I’m voting for Leanne Wood. Here’s why you should too…

I’d intended on simply voting quietly and privately in this leadership election. I’d told my friends how I intended to vote, and why. But I didn’t envisage sharing my thoughts more widely.

But as the ballot papers drop tomorrow, what’s become clear is that we’ve not really been addressing the real issues. The vacuum has been filled, for sure. Filled with the soundbites politics we’ve all become used to; pushing personality over beliefs; concepts (some of which are good) touted as policies; triangulating messages; managerialism etc. The type of PRollocks-ridden politics that has led more and more people away from trusting politicians.

The thing is, this is the easy way. This is how politics is done. Done by professional politicians to a population who are fast giving up on politics as an answer to their problems. The result of politics like this is a fast-track to the far right. Why? Because unless we do something to change outcomes for those living precarious lives, or those whose lives have dropped into real poverty, they will end up choosing the strongmen who use politics to blame others. Others are so easy to find aren’t they? Remember which politician has consistently stood up for those ‘others’. Yup, Leanne.

Meanwhile, in the real world of everyday Wales, we have multiple crises at play. We are fast approaching 40% child poverty; we pay millions to sports car manufacturers owned by the richest people in the world to make cars nobody in Wales will ever afford; and we pay public funds into the coffers on the super-rich on the promise of economic growth. And we also have the very real impact of Brexit on our doorstep. Brexit was, in my opinion, a massive two-fingers to a system that’s failed too many.

We can spend (& waste) energy blaming Westminster, Welsh Labour, Nigel Farage, the EU…., all of the above. We can even spend our energy trying to reverse the decision. In, and of, themselves important. But until we address the reasons why, we’re simply storing up these concerns for the next opportunity, to stick it to ‘the man’. Brexit doesn’t just need fighting; it needs addressing.

Economy – Over the past decade (unlike all the candidates, and most of their advisors) I’ve worked across communities in Wales, supporting lots of different people with their own small and micro businesses. In that time, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that this group really matter in Wales. They matter in communities up and down the Country. They don’t just provide financial wealth; they provide social wealth too. I’ve learnt that many of these business owners have been waiting on the promise of politicians since devolution, and all they’ve seen is a failure to deliver, apart from for a select few. They’re fed up seeing promises of the next economic nirvana resulting in nothing.

I’m clear on a number of issues. Firstly, the concept of trickle-down economics is a fallacy, which blows the idea of a big transformative project out of the water. When the state uses scarce resources to fund say, a call centre whose owners are based in India, the profits that operation make don’t stay in Cardiff; they jump over the Severn Bridge, get on a plane at Heathrow and head to Mumbai. Trickle-down is actually a cover for more extractivism that Wales has been subjected to for centuries. Only now it’s not coal and steel, it’s financial returns (oh, and water!).

Secondly, we need to start to address a world with much less work. Until politicians begin thinking properly about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the world of work, we will forever be stuck in a rut of economic dependency. Hardly addressed by any of the candidates.

Finally, and most importantly, the economy must mean something. Even if all the grandest of ideas come off, if we don’t solve the pressing social issues of our time, inequality, poverty and climate change, what is the point? It’s important for the societal construct to come before the financial. It does with Leanne.

Leadership – There have been some very personal criticisms of Leanne’s leadership style over the course of this campaign. Whether they’ve been orchestrated or not, isn’t important. What is important is creating some balance within all this negativity. Plaid’s leadership, especially at the Assembly seemed to me to have been a joint endeavour, especially amongst the three standing for Leader. The manifestos were joint endeavours, and if they failed to set the world alight, I’d suggest that failure should be collectively owned.

Outside of the politically active bubble, Leanne consistently polls well, and above the competition (internal and external). In my personal experience she has a unrivalled ability to get a message across to the general public. She is liked. In the shrill world of cut’n’thrust, bloke-centric, politics, being liked is too often overlooked as a strong political characteristic. Just think about it; do you give more time to those you like, or those you don’t? The electorate are the same. If the message didn’t quite work, perhaps it isn’t the messenger who should get all the blame?

Independence – As some will know, I’m a newcomer to the cause of Welsh independence. I’ve said before, I’m one of the increasing number who struggle to see an answer to Wales’ problems via the status quo. In fact, I do think the status quo is damaging to Wales (for the record, I think the same is true of much of England, Scotland and the north of Ireland). I think those who share my concerns over ways we’re likely to address the issues of inequality and poverty, are also persuadable to the cause of Welsh independence. They’re less enamoured by the (valid though they are) cultural arguments. The civic and cultural arguments for independence need to be brought together.

But one thing concerns me, and it relates to our own personal dependence. If Wales is to truly be independent, it needs to be able to remove its dependence on single transformational events, messianic individuals, and especially the tired old ideas from outside. Our answers lie within. Within our towns and villages, our communities and our individuals. It’s always easiest to fall back on traditional economic thinking; mimicking the global, unequal world of market efficiency and financialisation. The problem with this – it just doesn’t work, and it won’t work for Wales.

If anything, repeating more of the same old mistakes will likely push people away from the independence movement, in the same way Brexit prevailed. If we want to build a better Wales, it needs to be less about owning the next iPhone, however beguiling, and more about reducing inequality and ending poverty. That won’t be solved by markets, growth & trickle-down redistribution. It will be solved by being radical. Upholding and supporting social capital, and especially when there is a direct choice between that and financial capital. Only one of the contenders gets that; Leanne.

