ONE of UKIP’s more colourful characters – in a party which has traditionally set the bar for eccentricity quite high – has thrown his hat into the ring for the party leader job.
Following Diane James’ fleeting spell at the helm, the role of party leader is currently occupied (again) by Nigel Farage, although it has been made clear that he is acting on an interim basis this time.
However, following the exit of bookies’ favourite Stephen Woolfe, who left the party after an alleged brawl with another MEP at the EU Parliament building in Strasbourg, John Rees-Evans announced this week that he was standing, alongside Paul Nuttall, Suzanne Evans, and Breitbart UK founder Raheem Kassam.
Mr Rees-Evans previously hit the headlines in 2014, after he was filmed telling protestors outside the opening of UKIP’s Merthyr branch that a male donkey had tried to ‘rape’ his stallion.
A series of the more outré claims made by elected members of UKIP was read out to Mr Rees-Evans, including a quotation from former UKIP Oxford chair Dr Julia Gasper, who claimed homosexuals prefer sex with animals.
His response, immortalised in full, ran thus: “Actually, I’ve witnessed that. I was personally quite amazed.
“I’ve got a horse, it was in the fields, and a donkey came up – my horse is a stallion.
“A donkey came up which is male, and I’m afraid tried to rape my horse.
“My horse bit the side of the donkey, and I had to give my horse a slap to protect the donkey.”
“So, in this case, [she’s] obviously correct but I don’t think that’s what it meant, it’s just a bizarre coincidence.”
It is worth pointing out that neither this incident, or telling a hustings that he urinated in bottles to reduce his CO2 footprint, prevented Mr Rees- Evans from getting 13% of the vote in Cardiff South and Penarth in the 2015 General Election – an increase of 11% on 2010.
Mr Rees-Evans, who grew up in Africa and was educated in 11 different schools, is a former soldier who trained with the parachute regiment.
After leaving the forces, he attempted to work as an ‘expeditioneer’, taking a wide array of jobs including pizza delivery and labouring on a building site to fund expeditions.
However, after the birth of his first child in 2003, he set up a tour company and, according to his biography, has ‘since developed a handful of other small businesses which span the tourism, business development, legal services and real estate sectors in Africa and Europe’.
Since coming to the attention of the British media, Mr Rees-Evans has had to play down a couple of the more headline-grabbing anecdotes which surround him. Prospective voters will be reassured to know that the ‘fortified compound’ in Bulgaria where Vice magazine interviewed him in 2015 is apparently little more than a garden with a wall around it.
Similarly, Mr Rees-Evans explained that rumours stating he persuaded a shop assistant in a Bulgarian Ikea store to let him carry his gun in case terrorists took over the building were also misconstrued. He admitted he did have the gun on him when he entered the store because ‘it wasn’t safe to hand it over to store security and I had some things I had to get.’.
In a recent appearance on the Daily Politics show, Mr Rees-Evans pointed out that the host, Jo Coburn, was focussing on these stories rather than his vision for the party: “Do you know, Jo, it’s really interesting what you’re doing because I am trying to tell you my serious vision for UKIP and you keep trivialising it,” he remarked.
“It [the donkey story] was a bit of playful banter with a mischievous activist. I would be so appreciative if you could please just understand the concept that I am trying to communicate to your viewers.”
One concept which has yet to be discussed was a policy proposal made by Mr Rees-Evans on his blog in the aftermath of the Paris attacks last year.
Warning that ‘a devastating Mumbai/Paris-style attack on UK soil should be considered inevitable and imminent’, he suggested that a ‘volunteer civilian defence force’, using existing Special Forces troops, followed by civilians ‘irrespective of previous military experience’ should be formed. This force, he recommended, should be ‘required to complete an advanced tactical IPSC-standard training course, with a view to obtaining proficiency in the use of several small arms, with emphasis on the Glock 17, and common variants of Kalashnikov’.
“Once qualified, VCDF marshals should be required to carry a concealed Glock 17, spare magazine, and not fewer than 30 rounds at all times, unless logged as inactive,” he suggested.
Marshals would be only permitted to engage combatants at ranges above 30m if ‘there are no innocents/ friendlies within 300 mils of marshal’s sight picture’. Firing a warning shot should also not be required due to the risk of ricochet in built-up environments.
A marshal would only be permitted to engage a target where ‘either a) a shot has already been fired or b) a combatant has raised his/her weapon to aim’.
