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Red White and Blue

Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Welsh Labour’s NHS misery continues

I’ve written before about how the Conservatives are looking to use the record of the long-standing Labour administration in Cardiff Bay to attack Ed Miliband, and its dire performances on education and health in particular. Such attacks will have been lent fresh ammunition this week with the publication of an explosive report into shocking failures of care in two southern Welsh hospitals.

When the responsible minister’s line-to-take is ‘this is not another mid-Staffs’, a terribly low bar in terms of medical best practise, things have to be pretty terrible. Yet that is just about the only silver lining that embattled health minister, Professor Mark Drakeford, has been able to find. Not another mid-Staffordshire.

The reports, which have prompted Prof Drakeford to make an “unreserved apology” to the victims of mistreatment, are producing similar chilling anecdotes: elderly patients left in their own filth, or allowed to hide their medicine because staff, despite knowing, either could not or would not take the time to oversee it being taken. “I am in hell”, one patient told the investigators.

Meanwhile, seven nurses from the Princess of Wales Hospital – one of the two hospitals under investigation, alongside Neath Port Talbot – have been suspended over allegations that they falsified patient records. Three other nurses from the same hospital had previously been arrested and bailed on similar charges. Now allegations are coming from the relatives of people in other hospitals.

The Conservatives and other opposition parties, alongside independent campaigners, have called for a full independent enquiry into the Welsh NHS. Carwyn Jones’ government doesn’t want one – afraid, perhaps, of what else might come to light.

Former terrorists to sue Boston College

It’s just the outcome Gerry Adams has been waiting for. Ever since the recorded testimonials of two former IRA terrorists were secured by court order and used to build the case against the Sinn Fein president – which culminated in his arrest last week in connexion with the murder of Jean McConville – a shadow has lain over Boston College’s ‘Belfast Project’. This was intended to be an archive of first-hand accounts of the troubles, based on recorded interviews both with Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries of various persuasions.

As I wrote last week, Adams has long been a bitter opponent of the project. Quite what a ‘man of peace’ who has never been a member of the IRA has to fear from a full and first-hand account of the Troubles being preserved for the historical record he never made clear, but his motivations might be divined from his arguing that: “Everyone has the right to record their history but not at the expense of the lives of others.” By expenses presumably he meant jail sentences.

Whilst I’m not sure I subscribe to the view that peace must always trump justice – not least because it encourages future enemies of the state to strive for that event horizon of brutality where all is forgiven – one fear I raised last week was of the loss of the archive:

“Gerry Adams clearly feels that he, or at least his carefully-curated reputation, has much to fear from an accurate historical record of the Troubles. The disappearance of that record into the attics or bonfires of former terrorists is something he wants very badly.”

Alas, we took a step towards the archive’s disintegration this week when an ex-IRA man announced his intention to sue Boston College. Michael O’Rawe, a former Republican prisoner and convicted armed robber who became a Sinn Fein press officer, feels threatened by graffiti that has started appearing across Belfast labelling those to testified to Boston College as ‘touts’ – informants, the same charge on suspicion of which Ms McConville was murdered.

His case hinges on the fact that they offered testimony on the condition that it would not be made public either without their consent or before their death. It was a classic, painful trade-off in the style of the Good Friday Agreement: the truth can be set down and known, one day – but only when those it exposes are beyond earthly justice.

With a US court ruling making those testimonials available to the British authorities as evidence, there is good reason to fear that the archive of over eighty interviews might not survive. Boston College has already offered to return the testimony of anybody who asks for it, and the precedent set by O’Rawe and others taking legal action will do much to dissuade others from attempting a similar scheme. The history of the Troubles might be lost forever.

Scottish whisky risks being dragged into plain packaging ‘trade war’

Following Australia’s introduction of plain packaging Indonesia, its close neighbour and one of the world’s largest cigarette-producing nations, as forced all Australian alcohol to be sold in plain packaging too. It plans to do the same to New Zealand wine when that nation introduces plain packaging soon, and it plans to lobby other tobacco-producing countries to adopt similar reciprocal measures.

Now Scottish whisky, a voluntarily-imbibed unhealthy substance of which that nation is justly proud, risks suffering the same fate when the Scottish Parliament introduces plain packaging. The risk of this indignity has prompted Labour’s Anas Sarwar – who supports plain packaging for tobacco – to demand the Scottish government intervene with Indonesia to ensure that Scotland’s signature poisons can continue to enjoy the benefits of hard-won brand identities.

Northern Irish elections: Conservatives break new ground as NI21 suffer string of setbacks

Theresa Villiers has become the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to campaign for her party in that province since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The last time this happened was reportedly during the last great Tory push into Ulster in the 1990s, which saw us come close to capturing North Down at the 1992 general election. This time the Conservatives are trying to break in as an independent party after attempts to forge local alliances – most notably the alliance with the Ulster Unionists at the 2010 general election – came to nothing.

One of the alliances that weren’t to be was with Basil McCrea and John McCallister, two disaffected, liberal members of the Ulster Unionist group in the legislative assembly. The prospect of their defection tantalised – perhaps fixated – the local Tories for a long time. But finding the Tory offer – lots of money but a sub-competent local machine – insufficient, the two instead broke away to set up a new, non-sectarian, pro-union force: NI21.

Sadly, its campaign to date has been notable mostly for the gaffes. In some parts of the province the party’s name will not appear on the ballot paper at all – the slogan ‘Aspire to Better’ having been registered without the word ‘NI21’. On another occasion they fluffed a rare television opportunity when McCrea – an experienced and consummate media performer – turned up with minutes to spare and sent an inexperienced but demographically-appealing political novice on in his place.

SNP accused of altering report into their pan-Scottish police force

Opposition MSPs have attacked the Nationalists over accusations that they amended a ‘damning’ report into their plan to create a single, unified Scottish police force (hideously named ‘Police Scotland’) in order to put a ‘positive spin’ on it. The initial report prepared by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee criticised the absence of a business case for the merger and questioned the alleged efficiency savings, but according to Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat members the majority Nationalists ignored these concerns.

Former Progressive Unionist Party leader passes

Hugh Smyth, former leader of the left-wing Progressive Unionist Party, has passed away. A prominent and well-known politician, he was first elected in 1972 and stood down from front-line politics in 2002. The PUP is a small, contradictory party which has been on the fringes of unionist politics for decades. It draws its support from working-class loyalists, and is split between a progressive, left-leaning interest in civic unionism and its long-standing formal link to the Ulster Defence Association and the attendant stain of loyalist paramilitarism.

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