Alliances & Electoral Success – My concerns about the situation Wales is in helps me to be a pragmatist. Why? Because, I think we’re in deep trouble. I don’t agree with any of the candidates that we need a Plaid Government to deliver independence. We firstly need to understand how damaging the current political system is to Wales’ communities. We then need to lead a consensus of those who want to change that system – the only way to do this is with ALL the levers of power in our hands. That can’t be anything other than independence. If members of other parties buy into this vision of a different economic system in Wales, then that is sufficient for me to want to work with them.

This also brings me to the issue of electoral success. Some are expecting a change of leader to radically change the Party’s electoral fortunes. I think that is pie-in-the-sky thinking. If Plaid is serious about electoral success in the medium term, it must become a radical force; it must deliver on ‘The Change Wales Needs’; Leanne’s pamphlet.

Voting for Leanne – So I’m voting for Leanne as my first and only choice. I won’t be using my second vote. Does this mean I’m failing to participate fully in this democratic process? I’d argue not.

Rhun has yet to set out anything of substance, policy-wise. He’s talked about being a great communicator, but I wanted to know more about his politics, and that really hasn’t got out. The race is almost run, and I think he’s left it too late.

I’ve spoken with Adam during the campaign about some of his ideas. He has said he’s not prepared to give up on the big transformative projects, and his focus is clearly on ‘the economy’. This is standard fare for mainstream politicians – after all, wasn’t it Bill Clinton who famously said ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’, and you can’t get more mainstream than Bill, can you? But the economy is a social construct. The economy as it currently operates is there to make rich people richer – it creates inequality. It also destroys our ecology.

I want our economy to do more. I want it to be set to give prominence to ensuring no child starts their days in poverty in one of the richest economies in the world. That’s the language I wanted to hear, and I’ve not heard it from him.

That doesn’t mean I don’t respect both Rhun and Adam for standing. Nor does it mean, that the policy debates that they’ve raised (or plan to) aren’t worthy of serious debate. Nor does it mean, I disagree with all they’re saying. Far from it, and given we’re all members of the same party, I’d be shocked if I did disagree entirely.

However, on the substantive questions of diagnosing Wales’ current position and setting a clear political vision, there are differences, and they are significant.

An economy that is full of publicly supported companies like Aston Martin, Airbus, Ford and all the others, but fails to address inequality and poverty, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that funds billionaires over those on the edge of precarity, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that provides tax cuts to rival the lowest around to attract the entrepreneurial class and global corporations who have no foundation, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. And finally, an economy that ends up looking anything like the unequal U.K., with an overheating core and a dependent hinterland, isn’t an economy; it’s a massive con.

I didn’t want to write this blog, but I felt I needed to. If, like me, you have a vote in this leadership election, and if like me you are committed to Wales being a fairer, more inclusive country; a country where no child starts their life (and undoubtedly ends it too) in poverty, then the only way to vote is with Leanne Wood.

No politician is perfect. They’re just like the rest of us. To expect otherwise is plain daft. And to suggest otherwise, of others, is equally daft. But what I’m sure of, the desperate straits we find ourselves in doesn’t call for a mainstream leader. We need someone who’ll fight to realign our economy to better suit everyone; not try to make a bad system grow.

At the end of the day, I believe the system isn’t working for Wales, and we must change things, now. Don’t expect radical, socialist policies from anyone other than Leanne, because it just isn’t going to happen. They’ve told you they’re going the way of markets and capital. It’s crystal clear.

If you want radical, vote for the only radical on the ticket. Leanne Wood.

NB – I’ve written this in a personal capacity. I’ve not sought Leanne’s permission, or approval. She hasn’t sought to approve or censure my blog, and had she asked, I wouldn’t have obliged. The first time Leanne reads this, will be the first time you could’ve read it.
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Whose future are we voting for on June 23rd?

On June 23rd the UK will express its collective opinion on arguably, the question of the generation: Should we stay in the European Union or should we get out. Most people in the Country have never been asked this question before, and a large group of people have known nothing other than being part of the European club – I’m wondering whether to include myself in this, as I was 3 years old when we joined.
One group unable to express their opinion on EU Referendum Day will be those under 18. This blog isn’t intended as a place to consider the merits, or otherwise of lowering the voting age (something I’m very supportive of however). My concern rests with those of us, who are able to vote, and whether we take into account the views of our children before entering the polling place.

So I asked my two youngest step-daughters (14 and 16 yo) what they thought. Once we got through the ‘it’s boring’ & encouraged them to lift their heads from YouTube for 5 mins, their views were interesting. This is what they said:

“Europe is cool” – Barry isn’t a cosmopolitan place really, but both girls, mainly through social media channels, are very aware of the world beyond our shores. They find it interesting. They absorb the cultural diversity in a way, our generation just couldn’t. The ‘coolness’ they refer to relates to the differences they find between cultures – they want that world to be accessible to them, not in any way closed off. Europe is their gateway to the rest of the world.

