Cyprus Exposes Chaos to Come

By Thomas Knight

There was celebration today at the news that a deal has been reached which will save Cyprus at the expense of those savers with over £85,000. Unfortunately, now that the EU has officially declared its position, it seems that they have chosen to take the side of debtors over citizens. With the decision to seize the savings of those deemed ‘wealthy’, the EU has set a precedent which will make the following year even more unstable than the one just past.

2012 was the year of the bailout, with economic news revolving around a series of increasingly desperate measures to try and deal with Europe’s catastrophic debt problem. Looking back over the financial news, it is almost funny how the EU continued to try and do the exact same thing on an almost monthly basis, and was continually taken by surprise when repeating the same motion as before failed to win the day. What we’ve seen in the first three months of this year is a continuation of that flawed attempt to prop up a corrupt and failed banking sector by throwing taxpayer money at the problem.

Cyprus does mark a turning point, though. With the decision to support the bailout by seizing the savings of those in the banks – even just those with over £85,000 – the EU seems unaware of what this means. It is no longer possible to see any European bank as a safe place to put large sums of money. Cyprus was saved in part because of the large exposures other European banks have to the Cypriot debt, and the fact it was feared that if the banks collapsed, other banks would soon follow. This interconnectedness of the banking system has been at the heart of the European financial crisis since it began.

It doesn’t take much to realise the problems here. If you were one of the top one per-cent, with a fortune in the bank, you would have to be stupid to leave it there now. Europe has proven that it is perfectly happy to punish those foolish enough to trust their banks with their money in order to try and prop up the sector as a whole. As a result, over the next few days it is likely that wealthy individuals and businesses will begin closing accounts and shifting fortunes to other places perceived as untouchable by Europe’s sticky fingers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that off-shore banking and American banks in particular benefit greatly from the Cypriot bailout when we look back in ten years’ time.

Unfortunately, Europe’s banks are not in a position, despite years of bailouts and hand-wringing from the EU, where they can survive the sudden liquidity crisis this will bring about. As a result, more countries will ask for more bailouts. More banks will teeter on the brink of collapsing entirely and taking people’s savings with them. This is because the constant bailouts have not addressed the fundamental weakness that has pervaded the banking sector across Europe over the past decade. If anything, continuing to provide bailout after bailout has only succeeded in placing the sector on life support. If we consider the bad debt as the disease, a continued lack of growth and sickly economy has just helped grow the likelihood of more bad debt whilst making it difficult – almost impossible – to protect against the existing mountain of it that banks are holding.

This has been evident nowhere more clearly than Cyprus’ neighbour, Greece. If the EU had simply paid off all of Greece’s debts in 2008 – when they stood at 260 billion Euros – it would have saved a massive amount of money. As of January 2012, total EU bailouts to Greece amounted to 340 billion Euros, because continued instability, a weak economy, and a starving population meant that the government needed to borrow more to try and keep its public sector operating, something which they arguably failed to manage anyway.

Rather than learn the lessons of Greece, the EU has remained wed to the idea that those nations most heavily indebted must be punished for their sins. In doing so, they’ve finally taken a step too far and slapped the very people they were meant to be protecting in the face. Although choosing to tax only those with large savings is an easy political compromise, the ramifications are now going to start spreading. Whilst the EU prides itself on saying that it is ready to take difficult decisions when needed to deal with the debt crisis, what they’ve proven over the past week is quite the opposite. The countries in the EU are incapable of working together when it matters. They have been unable to grasp the consequences of their actions in the past, and do not understand what their actions mean for the future. Now we just have to wait and see which country’s banks are finally strong enough to drag them under completely.


West Ham and the Olympic Stadium

By Derek Van de Ven

It has long been known that West Ham would take over the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London after the Games. Boris Johnson and the government have repeatedly stated the need for it be sold rather than used for various national events, as it would become (and has been) a major drain on the taxpayer. The battle for ownership of the stadium was fought out between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham, with Leyton Orient even arguing that due to their location they should be part of any deal, for fear of fans being taken away. Spurs would have perhaps had a much better chance of filling the stadium, given their possible partaking in the Champions League, and of late, competition for the Premier League title. However, despite West Ham’s relegation worries of a few years ago, they won the rights to the Stadium, largely because they planned to keep the running track (or most of it). The move from current home Upton Park to the Olympic stadium is expected to take place in time for the 2016-2017 season, providing construction is completed. However, up until today, where the necessary funding would come from has been a bit of a mystery. Now it all seems to be in place. The club will have the stadium on a 99 year lease.

