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Leanne Wood’s long campaign

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Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.59.38LEANNE WOOD was not at all satisfied with a fourth place finish in the 2015 General Election.

Her immediate response to the loss – and the mere hold of her three MPs – was to declare that the campaign for the National Assembly elections of May 2016 would commence without pause.

This most recent campaign has been the culmination of decades of political action: miner’s strike, devolution, various assembly elections, and the 2011 referendum.

Already in campaign mode, and convinced that there would have been a breakthrough in the General Elections with a few more weeks to campaign, Wood began a series of major engagements: visiting local constituencies, attending cultural events, making visits to schools and giving major addresses on politics and policy at Aberystwyth University. Linking up her network on the ground, Wood engaged local organisations in the campaign, giving speeches at party events and demonstrations, outlining her message for the May elections.

With the “What Next for Wales?” campaign in full gear, she decisively answered a quip by one of her aides Simon Thomas, who suggested that she was better suited to campaigning than to intellectual “stuff” (Wales Online, 12 May 2015). Wood countered by not only giving many speeches on policy and political affairs, but also by using the campaign itself to disseminate her ideas and build her network across Wales.

The long campaign has been energised by immense personal loyalty that Plaid members’ have for Wood’s leadership. No one questioned her strategy of an immediate campaign, but picked up their shovels and joined her work for a change of government in Wales.

Leanne Wood is certainly seeking national liberation for Wales. Yet, independence is her longest campaign. She is often asked by commentators how she squares her quest for a socialist republic with the pragmatic necessity of getting on with the “system as it is”.

She will answer that the “system as it is” is the result of historical action and events, and that the people of contemporary Wales have the same capacity for action and change. In a post-devolution framework, moreover, the National Assembly is a state in embryo, one which can be brought to fruition with the enhancement of its autonomy and powers, over eg. social security, healthcare, taxation, policing and criminal justice, natural resources, drug policy, land policy, airspace – and other powers appropriate for a European-oriented democratic republic and nation in its own right.

For Wood, Wales is a nation to come, one that will be built by the generations of those who live here, by a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic population, for the sake of a better life and a stronger, more local, democracy – one that serves the wishes and aspirations of Wales.

Leanne Wood was never going to be the usual politician.

Her expulsion from the National Assembly on her first day as AM was hardly auspicious – or was that her point after all? She was contesting, re-valuing, a distinctly British value – honour to the Queen – to the British sovereign – of one unelected versus Wood’s own democratic mandate.

Wood began her political career with a denunciation of British sovereignty over Wales. She campaigns now for the governance of Wales, for First Minister and the acceleration of the national process.

Yet, the building process, though it would be greatly accelerated by a Plaid victory, does not of itself require a nationalist government, but an intensified movement for home rule, enhanced powers, and compliance of the UK government with the 2011 referendum.

Wood has nearly perfected the campaign as a form of organising political change. A campaign is a real time affair that provides the vast array of individual events with a cohesive momentum. If one is committed to forming a new nation, one must cultivate the most broad-based and effective national outreach network, a campaign that is the process of nationbuilding itself.

In this way, even if she comes up short in May to form an outright government, Wood will have an even stronger voice for transformative politics as the leader of the progressive opposition (especially as the Tories will still hold Westminster), one that remains strongly linked to mass organisations on the ground, such as Adam Price’s Yes Cymru, and with the UK-wide progressive opposition in activist networks and in the UK parliament.

Currently contending with Labour for the leadership of the National Assembly, Wood’s long campaign has paid off, and even offers the chance for accelerated national transformation.

As momentum is moreover connected to political direction, the winds are clearly in the Wood’s favour as the necessity for a mature national framework has become increasingly urgent for the protection and development of Wales.

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National 20mph limit comes into force in Wales next year

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WALES will be the first UK nation to impose a 20mph default speed limit following a vote held in the Senedd yesterday (July 12). The Welsh Government voted to limit residential roads and busy pedestrian streets to 20mph. 

According to the Welsh Government, this will lessen the likelihood and severity of accidents involving vulnerable road users. It will also encourage more people to cycle and walk. 

39 members of the Senedd voted in favour, while 15 members voted against. 

The new national default speed limit will come into effect from September 2023. The Welsh Government say the changes affect residential roads and busy pedestrian streets. 

According to the Welsh Government, the modifications have an impact on major pedestrian routes and residential roadways. The Welsh Government is still deciding which highways will have 20mph speed restrictions and which ones should stay at 30mph.

The 22 councils in Wales will collaborate with Go Safe to determine implementation timelines, according to the Welsh Government, but enforcement will continue throughout the transition period.

Climate change minister, Julie James, stated: “The future of our towns and cities depends on our ability to move around sustainably and on solutions that have a positive impact on public health environment and communities.

“That is why we will use the principle that walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys and a 20mph default speed limit will help achieve this. The introduction of a national 20mph limit would be an important and far reaching policy. If passed Wales would be the first country in the UK to introduce the change. We’re asking you all to be part of this change and make our communities understand the wider benefits of 20mph.