Immigration – like most of us, they saw the tragic image of Aylan Kurdi being washed up on a Turkish holiday beach at the start of last summer. They saw it before we did – but neither brought it to our attention. When we spoke about it at the time, the eldest of the two asked if we could provide a home for refugees. She was earnest in her question, despite the fact that we struggle to fit ourselves into our house. They don’t see this refugee crisis as anything other than a humanitarian issue. They hate the way there press demonise refugees; they don’t accept (believe) the unhealthy links being made between terrorists and refugees; and they’re pretty accepting of those seeking a better life for their family and themselves via migration. They’re not scared – they’re disappointed that the previous generation (that’ll be us) have done such a poor job in allowing the problems that cause migration to exist in the first place (wars, inequality & famines).

Nationalism – we’ve all got our own passports. But neither the Great Britain part of it, or the purple EU cover mean anything to them. Unlike previous generations, their nationalism does not define them. Seeing the likes of Nigel Farage or even Boris extolling the virtues of a perfect, picket-fenced, St Marymead (Miss Marple lives here!) utopian dreamworld means absolutely nothing to them, and if anything, is associated with the more unpleasant side of nationalism that UKIP are trying to keep well out of sight. It’s an anathema. Most people of my generation know that time never existed, but for the girls, they couldn’t care less if it ever did.

Freedom & Safety – one thing schools do, is have a lesson called History. In years 7, 8 & 9 for the past few years, the girls have covered the 2nd World War. So when they reminded me that’s it’s surely better to be close friends to your closest neighbours, than enemies, and that in itself ensures that the world is a safer place, one of the key reasons we’re ‘in’ became apparent. The European Union was established in the aftermath of that war – lest we forget, eh?

In the final, direct question, I asked how would they vote if asked to remain or leave the EU. There wasn’t any extra thinking time needed. Both were unequivocal – both would, if they could, vote to remain a member of the European Union.

Whatever your personal persuasion on this most vexed of subjects, it is worth remembering that the decision you take in June, will have a greater impact on those members of your family who won’t have a say in this vote, than yourself. Try not to pre-judge what they are thinking – there’s a good chance, like my step-daughters, their opinions will be reasonably well formed, and well informed too. So before you vote, canvass their opinions – my hunch is, they’ll be much more likely to want to be part of the European Union than not. Whether you heed their message, is then up to you….

How to waste public money – let the Welsh Government Economy & Enterprise Minister invest it for you

We’re chasing the wrong Dragon in Wales at the moment, and it’s high time it stopped.

Today we’ve heard of yet another business in Wales that had recently announced a major funding injection from Welsh Government and is now on the brink of going ‘pop’. Universal Engineering in Llantrisant announced with great Ministerial fanfare that they had negotiated £2M of public funding to support their expansion as they were so confident of the future. That was the middle of February this year. They have called in the administrators and it’s only August.

This raises two important points. Firstly, what, if any due diligence was undertaken by Welsh Government officials in making this decision, and how honest the grant applicant was in relation to the health of the business at the time of the application.

When I’ve previously been critical of this type of investment, I’ve been chided by some who suggested that this risk taking by government is what they should be encouraged to do, not be cowed into a risk averse corner.

The investments are wrong for two key reasons:

1- more often than not the public money is not being invested alongside risk capital, from private investors or institutions. These guys get it wrong too, I agree, but they’re often risking their own money in the deal; they have ‘skin in the game’. Their reputation or kids inheritance will depend on them choosing winners over losers.

2- the investments are made on the basis of jobs created. This may create PR opportunities for the Minister, but do very little to generate wealth in our communities. Jobs will be developed on the basis of wealth being created, not the other way around.

Those who follow these public investments will have noticed a number that have gone to the wall recently. These failures are dreadful news for the employees of the Companies themselves, and the local area in which they’re situated. The fact that our public monies are also being lost alongside the jobs just makes matters worse.

Mrs. Hart, you prided yourself in being an interventionalist when you announced your impending retirement recently. Well it doesn’t look like it has worked. You’ve either got an incompetent team of senior officials in your department or you’re making over-riding judgements from your high office. Either way, save us some money between now and May 2016, and go now. And on your way out take the bureaucrats who made these godawful decisions with you.

Welsh Assembly Elections 2016 – a nine month alarm call

It’s just gone 10pm on the 5th August 2015, and I’ve just finished listening to an excerpt of an interview with Michael Sheen on BBC Wales, in which he challenged us, in Wales, to believe in ourselves.

In exactly nine months time, the ballot boxes will have been taken from polling stations across Wales, and counting will have begun, in what I think, is Wales’ most important election since devolution.

The world is in a state of flux; changes are happening around us that only history will recognise as being so volatile, and in the new world that emerges, I’m convinced that the nimbler will come out on the winning side. Arguably small is the new big – and we’re small, so here’s our opportunity.

Here’s a first stab at my manifesto wish-list – admittedly it’s really only a list of questions, but a list that I think is important:

Education – how can we truly help our children thrive in a world where jobs as we know them are likely not to exist. The Donaldson report merely scratches the surface. Take a listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s view on the matter in his TED talk – there really is another way, and we in Wales, could be pioneers. Education fails too many at the moment – if things don’t change dramatically, it’ll fail a whole lot more.