In reality, West Ham, despite being guaranteed major occupants of the stadium, will pay only very little of the enormous cost estimated. The Treasury will contribute about £60 million, today confirming an extra £25 million on their part, which is the main reason the move can go ahead. The London Legacy and Development Corporation will provide a loan of £20 million, and another loan from Newham Council will provide 40 million. Boris Johnson is also expected to make a contribution. The go-ahead was finally authorised when the club agreed to up their part of the budget from £10 million to £15 million.

There are several areas that the money will go towards. The venue is not ideal for football, and especially for West Ham who struggle to fill the 35,000 capacity Upton Park, and thus the capacity of the Olympic Stadium will be reduced from 80,000 to 60,000. The main problem with athletics arenas is that due to the running track, fans feel far away from the action. Thus it will be partially brought forward, but not all the way. The roof will also be extended to cover all fans, and this must be completed by 2015 in time for the Rugby World Cup. West Ham want the stadium to be used for athletics in the future and intend to keep the Olympic legacy at the stadium, as well as use it for live music performances. This is the only reason West Ham’s bid was successful.

West Ham of course must pay back these generous loans. They will also pay £2 million annually to rent the ground and have agreed to share 50/50 all catering and hospitality revenue with LLDC, but will keep all ticket and merchandise sales revenue. The club directors, David Gold and David Sullivan have agreed to make a one-off payment to LLDC if they sell the club within ten years, and a proportion of any future sale after that. They stated that “the public should benefit from any money made” by West Ham’s future sale of the stadium.

The move giving West Ham ownership has always seemed an odd decision. Firstly, it is a huge stadium, it will be as big as Arsenal’s Emirates’ Stadium, and the third biggest football arena in England and West Ham are not as big a club as Arsenal. Thus if they can’t fill the stadium on a regular basis there will be little or no atmosphere inside, only harmful to the club. However the main question is of course regarding public money – Boris Johnson made it clear that the future use of the ground must not drain the public purse anymore than it already has. The Tottenham plan for the ground would have been largely privately funded, not costing the taxpayer a substantial amount more. West Ham are planning to contribute approximately 6-8% of the overall finance of the stadium’s conversion, hardly fair given that they will be the principal users. The decision seems to have been made on the emotional grounds that West Ham would preserve the “spirit of the games” something which could have been done much more cheaply. Spurs’ plan would have saved the public a lot more money and would have likely been much more successful for the club. Whilst geographically it makes much more sense for West Ham, in times of austerity it makes much more sense to allow Spurs to move. Thus it was emotions, rather than rationality that won the bid for West Ham.

Intervening in Iraq was no mistake

By James Le Grice

It’s been a war of mistakes, there’s no denying that. I won’t list everything that Bush, Blair and Co. bungled up; you can find all that in any newspaper’s coverage of ‘Iraq – Ten Years On’ from the past three weeks. The Guardian and Independent are good places to start. The success stories of Iraq remain, as ever, overlooked. But amongst the successes, there’s one particular biggie: ten years since the invasion of Iraq, the free world is still fighting terrorists; it is not fighting a nascent Islamic empire.

Saddam Hussein’s threat to the world may have been exaggerated, but the threats posed by those who tried to take his place have been anything but. To appreciate the nightmare that could have been, there are a few inevitabilities and some unsettling realities to consider.

The first inevitability is that Saddam Hussein’s rule would come to an end at some point. He was not an immortal god, no matter how much his propaganda made him seem that way. And if alive today, he would be nearing 76.

