Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Archive for May 2020

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 38: The Devolution Disaster

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

The Welsh Parliament building

IN A SPECIAL ‘double dose’ edition of Twenty Minute Topic, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins assess the impact of devolution in Wales 20 years after its inception, and at a time when the institution has recently changed its name to the ‘Welsh Parliament’.

Greg played an important role in the ‘No’ campaign leading up to the referendum of 1997, in which the ‘Yes’ side won by the narrowest of margins.

Greg makes some shocking allegations of foul play, both during the campaign of 1997 and at crucial counts on the night.

The term ‘crachach’ is discussed extensively during the podcast. It is a term that refers to the Welsh-speaking middle class elite, often sympathetic to Welsh nationalism, nepotistic in character, that has huge influence across the Welsh arts, media, civil service and higher education sectors.

Veteran left-leaning journalist Paul Starling observed in his Welsh Daily Mirror column on 26 April 2002 that ‘our country is run by no more than 50 extended families or individuals’.

Cropped image of Rhodri Morgan at The Celebration of the Mace 5840623762 b47ba98d73 o.jpg

Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of Wales, 2000-2009

Indeed, far from being a swivel-eyed conspiracy, the crachach was thought to be very real by former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who saw their elitist control of so many tenets of Welsh civic life as a real threat to the success of devolution. He said: ““As well as horizontal devolution – spreading power and responsibility more widely – we have to have vertical devolution as well. I have sometimes tried to sum up this dimension by describing our devolution settlement as a shift from crachach to gwerin, from government by a self-replicating élite to a new engagement with a far wider and more representative group of people, women and men, people from north and south Wales, Welsh speakers and not, black people as well as white, and so on.”

Marcus and Greg agree that Rhodri Morgan’s words were not heeded, and far from creating a more diverse and inclusive civic sector in Wales, devolution has led to a consolidation and intensification of crachach power and influence.

Leighton Andrews, a former Education Minister in Wales, also spoke out against Crachach influence in the Welsh higher education sector.

The podcast begins with a brief history of devolution, beginning with the referendum of 1979, in which the Welsh electorate categorically rejected the proposal for an Assembly. The discussion moves on to the ‘quango culture’ of the 1980s and 90s, the impact of the Welsh Language Act of 1993, through to the referendum on giving the Assembly primary law-making powers in 2011.

There is discussion on the broken promises of 2011. The people of Wales were told it was a ‘tidying up exercise’ and the ‘end game’ for devolution, but in the years since, income tax powers have been devolved, and the institution’s name has been changed to the ‘Welsh Parliament’.

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts Spotify, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 26, 2020 at 5:16 am

Why it’s time to stop the weekly ‘Clap for Carers’

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By MARCUS STEAD

ON THE evening of Thursday 25 March, I opened up my balcony shortly before 8pm. The sun had just set on a cool, early spring day and I put Sky News on in the background to await the first ‘Clap for Carers’.

One minute before the start, I turned the sound down on my TV because I wanted to appreciate the noise around me from my neighbours and in the adjoining streets. What followed was something very special. For around five minutes, I could hear applause, cheering, and the banging of pots and pans in all directions. When it ended, I turned up the volume on my TV to listen to people being interviewed in all parts of Britain, who had just taken part in an act of mass appreciation.

I was glad to have been a part of that. With the lockdown still new and COVID-19 cases rising rapidly, I was happy to have done my bit to show my appreciation to doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, social care workers, the armed forces, the other emergency services, supermarket shelf-stackers, postmen and women, lorry drivers and the many others who were doing their bit to save lives and to keep this country functioning under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Indeed, I was one of the people who called for it to become a weekly occurrence during a media appearance in the days that followed.

But as the weeks went by, my enthusiasm for it began to wane, but now, nine weeks later, and with its initiator Annemarie Plas calling for next Thursday’s 8pm clap to be the last, I feel able to articulate why.

There are three reasons why I am no longer comfortable with it:

  1. Am I clapping in appreciation of doctors and nurses, or for the institution of the NHS?

I have a tremendous respect for what doctors and nurses have done, and continue to do, during the pandemic, and by joining in the Thursday night ‘clap’, I felt I was doing my bit to thank them and to give them a small morale boost.

But we should all be careful not to confuse our admiration and respect for medical professionals with worship of the NHS as an institution. The NHS is not a religion. To ‘love’ it is absurd – love should really be reserved for people and animals.

To ‘love’ the NHS is to stand in the way of rational, intelligent debate as how to best provide healthcare during the next half century. The NHS was a consequence of the Beveridge Report of 1942, to which both the Conservative and Labour parties committed to implementing at the end of the war. The Labour Party often likes to inaccurately claim the NHS as its sole achievement, and of Aneurin Bevan as its founder. Indeed, Bevan deviated massively from Beveridge’s vision of an NHS run through local health centres and regional hospital administrations, favouring a state-run body. This led to the politicisation of the NHS from its inception.

Furthermore, Beveridge’s vision of the NHS was built on three assumptions, all of which sounded very reasonable and logical in 1942, but which turned out to be unsound. They were:

  1. As people became healthier, demand on the NHS would decrease. In reality, people are living longer, healthier lives due to expensive drugs and medical advances, so demand has increased exponentially.
  2. Demographics would remain roughly the same. In reality, the average lifespan in 1931 was 58.7 for a male and 62.9 for a female. In 2011 it was 79.0 for a male and 82.8 for a female.
  3. The whole thing could be paid for by ‘the stamp’, what we now call National Insurance. In reality, that ended many decades ago, and the NHS is now paid for out of general taxation.