Health – much of the debate around the NHS at the General Election in May centred on the differentials between Welsh & English management of the service. Why on earth are we concerned with what happens over the border. If they’re different it’s because their health priorities are different to ours. Let’s build the best NHS for the Nation of Wales, and let’s start by concerning ourselves with improving health at the community level, and focusing as much with the social causes of health problems, as we do the medical interventions that are unfortunately often too late, and therefore hugely expensive. Remember, small is the new big…

Government – how can the role of government be simplified. This will take a brave politician or two to deliver, but it needs to do much, much more with less, much less. This debate is often characterised as taking tough choices – but I’m less convinced. For example, as a civil society it is wrong that so many Welsh people live in abject poverty – poverty blights communities, it curtails futures, and it kills. Our social safety net must catch people, and at a level that doesn’t make them feel worthless. This must be our priority, but many of the answers lie in strengthening our communities – and you know what; we in Wales get this. We may have hidden it a little bit in recent years, but scratch the surface and it’s there. From a cost perspective government is often delivered cheaper, when it’s delivered locally. We can do more, with less, and we, I think, can do more with less better than anyone else.

Economy & Enterprise – Wales’ economy has bumbled along at the bottom of the UK (& European) economic league tables for far too long, and yet we still continue to do the same old, same old, and expect a different result. There’s a highly developed echo chamber in Cardiff Bay & Cathays Park that believes the PRollocks they themselves are spouting. This is an area, Governments should simply jump on their horse and get out of Dodge… Businesses don’t need to be ‘Mamby-Pambied’, they need to be able to fail if they’re not good enough, get finance when they convince the financier, engage the professional help they believe they need, and employ the people they think are right for the business. Also, let’s back ourselves. Let’s not focus on bringing inward investors in to the Country to the detriment of local businesses – because the local businesses will keep the wealth they create local. Inward investors will grab their money, travel over the Severn Bridge, jump on a plane in Heathrow and count the spoils in some far flung tax haven.

Community & Hiraeth – instead of championing the community values that exist within our tight-knit communities, we seem hell-bent of trying to be something else. Those readers with children are likely to be familiar with this refrain “be the best YOU; because you’ll never be the best someone else.” So if we hold the values of family, community, social cohesion in high regard, let’s make them the central part of our Country. Silicon Valley already exists; putting an ‘s’ on the end of Valley won’t make it so. Let’s be the best Wales. Nobody can beat us at that.

Sustainability – the Earth’s resources continue to be under pressure, so let’s be bold and develop ways to be the World Leaders in Water, Food Education & Renewable Energy.

Nation-building – whilst we rely on the Barnett formula to keep the Welsh economy alive, we’ll stay poor. This payment mechanism was always meant to be transitory, but instead of devising a replacement, let’s start a medium term conversation about how we end our dependency. A healthy relationship can’t survive when one party relies on the other so completely, surely?

This wish-list isn’t exhaustive – and I accept its not policy prescriptive, but I think it goes some way to answering Michael’s challenge, whilst also recognising the changing world we live in.

If no political party is capable of believing in us; the people of Wales, they’re not worthy of our votes. They’ve got nine months to convince us otherwise. Or more accurately, they’ve got until the close of nominations…….

#BarryIs part 2

Places in Wales – They used to be something – they used to mean something – they were where they were for a reason – they mattered more than just a place where you lived. We didn’t really care if they were a village, a town or a city; we cared that they were a community that sustained families, economy, work, education, recreation, wellbeing (in its broadest context) & spirit.

Each place had its individual spirit.

Big places were split into smaller bits. Each of those smaller bits had their own spirit too. A sort of sub-spirit.

And that spirit was clear. For some it was a genteel spirit; for others a harder edged working spirit; and for some towns it was something much more distinct.

If you were to ask someone from a place to articulate its spirit 150 years ago, that would have been easy – many of those places were just emerging at the time, they were full of pioneers; the people who created these places. They knew what the spirit was, they were it.

As the places grew, the spirit changed slightly; it grew with it. The pioneers were being replaced by people who rooted these places (let’s call them the rooters). These were second and third generation ‘locals’ who came from those places. They added history, folklore & their own family and community values. They developed the civic infrastructure: the schools, the churches, the welfare halls. They built on what the pioneers started. They knew what the spirit was, they were it.

Then something happened.

It wasn’t intentionally bad.

But it definitely wasn’t good either.

Something happened that stopped the spirit of the place developing – we allowed bureaucracy to get its cloying hands on the development of our places. Locals let the bureaucrats take decisions on their behalf, whether they were local politicians, council officers, or those with some sort of civic authority. The locals abdicated their responsibilities for developing their own village or town, and left it to others. This coincided with a sense of self, over community.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a point where systems and rules ensure civic life works, and works safely and to the average benefit of all… The thing is, when it comes to spirit of a place, to its generative ability, bureaucracy has no place.

The place you were from helped to describe you; it helped to ground you, and whether you ran away at the first opportunity or stayed there for a lifetime, the spirit stayed with you.

In Wales, these separately identifiable places weren’t isolationist – far from it. People from one place knew people from other places, and if they didn’t know them, they certainly knew someone who did. The concept of six degrees of separation just doesn’t translate to Wales; in Wales it’s one or two – sometimes you need to look a bit harder to see it, than would have been the case a hundred or even fifty years ago, but those strong linkages between places are there, and therein lies one of Wales’ greatest untapped assets.