Given that support for an armed undercover militia is patchy at best in Britain, Mr Rees-Evans may have a better chance of becoming UKIP leader if media attention continues to focus on his horse. However, it is worth mentioning that a YouGov poll taken in 2015 showed that 44% of those who voted UKIP in 2015 could imagine supporting an army coup against the elected government.
‘Sort finances before service changes’
ONE of west Wales’ Labour Constituency Parties has called for the Health Board not to proceed with its plans for major health service change until its long-standing financial crisis has been resolved.
On Friday, May 25, Ceredigion Constituency Labour Party passed a motion calling on the Board to think again.
In the last financial year the health board overspent its £760m budget by £70m, or 9%, and the board itself describes its regular overspends as ’growing year on year’.
Ceredigion Labour Party points out that although the changes in service provision which are being proposed may provide better patient care, they cannot also be expected to deliver savings if standards of care are intended to be maintained.
Dinah Mulholland, spokesperson for CCLP, said: ”We welcome all attempts to improve local health services. But acceptable proposals must be based on sound financial projections and dependable financial commitments.
“For instance, all three of the board’s alternative proposals for the delivery of clinical services involve the building of a new major urgent and planned care hospital `between Narberth and St Clears’, to replace other hospitals that would be closed or downgraded. Yet the Welsh Government has offered no commitment to provide capital funding for this scheme.
“We are calling for a `Stop and Fix’ approach because unless the financial arrangements are stabilised we see a very real threat that at some point during the next few years progress with major changes in service provision could be overtaken and overwhelmed by a sudden financial collapse.
“And if the board is preoccupied with delivering major changes in service provision it will be paying less attention to managing its ongoing financial problems.
“We would welcome a commitment from Hywel Dda not to proceed with any major reconfiguration of clinical services until it has secured resources to remedy the chronic and ingrained underfunding of health services in mid and west Wales. This proposed reconfiguration cannot and should not be expected to solve Hywel Dda’s long-standing problem with underfunding.”
Last week (May 23) the Welsh Health Secretary announced an annual increase of £27m in Hywel Dda’s revenue funding, but CCLP describes this as “sticking plaster” as it represents only 39% of the deficit in the last financial year.
The Health Secretary has said that this new funding puts Hywel Dda on a “fair funding basis”, but CCLP points out that if the board’s funding has only just become “fair” this raises additional questions about how much the local NHS budget has been “short-changed” in every year since the National Assembly began.
A review by the Welsh Government, as part of the Targeted Intervention support provided to Hywel Dda Health Board, found that two factors, demographics and scale, generated excess costs that were unavoidable to the Board.
The review, undertaken by Deloitte LLP, confirms the view held by many people in Ceredigion and mid and west Wales that Hywel Dda faces a unique set of healthcare challenges.
Hywel Dda is consulting the public on three alternative proposals for providing clinical care, closing and/or downgrading Withybush Hospital, Prince Philip hospital in Llanelli and Glangwili hospital in Carmarthen. In all three proposals community care would be strengthened so that more people can be treated and supported closer to home. In all versions Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth would remain as a District General Hospital.
The 12-week public consultation began on 19 April and will end on 12 July. Ceredigion CLP is also critical of the board’s plans for obtaining the views of the public, which it points out do not include any meetings with platform speakers open to the general public. CCLP says this is unacceptable.
WG to miss climate change targets
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will miss its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says a National Assembly committee.
The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee examines the issue in its first ever climate change annual report.
In its Climate Change Strategy published in 2010 the Welsh Government set out its target of reducing greenhouse gases in Wales by three per cent year-on-year, and at least a 40% reduction by 2020.
The Committee was given three reasons for the failure – the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, the economic make-up of Wales and weather patterns.
But the Committee concluded that these variables should have been taken into account when the policies were developed and targets set.
The Welsh Government is being advised on its new approach, framed by the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, by the UK Committee on Climate Change, which has recommended it set new, lower targets in the short term.
The Assembly committee believes this is regrettable but necessary given the lack of progress by the Welsh Government.
Members also learned that the level of engagement in the Welsh Government’s Cabinet on climate change was insufficient, with a lack of joint-working across different departments.
Even though the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme may be a reason for missing emissions targets, the Committee notes there is still no sign of a new scheme to take its place after the UK leaves the EU. The Committee concludes there needs to be a greater sense of urgency on addressing this matter.
“The Welsh Government’s targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Wales were ambitious, but attainable,” said Mike Hedges AM, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.
“That the Government will miss these targets by some margin is deeply disappointing, and the Committee is not convinced by some of the reasoning behind the failure.
“We believe there needs to be a much more co-ordinated approach across government departments if Wales is to truly become a greener, more sustainable nation.
