The Coalition’s first month

The ConDem Coalition is fully living down to expectations. It took just three short weeks for their first ministerial scandal and resignation – even Blair managed to go a month or two before his neophiliac blather was exposed as rotten to the core (Bernie Ecclestone’s millions changing policy on tobacco sponsorship, if I recall correctly); now Cameron’s similar ruse is rumbled, in record time. Lib Dem David Laws, installed as Treasury Secretary to carry Chancellor George Osborne’s bags and do the dirty work of making the poor pay for the financial crisis, had barely begun to axe benefits and chuck people out of work before the millionaire investment banker was caught breaking rules only introduced in 2006 by claiming £40,000 from parliamentary expenses for ‘rent’ he was actually handing over to his boyfriend. Had he done this through the UK’s miserable benefits system he would be prosecuted and facing prison. As it is, he has merely had to stand aside to a chorus of praise from all the other spoilt public school brats in the Coalition about his fundamental decency and intellectual ability – with the implication that, after a suitable wound-licking period on the back-benches, he will be back to inflict his hard-nosed, free-market dogma on the weak and powerless.

Laws has had the gall to blame homophobia, rather than his own greed and hypocrisy, for his “misdemeanours”, claiming he only mis-used public funds in order to keep his gayness secret in a society that “still thought it was wrong or shameful”. A number of points spring to mind if we are to accept this explanation at face value. First: David dear, everyone knew you were queer anyhow – we’ve seen your side-parting! Second: oh I see, it’s alright to lead a double life in the closet so as to feather your nest in the macho world of banking while all the time happily reaping the gains won for you by gay activists over decades of struggle. Third: there is definitely a book to be written about closet homosexuality and the Liberal Party (Thorpe, Hughes, Oaten, Laws – a pattern is emerging).

The Queens’ Speech, setting out the Coalition’s legislative programme, illustrates how the abject Lib Dems have ditched every copper-bottomed principle of old, all for the sake of a few baubles of office. Their policies have been kicked into the long grass, via those tried and trusted strategems the ‘review’ and ‘the commission’, so that the free-market fundamentalist Tories can let rip, privatising the NHS and education and destroying public sector jobs, while front-men Clegg and Cameron mouth airy homilies about a ‘Great Reform Act’ and ‘the Big Society’. It’s very early days, but this promises to be a British government of a quite exceptionally nauseating calibre.

From a Welsh perspective, the onslaught is already well underway – not that you would know it from the London newspapers and TV channels where, as in the Queen’s Speech, Wales is never mentioned. These are the only sources of news for 90% of the Welsh population, so many will be unaware that the cuts imposed on the Welsh Assembly government’s total budget are 33% higher than across the UK as a whole (Wales budget £15.7bn, cut £187m = 1.2%; UK budget £704bn, cut £6.2bn = 0.89%). So Wales, already among the poorest countries in Europe through no fault of its own, already underfunded from Westminster by £300m every year because of the Barnett Formula, completely unconnected to the reckless greed of the banks that brought these cuts about, and unrepresented by a single one of its MPs around the cabinet table in London, takes the deepest slashes of the axe – what a surprise!. And just to stick the boot in, an immediate cut in the S4C budget of £2m was also imposed (Wales has no powers over its own broadcasting). This is a drop in the ocean in UK terms, but nevertheless a spiteful and gratuitous wound to Wales’ only indigenous broadcaster which illustrates how these new Tories have precisely the same prejudices and ignorance of all the old Tories – who have been spluttering with indignation into their gins in golf clubs up and down Wales since the first tentative steps towards decriminalising Welsh in Wales were taken in the 1960s. In the first specifically Wales-targeted action of the Coalition, of all the many things they could have done they have opted to chuck an anti-Welsh chunk of red meat at the white settler tendency in places like Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, for whom the very existence of the Welsh language is an affront, and whet the appetite of the Cymruphobic Stalinist strain. The message could not be clearer: Taffy, we’re gunning for you.

Other small moves, like putting a Tory in charge of the Commons’ Welsh Affairs Committee, breaking the long-standing convention that the post should be held by the largest party in Wales, like studiously ignoring the Assembly Government when announcing the Welsh budget, and like over-riding the all-party consensus in the Welsh Assembly that there should be a referendum on further devolution by postponing it indefinitely, give a hint of what lies ahead for Wales. Yet again in Welsh history, vile imperialist Britishers mean us nothing but ill. I, for one, relish the challenge of resistance.