Which brings me on to the reason behind this blog, and perhaps even some action. I feel like it’s action on a guerrilla scale, so that’s kinda cool 🙂

This constant onslaught regarding the power of cities, and City Regions (we have two or maybe three here in Wales, and some are hoping North East Wales will hang on the shirt-tails of the Northern Powerhouse too) misses the point – it ignores this massive asset we have here in Wales that we’re connected. I think there’s an alternative, and it lies within our communities – it’s emerging, and there’s little officialdom can do about it.

When I recently visited Ebbw Vale (Ebbw Vale Institute to be precise), I met the former MP for the area, Dai Davies. I started my Indycube spiel…. change the way Wales does business; too fond of government handouts; blah; blah, and he stopped me.. He said “Let me tell you, Ebbw Vale built the world! We produced the steel that built the ships, the bridges, many of the world’s fixed assets.” Our towns evoked a sense of pride. People like Dai still have that pride for their place, but as those old stories fade, if we’re not careful so with that, will go that sense of pride.

Barry is an interesting place… In 1881 the ‘beautiful little country village of Barry’ had 85 residents living there. More surprisingly, they lived in 17 dwellings. Today – there’s close to 50,000 residents living here, and the house count continues to climb.

Barry grew very quickly – when David Davies got fed up with the Marquis of Bute overcharging for poor service to the Coal Barons at Cardiff Docks, he did something about it – he built his own (I’m riding fast and furious over history here, but hey feel free to add in the comments). The building of the docks was the building of Barry – the town exploded into vibrant life – by 1913 it was the biggest coal exporting dock in the world – I wonder how it must have felt to have been part of those pioneering years? I wonder

Many of our Welsh towns/cities are in the process of regeneration. Some are seemingly further ahead than others, but the underlying focus of their Renaissance seems to be flats, shops, and the occasional ummm, unmmm….. no I can’t think of anything else. It’s all flats and shops. The upshot is we’re ending up in places that are indistinguishable from the place up the road – they’re bland and uninspiring. Worse still, they do very little (read nothing) to change the economic well being of the area. It’s not regeneration at all. It’s degeneration.

Why is that? My view is we’ve lost that pioneering spirit – we’re caught up in claptrap and ‘echo chamber’ speak, and very few people are shouting out.

What if we took the ‘re’ out of regeneration, and instead of using the current everyday levers of change to make things happen, we just started with an engaged conversation or two?

So here’s the rub. If you want to improve a place, there are things you can do…

1- lobby for a solution. There are lots of very well meaning folk who put a lot of energy into trying to persuade and lobby the powers that be, that their idea is worth pursuing.

2- become a local politician – and get lobbied by those well meaning folk, and if you agree (or find it politically expedient) pass it on to the officers of the local authority.

3- become an officer in a local authority – you could really make a difference here – but the local authority is the last place to take risks & be brave. You manage the risks into mediocrity and ultimate failure. You say ‘No’ far, far too often.

4- JFDI (however small the ‘it’ might be) – you just never know. There’s a good chance some things will fail…. Lots probably, but the few things that succeed could well be the pioneering changes that’ll last generations. Or if you don’t feel like pioneering, what things need ‘rooting’ in?

So, what is the great idea, that’s so easy to implement, and could re-instil a sense of pride back into Barry in the first instance? I’ve got some ideas to share, but more importantly, I’d really like to hear other people’s ideas too.

So, if you’re a 2015 pioneer, or a rooter, and are interested in true regeneration in Barry, come & join us for a couple of hours

What we’d like you to bring…

something to sit on
a flask of your favourite hot beverage
something to eat, that ideally you’d like to share between the group
your passion & your ideas

I can’t promise that it’ll turn into anything. I don’t for one moment pretend that this is a democratic meeting. But Barry needs to regain its pioneering spirit. Are you in?

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/barryis-tickets-18000475908

#BarryIs

Emergence, regeneration, conversation & Barry

Barry is….. what?

It’s easier to say what Barry was….

In 1881, Barry was a ‘beautiful country village’ consisting of 85 residents living in 17 dwellings; 32 years later it was the world’s biggest coal exporting dock, and the town supporting that industry ballooned massively. Barry was also a vibrant seaside resort – it had roller coasters, donkey rides, two outdoor swimming pools (one fed by seawater), and a Butlin’s Holiday Camp.

These descriptions were all true, but now serve as a historical record of what Barry was, rather than what Barry is. In fact, they seem far removed from where the town is now – it’s difficult to even imagine the docks and railway sidings bustling with activity, workers and energy. Bustling with pioneers.

Now, it seems, the biggest things to happen in Barry in recent years is the arrival of Asda on the site of the old steam engine ‘graveyard’, and/or the installation of temporary fairground rides on the site of the old funfair. Quite evidently they’re not on the scale of the pioneers of a century ago.

As with communities across the Country, residents of Barry have seemingly abdicated their responsibility for improving the places where they live (and work). Regeneration has become the domain of local authority planners, national and international retail chains, and house and/or flat builders. Unsurprisingly, most of the time, they don’t ‘get’ Barry – they ‘get’ the one-size-fits-all approach, that worked somewhere, at some point. The only thing they really deliver is a copycat town or village, indistinguishable, one from another.