Inevitability number two is that the end of Saddam’s rule would be violent. Modern Iraq has been particularly prone to coups and revolutions, even within the same factions, but at no other point in its history has power been so monopolized by one single person for so long. Saddam’s end would leave an incredible void, not one that his playboy son and heir Uday could easily fill. There would be a scramble for power, and the sectarian tensions between Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds, deliberately exacerbated by Saddam’s method of rule, would be unrestrained to boil over. Whoever was to fill the post-Saddam void would get there by strength of arms.

Now for the unsettling realities. The religious revivalism of the 20th century gave rise to a new jihad amongst the extremists in the Islamic world: overthrow the nation-states in Muslim lands, replace them with the rule of Islam, and purge these societies of everything un-Islamic.

The threat of this jihad was compounded in the time since Saddam Hussein came to power by the rise of two opposing entities seeking to redraw the map of the entire Islamic world.

The first of these is the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose main foreign policy objective is to export its revolution. At its heart is the belief that the Mahdi, the messianic figure of Shia Islam, is returning imminently with Jesus to lead the faithful to victory in an epic war against the unbelievers, and that the Supreme Leader of Iran is a guardian sent to ready the world for the Mahdi’s rule.

The second of these entities is al Qaeda, which seeks to build a new caliphate and make it the supreme world power after bankrupting the United States.

By the 2000s, these entities had grown strong enough in their financial, military and human resources to be major game players in the internal affairs of Muslim countries. And that’s exactly what happened in Iraq.

Their proxies fought under the banner of anti-Americanism, but they would have been there even if America hadn’t. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s proxy, was in Iraq before the Americans got there, building links between his Jordanian group, Jama’at al Tawhid wal Jihad, and anti-Saddam rebels in the northeast. The Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose militias received training and weapons from Iran, is the son of the most prominent anti-Saddam Shia leader of the 1990s. And even if these specific two did not enter the post-Saddam void, al Qaeda and Iran would have found other proxies, because controlling Iraq is a vital necessity for both.

Iraq was the first country Osama bin Laden sought to gain after forming al Qaeda. In 1990, he appealed to the Saudis to give him and his holy warriors, fresh from fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, a base from which to fight Saddam. The Saudis snubbed him for the US military instead. As for Iran, it has been boxed in since its revolution by a hostile Iraq, a country home to the holiest sites of pilgrimage in Shia Islam.

Most importantly, Iraq is the golden ticket that would allow both to stop fantasizing about a new Islamic empire and start building it. Iraq is an industrialised nation strategically located at the heart of the Islamic world. It offers a forward operating base to spread directly into Western Asia, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula, and more than enough oil to fund it all.

So what might have happened without America’s intervention? Saddam would have probably faced a rebellion; the conditions were ripe for it in 2003. Twelve years of UN sanctions had devastated the country, and while his people starved, Saddam built himself more palaces. There were rising defections within the regime, and a well organized and internationally funded opposition. If a rebellion didn’t kick off then, it certainly would have by the 2011 Arab Spring.

And we know what this would look like. In March 1991, the Iraqi people rose up against Saddam and took control of 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Armed with helicopters and chemical weapons, Saddam crushed the uprising, displacing 10% of the population, draining the southern marshes and obliterating the centuries-old livelihood of the Marsh Arabs, and killing some 180,000 people in one month. As perspective, Iraq Body Count estimates that the civilian death toll in Iraq from the last ten years of fighting is 122,115.

But with a strong al Qaeda and Iran supporting Sunni and Shia proxies, rebellion would not be so easily crushed. Their involvement would turn this into a long protracted civil war, costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.

Al Qaeda would have the advantage to come out on top. In search of an endgame, it is not unlikely that the Baathists and al Qaeda would form a united Sunni front against their common Shia enemy. Together they could defeat them and that would then pave the way for al Qaeda to get rid of Saddam and his family and turn Iraq into an emirate with Zarqawi in charge.

Then Sunni extremists in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran could escalate their jihads to overthrow those states, safe in the knowledge that from just over the border, they’d have a steady supply of soldiers, weapons, and money, as well as the backing of one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East.

The West would get drawn into the conflict eventually, once it’s oil supply, Turkey, or Israel came under serious threat. Except in this case, they wouldn’t be fighting terrorists armed with just AK-47s, RPGs and IEDs; they’d be fighting suicidal jihadists armed with Iraqi tanks, scud missiles, aircraft, and possibly biological and chemical warheads.

