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Liberal Democrat Conference review

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Jane Dodds: Leader addresses conference

THE WELSH L​IBERAL DEMOCRATS gathered at The Village Hotel, Cardiff over the weekend, vowing to foster ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’ and to campaign to bring about a Ratification Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.

While the party has had a punishing time in the most recent round of elections, retaining only a single AM in the 2016 National Assembly Election and losing their final Welsh MP in Theresa May’s snap General Election, the prevailing mood at this weekend’s conference was upbeat.

A PARTY ON THE WAY BACK?

There was an appeal for traditional, Welsh Liberal values by Party President, Cllr William Powell, Mid and West Wales AM between 2011 – 16. Cllr Powell also paid an emotional tribute to his friend, party stalwart and former Preseli Parliamentary Candidate Nick Tregoning, leading to a short silence and round of applause. The former Swansea Council Cabinet Member and Presiding Officer, who died recently, represented the best in the Welsh Liberal tradition, and ‘thought and fought more for others than for himself.’

A keynote speech by new Welsh Lib Dem leader, Jane Dodds, who was elected in November last year, replacing Mark Williams, former Ceredigion MP, was particularly well received. Not shying away from the party’s recent challenges, Ms Dodds said: “There’s no denying we’ve had a difficult few years. While the wounds of the last few years are still visible, we are still fighting.”

Ms Dodds emphasised that the party’s top priorities must be to battle homelessness and poverty, as ‘The nasty party in Westminster doggedly pursues deeper cuts in public finances, vulnerable people scraping by to survive, without access to public services, with no hope for their future”

Turning to the Party’s signature policy on Brexit, the new leader continued: “We have to be clear in our opposition to the UK government’s disastrous handling of the biggest decision our country has faced in a generation…Whether we like it or not, Wales voted to leave the EU. But – and it’s a big but – it was not on the basis that we would leave under any circumstances.”

Concluding, she said: “We need to make sure we have the ideas in place that address the needs of communities and people living in Wales, and we have to translate these ideas into winning votes. Not power for the sake of power, but power so we can change people’s lives for the better, putting us back at the heart of Welsh politics, where we belong.”

A FREE AND FAIR WALES

Ms Dodds also presented a motion calling for the creation of ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’, emphasising that the party’s mission for the immediate future should be to develop new policies to work towards this goal.

“We need to make sure we have an economy and a society which offers opportunities to all…A Wales of hope and optimism.”

Cardiff Councillor Rhys Taylor was amongst those to speak in favour of the motion, stating: “We know what we stand for, but we’re not always very clear about articulating that. It’s an aspirational vision for Wales and our society.’

Veteran Ynys Mon Councillor and former Cabinet Member, Aled Morris Jones, also spoke in favour of the motion, saying: “Never has there been a time when there has been a greater need for liberalism. We must stand up for moderation because it is under threat, both here and across the world.”

Summating the motion, Party President William Powell said: “It is ambitious, it will need a lot of work and I sense that people in this room and in our local parties are up for that. It is central to rebuilding our party and to our resurgence.”

The motion was supported unanimously.

Party Members and supporters also had the opportunity to quiz Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, and to debate motions on plans to bury radioactive waste off the coast of Wales. There was also a passionate appeal for legal clarity over access to waterways for water sports enthusiasts from Welsh Paralympian and first time conference speaker, Frances Bateman.

BREXIT, SYRIA, EQUALITY DEBATED

The weekend also included an expert panel discussion on Brexit with Ms Dodds, Ms Williams, Liberal Democrat Federal President, Baroness Sal Brinton and former MEP Peter Price, chaired by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire Lib Dem activist and Newbie Hilton Marlton. During the session, members agreed to keep battling Brexit, working across party lines with all Remain supporters, which was confirmed by an explicit #ExitFromBrexit motion on the Sunday morning.

Baroness Sal Brinton also gave a keynote speech, in which she criticised Theresa May for not giving MPs a vote on military action against Syria, saying that to do so was “further diminishing the standing of Britain in the world”. And she was optimistic about the party’s future prospects, saying: “I know the future of the Welsh party is in good hands.’