“In the short term we accept the view of the Committee on Climate Change that the Welsh Government revise down its targets.
“We have made a number of recommendations in our report around agriculture, forestry, housing and transport which we believe will ensure ministers will deliver on their climate change commitments and obligations.”
Conservatives crank-up calls for Carwyn to go
THE CONSERVATIVES have called for Carwyn Jones’s replacement as Labour leader in Wales to be chosen sooner rather than later.
Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly, has raised fears of legislative inertia and lack of progress on key projects while uncertainty continues around the identity of Mr Jones’s successor.
Mr Davies has warned that Wales faces a period of ’rudderless leadership’ in Welsh Government, if the process to select Carwyn Jones’ replacement is allowed to drag on until December.
The Conservatives say that internal wrangling within Welsh Labour over the electoral system used to elect leaders could delay a contest by months, with some Labour members calling for the introduction of ‘one-member-one-vote’.
But Mr Davies is concerned that a ’vacuum at the heart of Welsh politics’ could have serious consequences for public services in Wales.
He said: “The First Minister’s decision to stand down has created an immediate vacuum at the heart of Welsh politics, and we now face a period of rudderless leadership whilst the Labour Party works out how to elect his replacement.
“They need to get a move on, for the sake of our public services and public confidence in devolution.
“Welsh NHS waiting lists are spiralling, we have a teacher recruitment crisis, and take-home pay is the lowest in any part of the UK.
“It is simply unacceptable for the country to be left in limbo until the end of the year.
“Frankly, the majority of the public are unconcerned by the mechanism used to determine Carwyn’s replacement, but we need to see a new First Minister with a mandate to take Wales forward in the coming weeks – not months.”
Mr Davies’ words were subsequently given more force when the outgoing First Minister refused to commit the Welsh Government to its preferred ‘Black Route’ for the M4 relief road.
Speaking in First Minister’s Questions, Carwyn Jones refused to back the route, despite his government having spent millions of pounds in preparatory work for its development – and having taken that route through to public consultation.
A number of routes have been proposed, but First Minister Carwyn Jones and the Welsh Government’s favoured option has always been the ‘black route’.
In May 2016 Carwyn Jones confirmed that the Welsh Government would not support the alternative – the ‘Blue Route’.
The First Minister said at the time: “One thing I will say is we wouldn’t support the blue route. There are a number of reasons for this.
“First of all, the blue route is dual carriageway, not a six-lane motorway, and that seems to me to defeat the whole object of a new road.”
Yet, when asked to reaffirm his government’s commitment to an M4 Relief Road, the First Minister refused – even claiming that he’d never publicly expressed a preference.
Speaking outside the Chamber, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives – Andrew RT Davies – said: “It looks like the M4 relief road is going to be the first casualty of Labour’s leadership contest.
“Despite spending millions of pounds preparing for the project – and despite having repeatedly backed the black route – the First Minister has now distanced himself from taking a decision.
“This is just the first major decision that will now be parked until a new leader is in place.
“This is why we need to see a swift resolution of the Labour leadership crisis, before the sense of inertia takes hold.
“On the current timetable, the new First Minister is unlikely to be in post before Christmas – just weeks before we leave the European Union, and several months after the public inquiry into the M4 relief road has reported.
“These decisions cannot simply be parked, and the Welsh public can’t be held to ransom because the Labour Party cannot agree on how to elect a new leader.
“That’s why we need to see a new First Minister with a mandate to take Wales forward in the coming weeks – not months.”
Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ shadow spokesperson on local government, Janet Finch-Saunders has drawn attention to the potential for the First Minister’s impending departure to leave other major reforms in limbo.
Ahead of a Conservative debate on local government in the Assembly on Wednesday (April, 25), Ms Finch-Saunders, warned that the uncertainty was having a negative impact on already creaking frontline services.
She said: “Just weeks ago the Welsh Government announced its third major set of proposals to reform local government in just a few years.
“They’ve spent considerable amounts of taxpayer money, and wasted several years discussing disruptive plans which have led to a sustained period of uncertainty for local authorities.
“With the First Minister’s impending resignation you have to wonder where the latest reincarnation of forced mergers is heading – after all, there’s no certainty that the same Local Government Secretary will even be in post under a new leader.
“What is clear is that the vast majority of Welsh councils are firmly against these disruptive and counter-productive plans.
“We all want to see the cost of politics reduced, but councils are already exploring collaboration on a regional level, and we would not back mergers without the consent of local residents and taxpayers.”
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