“This change is a generational one and when the time to embed, it will need to be accompanied by an important communication and marketing campaign and behaviour change initiatives. Achieving behavioural change is challenging but Wales has previously shown that we can do it successfully with policies such as organ donation, the banning of smoking in public places, and limiting the use of plastic bags. It does, however, require a collaborative effort between agencies, local authorities and by communities. We need to bring speeds down.”

She continued, saying there is evidence that 20 mph speed limits encourage more people to bike or walk, and she hoped this would lead to people naturally choosing those modes of transportation.

According to Ms. James, 80 people die on Welsh roads on average each year, and current data shows that 30mph is the speed at which 53 percent of accidents occur.

The immediate cost is about £33 million, but according to the Welsh Government, increased road safety brought on by slower average speeds could generate a positive financial return of about £25 million over the course of 30 years due to the money saved on fewer emergency services and hospital visits.

Additionally, the policy might result in significant wider economic gains from increased road safety (£1.4 billion), environmental and health gains from increased active travel (£5 million), and additional unquantified benefits from more vibrant and connected local economies.

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Ben Lake MP chairs discussion in Parliament on the cost-of-living crisis

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Ben Lake MP

The ongoing energy crisis has seen the cost of heating the average home double over the last year. At least 6.5 million households across the UK are now facing fuel poverty and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shone a spotlight on the interlinkages between energy security, demand and affordability.

While energy price rises affect everyone, the impacts are not felt the same by everybody. Low-income consumers face a double burden of the rising cost of bills as well as paying more for their energy due to the poverty premium.

Ben Lake MP chaired a panel discussion in Parliament this week to discuss the current crisis and to consider the potential merits of introducing a Social Tariff. Members of the panel included Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Energy Minister,  Liz Twist MP, Peter Aldous MP and Alan Brown MP, SNP Spokesperson for Energy.

Commenting after the event, Ben Lake MP said: “I was pleased to chair this important discussion and to listen to the views of cross-party MPs on the potential merits of introducing a Social Tariff.

“Personally, I believe that the UK Government rushed its Energy Security Strategy in response to the energy crisis which emerged last year, and as a result it does not address two pressing issues: affordability and short-term security of supply. A longer-term solution now needs to be found to make energy bills affordable.

“The Warm Home Discount Scheme and the price cap provide important functions in the energy market. As they are currently structured, however, they do not do enough to protect those energy consumers most vulnerable to sharp price increases, which is why I believe the UK Government should consider introducing a new targeted social tariff for energy bills.”

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Large number of NHS staff in Wales currently off work as Covid cases rise

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HEALTH MINISTER Eluned Morgan has said Wales is in the “midst of a new wave” Covid infections” and that around 1 in 20 people had the virus last week.

According to ONS data, it’s estimated that 149,700 people tested positive for COVID-19 for the seven days to 30 June.

Ms Morgan said a large number of NHS staff in Wales are currently off work because they have Covid-19.

Updating Senedd Members on the current situation in Wales, the health minister said: “Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen a steady rise in the number of coronavirus infections in Wales.”

“We are in the midst of a new wave of infections, caused by the BA.4 and BA.5 subtypes of the omicron variant.”

“These are fast-moving, highly infectious forms of the virus, which are causing a surge in infections across the UK and in many other countries around the world.” She said.

Public Health Wales reports the current dominant variant in Wales is the BA.5 variant of omicron.

The latest results of the ONS’ Coronavirus Infection Survey estimate 4.93% of the population in Wales had Covid-19 in the week ending 30 June – equivalent to approximately one person in 20.

This has increased from an estimated 1.33% of the population (one in 75) from the week ending 2 June.

Across the UK, the estimated prevalence of coronavirus ranges from 3.95% in England to 5.94% in Scotland for the week ending 30 June.

Ms Morgan said: “As we have seen in previous waves, the increase in cases in the community, has led to an increase in the number of people being admitted to and treated in hospital for Covid-19.”

“The latest available information shows there are now more than 960 Covid-19-related patients in Welsh hospitals and there has also been an increase in number of people with Covid-19 being treated in critical care.”

She said: “The NHS has been working incredibly hard to provide planned care for people across Wales and to reduce waiting times, which had built up over the course of the pandemic. This task becomes more difficult when pandemic pressures increase.”

“Some hospitals have taken the difficult decision to restrict visiting to prevent coronavirus from spreading among patients and staff; others are asking all visitors to wear face coverings.”

“We are not making face coverings mandatory in health and care settings , but I would encourage everyone to wear one if they are visiting a healthcare setting and I would also ask people to consider wearing a face covering in crowded indoor public places, while cases of coronavirus are currently high.”

“We have extended the availability of free lateral flow tests for people who have symptoms of coronavirus until the end of July.” Ms Morgan said.

She added: “There are a number of other simple steps everyone can take to keep themselves and Wales safe.”

These include:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Maintain good hand hygiene
  • Stay at home and limit your contact with others if you are ill
  • Wear a face covering in indoor crowded or enclosed places
  • Meet others outdoors wherever possible
  • When indoors, increase ventilation and let fresh air in.
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