What Cardiff needs (from a ruling party)

Polling Station - Gorsaf Belidleisio

With council elections coming up soon, May 3rd, Welsh citizens get their first chance since the last general election to decide who runs their area for the next four years.

I would argue that these local elections are as important as, if not more important than, Parliamentary elections; the voter pool is significantly smaller, so in a lot of cases “every vote counts”, and the candidates that are being voted for can make a difference to a city, an area, an individual or set of individual directly. Think about it, what was the last thing that David Cameron or Nick Clegg did just for you, your area or your city? The councillors that are being chosen here are working for a smaller group of people, so their attention is more focused and they can make a difference for more people on a more personal level than an MP, and in Wales an AM, probably would (or could).

Cardiff has always been known as a new, little city with big ambitions, but right now is at a crossroads. In years past there was a clear direction, that was presented by necessity – like the replacement of The Arms Park by the Millennium Stadium – or by a policy decided and directed by the council – like the decision to revamp the city centre, focussing on retail and the courting of big chains, but right now Cardiff does not have a very clear set of change policies or ambitions. The global recession certainly helped on this change in priorities, since there are now very few investors willing to pour money into big, adventurous projects – where before they may have had a go, and Cardiff council would have been willing to grease the cogs of bureaucracy for them.
There are a few half baked ideas, which are continually being announced, changed, then eventually scrapped, for example:

  • The Cardiff “business district”
  •  Transport hub (AKA a bus station)
  • Ely “Urban village”

In fact, these two projects are really one and the same, since they encroach on each other’s area, both being situated on Wood Street. These are the only two (major) projects that I can think of that are “in the pipeline” that could significantly affect Cardiff’s fortunes, and both of them are long talked about with no visible progress having been made in at least 4 years.

Cardiff’s bus station terminal was demolished in 2008, the highly visible area surrounded by construction boarding and has been used as some kind of parking lot for construction vehicles ever since. The latest set of plans set out the site of Marland House, about 100m East of the original bus station site, as where the new “transport hub” will be built, and on the site of the old bus station will be the “Cardiff business district”.

According to Cardiff council the plans are still on time and work will begin later this year, which means demolishing Marland House and all surrounding buildings, including the NCP car park. To do this the council will need to use compulsory purchase orders to get the current tenants of Marland House to vacate, these businesses include National Express, Londis, Boots, CEX and Burger King. I have seen no indication that the process of purchasing Marland House, or the land that Marland House stands on, has even begun – though if somebody wants to tell me otherwise, I’d be glad to hear the details.

All this is getting to the real points I want to make, that Cardiff is a unique city that needs a particular type of administration, and this is what we need:

  • Thoroughly planned, innovative projects that benefit the city as a whole.
  • Firm leadership and decision making, because we have endured too many years of “flip-flopping” and bowing to public pressure, like in the case of the “school restructure” debacle.
  • Ideas that buck the trend, not just follow it, or are a knee jerk reaction to other city’s plans, like the “Enterprise zone” farce, that was a reaction to Bristol’s proposal (which has now started construction).
  • A leadership that will engage with its citizens wholly, and take ideas for the future from them. Cardiff has an amazing pool of talent, as demonstrated by some of the groups that have been set up in recent years, such as ThinkArk.
  • A more open council, with good communication at its core. We don’t want to have to read the formal minutes from council meetings, or sub-committee meetings to know what is being discussed or planned in our city, or else be kept in the dark until its formally announced and there is nothing we can do but comment on the decision that has been made.

I think these are some very simple things that can be achieved very easily, but will positively affect every resident and business in the city and make our “capital village” a much better place to live and work.

How the leak of diplomatic cables will free us (but not really)

At the time of writing, Wikileaks has released 842 of the 251,287 US diplomatic cables that it has come into possession of by way of a leak from within the US Army.

So far it has been revealed that;

  • None of the governments involved in the conflict in Afghanistan are confident that the war can be won against the Taliban or that it can be turned into a viable democracy
  • Both the current and previous US Secretary’s of State have authorised “spying” on UN officials, including the Secretary-General.