History has shown time and again, that real regeneration, the sort that lasts and has a positive impact on communities is borne from deep within the community, and not from soulless meeting rooms at County Hall, or in the boardrooms of retail giants hundreds of miles away. Often lasting regeneration stems from artistic or cultural activity that allows residents to see their town through a different lens, or when economic opportunity is grasped and risks are taken.

I’m not abdicating my responsibility, and that’s why I’m baking a cake, bringing a flask & a deckchair and chatting with others about what #BarryIs – Join in https://www.eventbrite.com/e/barryis-tickets-18000475908

#GE2015 – My Review'”

Eight days ago the Country woke up to an election result that surprised most pollsters, and those of us who watched the various debates unfold.

So what happened? And why were we so surprised? And why am I so blinking (please feel free to insert more appropriate expletive) excited and engaged with the future of Wales, politically?

I’m not given to statistical analyses, so will give them a wide berth here – there are lots that are around – knock yourselves out. Key outcomes, and frankly all that matters, is that (in no order of importance), SNP maxed out in Scotland (and could even have done damage in some Northern English constituencies!!); Tories strengthened almost everywhere except Scotland; Lib Dems (my old Party) were effectively wiped off the Parliamentary map; UKIP polled almost 4M votes (and got 1 MP); the Greens retained their seat, and massively grew their vote (1M); and Labour failed (by varying degrees) to turn their pre-election polling into votes. In Wales, Plaid Cymru showed a marginal improvement, but failed to make the breakthrough their increased exposure may have suggested. I’m going to give my ‘four-penneth’ worth on each Party in a bit, but first let’s consider who switched allegiances and therefore decided that David Cameron could run a majority government for the next five years.

THE SWITCHERS

So, I reckon there was more movement than we thought between votes this time than there has been for a while. I’ve focused on three categories of switchers…

The middle of the road voter: the type who has probably voted for Thatcher, Blair & Clegg in their time, this time went (relatively positively) with Cameron. Sure, they were influenced by the scare stories regarding the SNP having a rudder on power. Sure, they were influenced by the lack of trust in Miliband & Balls. But mostly, they thought the coalition had done alright (even if they weren’t quite feeling the benefits as yet), and the beneficiary was the Conservative Party. First past the post elections mean that this group have the biggest influence on Election Day.

The working or non-working poor: this group still don’t vote as much as other groups, so the swing from them is important, but perhaps not defining in its significance (apart from in Scotland). In Scotland, this one is easy – they deserted Labour and voted SNP. In England & Wales, it seems a few went Green, a backbone (potentially from strong Labour areas – such as the former coalfields) stayed reluctantly with Labour, whilst a significant grouping climbed aboard the Farage Express. They went willingly, and will likely do the same again (Euro referendum, local councils etc.). The backbone will continue to desert Labour in my opinion, and will split left (Green, SNP, Plaid) and right (UKIP). I anticipate this move being quick, hence my thoughts regarding the future of the Labour Party (see later).

My final switching group are the Liberal minded centre & centre/left, or the progressives: this group suffered from echo chamber syndrome during the campaign – if they were a betting bunch (unlikely, but hey, go with the analogy), they would have lost a lot of money expecting a rainbow coalition of sorts. The vast majority of this group voted with conviction – they engaged during the contest with politicians, and with each other. They spent little time engaging with the other two switching groups above – had they done so, we may have had a different result. This grouping are likely to have previously voted tactically. They voted for their least worst option. Often, but not always, this was against the Tories; and that often meant Labour. This time their vote was fragmented and diluted. It went the way of the Nationalists (not the Tories!!), the Greens as well as Labour. The significant minority who tactically voted against Labour in the past, are likely to have stuck with the Tories.

THE PARTIES

Conservatives
Lots of observers suggested the strong showing for the Tories was as a result of people voting scared (scared of the SNP, scared of a mismanaged economy etc.). I’m less convinced. I think, in addition to a very firm support base from 2010, they added the likes of centrist liberals, and the aspiring working families (who’ve never seen a food bank, but would never consider themselves to be well off). They claimed a huge swathe of the centre ground. This support isn’t going to be easy to budge.

The other interesting point about the Tory vote in England was that there was a real under-current of it being a vote for English Nationalism. The rise of the SNP, and the higher profile of Plaid certainly raised the stakes south of Hadrian’s Wall and east of Offa’s Dyke. I can’t see the strength of the SNP diminishing – so I think this increased separation will become more acute as time progresses.

The Conservatives quite obviously had a fantastic election – beyond their expectations. Their biggest strength is paradoxically their biggest weakness. They’ve mapped themselves out as a safe pair of hands, in troubled times – a safe pair of hands will never take the chances needed to bring about the changes needed in the super-networked, unpredictable and emergent world that we’re part of. The forces of Conservatism just aren’t up to that sort of future. They’ve got away with it, as the UK (& the rest of the Western world) has been insulated from the challenges thus far. That insulation is wearing thin. The Tories will, however, remain a strong force fighting (valiantly but without doubt, hopelessly) against the ‘Revolution’ of emergence that is on its way.