So thank goodness that didn’t happen. Thank goodness the coalition forces managed to overthrow Saddam Hussein in just 20 days. Thank goodness the Americans and British won the battle of Fallujah, denying al Qaeda one of their most important Iraqi strongholds. Thank goodness Zarqawi is dead, courtesy of the US Air Force. Thank goodness the Americans, British and Iraqi government forces won the battle of Basra, leading Muqtada al Sadr to disband his militias, and adopt a peaceful cooperative strategy. Thank goodness that al Qaeda and the Sadrists are fringe movements in Iraq today, not the dominant powers. Thank goodness the dominant military force in the post-Saddam void fought to give democracy to the victims of totalitarianism, rather than to give them a new totalitarianism. Thank goodness that intervening in Iraq was no mistake.

Theresa May and Drug Decriminalisation

By Derek Van de Ven

Theresa May, the Home Secretary has called for a study on the effects of drug decriminalization in Portugal and other countries. She rejected both the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation for a Royal Commission to examine drug laws, and also advice from the UK Drug Policy Agency on relaxing current legislation. So, yet again, we don’t know how much Theresa May will change about British policy on drugs, but she is right to investigate the benefits of decriminalisation.

Drug decriminalization has been bouncing around British politics for a while. The Green Party fully supports treating substance abusers as patients not criminals, and the ambiguous Lib Dems fully support the idea of a royal commission. The Home Affairs Select Committee has been investigating decriminalisation for over a year, recognizing the good effects it has had, and that drugs and drug related issues in the UK are a big problem. They sent a team to Portugal, a country which decriminalised – not legalised – all substances in 2001.

In Portugal, the cultivation, selling and trafficking of drugs is still a criminal offense. The possession of an amount of drugs equal to enough to satisfy ten days usage, with authorization, is not followed by prosecution. The individual in question agrees to speak to a “dissuasion commission.” The commission is made up of an attorney, a psychiatrist and a social worker, who will establish if the person is an addict or recreational user, and give the user a choice of treatment, and if not, a fine or community service is given. If they go through the extensive treatment process and come out clean, nothing goes on their criminal record. The committee can impose sanctions on the individual, such as a travel ban or the withdrawal of a license for professional purposes. The process of reintegration and rehabilitation is fully supported by Portugal’s Health and Interior ministries, who provide funding, personnel and even benefits for individuals needing employment or housing. There are free consultation and detoxification centres all around the country, addicts can ask to be given substitution substances, and dirty needles can be traded in for clean ones.

State intervention with drugs has risen dramatically since the laws were introduced – only this time it is designed to stop people using drugs and mitigate the risks users pose to themselves and others. The idea is not to stop drug use altogether, but minimize negative consequences. Dealers and traffickers, those who are involved in the wider organized crime around drugs, are the ones treated as criminals.

The new laws have turned around a worsening STD crisis in Portugal, and also considerably decreased drug use rates. The number of addicts has halved, and deaths from overdoses have vastly decreased.  HIV infection among substance abusers had dropped 30% – showing that the main aim of the legislation, to combat HIV, has been successful. The number of people in treatment for addiction has increased by a third, due to the decreased stigma around drugs more people are seeking help. Also, the amount of deaths from overdoses has dropped from 400 to 290 annually. The justice system workload has vastly decreased, as crimes relating to drugs have dropped from 14,000 a year in 2000 to 5,000 in 2009. Those who get out of hand are offered free and unlimited help from the state, and more and more people are getting out of drugs and not catching diseases transferred using drugs.