The second day of the conference also included a motion on the Welsh Government’s new plans to reform local government in Wales. Although the motion agreed with the principle of cutting the number of councils in Wales, it suggested the final number should be 14 or 15 – and emphasised the importance of respecting localism and democratic structures to reflect that.

Members also backed a motion calling for schools in Wales to introduce gender-neutral uniforms. Presenting the motion, Cllr Rhys Taylor of Cardiff said: “We should not dictate to young people what they should wear outside religious codes.” He added more support and training should be offered to teachers in supporting LGBT pupils.

Amy Gaskin of Swansea University’s branch of the party also spoke in support of the motion, saying: “There’s increasing evidence that male and female brains just don’t exist. It’s more of a mosaic”.

“What right do we have to tell kids they should wear trousers or a skirt, or a tie or no tie?” she asked.

Sunday also saw Baroness Christine Humphreys of Llanrwst, North Wales AM from 1999 until 2001, appointed as the party’s new Deputy Leader. She was the only nominee.

Closing the conference, Welsh Party President William Powell said: “We’ve got a rich vein of new talent emerging in the party.”

Saying he felt a sense of “optimism and positivism, Mr Powell called for: “A kinder, gentler and more inclusive values-based politics – that is what Jane (Dodds) and our wider leadership want to introduce.”

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First Minister calls for a second EU referendum

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has called for a second EU referendum in response to the imminent change in Conservative leadership.

After the results of the European Parliamentary Elections were announced, Mr Drakeford issued a statement, saying: “I warmly congratulate Jackie Jones on her election as a member of the European Parliament. Jackie, along with Matthew [Dorrance], Mary [Wimbury] and Mark [Whitcutt] served our party as candidates in what has been the most challenging of circumstances.

“Ever since the referendum in 2016, the Welsh Government has respected the result by arguing for a form of Brexit which would protect Welsh jobs and our economy. Labour colleagues in Westminster have done the same, most recently in negotiations with the UK Government.

“The election of a new Conservative leader changes all of that. It eliminates the chances of any agreed form of Brexit and it hugely increases the very real danger of a catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU. We cannot and will not stand by while that takes place.

“Faced with the damage of a hardline Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour Government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU.

“We will work with any others who seek the same outcome.”

Last Thursday (May 24), Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will quit as leader of the Conservatives on June 7, with it thought that a new leader could be in place by the end of July.

Many believe the party will elect a right wing leader who would be willing to propose a no deal Brexit, although there has been a majority against that option when Parliament voted on it before. Brexit policy was also key to the European Parliamentary Elections, where the Labour Party failed to attract votes, with its lead candidate Jackie Jones narrowly taking the final MEP seat in Wales.

The party claimed just 15.3% of the vote in Wales and 14.1% UK wide, with many pointing at the party’s indecision regarding its stance over Brexit as the reason for the loss of voters.

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised by many in his party over his reluctance to openly support another referendum, as he attempted to appease both remain and leave voters with his Brexit policy. Mr Drakeford had been similarly reluctant to definitively back another referendum, but with this statement has gained the support of many in the party who wish for a second vote.

The European election results were also poor for the Conservatives, getting just 6.5% of the vote in Wales, and 9.09% across the UK. Governments often perform poorly in European elections, as the public express their disappointment with the ruling party, but this was the Conservatives’ worst ever result in a nationwide election by some way.

The party did not manage to come first in a single council area. The Brexit Party gained 32.5% of the vote in Wales, with Nathan Gill and James Wells claiming two of the country’s four MEP seats for Nigel Farage’s party. Plaid Cymru won 19.6% of the vote, with Jill Evans retaining her seat as Plaid beat Labour for the first time in a Wales-wide vote.

Andrew RT Davies, AM for South Wales Central and former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, said: “The European Elections proved extremely difficult for the two major parties, but a second referendum is certainly not the answer. Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote, but rerunning the referendum would completely tear up this pledge.

“Regrettably, the First Minister has buckled at the first sign of discontent from his Labour colleagues who have been in denial ever since the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union back in 2016. That’s not leadership.

“People in Wales voted to leave and that should be respected and now delivered – anything else will have severe consequences for democracy as we know it in this country.”

In the 2016 referendum, Wales saw a turnout of 71.7% of its eligible voters, with 52.53% voting to leave and 47.47% voting to remain.

