putting the wrong rubbish in the wrong wheelie bin to paying our taxes late; where there is no service unless we pay for it through the nose; where there no one left to hear us scream apart from some other poor, exploited worker in a call centre in Bangalore.

Apathy towards politics is indicative of the failure of democracy and it comes as no surprise, surely, that according to the Electoral Commission, around 130,000 people across Wales are not currently registered to vote. People no longer have faith in politicians, so whom would they elect if they registered? None of the parties are campaigning on the basis of promising to make life happier and more fulfilling although, presumably, that’s all the disaffected and the disenfranchised really want?

I mentioned that Margaret Thatcher was wrong about society; by definition, two or more people in a co-operative relationship constitute a society, and a society defines the customs of a community and the way it is organised.

In my opinion, the only way to re-engage the majority in the politic
al process is to de-centralise political power and begin to organise on a community level. For me, that means an independent Wales, federated within Europe.

Our politicians need to understand that they are elected to public office simply to improve the lives of the people they represent. If politicians take the lead in ensuring our society values compassion more than profit, then they’ll soon find it easier to get people out to vote.

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