These are just two points, there have been hundreds more and still there will be hundreds of thousands more revalations.

Of course, because the Americans are so involved in almost every country in the world, these cables also include quotes from prominent figures within these countries. Such as a William Hague, now First Secretary of State in our own United Kingdom, Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of Yemen and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabi, to name but a few.

What all of this means is that over the course of the amount of time it takes to release all of these cables (months? years?) we will slowly start to see how our governments really operate and what they really think, or at least, what they have said to the Americans and/or what the Americans perceive.

Of course, we all know that governments operate in secrecy from the electorate and what they say is not always what gets done or what they really think, but for the first time we can really get a broad view of what has been going on – where it concerned the United States at least.

What we won’t see is very much insight into domestic policy; I doubt that the US Ambassador wrote back to Washington concerning student top-up fees for example. What we will see is how they actually are concerned with international policy and action – for example how it is now becoming apparent that there have been secret US air strikes in Yemen – ordered by the Yemeni government.

We will start to see a different side to the US and other worldwide governments, one that we know is true and is not just “conspiracy theory”, and we should be thankful for that.

Having said that, I can see some potentially horrendously damaging cables still to come out; otherwise why is Hilary Clinton so worked up about the whole thing? I believe that we’ll see a lot of cables that conflict directly with US foreign policy and will cause the Obama administration to have to answer some very awkward questions at a very critical time.

Of course, there will always be things that we will not know, that is going on in government and affects us, but it has been chosen that it is to be kept from us, but at least from this we can get a clearer insight to guide us in the right direction in the future.

Choosing a political party – head or heart?

How do you choose a political party? I was having a discussion with some friends over a pint the other day, concerning a friend of ours who is extremely liberal – but who votes Conservative because her parents do, and she wouldn’t ever consider changing her vote. To me this makes no sense, and I wonder how many other people act in a similar way and if they were to change their vote would it cause a swing?

I have also been having thoughts about my choice of political party and whether or not they suit my changing needs.

When I was 18 years old and first able to vote, in the 2003 local elections – the country had just launched a war on the nation of Iraq and tensions were running high. The Liberal Democrats were a protest vote against the war and they courted it well – they even managed to take over Cardiff council and two years later Jenny Willott (Liberal Democrat) took the Cardiff Central Parliamentary seat from the Conservatives. But at 18 I had different priorities, different ideals.
I was able to vote for whoever I wanted, since a lot of their policies didn’t affect me. I didn’t have children, I wasn’t a homeowner, I didn’t have a car and I didn’t have a high paying job – all of the things that are really affected by Government policy. I was able to be idealistic and vote for the party that played up to my only view – that the invasion of Iraq was unjust and totally illegal – this is why I chose the Liberal Democrats.

Now I am learning to drive, I have a well paid job and formerly owned my own company, I am due to have my first child and I will also soon be a car owner. Government policy now really affects me. If the wrong people are in power I could end up being taxed astronomically and have entitlements curbed – for example family tax credits and free school milk, both of which are under threat from the new “Com-Dem” coalition.

I will stop here and say that I think almost everything I have written previously, and will write after this, may actually be quite moot since the United Kingdom Government as it stands right now is a Frankenstein’s monster that not a single person in the country voted for, so “choose a party” in the case of the last general election is a pretty laughable concept – but I am confident that as soon as this coalition breaks down and a new election is called we will get back to the Government > opposition status quo will be re-established.

Previously I would never have considered voting Conservative – but their policies actually favour me and my situation. Voting Liberal Democrat, it’s entirely possible that in a few years time, once I hit that salary threshold, my income tax would be set at 50% and that is unacceptable. The Liberal Democrats speak to the working poor, students and idealists. Their policies cannot be favoured by successful people as they are the very people that their policies single out to be held upside-down and everything shaken from their pockets to fund lavish welfare schemes and initiatives.

