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Party leader Wood criticised following Barcelona attacks

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RIGHT of centre political parties in Wales have responded with outrage to a social media message from the leader of Plaid Cymru in the aftermath of the attacks in Barcelona last week.

Shortly after the attack, Leanne Wood posted a picture of the incident, accompanied by the comment: ‘Ofnadwy / terrible. Is this more far right terrorism? My thoughts are with all those affected’.

34 people were killed or injured in the attack on Las Ramblas on Thursday, and at the time of writing the suspected driver of the vehicle involved was still at large. Four people suspected of being connected to the attacks have been arrested, and a further seven killed.

While IS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, it is not currently known whether the perpetrators were members of the organisation, or influenced by it.

Ms Wood’s comment was seized on by a number of commentators. She posted a picture of some comments posted on Twitter, including one from ‘controversial’ Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, who left her job at LBC through mutual consent after calling for a ‘final solution’ in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing.

A number of those who attacked the politician on Twitter included US-based users like ‘@cheezdog’ whose other posts included criticizing the non-existent leftwing organisation Antifa for their conduct at Charlottesville. Many of the other commentators appeared to be united by a dislike for Muslims; football, and a penchant for retweeting Tommy Robinson.

However, Welsh politicians, including the leaders of two parties, also criticised Ms Wood’s choice of words. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies said it was ‘unbelievable’ Ms Wood had speculated it might be linked to a far-right group, while his colleague Janet Finch-Saunders called upon her to apologise or resign: “Politicising terror so fresh after an attack can never be acceptable, and only adds to the hysteria and toxicity of debate,” she claimed.

Ms Wood clarified her remarks, pointing out that IS was a right-wing ideology: “I am staggered by the reaction to the point that Isis and white supremacism both have far right ideologies driving them. Both see their group as superior to others. Both see people who are not in their group fair targets for abuse, violence and even death. Both hate minorities and consider women to be less than men. Both believe in using extreme violence to repress people with different views. This is far right/ fascism ideology. How can it not be?” she asked.

“I can see why this point may upset so many trolls and people who see themselves as being on the far right. The comparison links western racists and white supremacists to their number one hate target and shows them as no better than each other,” Ms Wood somewhat pointedly remarked. “Some of the responses to me making this point have crossed a line and so I will be relaxing my no blocking rule today.

“Events in Barcelona last night were terrifying, yet again. While it’s important, in my view, to say and keep saying that politics and ideology lie behind these acts of violence, my thoughts are first and foremost with the victims of last night’s horror.”

UKIP’s Senedd Leader Neil Hamilton also weighed in. The veteran politician claimed that because Ms Wood had described UKIP as being a far-right party, attributing this atrocity to the far-right was a calculated insult to UKIP and their 132,138 voters.

“Leanne Wood is clearly not fit for purpose. She is an embarrassment not only to Plaid Cymru but to the whole of Wales. When is Rhun ap Iorwerth going to have the courage of his convictions and spark a leadership contest?” he asked.

UKIP are widely described as a right wing populist party rather than as far-right. However, their MEP Mike Hookem quit as Brussel whip after Anne-Marie Waters, who founded pressure group Sharia Watch and who has called Islam a ‘killing machine’, was cleared to run in the leadership contest by the Ukip national executive committee. “If I were to continue in my position of deputy whip, I would be seen as supporting or at the very least turning a blind eye to extreme views and this is not something I am prepared to do,” he remarked.

Mr Hamilton’s belief that a Plaid Cymru leadership contest is imminent appears to be based on a comment by Rhun ap Iorwerth stating that should Ms Wood step down he would happily run for leader.

For some reason, though, commenting last week, the UKIP Wales leader appeared to dismiss Mr ap Iorwerth as a viable candidate, preferring ‘a red-blooded leader like Adam Price or Neil McEvoy, both of whom are very effective AMs, hungry to break the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus’.

“As a real nationalist party, UKIP will be pleased to work with Plaid Cymru to take Wales forward. We need to create an enterprise economy which will end our status as a beggar nation within the UK. Adam Price has seen a bit of the world and understands this. Neil McEvoy similarly never ceases to point out how Labour has utterly failed Wales’s working class,” he added.

It is not known how Mr Price and Mr McEvoy responded to this endorsement.

It is worth noting that other politicians agreed with Ms Wood’s assessment. Labour AM and Counsel General for Wales Mick Antoniw remarked: “Isis is a right wing extremist, fundamentalist ideology. Your description is right. There is nothing to apologise for.”

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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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