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Mixed reactions in Wales to the dramatic European Election Results

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THE BREXIT PARTY has dominated in Wales, winning 32.5% of the vote, two of the nation’s four MEPs and coming top in 19 of 22 council areas.

Nigel Farage’s party won an unprecedented triumph for a six-week-old political party.

The Brexit Party has thumped the traditional two parties in Wales who both have suffered a huge collapse in their vote.

Nathan Gill (Pictured) looked triumphant at the count in Haverfordwest posing for the press with a Winston Churchill V for victory, and demanding that his party was not a flash in the pan, but here to stay until Brexit was delivered.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM, said: “These results are extremely disappointing for our hard-working candidates and the Party must now reflect long and hard on them.
“Here in Wales, Welsh Conservatives will continue their hard work in the National Assembly holding the Welsh Government to account and will welcome a healthy campaign in the run-up to the next Assembly elections in 2021.”

Labour’s Vaughan Gething AM said: “The results in Wales show that in Welsh Labour we have some questions to ask ourselves. Pro-referendum and remain parties gained more votes than leave parties.

“The room for a middle of the road approach has disappeared & attempting more of the same will not serve us or Wales well.”

Mark Drakeford congratulated Jackie Jones on retaining the party’s seat.

He warned that the election of a new Conservative leader would increase the chances of a “catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU”.

“Faced with the damage of a hard-line, Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum.

“And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU,” he said on social media.

Ex-Welsh Government minister Alun Davies blamed the huge drop Labour in Labour support on both Mr Drakeford and the party’s UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

“This is the reality we face. Poor leadership from London and no leadership from Wales,” he said

The result in Wales was a significant change on 2014 when Labour won 28.15% of the vote and Ukip 27.55%. Then, the Tories were third with 17.43% and Plaid Cymru came fourth with 15.26%.

Turnout across Wales this year was up on 2014 at 37.29%, compared to 32% five years ago.

Wales’s MEPs are now Nathan Lee Gill (The Brexit Party), James Wells (The Brexit Party), Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru – Party of Wales) and Jacqueline Jones (We;sh Labour).

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has praised the party’s success in the European elections, claiming they’re a clear example of the Welsh Liberal Democrat fightback.

Welsh Liberal Democrats won 13.6% of the vote, enough to secure 4thplace, but not enough to win a seat. The Liberal Democrats are on course to finish 2nd across the UK.

The Brexit Party were the largest party in Wales, their 32.5% of the vote was enough to win the 1st and 3rd seats, whilst Plaid Cymru won the 2ndseat with 19.6% of the vote and Labour the 4th seat with 15.3% of the vote.
Incredibly, the Conservatives finished 5th meaning Labour and the Conservatives won only 21.8% of the vote between them. The Green Party finished 6th.

Brexit landslide: The tables at the count in Haverfordwest showed the obvious pattern (Pic T Sinclair/Herald)

Jane Dodds said told The Herald: “I’m proud of the entire Welsh Liberal Democrat team that allowed us to secure this successful result. We have secured our best ever European election result and our best result in Wales since 2010. To finish 4th and come close to electing Wales’ first ever Welsh Liberal Democrat MEP is a real achievement.
“We achieved this result because of our longstanding, unambiguous and passionate campaign to stop Brexit. Poll after poll has repeatedly shown that the Welsh people want to be given the final say and the opportunity to choose an Exit from Brexit. We stood up for them and we have been rewarded.
“It is deeply disappointing the Brexit Party have won two seats in Wales, particularly since their share of the vote was less than the combined vote share of us, Plaid Cymru and the Greens – the three pro-remain parties. We will continue to oppose the Brexit Party and all they stand for with all our might.
“Labour and the Conservatives must take a long, hard look at these disastrous results. They’re supposed to be the two leading parties. Yet in Wales and across the UK they’ve seen their share of the vote plummet. They have been punished for their incompetence and their attempts to deliver Brexit.
“This result shows the Welsh Liberal Democrat fightback is in full effect. Voters are listening to us again, supporting us again and believing in us again. These results show we’re on course to return a strong and effective Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group in 2021.”