Portugal’s main aims have been achieved, and it’s obvious that the UK can benefit from lessons learned from Lisbon. Cities like Glasgow struggle with a homelessness and crime problem largely linked to drugs, among other things. Cocaine use in the UK is one of the highest in the world. The stigma relating to drugs is another big thing that has been targeted in Portugal and something that needs to be tackled in the UK. It’s very hard to get a job if an employer knows you have an addiction problem. We need to accept that people are always going to take drugs, and that is not necessarily a moral problem. People need to know how to do it safely and not endanger others around them. If they seek help for their problem, it should be freely available, and it should not affect other areas of their lives. The Portuguese system ensures people who want help, seek it, and its results show that it’s getting people out of addiction. The Home Affairs Select Committee and other specialist groups are clearly in favour of learning about other systems and adopting the successful measures. It’s time the Home Secretary put aside outdated views and did what is in the national interest

Time to turn off the TV: Why Italians should once and for all break up the ties between television and politics

By Andrea Masini

The word “clowns” has been used by influential analysts (such as “The Economist” and Peer Steinbrueck, Chancellor candidate in Germany) to describe Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, the real winners of the Italian general elections of 24th and 25th February.  As a matter of fact, both political leaders share outstanding entertainment skills, combined with a certain lack of institutional stature. As usual, Mr Berlusconi, whose right-of-centre coalition surprisingly obtained around 29,5% of the vote, has been conducting a flamboyant election campaign. He has been fighting on TV against journalists and has sent a letter to 9 million families, promising to refund an unpopular property tax introduced by the last government. On the other hand, Beppe Grillo, whose “5 Stars Movement” has gained almost 25% of the vote, has been travelling all over Italy in a so-called “Tsunami Tour”, drawing huge crowds. Grillo´s rallies were one-man shows, with the leader performing at the centre of a stage.

“Clown” might indeed be the right word to define the two politicians. However, it is far more useful to focus on the reasons why two “clowns” are actually taken seriously by the electors, and are eventually able to gain such impressive results in democratic elections. I argue that the main reasons why this happened lies in the deep connections between politics and television. The latter has been playing a key role in altering the good functioning of the Italian democratic sphere, eventually allowing two entertainers to run for office. It should not happen anymore.

A special relationship with TV

First of all, both Berlusconi and Grillo owe their popularity to television. A lot has been written on the media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who has built his career as entrepreneur within the TV industry, creating a private broadcaster model based on entertainment and financed by commercials. That’s exactly the same context in which Mr Grillo became popular in Italy. In fact, during the 80s, he was taking part as a comedian in a number of successful TV shows, and was the face of a well-known brand of yoghurt.

Concerning this point, one might argue that the success of Grillo’s “5 Stars Movement” has been mainly based on the Internet, and doesn’t have anything to do with television. The candidates have been chosen through the Web, and Beppe Grillo is using a Weblog to communicate with his followers. Actually, this is just the outward appearance of the movement’s dynamics. As noted by Evgeny Morozov (author of “The Net Delusion”), Grillo has been clever in using the “rhetoric of the Web”, conveying the idea that the rise of the “5 Stars Movement” was an Internet-driven, popular revolution. De facto, the political patterns used by Grillo still belong to traditional politics. Firstly, the turnout of the primaries held by the “5 Stars Movement” on the Internet has been rather low (around 20,000 voters out of 230,000 registered members). Secondly, although he mainly communicates through a Weblog, Beppe Grillo still uses a vertical downwards model of communication with his followers, which does not leave great space for interaction.

On top of that, Grillo’s supporters argue that there is a substantial difference between the election campaign of Silvio Berlusconi and the one conducted by their leader. In fact, while Berlusconi has literally invaded the television arena, participating to almost a TV program per day, Mr Grillo has refused to show up on that medium. Nevertheless, I argue that he has made an indirect use of television. Continuously launching attacks against it, Beppe Grillo has put the TV system at the centre of his political discourse. Also, with his absence from the TV screens, he has performed a sort of “empty chair politics”, forcing the television news channels to focus the attention on him and his movement.

The influence of TV on the electoral choice

Furthermore, in the last twenty years television has been playing a key role in influencing the dynamics of electoral choice in Italy. The nature of politics has ultimately been distorted by the TV: it has become a show, with information and opinions losing out to exteriority, sensationalism and infotainment. In other words, the primacy of the television format has relegated the complexity of the political reasoning to a secondary role.  According to the political scientist Giovanni Sartori, the development of TV, especially in Italy, has been the underlying reason of the involution of the human kind from homo sapiens to homo videns (literally: man who watches), whose political judgment is based on the candidates’ stage performance.
In this sense, it is not surprising that the candidates who perform better on TV are the ones who have run a more successful campaign. Berlusconi and Grillo have mastered the communication modes typical of television, and can therefore communicate better to the electors, who are more prone to receive a message shaped for TV.