SNP
I doubt that the tremendous support for the SNP represents a clamour for independence, more it’s a shutting the door on an out of touch, and largely irrelevant Labour Party. The fact that the poorest areas of Scotland voted for independence clearly evidenced that the status quo isn’t an option for them, and given Labour’s failing, the SNP became the party of choice. Moreover, the support for the SNP, I think, goes beyond politics. It is representative of a real belief in Scotland, by the people of Scotland. It transcends the normal ebb and flow of economic data, and political failings. It’s stronger than ever, and for the foreseeable future, insurmountable for the other parties.

Labour
There’ll be lots written in the history books by people who were on the inside in Labour between 2010 & 2020. I think it will show a party that shrunk back into familiar ground. And when they got there, they realised their familiar supporters had given up on them, for good. The reason for that, simply, is that they’ve failed to deliver an agenda that improves social justice for all.

Some Labour insiders refer to Wales as being a relative strong base for the Party. I’m far from convinced. The tsunami that swept through Labour in Scotland is building up in Wales, and the interesting thing, is that Welsh Labour just can’t see it. This election (in Wales) was their second worst since 1918. The writing is on the wall. The key issue is, however, we won’t have the patience to allow the Labour Party the time to reinvent itself.

The Conservatives major weakness also applies to Labour too. Their controlling, statist agenda is far too cumbersome for a future that rewards agility and risk-taking. Taken together, my view is that by 2020 Labour will have effectively disappeared as an electoral force. It’ll be that sudden, and that final.

Liberal Democrats
The 2010-2015 coalition Government was judged twice by the electorate – everything they liked (the economy, um…., um…., that’s about it) they congratulated the Tories on. Everything they disliked they shoved at the feet of Nick Clegg and his unfortunate band. The fact that the Lib Dems were central to much of what was perceived as worthwhile in the last five years mattered not a jot.

With not many more than a handful of MPs, the Lib Dems have a long way to go, in order to have any relevance to the UK electorate. Paddy Ashdown’s management of the Lib Dem’s election campaign, where their main argument was ‘we’ll be best suitor to the other two’, failed catastrophically. The loss of significant politicians like Vince Cable and David Laws is as much a loss to the Country as a whole, as it is to the Lib Dems.

The UK (& Wales for that matter) need a truly liberal voice, and I do think we’ll be weaker without them as a force. With a wholesale policy review (that should be easy as I’m not sure they have any at the moment??), they could become an influential player once again. Liberalism as an ideal will have a stronger voice in the future than Capitalism IMHO. I’ll deal with Socialism later…. 🙂

UKIP
Pre May 7th, most thought that UKIP’s success would come from disaffected, right wing Tories – there’s been an assumption for a long time, that the less well off you are, the more left leaning you will be, and vice-versa. This election has, I think, thrown that assumption in the bin. The working and non-working poor are scared – they are the recipients of food banks; they live in sub standard housing; they suffer the consequences of health inequality; and they often, instinctively put their own needs above the rest of society, and who can blame them. It’s no wonder that when a party such as UKIP blames the usual suspects (migrants, health tourists, the EU) for the Country’s woes, this group will follow. The group are even more likely to follow if they struggle to understand the manifestos in any meaningful way. I’d imagine very few Tories defected to UKIP this time round – perhaps the hard core right wingers, but they’ve been gone a while anyway, and I’m sure Tory strategists are secretly quite pleased with that.

Green Party
They’ve got a great MP in Caroline Lucas, by all accounts – but this was the first election they’ve been treated seriously. I’d imagine the 1 million voters they attracted (perhaps previously Lib Dem voters) will stay the course. Their policies didn’t really get the testing that would have highlighted where there were deficiencies (neither for that matter did the SNP, UKIP or Plaid). But, the Greens have established themselves – they’re here in Britain for the future, and I think that’s good news.

Plaid Cymru
I voted Plaid for the first time, this time round. In the (perhaps formerly) Tory/Lab marginal I live in, I knew I wouldn’t be voting for the winner, but I was impressed with the way Leanne Wood led the campaign, and importantly, how the Party framed the debate solely in terms of Wales. Wales could be perfectly placed to be the Sweden of the 2020s and beyond. Small is the new economy of scale, and with a population of 3 million, where the values of community, family and environment are stronger than individualism and capitalism, we’re perfectly set. The other often forgotten value the Welsh hold as important is that of non-conformitism (albeit we’ve had it knocked out of us across the years). Free-spirited, creative communities will thrive in the future.

Plaid could take up that mantle. Much of their policy remains in the dogma of Socialism, but their field of vision seems right. The argument for an extra £2.1bn from a recalculation of the Barnett Formula is an example as to where they’ve got the question wrong. The challenge should be, whether inside or outside of the Union, how can Wales do without the Barnett Formula? With it, we remain poor, guaranteed.

Perhaps there is an opportunity to redefine Socialism in the context of a dramatically changing world. Less about state control of key resources, and more about emergent, collaborative & connected communities working together for common purpose. Remember, our strength as a nation resides with the people, not the levers of state.

For me Plaid are well positioned, but they do need to attract and listen to fresh, new voices. I get the impression some in the Party will be keen, some will be dismissive. For those whose inclination is to dismiss, I’ll happily buy you a pint or two, and let’s chat.

CHAOS – where opportunity lies

I think tomorrow’s political battleground’s lines have been drawn. The issue is, only the Conservatives are set for the fight. They represent a steady rudder hand – they represent conservatism. Ideologically opposed to the chaotic, emergent world we are already in, they will fight to preserve the status quo – big business (including continued pandering to big oil), citizen management (snooping etc.), and capitalism in its current form.

