Sunday, 29 April 2007

Politics has eaten itself

Rhodri Morgan reminds me of the character Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Beeblebrox becomes President of the Galaxy, a role that involves no power whatsoever, but merely requires the incumbent to attract attention so no one wonders who's really in charge. That would seem to sum up Rhodri’s position rather well.

Irregardless of the outcome of this week’s elections, the resolutely middle class Labour leadership in London will still be in charge in Wales, exercising its control over and above local party level, imagining a world formed in its own likeness.

If, as seems likely, the vast majority of the electorate demonstrates its disenchantment with the party political system by simply not voting on Thursday, the politicians will choose to ignore the serious political message it actually represents and will just carry on squabbling amongst themselves in the way they did before before the election.

This is not democracy. True democracy is dead in Wales because politics has eaten itself. The Assembly will have no legitimacy because it will not be representative of the wishes of the people and, sadly, this would still be the case if most of the electorate were to vote.

In elections to the Welsh Assembly, we each have two votes. We cast the first for the candidate we want to be the Assembly Member for our community and the second for a political party or independent.

If our candidate wins, our first vote is effectively deemed to be for that candidate’s political party. If our candidate loses, we might as well not have bothered voting since we will not be represented unless we cast our second vote for one of the parties from whose ‘top-up’ lists ‘additional members’ are appointed. Additional members are deemed to represent constituencies used prior to 1999 in European elections. Well, that all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? No?

Applying the d’Hont system to the second vote results in those parties that fail to contest more than half the seats having no right to additional members. Additional members are there to correct proportional imbalances caused by the vagaries of the first past the post system. The whole setup assumes, you see, that we vote for party political dogma rather than for individual people.

Now, even though the majority of us are still likely to have voted against it, the party with the most assembly members is presumed to have a legitimate mandate to form a government. It has the right to select a First Minister even though he might not have won the majority of the vote in his own constituency, let alone in the country.

Who would come up with such an unrepresentative, undemocratic system, and why does it work in such an illogical manner? Surely the Westminster government wouldn’t impose such a system to further its own interests by perpetuating the status quo? After all, the Welsh Assembly was only intended as a sop to devolution, heading off the nationalists by promoting a fireless dragon with no powers to make laws or to raise taxation. (I know the Assembly is due to get greater powers but they fall well short of full executive government.)

In their desperation to get elected, politicians now ensure that there is no discernable difference between them. Rather than candidates standing on principles, the parties use sophisticated techniques to establish the issues that are least likely to be contentious. Thus they approach elections with limited social ambition and that, in a very large nutshell, is the reason for the situation we have now.

Click here to visit The Red Dragonhood

Thursday, 26 April 2007

The devil rides out to confront the Welsh Christian Party

I feel compelled to take up arms against the Welsh Christian Party, even though there’s only one of me and they’re sufficiently numerous to contest Assembly seats in all five Welsh electoral regions.

I’d really prefer to turn the other cheek on the basis they’re not worth it, but since one of their main policies is to ban the Red Dragon flag of Wales because it’s “the symbol of the devil in the scriptures”, I’m left with no other option than to call them out. I’m the Red Dragonhood’s standard-bearer, for Christ’s sake!

If I’ve understood their manifesto correctly, their political doctrine is based on an anthology of conflicting essays written in the Dark Ages but edited and reinterpreted several times over the centuries by despots keen to invoke an unimpeachable authority to legitimise their subjugation of the people.

Leader Jeff Green says his party “offers something to voters that the main political parties do not”. Too bloody right it does! The policies of the Welsh Christian Party make the BNP sound like a bunch of woolly-minded liberals. It wants to promote the “traditional [Christian] values” of bigotry, fanaticism, intolerance, racism and institutional homicide on the basis that these principles represent “age-old truths”. I’m not making this up. It’s in their manifesto.

I have respect for genuinely spiritual people of any ethical, humanistic doctrine. But I have nothing but contempt for these dangerous, self-righteous pseudo-religious fascists, even if they do promise to uphold “the highest standards and integrity”, “restore faith in society” and “introduce laws to make Sunday a [compulsory] day of rest”. (Presumably they don’t realise that the Assembly has no authority to make such laws.)

Look, I’d be the first to agree that life can be a bit scary at times. Depressing even. Some days, society’s most intractable problems may seem utterly irresolvable and debilitating. Simple, everyday issues like having to open an Internet account with First Great Western just to buy a train ticket can be frustrating to the point of apoplexy. But we’d be better off swallowing handfuls of Prozac to dull the need for meaning in our lives than bring back the Inquisition to exorcise our uncertainties.

Just like real politicians, the religious extremists of the Welsh Christian Party are trying to use your fears to control you. If you believe in God, you’d better start praying they don’t get many votes.

Here be the devil's works!

Monday, 23 April 2007

Lack of Ferraris is an indicator of Welsh socio-economic plight under Labour

I once caught my friend Craig, who was at the time a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and a PR for London’s poorest borough, ogling a bright red Ferrari. When I mentioned that his adoration of this object seemed paradoxical given his political leanings, he answered that, on the contrary, he wanted a Ferrari for everyone. I proffered that a Ferrari everyone could afford would not be a Ferrari, but he was oblivious, lovingly running a hand over the curve of its wing.

After a decade of Labour government, Ferrari sales are at an all-time high but we are further away than ever from a time where everyone could afford one, especially in Wales. In the City of London, Ferraris are now almost de rigueur - indeed, those with serious bonus prospects hanker after the superior status inferred by a Lamborghini or Pagani - but you won’t see many exotic sports cars in the valleys.

Despite the economic boom that’s apparent in London and most other English cities - in Cardiff too, to a lesser degree - Wales is poorer than England, Scotland or Northern Ireland and the gulf is getting wider.

Much of this disparity has to do with the fact that we’re largely a working class nation and Labour is the party of the middle class. The Conservatives are the party of the middle class too (only more so), and so are the Liberal Democrats. Politically, we’re stuffed.

A central tenet of Labour’s socio-economic remodelling of British society has been to bring as many people as possible into the middle class. Under Blair, the middle class has become rich beyond its wildest dreams while the poor have fallen further behind. Rhodri Morgan’s assertion that the ‘representative Welsh family’ is £5,000 better off will probably come as a big surprise to most representative Welsh families.

When Welsh interests conflict with those of England, Wales loses. The destruction of the Capel Celyn community in North Wales to make way for Liverpool’s reservoir at Tryweryn in the 1950s is still perhaps the most dramatic example, but the recent closure of the Burberry factory in Treorchy turned out to be a particularly enlightening example since the ‘Britishness’ Burberry claimed its brand represents was clearly shown to be the essence of England – of Big Ben and Beckham and Buckingham Palace – not the post-industrial wasteland of the Rhondda valley.

So, under Labour, the English middle classes have got richer and the Welsh have got poorer. The sad thing is, whichever party wins the forthcoming elections, this inequality will continue unabated because, as it ever was, the power to make meaningful economic change rests in England, not in Wales.

Nothing in this article is meant to imply criticism of my oldest and dearest friend. I don’t amount to much more than a rabble-rousing troublemaker and I wouldn’t presume to pass judgement on a good person. However, it’s apposite to my premise for you to know that Craig, the son of a window cleaner from Llanelli, is now the executive editor of a well-known motoring website, based in London.

Click here to visit The Red Dragonhood