Tag Archives: Wales

Lord Martin Thomas writes…The Red Army

I am six inches taller this week. Wales smashed Russia in Toulouse! Russia was our heroic ally during the war but for most of my adult life, we were living under the threat of a huge looming Stalinist empire.

I grew up with soccer, as we used to call it. Saturdays were school rugby in the morning, and the Boys’ Enclosure at the Wrexham Racecourse soccer ground in the afternoon. Tunnicliffe thunders down the wing, crosses to Les Speed in the centre who puts the ball in the net. At our end, the amiable Ferguson tries to keep his knees together in goal – he famously let one through his legs at Stoke in the FA Cup. Soccer was simple then.

Then Hungary with Pusckas put six goals past England in 1953 and the world turned upside down. Russia invaded Hungary  and Pusckas fled to Real Madrid. Soccer became Football. What you have to do now is  stroke the ball to each other in your own half, send it back to the goalie and back again –  intricate patterns of play with the only hope of a goal to wake up the crowd from a penalty, corner or free kick. 

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Kirsty Williams on supporting teachers, pupils and students: her vision for Welsh education

Kirsty Williams has been talking to Wales Online about her plans on education secretary. Here are some of the best bits:

On supporting teachers

She used tact and sensitivity, unlike some education secretaries in Whitehall. You are not going to get anything done in schools without getting teachers onside.

“I think there is some excellent practice,” said Ms Williams.

“I think that there are schools and other education institutions that are doing amazing work and children that are having a great education experience, but my concern is that it is not universal.

“There are too many variables between schools – even between schools that find themselves in the same local authority.

“What I want to do is focus on making sure that good practice, that undoubtedly exists within the system in Wales, is shared and adopted by all schools so all of our children, regardless of where they live, have access to the very best education.

“What I have been struck with in recent weeks is that the profession in many areas does not feel valued and I want to raise the status of the teaching profession.

“We are going to be asking a lot of them, it is they that will make the difference to school standards in Wales, not me in an office in Cardiff Bay – so we need to support them to do the job that we expect of them.”

Curriculum reform

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My highlights of the Hay Festival

Living in mid Wales, we are able to pop along to the Hay Festival, and take in a day of culture, politics and new ways of thinking.

On Saturday June 4th, I did 4 contrasting bite size chunks of life – past and present. The day started with Erwin James, a convicted double murderer, sentenced to life imprisonment 32 years ago, and former Guardian columnist. He started his session by saying that for the first 12 months of his sentence, he was locked up for 23 hours a day, which forced him to think about whether he was made to be a criminal or life had made him that way.  He produced no conclusions, save that he had a good childhood to 7 years old, and after his mother was killed, his life careered down the path of criminality, culminating in his conviction. He has chosen never to speak about his crimes in detail,  respecting the families of the victims, and a constant theme in his talk was that he will never be able to make up for taking the lives of two people.  He has a book out (as do most authors at the festival) called Redeemable, a title chosen because he feels all prisoners are redeemable. He even had a good word to say about Michael Gove, a Justice Minister who has commented on how society needs to value prisoners more and see them as assets to society.

Moving on to the next session and definitely not a good word to say about the Conservatives, nor any government of the past 20 years; Refugee Tales told the stories of refugees in the UK, experiencing multiple dawn raids, a dispassionate asylum system, and shocking treatment of children detained ( and we still do lock up child asylum seekers with their families in a place called Cedars – please don’t think that as Liberal democrats we have stopped this practice as this report explains.) A comment from a Welsh GP in the audience produced many nods when she stated that successive UK governments have aimed to have an asylum system that is as difficult and as incomprehensible as possible to deter people from seeking sanctuary.  The aim of this session was to raise the profile of a campaign to limit the detention period of asylum seekers – currently indefinite – to 28 days – just as it is for any other UK citizen.

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Holding Kirsty to account

When set against the backdrop of our worst performance in a National Assembly election, Kirsty Williams’ elevation to the Welsh Cabinet is nothing short of remarkable. It is no exaggeration to say that she is one of the most powerful Assembly Members in the Senedd Chamber; she may be a lone Welsh Lib Dem voice, but the power to make or break the Welsh Government is hers.