I do still have my beliefs and ideals; especially when it comes to foreign affairs, I am a very apathetic person. I believe that as a well-off country we should be helping countries by providing aid, expertise and the United Kingdom should be a sanctuary for the downtrodden (i.e. asylum seekers). We have built a great nation where we can feel free from fear, repression and persecution – why should we not allow others who are not as fortunate, to bask in our welfare?
But this doesn’t conform to Tory ideals. This is very much a liberal view, so this goes back to my initial question: Do I vote with my heart of my head?
Voting Conservative will always be seen as the “selfish” vote, a vote of self-preservation, while a vote for the Liberal Democrats is seen as an idealistic vote.
This is the conundrum that I faced at the last election, and I continued as I always had, but who knows next time around?

Time to address our plastic addiction

The Welsh Assembly Government have made plans to enact law from March 2011 whereby any outlet within the confines of the Welsh border that supplies plastic carrier bags to consumers charge a mandatory minimum of 7p per bag – instead of the usual practice of giving them away for free that has stood firmly for as long as I have been alive.

Some retailers already impose a charge, in the case of the small retailers to recoup the cost of purchasing them, but in the case of department store Marks & Spencer – for environmental reasons, where the money made from charging for these previously free commodities gets put back into the local community.

The CBI, whose very business it is to challenge new legislation on behalf of UK businesses, have been sounding their tannoy – as is to be expected. They warn that consumers could be “confused” and that the levy could cause tension at the checkouts, but what is a brief explanation that “bags now cost 7p” in comparison to the environmental devastation the millions of plastic bags that are put into landfill every year causes?

It is my view that people generally do keep as many plastic bags as they can, often using them as bin-liners, and incentive programmes set-up by large supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsburys – where if bags are brought back to the store to be re-used a reward in the form of extra reward points is given – are working, but the sheer numbers that are required to stem an ongoing environmental disaster are not yet being hit.

Making a law that enforces environmental awareness is a good step forward, a step that will force the everyman to change habits of a lifetime – habits that have seen big-business as the enablers for so many years, so why should they not be the ones to break the bad news?

Big-business started giving away free carrier bags, as much for advertising as for convenience, and the world has become hooked on them. Now we all need to be held accountable and change our ways.

Tesco beats booze ban – Council taken down a peg

In what has become a very bad few weeks for Cardiff Council, a magistrates court has ruled that their “saturation zone” policy is unenforceable and has granted Tesco Express, which opened in November 2009, a license to sell alcohol.

This is a victory for common sense in so much as there are currently three outlets already selling beers, wines and spirits within 100 meters of the store that Cardiff Council declined to issue a license to. The off-licenses that are currently trading are small franchises of national names Spar, McColls and Nicolas. The main argument brought forward by Cardiff Council is that people on a night out on St Mary Street are likely to go to Tesco, purchase alcohol more cheaply than at any of the bars on the street, get drunk and cause mayhem. What is stopping them from doing this at any of the current outlets, all of which are selling alcohol at prices no more expensive than Tesco would?

Spar currently have 8 bottles (glass) of Tuborg beer for £5.50 or 2 litres of white lightning cider for £2.99, a bottle of which contains 15 units of alcohol which is almost 4 times the recommended daily allowance for men. If people want to come to the city centre and get drunk outside of bars by buying from off-licenses, they have the means to already.
Also, Tesco promotes itself as a responsible retailer. I have been asked for ID in Tesco Cardiff Bay on multiple ocassions, and I don’t look under 18. This is the “Think 25″ policy in action.

The Lib Dem-Plaid coalition run council have lost their way and are running the city as their own little club. They bulldoze opposition to any plans that they concoct and have a patent disregard for citizens wishes, often refusing to even open a dialogue. The best recent example is the Bute Park Access project, where Cardiff Council had an agenda (to build a road through the historic Bute Park) and were going to fulfil their wishes no matter what or who they had to step on. Planning laws, action groups, whoever. And now the park is a building site and the council will soon have their road and bridge, despite the protests, public meetings and action groups against the work.