National declaration: Results for the Wales Region were announced in Haverfordwest on Sunday night (Pic T Sinclair/Herald)

Political organisation Wales For Europe suggested that the results show a swing towards remain.

A spokesman told The Herald: “On the balance of votes across all parties, pro-Europeans have won.
“The Brexit parties have lost.
“The result is yet more evidence that over the past three years Wales has changed its mind on Brexit, as has the UK as a whole.
“It confirms polling evidence that if there were a referendum tomorrow, Wales would now vote Remain. The case for a new referendum remains strong.
“But there is no room for complacency, especially in a situation where the Tory leadership election is likely to increase sharply the risks to the country, not least to Wales.
“We still have a real fight on our hands against a nasty populism that seems to be endemic across the Western world.
Despite the passionate effort of many activists, the pro-EU side did not cover itself in glory in this campaign. In any new referendum – which must remain the key goal – victory will only be won by an effective, unified cross-party campaign.
“The result also sends a clear message to Labour’s UK leadership: it now has every reason urgently to adopt a more robust line and to proclaim it clearly and loudly. The leadership in Wales has even more reason to use its influence to ensure there is no delay.”

THE RESULTS –

Vote totals and share

Brexit Party – 271,404 – 32.5%
Plaid Cymru – 163,928 – 19.6%
Labour – 127,833 – 15.3%
Lib Dems – 113,885 – 13.6%
Conservatives – 54,587 – 6.5%
Green – 52,660 – 6.3%
UKIP – 27,566 – 3.3%
Change UK – 24,332 – 2.9%

LOCAL RESULTS

Pembrokeshire
• Brexit Party: 38.1%
• Plaid Cymru: 15.6%
• Lib Dems: 12.2%
• Labour: 11.2%
• Conservative: 10.0%
• Green: 7.0%
Turnout: 39.55%

Carmarthenshire
• Brexit Party: 32.8%
• Plaid: 31.1%
• Labour: 12.5%
• Lib Dems: 7.8%
• Green Party: 4.9%
• Conservative Party: 4.9%
• Ukip: 3.2%
• Change UK: 2.7%
Turnout: 41.80%

Ceredigion:
• Plaid Cymru: 37.2%
• Brexit Party: 32.9%
• Lib Dems: 16.3%
• Green Party: 6.8%
• Labour: 5.1%
• Conservatives: 3.7%
• Ukip: 2.4%
• Change UK: 1.4%
Turnout: N/A

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Lib Dems slam ‘botched’ scheme

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THE WELSH Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for their “hapless treatment” of EU citizens after the Home Office released guidance on the new EU Settlement Scheme.

The Home Office has confirmed that for the duration of the trial period, until 30 March, EU citizens applying to stay in the UK must either use an Android phone or travel to one of 13 ‘document scanning’ centres instead.

For Holyhead, the closest ‘document scanning’ centre is Trafford.

According to an analysis by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, EU citizens travelling from Holyhead would face costs of £55 on the train for at least a six and a half hour round trip. The drive would be a 224-mile round trip costing around £56 in fuel.

The only document scanning centre in Wales is in Caerphilly. Travelling from Pembroke to Caerphilly and returning the same day by rail would cost £32.10 (the cheapest available fare at the time of enquiry), the cheapest off-peak fare from Aberystwyth would be £77.10 return. By car at an average of 40mpg, the cost of travel would be at least £27 to and from Pembroke, while from Aberystwyth the cost would be at least £25. Both car journeys represent round trips of over 180 miles.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “Too many people in Wales are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in the health service, our schools and the tourism sector. They want to register as soon as possible, but Theresa May’s hapless treatment of EU citizens could result in a new Windrush scandal.

“For anyone who doesn’t have an android phone, this botched scheme means they will have to travel. For people in Holyhead, that means facing a 224-mile round trip and paying over £50 for the privilege. This postcode lottery is simply unacceptable.”

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey MP said: “Following significant pressure, the Prime Minister said there will be no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. How long did that commitment last?

“It is Conservative Ministers who have made a mess of Brexit. They should either pay the cost for EU citizens or change the application system and ensure EU citizens are made to feel welcome in the UK.

“Ultimately, the best way to avoid all of this mess is by giving the people the option to remain in the EU with a final say on Brexit.”

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