Nick’s maiden speech

NickNick Thomas-Symonds Labour, Torfaen

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me early in this debate on the Loyal Address and giving me the opportunity of making my maiden speech.

As another lawyer who is new to the House — it could be a theme this afternoon — I start by paying tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and her contribution earlier.

I can safely say that it set the standard for the rest of the maiden speeches to follow. Ninety-six years ago, the first Member of Parliament for what was then the constituency of Pontypool made his maiden speech from the Opposition Benches. In it he paid tribute to the miners, the railwaymen and the women of the Women’s Industrial League.

Those generations may be gone now, but their values are not, and we in Torfaen, the eastern valley of the south Wales coalfield, still have a great sense of unity and of solidarity that is based on a very simple principle: “you judge the strength of a society not by how you treat the wealthiest, but by how you treat the most vulnerable.”

It is a matter of great pride to me to stand here before you today, Mr Deputy Speaker, as the grandson of an eastern valley miner, and to succeed a Member of Parliament who was himself the son of an eastern valley miner. I want to pay the warmest of tributes to my predecessor, Paul Murphy.

As a historian, I know only too well the challenges that Paul faced, first as the Minister of State in Northern Ireland from 1997 to 1999, chairing the talks process, and later, as Secretary of State, over a three-year period.

As a historian I can only say I appreciate Paul’s monumental achievement in overcoming those challenges. Paul is also a great figure in Wales’s political journey, having served twice as the Secretary of State for Wales to ensure that our devolution settlement bedded down and worked to the benefit of the people of Wales.

Above all, Paul never forgot, while holding those great offices on the national stage, that his most important priority was always the people of the eastern valley. Paul always carried out those roles with great courtesy, great dignity and great integrity. That is why Paul Murphy is respected in all parts of this House.

In Paul Murphy I know that I have the model Member of Parliament to follow. I first met Paul Murphy on work experience at his office in 1997—a year that is remembered fondly by Opposition Members. After my work experience finished, he wrote a reference, in which he said that one day I would end up with a top job. Well, I cannot think of a greater job than representing the people of Torfaen.

Torfaen is defined by the Afon Llwyd, the grey river, that starts in the hills above my home town of Blaenavon, a world heritage site, and flows south through Pontypool and into the new town of Cwmbran. Indeed the very name of the constituency, Torfaen, comes from the river, because Torfaen, or rock breaker, was the name of the river in pre-industrial times.

That river, and the landscape it has carved out, of a deep and narrow valley, is still a clue to its modern-day character, because, while every village and town in Torfaen is unique, we are as a community very tightly packed together. We are also, incidentally, a community that has benefited from migration from all over the UK and from beyond.

We have a great industrial heritage, one that can be experienced at Big Pit mining museum, the national mining museum of Wales. We also have a wonderful, rich cultural heritage of choirs, chapels and rugby, and I look forward to a great 2015-16 season at Pontypool rugby club.

In Cwmbran, there is the grave of John Fielding, who won the Victoria Cross for his heroism at the battle of Rorke’s Drift in January 1879. That grave is a fitting symbol of Torfaen’s great tradition of public service and self-sacrifice.

The past five years have been extremely difficult for the people of Torfaen, and I fear on the basis of this Queen’s Speech that the next five years will be more difficult still. I worry about cuts in our public services and in police numbers to a police service that is already severely under strain. We need a Government, more broadly, who change their economic policy, who truly work for the ordinary men and women of my constituency — a constituency in which scores of families have been forced over the past five years to rely, on a weekly basis, on food banks.

We need a Government who seek to promote, not undermine, employment rights; a Government who look to give a future to people who are on zero-hours contracts so that they can move away from them and build a secure future for their families.

Above all, for security of employment in Torfaen, we need a yes vote in the European referendum that will come before the end of 2017. I have been given a lot of advice since my arrival in this House. Probably the one piece that sticks in my mind is simply, “be yourself”.

Prior to becoming a Member I was lucky enough to write biographies of two great figures of the Labour movement, Aneurin Bevan and Clement Attlee. I take my inspiration from that Labour Government of 1945-51 — not just the great improvement that they brought about for working people in the post-war era, but their central political lesson that politics is ultimately about constructive achievement for people.

