UKIP surge could cost Tories Welsh MEP

The European elections in 2009 marked a historic moment: the first time since the universal franchise that the Conservative and Unionist Party topped the poll in Wales. Being in government the upcoming elections will naturally be more difficult, but as recently as the end of April Wales Online was reporting that Dr Kay Swinburne was “virtually assured” of winning a second term for the Tories whilst Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans was in trouble.

Now a new poll has revealed that the Conservatives and Plaid are neck-and-neck in a fierce three-way fight with Labour for the bottom two seats, with both Labour and UKIP polling strongly enough to clearly win a seat apiece. Meanwhile the Tory lead over the Welsh nationalists has fallen to a single point, with Plaid actually edging ahead amongst those certain to vote.

The poll also paints a bleak picture for 2015, with Conservative MPs in Cardiff North, Vale of Glamorgan and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire all falling to Labour if present polls were borne out at the general election next year. All this comes despite Labour’s ongoing struggles with the record of its devolved administration in Cardiff Bay, which probably contributed to what Professor Roger Scully of Cardiff University pointed out was “their lowest level of general election support in Wales found by YouGov since before the 2010 general election.”

If party fortunes were to reflect this poll in the devolved election of 2016, the Liberal Democrats could be reduced to a single Assembly Member and UKIP could break into their second national chamber (following the defection of Northern Irish MLA David McNarry to the party). The party would be on track to win eight assembly seats, with the Conservatives, Labour and Plaid all losing one or two and the Liberal Democrats four of their five AMs.

Former UUP leader Lord Trimble ‘shocked’ that Blair kept ‘not-an-amnesty’ letters secret

David Trimble, Conservative peer and former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party before their eclipse by the Democratic Unionists, has described how he felt ‘deceived’ by Blair during a statement to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is conducting into an enquiry into the ‘on-the-runs’ – terrorists or suspected terrorists wanted by the authorities – who received letters assuring them that they were no longer being pursued.

These letters appear to have become de facto amnesties, a fact which only came to light when the trial of the Hyde Park bomber John Downey collapsed. Despite protestations from key New Labour advisors such as Jonathan Powell and John McTernan that their government did nothing wrong, Trimble feels that he and other Unionists who came to the negotiating table in good faith were having such policies deliberately kept from them.

The NIAC will visit Northern Ireland for a two-day evidence-gathering trip, and is trying to finalise arrangements to receive evidence from Tony Blair.

MSPs defer vote on giving Edward Snowden asylum

One of the first acts of an independent Scotland could be offering asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Campaigner Mick Napier has launched a petition for Scotland to shelter Snowden, claiming that the country owed him a “debt of gratitude” and that a visit from him would be an “honour”.

Despite several MSPs being sympathetic to Snowden, who was apparently elected Rector of Glasgow University earlier this year, they have rebuffed Napier’s attempts to expedite consideration of the petition and deferred any ruling until after September, on the not-unreasonable grounds that Scotland does not currently have the power or the right to offer asylum to foreign nationals.

Since fleeing the United States Snowden has been the guest of the Chinese and later the Russian government. Alex Salmond got into hot water recently after praising Russian president Vladimir Putin, Snowden’s current host, for restoring Russian national pride.

Closing the stable doors: Welsh government’s latest steps on education and health

Carwyn Jones’ Labour administration in Cardiff has been under heavy fire recently. Left almost completely to its own devices, burdened only by the need to sometimes throw divisive sops to the ever-more-left-wing Plaid Cymru, the Labour Party in Wales has had fifteen years in power since devolution in 1998, a unique opportunity to test their traditional left-wing theory of government. The result has been a long-running disaster in education, and more recent but more acute trouble with the Welsh NHS.

This week the Welsh government made two appointments intended to shore up these precarious fronts. Professor Graham Donaldson has taken up the challenge on education, and will be leading a sweeping review into how children are taught and assessed in Welsh schools. He has indicated that parents – who in England enjoy a great deal of potential power in education due to the Free School system – will be consulted on what changes are needed.

Meanwhile on the healthcare front Dr Andrew Goodall has been appointed the new Chief Executive of the NHS in Wales, a role he will hold concurrently with heading the Welsh Government’s Department for Health and Social Services. It does sound to me as if the DHSS might be meant to hold the Chief Executive of the NHS to account, but that clearly isn’t the case here.

Being a member of the public health establishment, Dr Goodall isn’t going to let the long list of serious problems surrounding Welsh healthcare provision distract him from the bigger question of “how we balance delivering our services with focusing on improving the long-term health of the Welsh population” – i.e. how to balance treating the sick against pushing new restrictions on everyone else. Coming from the same government that is seriously considering a “vaping ban” on e-cigarettes, perhaps it would be foolish to expect any other approach.