 Please, turn off the TV

To sum it up, the main reasons why two “clowns” have been able to gain political consensus during the last general election in Italy lie within the broad spectrum of the ties between television and the political sphere. Firstly, both Berlusconi and Grillo belong to the world of TV, and know therefore very well how to communicate on TV. Secondly, because of the influence of television on people’s judgment of an election campaign , electors are more likely to vote for “clowns”, who can run a  campaign as if it were a TV show.

Ultimately, if he wins the elections, the clown has to rule the country. Unlike campaigning, this involves more than entertainer skills. When people realise he is unfit to do that, they won’t like the show anymore. Perhaps, in the next elections, they might consider turning off the TV and choosing a more competent candidate.

Spy in the sky: the secret life of drones

By Neil Andrews

Drones are becoming faster, deadlier, and more sophisticated, and they are being deployed at a dizzying rate.  Since 2001, over 11,000 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s), as they are technically known, have been dispatched by the US Air Force and the CIA.  Some are used purely for surveillance, such as the “Watchkeeper”, but other models, like the “Predator” and “Reaper” drones, are armed with state-of-the-art missiles and used to eliminate terrorist suspects at the touch of a button.

Since the Balkans conflict, drones have served a functional military purpose.  Only since 9/11, however, have they taken on a more potent guise.  Free to roam the airspaces of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the miniature aircraft (typically around 10 metres in length) have found renewed utility in America’s global “war on terror”.  Their operation is simple in practice.  A team of three control a drone from a trailer in Nevada’s remote desert: one flies, another swivels the cameras, and a third relays information back and forth with ground troops.  Designated targets are then tracked and killed in a calculated and clinical manner.  It is this, the instantaneous nature of the drone strike, which has alarmed many human rights activists.

So far, drones in Pakistan alone have killed a reported 3,000 people.  The Pentagon argues that they offer a precise way of eliminating targets and are inexpensive compared to modern fighter jets.  UAV’s are also seen as a welcome addition to America’s waning war chest, and are perceived to be a necessary component of the fight against al-Qaeda.  Indeed, American lawyers argue that, under Article 51 of the UN Charter, a nation is well within their rights to use military force to prevent an “imminent threat”.  But how is ‘imminent’ defined?  Someone may be a ‘suspected’ terrorist, but how can those barking orders from Washington judge whether or not a person poses an immediate threat?  Needless to say, this is a grey area.

The UK is not an innocent party, either.  Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has come under increasing scrutiny over claims that the government is stripping British people of their citizenship, moments before sanctioning their death via drone strike.  Indeed, the passports of no less than 16 Britons have been rescinded in the past three years for this very purpose.  Since a 2002 Act was passed allowing the government to remove the citizenship of anyone suspected of being a “serious prejudicial” threat to the UK, the Home Secretary has shown little restraint over implementing such powers.  The case of Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese man who was killed by a UAV in Somalia last year, bears testimony to this.  Yet, the government is quick to distance itself from any involvement in these aerial assassinations.

There is much to be talked about regarding the use and abuse of drones.  They can be a source for good – some are used to aid police forces, fight crime, or even to collect data from volcanoes or map archaeological sites.  The American government has even commissioned scientists to design surveillance drones that mimic the behaviour and flight of hummingbirds and insects.

There are pitfalls too.  Those controlling the drones circling Pakistan run the risk of becoming desensitised to death and detached from their actions, watching someone die on a small monitor is not the same as looking a man in the eye with a loaded gun.  Drone warfare has the potential to become something akin to a video game.  Yet the precision and accuracy of drones, though not perfect, may actually be a harbinger of human rights, it offers a way of combating military threats without the need to put boots on the ground, and with fewer casualties.

Still, this does not explain away the civilian deaths linked to UAV strikes, of which there have been many, nor does it make us feel any better about the moral and ethical minefields surrounding their use.  Unmanned aircraft may have been designed with good intentions, but it is important that those operating them are held rigorously to account.  If they are not, the world’s skies will soon be dotted with countless random killing machines.