There is another lesson from that Government and their great Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, one that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, may have some sympathy with. It is that democracy is about government by discussion, but it works only if we can stop people talking.

But it is to talk for Torfaen that I am in this place—a central duty and one I will never forget.


Nuclear Weapons to be illegal

United-Nations-Security-C-008I mentioned the UN disarmament conference in my election blogs and commented on the complete absence of press coverage in the UK. 

Its outcome has been quite positive: the non-nuclear nations have lost all patience with the nuclear states and have decided to make the possession of nuclear weapons declared illegal – whatever the UK and US say.

Regular readers of this blog need no reminding that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1966 was a temporary agreement in which non-nuclear nations agreed to remain non-nuclear on condition that the handful of nuclear-armed countries “negotiated in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament” (Article VI).

After half a century of duplicity, the nuclear nations no longer even pretend to be fulfilling their treaty obligations. So the non-nuclear states have drawn up a statement making nuclear weaponds illegal – to come into force when ratified by two-thirds or more nation states.

This already has over 100 signatories and ratification is surely only a matter of time. NickRitchie

If Britain were to renew Trident, with this declaration in force, it would be committing an act illegal under international law.

Octogenarian !!

Birthday cakeIt’s taken many years (80 to be exact) but I’ve become an octogenarian. Hopefully this will mean that my words of wisdom will receive greater attention – although I fear not.

Judy and I first met in 1956 and, during our 57 years together, we marched together against UK/US government aggression in Suez, Vietnam and Iraq, against nuclear weapons and cruise missiles, the poll tax, the bedroom tax, apartheid and austerity and for a Parliament for Wales and numerous green, countryside, democratic causes for which history has (or will soon) judge us on the right side of history.

I have a clear conscience on all these issues but sadness that evil people still hold the reins of power. Also, during our lifetime, several former comrades and friends became apologists for the rich and powerful in our most unjust society. The richest 1% in Britain now own over 50% of our wealth while still, through their control of the mass media, pitting working people against each other rather than against the exploiters.

I intend to use my remaining years to campaign, as before, for peace, justice and the environment and hope that future generations may take heed of my lifetime experience to succeed where my generation has failed.

I believe this blog (created as a short-term election blog) is as good a way as any to comment on political issues (though less often than during the election period). When I master the software, I will give it a less cumbersome name (soon I hope).

If not already, please become a ‘follower’.     

The “Red Ed” myth

A myth is being created – that Labour lost the election because it was too left wing.  The facts show quite the opposite.

On the most contentious issues (austerity and nuclear weapons), Labour and the Tories were agreed. On austerity, Labour pledged and voted to not restore any of the coalition’s cuts in government spending and on Trident renewal, Ed pledged (without a vote at a Labour Party Conference) that this would proceed regardless.

Whilst, during the final days of electioneering under pressure from the SNP in Scotland, Labour began to offer austerity-lite policies, these were matched by uncosted Tory promises to spend extra £billions on the NHS.  This reinforced the public perception of ‘they’ll promise anything’.

What is most noteworthy about the election results is that candidates with long-standing left-wing credentials did consistently better* than those who merely repeated the official Labour Party policy.

Furthermore, the SNP vote, which was way above the “Yes” vote in the independence referendum, is only explicable if huge numbers of former Labour voters switched sides because the SNP targeted austerity and Trident.

It’s also obvious that the million+ extra votes for the Green Party included many former Labour voters attracted by their more progressive policies. This lost Labour several key seats (e.g. Gower).

UKIP was another feature of the election. Personally I feared they would do even better – given their near-saturation coverage in the visual media for the past 2 years and their support from the tabloid press. Both UKIP and the Tories can rely on this support – irrespective of what is or what is said to be Labour’s policies.

This media myth of “Red Ed” losing the election by promoting left-wing policies is part of a strategy to ensure that Labour becomes indistinguishable to the Tories in all but name.

Look out for more myth creation in the weeks to come.

*   Ian Lavery, Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn, Dave Anderson, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell, Paul Flynn, Fabian Hamiltonwere some of the left-wing candidates who did notably better than most Labour MPs. The only left-wing Labour losers (Katy Clark and Ian Hamilton) were in Scotland – where they were outflanked from the left by the SNP.