With Kirsty’s support the Welsh Government can command 29 votes, the same as the opposition (less the presiding officer and deputy). A tied no confidence vote results in the presiding officer voting in favour of the status quo. Simply put, Labour’s First Minister Carwyn Jones loses his insurance policy if he doesn’t keep Kirsty onside.

The Welsh Party overwhelmingly endorsed the agreement at a special conference by more than 4 to 1. It is a huge, huge gamble, but it has nothing left to lose. With a Cabinet post comes profile, coverage and exposure that a sole backbench Lib Dem would never have. If you think the Party struggles to get coverage at the UK level, our Welsh coverage is next to nil outside of an election. Frankly, it gives the Welsh Liberal Democrats relevance in Welsh Politics when we should, according to our vote share, be irrelevant.

Without an Assembly group from which to take counsel, or to hold her to account, it also places Kirsty in a very powerful position in her relationship with the Party. With the Party’s endorsement under her belt, she can effectively operate as an independent and take decisions as she sees fit. So what measures will she be judged against, and who will hold her to account?

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+++Breaking: Welsh Special Conference to debate whether Kirsty Williams should enter Cabinet as Education Secretary

Kirsty Williams 2We knew last weekend that Kirsty Williams was talking to Welsh Labour about accepting a Cabinet position and now we know what it is and what she will be bringing to the Cabinet table, subject to the approval of the Welsh Party at a Special Conference on Saturday.

From the Welsh Liberal Democrat website:

Kirsty Williams and the First Minister have reached a Progressive Agreement between the two parties to work together in Government.

The First Minister has invited Kirsty Williams to serve as Cabinet Secretary for Education and subject to ratification by the Welsh Liberal Democrats this weekend, she has accepted.

The agreement enables the implementation of key Welsh Liberal Democrat policy priorities that the party campaigned on during the recent election, ensuring that:

Infant class sizes are reduced to a maximum of 25;
There are more nurses, in more settings, through an extended nurse staffing levels law;
20,000 extra affordable homes are funded;
A new ‘Rent to Own’ housing model is introduced;
Mental health discrimination is ended.
Members of the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be asked to endorse this agreement at a Special Conference will take place this Saturday (21 May).

Commenting on the invitation to be Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM said: “Government in Wales has entered a new era. Where there is common ground, we must have the confidence and ambition to work together for the good of its people.

“The test of our new approach is not the warmth of our words, but our commitment to get things done.

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How Mark Williams intends to revitalise the Welsh Liberal Democrats

In his first interview as Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, for Wales Online, Mark Williams talked about how the party would rebuild following the shattering defeat in the Assembly elections.

He seemed to cast doubt on the wisdom of concentrating campaigning in 4 constituency seats, saying the party needed to reach out to liberals across Wales:

He said: “There are huge swathes of Wales where we did not campaign at all, and that’s what we need to change.

“There are groups of Liberal activists around the country that need to be supported build strength on the ground.”

Mr Williams said election efforts had been concentrated in Brecon and Radnorshire, Cardiff Central, Ceredigion, Montgomeryshire – only the first of which was won.

Adamant there are many potential supporters in Wales, he said: “There’s a lot of people out there, maybe who were disaffected by the coalition experience, who we need to draw back into our party.

“Whatever the percentage was on Thursday, there are far more Liberals, people of Liberal thinking, out there.”

He looked to history to show that the party would recover:

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LibLink: There’s no way to deny it, the Lib Dems are on the rise again

Last week’s election results show that, overall, the Liberal Democrats are fighting back argues Tom Brake in an article for the Huffington Post.

Our party made the most gains in the English local elections, increasing our share of seats more than any other party, now having 45 more, passionate Councillors working hard for their communities.

We strengthened our support in the liberal heartlands of Eastleigh and Cheltenham. We dominated the results in Southport, Cumbria and in Watford, where we took control of the council. And we gained seats in cities like Hull, Rochdale and Manchester thanks to my fantastic former colleague John Leech, who will provide the only opposition to Labour there.

Up and down the country we’ve seen the green shoots of liberalism grow up in communities disillusioned with an impotent Labour party dubbed as the worst ever Government opposition, and a heartless Conservative Government imposing ideological cuts to valued public services.

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