Will a new Welsh Government Cabinet make any difference to the UK?

By Rob Ford

In the thrills of twitter conversations on a normal Thursday afternoon, Welsh political anoraks sat, watched and refreshed as the Welsh Government drip fed new Cabinet members, one by one to its blissful followers.  This innovative approach to reshuffled executive governance updates is a debate by itself on the impact of new media on democracy, with many commentators alluding to the growth, by the second, in the number of twitter followers the @welshgovernment account received.  But what does this reshuffle mean for Wales, or more widely, what does it mean for the UK?

Whilst the ‘main man’ Carwyn Jones remains fairly firm in position, calls of changing deckchairs on a sinking ship were made from opposition parties, and possible rightly so.  Whilst the Welsh Government welcomed a new Health Minister in former Special Advisor Mark Drakeford, many of the veteran operators adjusted to a new office and new business card, but the same Government building.

With ravenous objections to health reforms, rising youth unemployment and drastic falls in exports, Welsh public needs a ‘pick me up’ to boost confidence.  Whether the long reigning Welsh Labour Government (albeit in coalition for some time) is to blame, needs some consideration, especially given the wider context of the block grant that is passed down by the UK Government, and unfairly so the argument goes.  Having to spend pennies instead of pounds will be the call from Welsh Labour, whilst others outside of Wales may argue that you should only have had pennies in the first instance.  The wider questions of what this means for the future of the UK is perhaps an even more interesting one.

The lack of a ‘European Minister’ may not seem unusual to non-Welsh politicos, but delve a little deeper and the decision seems odd given the rhetoric coming from the Welsh Government.  When David Cameron announced that a referendum would follow the general election, the outcries in Wales were heard from the tops of Snowdonia to the depths of the Valleys.  While the UK as a whole is a creditor the EU, Wales is a receiver of funds, and the farming industry in Wales would be non-existence if it were not for the Common Agricultural Policy.  The Leader of the Welsh Government has said, almost on weekly basis, that Wales’ future must be in the EU, we are all Europeans after all, he says.  More recently, the First Minister, who represents Bridgend, has tried, and failed somewhat, to emulate the great Tam Dalyell by dubbing his concern the ‘West Bridgend’ question, where the views of the devolved nations, namely Wales in this case, are not considered.  Whilst Mr Cameron may be dancing around the room at a reduced EU budget, Mr Jones at the other of the M4 danced to nothing, realising his pocket money had been reduced.  Given that the First Minister has been inadvertently tasked Wales with presenting a united front against an in/out referendum, the lack of a Welsh Minister for Europe does seem counter to the argument.  Surely he has not come round to Tory way of thinking?

And for those who get their kicks from constitutional settlements, the outcomes and influence of the new Ministers in relation to the Silk Commission on the UK will be quite emphatic. Those who are not familiar with the Silk Commission, read Calman Commission, those note familiar with the Calman Commssion, read ‘what devolution powers are and what they should be’.  Whilst it is accepted that the devolution settlement in regards to Wales is messy and complex, the potential outcomes of Silk would dramatically change the makeup of the UK.   The potential for tax varying powers, business rates and energy consenting powers would give Wales a fairly firm democratic platform to operate from.  The next step would be independence, and no-one other than zealous nationalists would purport that at present.  Cabinet member grandee Jane Hutt,  who maintains her Finance Minister brief (the closest thing we have to a ‘Treasury’), has seen her brief ‘beefed up’ with the foundations for a more expansive Treasury, if only in fledgling form.  And so should we expect the power to tax?  Can Ms Hutt make the argument to the UK Government for more powers?  Well she has enough experience to know how, when and what to ask for.  With more and more powers potentially being devolved, what happens to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is the Westminster Government the de facto Government of England?  Does the growing divergence from the central powers benefit the SNP’s nationalist 2014 referendum?

Ultimately, whilst the new Cabinet makes waves in Wales, affecting everyday lives in Wales and it also has the potential to significantly change the UK; does anyone outside of Wales take note?  I await the bombardment of comments to answer that question!