A message from Charlotte

n-CHARLOTTE-CHURCH-large570On Saturday I was one of 250 citizens who met at the Queens Street statue of Aneurin Bevan, to protest the Tories’ austerity measures, with the Cardiff People’s Assembly. Thankfully, it’s my democratic right to do so.  

Many people I know (myself included) received the news that the Tories had won a majority (and that Ukip got so many votes!) with bewilderment. It wasn’t at all what was expected, especially considering that the political conversation, that we’d seen on social media for the past six months, had been overwhelmingly in support of the left-wing parties. There can only be one conclusion: we’ve been preaching to the converted.

It’s all very well for me to sit in my cosy leftie bubble with my baja-sporting friends, spending our free time attending vegan popup barbecues and meeting in art centres to have a bit of a moan about UKIP; we missed the changing climate of British politics. We dismissed the growing support for the rightwing as just a few comedy racists, underestimated the momentum they were gaining, and thought that by retweeting the latest Owen Jones article, we were doing our bit. Wrong!

We need to take the action we should’ve taken before, now! Just because the piratical Conservative party now have a majority doesn’t mean that we’ve lost. On the contrary, it mean we’ve got to fight harder. Personally, I feel I haven’t done enough, and I’m going to change that.

For Andrew R.T Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, to describe my exercising of democratic freedom, as “unbecoming”, really says more than I ever could. Perhaps Andrew thinks I should get back to the ironing and stop babbling on about air-headed notions such as protecting the NHS (a system that Mr. Davies himself has been most mobile in attacking), fighting for a fairer society (a concept that entirely eludes his party), and championing the plight of those in society who are less privileged than me. Perhaps he wants to quiet me because I threaten his status as a wealthy, privately educated, white male.

As for him, and others, denigrating me as a “champagne socialist”, I have to say I’m more of a prosecco girl, myself. I was born in a working-class family who have for generations been active in political protest. I was nine years old when I was first taken to a demonstration by my mother, who at the time was working as a housing officer for Cardiff council.

That was three years before my career as a singer began. I have earned a lot of money from creating music, but I’ve stayed in Cardiff, where my family are, where the people I grew up with are, where my roots are. I could have sacked them all off and moved to LA. I could have made a lot more money by investing in arms and oil, rather than ethically. I could have voted Tory. Christopher Hart for the Daily Mail decried protestors as “enemies of democracy”. Democracy doesn’t just end because we’ve had an election.

Trying to silence the dissenting voice is far more anti-democratic. Mr. Davies sees me carrying a placard as an insult to the electorate, “who have just spoken”. But while he spends his time criticising me, he ignores the fact that there are serious legitimacy issues with David Cameron’s government. Only 24% of those eligible to vote, voted Tory. That’s staggeringly low. And in my opinion it is completely unacceptable.

I am no fan of UKIP, but if I had voted for them I’d be seriously pissed off. The situation, though, is far from hopeless. If you feel at all like me, I beg you to get involved. Find out when a rally is happening in your area. Turn up. As it happens those who set up these marches are, in my experience, lovely people, who care about their communities; not hooligan, memorial desecrating, chodes.

If we pull together then we can’t be ignored. We need to be organised, but most of all we need numbers. There’s a march in London on 20th June outside the Bank of England. Here’s the link: Hope to see you there. Love and cyber-hugs, Charlotte xxx

Labour must fight back

John CoxThe lesson of the election is that Labour must fight Tory measures day-by-day – not wait until a few weeks before the next election. Labour has been notably absent from demonstrations against the bedroom tax and other measures during the past 5 years and has relied far too much on TV appearances.

The Labour Party I remember as a boy conducted political activity on the streets and in workplaces and was part of mass opposition to Tory policies. Today’s Labour Party has cut links to trade unions and mass political activity, relying instead on debates at Westminster and TV studio interviews.

Moreover, during the past five years, it has accepted the Tory agenda on austerity, even pledging not to reverse Tory cuts in government spendingThat’s why its election campaign lacked all credibility and has not enthused its supporters. OK – Nick Thomas-Symonds has retained Torfaen for Labour. But overall its results have been grim – in particular in Scotland where it has been outflanked on the left by the SNP. I doubt that it can ever win back Scotland if it continue to back Trident and doesn’t oppose all future austerity cuts.