The fight needs to be taken up. And the first place to take it up, could, and should be Wales. The ideals of emergence, liberalism, socialism (as redefined 😃), freedom, environmentalism & localism need to be represented – and soon. The question is who is up for it – Wales’ disaffected need a vision, Wales’ centre & centre-left need one too, and if that’s got right, the floating voters will follow.

There’s lots of ideas to turn these fanciful words into something real, but they’re out there – in our communities – in Aberystwyth, in Garndiffaith, in Pontardawe and in Newtown. In pubs, in schools, and in workplaces – in me, and in you. It’s time for Wales to regain our spirit, our Hwyl. Hiraeth isn’t translatable for good reason.

My job takes me around the whole of Wales. I get to speak to lots of people, and often these conversations get on to how we can develop a stronger, fairer, more sustainable Wales. Without doubt there is the capacity to achieve great things. We don’t need to go to MIT in Boston to find the next great thing, or Sweden, or Ireland, or Scotland or even England. We have the capacity. Small is the new big.

I’m up for it. Are you?

#Wales #Believe

Why Mark Hooper, Founder of Indycube CIC and co-founder of Indycube Ventures LLP is voting Plaid Cymru on May 7th.

This General Election is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, and from all sides of the political spectrum, business leaders, large and small are keen to tell us why they’re backing one large Westminster based Party, or the other. There was even a group, imploring us to vote Liberal Democrat recently.

Well I run a business, and I don’t agree with their verdicts. Why does my opinion differ and why should that matter? Because, I run a business in Wales, that supports other Welsh businesses to grow our economy, generate wealth, and create high quality local jobs. Indycube now has twenty coworking spaces across the length and breadth of Wales, with a further ten planned for the remainder of 2015. We’re working as hard in some of our hard pressed communities as we are in our cities. Over a thousand people working in small and micro-businesses have used our spaces over the past five years, and I’ve got to know most of these business owners personally. I’ve got a clear idea as to what they need, and as importantly, what they don’t.

The biggest single thing they need is to be believed in. We need our politicians to have faith that the future prosperity of our Country will come from within, and not without. Reliance on the Barnett formula for delivering money from Westminster to Cardiff Bay; incentivising foreign corporations to base themselves in Wales and profiteer off the back of our workforce in the blinkered pursuit of jobs; and, forever following the myth of ‘best practice’, have all failed before, and will fail again. This isn’t the way to build a prosperous (not just in terms of money) Wales.

Our politicians must believe that Wales’ biggest assets are its people. Leanne Wood has stated just that, time and time again. You know what? I believe her. If we can’t rely on Westminster parties to deliver for Wales, then let’s rely on ourselves. When Leanne kicked off the first leadership debate saying that she was interested in Wales, it was music to my ears – that was what I was interested in. If more politicians are sent to Westminster with a clear mandate to deliver for their local community, rather than tow a Westminster party line, the better it will be for Wales.

Business people are often derided as being selfish. I run a social enterprise that has NEVER taken or requested any grant funding – in fact we pay taxes back in to the pot. Like many businesses in Wales (whether formally a social enterprise like us, or not), business people care. If they were only interested in chasing money, they’d probably locate elsewhere. The value of family, community and the fantastic country-scape in which we live are also of significant value to us.

When you run your own business, it’s important that you’re ambitious for it to succeed. When you see an NHS that is being negatively compared to the one across the border; when you see an education system that is missing the opportunity to challenge all our children to become the creative leaders of the future; and when you see far too many children living in poverty (when the UK is the sixth richest economy in the world), it’s apparent that we need politicians who will take on these challenges in a way that suits our Country. We’re a small country, but that is our strength – we can move quickly, try things out, fail and learn, be creative and most of all, be ambitious for ourselves. For Wales to remain so poor that it once again qualified for Structural Assistance from the EU is an embarrassment at best, or more accurately an absolute travesty for those families who are destined to spend a lifetime in poverty.

Most people will have made up their mind which way they’re going to vote on Thursday. Lots will be voting for something they believe in; lots will be voting for the first time; lots will be voting for a different Party than they did last time; lots will be voting for the same Party they always have; and, lots won’t vote at all. In Wales, for far too long, we’ve allowed one Party to dominate. The Welsh ‘block’ vote has kept the Labour Party forceful in Westminster, and of course more recently, in Cardiff Bay. And yet, Wales remains one of the poorest regions in Europe – their centrally controlled policies just haven’t benefitted us, here in Wales. The old truism of putting a Labour rosette on a donkey in some parts of Wales, and they’d still get in needs to be laid to waste – our children and grandchildren can’t afford for us to miss the opportunity for better. The Conservatives don’t get Wales, and probably never will, and the Lib Dems have lost their reforming zeal, in a barely concealed attempt to appeal to the two biggest parties as a suitable suitor in coalition. Neither of them will deliver for Wales, and our future.

I believe in Wales; I believe in my community; I’m fed up of Wales being taken for granted. Plaid’s policies don’t 100% match my views but they’re much more ambitious for Wales than the rest, and that’s massive. That’s why I’m voting Plaid Cymru on May 7th.

Mark Hooper