Any Questions? Neath: Waste of a Friday Evening

29th January 2014

Ronnie Job

Much against my better judgement I was persuaded to attend Radio 4's Any Questions on Friday night (24 January) along with other comrades from the Socialist Party. From the start it was obvious the discussion would not reflect the issues and struggles of local people. I couldn't imagine any representative audience of such a working class town as Neath giving a Tory a prolonged round of applause!

Our panel had Liberal Democrat Lord Steel, obviously selected to comment on the Lord Rennard case, though he had little to say on that. His stock answer to everything else was: "I'm not qualified to comment on that". Also we had Tory Boris Johnson clone, Michael Fabricant. Meanwhile, providing Welsh accents (if not fundamentally different politics) there were Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP and Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones.

Only a handful of questions were chosen for debate and none of the ones we submitted. Not one question selected even touched on the destruction of council services and the cull of council jobs currently taking place in Wales. But these cuts will have a more devastating effect on the Welsh economy, Welsh workers and working class communities than even the Tories’ pit closure programme.

These cuts, like those now taking place in the NHS in Wales, began with decisions of a Tory/Liberal Democrat alliance in Westminster which were then passed on by a Labour Welsh Government. 

The Welsh budget that parceled out the cuts was agreed with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, who had themselves entered into an agreement to speak and negotiate on the budget with one voice. All four parties represented on the panel had a hand in cuts to council services and half the councils in Wales implementing them are Labour-led.

Discussion on why education in Wales is by some measures, poorer than that in England, was limited to the pros and cons of teaching through the medium of Welsh. No one mentioned what must be the two most significant factors for educational under-achievement, higher levels of poverty and lack of resources put into education. 

No party seemed to want to defend their own records on the NHS. Instead the debate degenerated into an argument over whether health cuts are more devastating in England or Wales. Not long ago Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones was saying there was no downgrading of the NHS in Wales. Now he says there will be no “massive cuts” to the NHS in Wales. 

What Carwyn means by “massive” isn’t obvious but the effects of his government’s NHS cuts are becoming clearer and clearer for communities across Wales, like the 1,000 people who protested at the loss of special baby-care services at Withybush hospital in Haverfordwest on 26 January.

Friday’s programme confirmed that workers, trade unionists and working class communities need a party of our own. None of these politicians represent our interests. They argue about which services to cut and which workers should pay with their jobs for a crisis not of our making. But they all have a hand in devastating cuts - whether they’re vicious cuts, hypocritical cuts, hand-wringing cuts or Welsh cuts is irrelevant.

I may have had worse Friday nights out (I can’t remember any off-hand) but at least my determination to build the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Wales was strengthened.
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