[Written, 05.50, 8th May 2015]

About the Green Party and Plaid Cymru in Wales

Leanne and Caroline in 2007, during a blockade of Faslane.

Leanne and Caroline 2007

Today (7th May) is a good day for nostalgia – tomorrow is for reflection.

I have campaigned alongside Greens and Plaid against nuclear weapons and for green aspirations for decades – but saddened by the hostility of some Green Party members to Plaid Cymru during this most divisive election campaign.

Both parties (and socialists both within and near to other parties) share hopes for a better greener world and a more community-friendly society. Personally I can see no justification for the hostility I have witnessed in recent weeks.

Looking to the National Assembly elections in 2016, I hope for a more obvious green presence in the Senedd. This can be achieved if the Wales Green Party and Plaid Cymru agree a joint list of candidates for the regional elections.

I fear that, if recent Green/Plaid hostility (in Wales) continues for the National Assembly elections, it will be detrimental to the causes espoused by both the Wales Green Party and Plaid Cymru .

I’m worried about Ed

I’ve tried not to criticise Labour during this election – but I’m getting very worried.

Egged on by Cameron, his outbursts against “nationalists” have made post-election cooperation most unlikely – whilst, significantly, the door remains open for Labour to cooperate with Tories and LibDems.

Consider this: if the stumbling block for cooperation with “nationalists” is that they wish to break up the Union”, how does this square with Ed’s willingness to work with the SDLP – which is committed to a unified Ireland?

Moreover, given that in Wales there was a successful formal coalition with Plaid Cymru just a few years ago, why is this so unthinkable in the UK? – and will the Labour Party in Wales be prevented from leading such a coalition in future?

PlaidGiven these historic precedents for Wales and Ireland, there’s no logic or consistency to this newly proclaimed antipathy to nationalists as such. It would perhaps have been understandable if he had directed his fire solely at the SNP as, for sure, the SNP does pose a challenge to Labour in Scotland. But Ed needs to understand why the SNP is replacing Labour in Scotland and reflect on his mistakes that led to this situation.

After the Independence Referendum, the Labour Party elected a new leader in Scotland. The choice was between a left-wing opponent of Trident Renewal planning to outflank the SNP from the left, and Jim Murphy, an ultra-right supporter of Trident. London Labour backed Jim Murphy. This is why former Labour voters are deserting in droves for the SNP. It’s not because the SNP has become radically left-wing: it’s because Labour and Tory are indistinguishable.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Is freezing out the SNP likely to help or hinder their ultimate aim of independence? During the Independence campaign, the Labour/Tory establishment claimed to want Scotland to play a major role in UK politics. Now they have changed their tune.

Whatever the precise result, it is certain that turnout in Scotland at this election will be substantially higher than the RUK and that the MPs from Scotland will have a strong mandate to participate in UK politics. Now we are told, by both Labour and Tory spokesmen (as they edge towards a coalition maybe?), that all these MPs from Scotland may not play any part in UK governance.

The inevitable outcome of this Labour/Tory consensus will be growing calls for independence for Scotland – an ideal outcome for the Tories.

I am really worried about Ed.  Why can’t he see all this?

Ray Davies

John at RGH 24 Jan 2015 I’ve just heard that Ray Davies (to my left in this photograph of our demo. outside the Royal Gwent in January) is terminally ill. I have known and admired Ray for decades and begun to think him indestructable. This is a huge shock.

Ray has been a Labour Councillor in Caerphilly for decades and a leading activist in the peace and labour movement. He  is a Vice Chair of CND Cymru (as I am) but I have to admit that his energy puts me to shame – as he seems to get to every demonstration in South Wales against the bedroom tax, fracking and every one of the anti-nuclear and left-wing causes that also motivate me.

Ray is an authentic voice of the stalwarts and socialists who created and sustained the Labour Party during its progressive years (until captured by Tony Blair and the careerists of “New” Labour – “Old Tories” more like). Unlike the current leaders of the Labour Party he remains true to the ideals of its founders.

Hang on in there Ray – we cannot afford to lose you.