It is not difficult to find politicians and advisers in both the Conservative and Labour parties that know the current funding model of the NHS is unsustainable, and they both hope the other will be in power when it collapses. They both know that even debating it is a ‘sacred cow’ and that any change will be unpopular with the electorate.

However, the reality is that the current Government mass expenditure through furloughing and the increased pressure on the benefits system isn’t some long, boring holiday at the state’s expense. It is borrowed money that will have to be paid back through a mixture of increased taxation and cuts to public expenditure. The so-called ‘austerity’ of the David Cameron and George Osborne years will seem minuscule by comparison to what is to follow in the decade ahead.

The ‘default’ argument in defence of the NHS is to tell horror stories from the USA about working class people being left to die because they cannot afford medical bills. But how much do most people in Britain know about the healthcare systems in, say, Germany and Singapore? Are they better systems than the NHS? And when we ‘clap for the NHS’, are we implying that our doctors and nurses are doing a better job than those in other countries? Are we saying that the NHS is better than systems in other countries?

By engaging in the cult of ‘NHS worship’, we are preventing an open and honest discussion as to whether the NHS system of healthcare is either desirable or affordable in the years ahead.

  1. I don’t like anything that’s ‘compulsory’.

As one of life’s stroppy non-joiners and proud outsiders, feeling forced to join in anything, no matter how noble it may seem, sits uncomfortably with me. I am reminded, in a sense, of the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ in George Orwell’s 1984, or of the forced jollity of the Boy Scouts or those hideous youth movements dictators love.

I am also increasingly aware of various forms of compulsion individuals, public bodies and private businesses feel obliged to join in with in the name of diversity and political correctness, which is increasingly intolerant of any form of dissent.

For example, during the course of the last few years, public bodies, private businesses and voluntary organisations have been cajoled into joining in the annual festival of rainbow flag-displaying as part of the ‘Pride’ movement. What this really means is that a quiet tolerance of homosexuality is no longer enough. You now have to actively approve, and be seen to be actively approve, or face ostracisation and your name, or the name of your organisation, blackened by the ‘woke’ mob.

It may well be the case that you find aspects of the Pride movement distasteful. One look at the Twitter hashtag during last year’s Pride weekend in my area showed a large number of people openly boasting about looking for casual gay sex. It appears I’m expected to actively approve of this behaviour as well, even though I’m in no doubt many decent homosexuals would find it unhealthy and inappropriate, as indeed would anyone who believes that sex should only take place as an act between two people who are wholly committed to each other. I am also reminded of a mother I know who, two years ago, put her six-year-old son to bed at around 8pm during Pride weekend, but found he could not settle due to the thud of bass of music from the live stage in an open park more than a mile away in the city centre, that did not stop until well past 10pm. Neither she, nor the male friend of mine who had an early start with work the following morning, felt they could complain to the council or the police about the noise for fear of being branded ‘homopbobic’. That’s the society we now live in.

I was already starting to have feelings of unease about the Thursday night clapping after week three or four of the Thursday night clapping. But a real turning point came during an incident two weeks ago. As 8pm approached, I was walking in my local area towards a supermarket. Surrounded by flats and apartments, applause and the banging of pots and pans broke out. Upon realising it was 8pm, I stopped walking, and joined in. I smiled at the two young women who had come to their front doors immediately opposite where I was standing, and we waved at each other.

After around two minutes, the applause began to fade, so I stopped clapping and continued with my journey. As I started walking again, a faint ripple of applause continued from a few especially-enthusiastic people. One such person, standing on his balcony, bottle of beer in hand, shouted down at me, in a flat, northern accent, “F*****g clap!”. Needless to say, I ignored him and walked on.

That was a major turning point for me. Since this minor incident, the Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has felt not like a voluntary act of appreciation, but something people feel compelled to join in, much like the rainbow flag compulsion we now see every summer.

  1. It has become politicised.

The first ‘Clap for Carers’ felt like a genuinely uniting experience. Political differences were put aside as the nation showed its appreciation for frontline workers. Boris Johnson, just a day before he announced he had coronavirus, stood outside 10 Downing St and joined in the applause, as did prominent figures from all the main parties from outside their homes.

Yet within a week, some vicious trends were appearing on social media, saying things like, “If you join in the Clap for Carers and voted Tory, you’re a f*****g hypocrite” and far worse. Quite a number of people on the left think they have a monopoly on care and compassion. They glibly ignore certain uncomfortable truths, such as that NHS spending has increased year-on-year, or that the biggest drain on NHS resources are payments due as a result of the PFI arrangements Gordon Brown put in place to pay for new hospitals from the time Labour came into power in 1997, and lasted well into the 2000s.

Yes, old, Victorian hospitals that served us for well over a century have been closed down and replaced with gleaming, modern buildings, but the PFI arrangements Mr Brown put in place mean that they still haven’t been paid for, nor will they be for many years yet to come, long after he has departed frontline politics. This is just one example of governments of all colours pretending the NHS is more affordable than it actually is.

As the weeks went by, the tweets became more vindictive and scathing. The hard left increasingly claimed the weekly clap-a-thon as its own, and used it to promote its aggressive agenda.

Annemarie Plas is right. The ‘Clap for Carers’ has served its purpose. It was a good turn, but it went on too long. A voluntary act of national appreciation became something altogether more political and sinister, and it is time for it to cease.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 23, 2020 at 5:15 am

Posted in Comment, Health, Opinion

BDO Darts Debacle Hits New Low

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By MARCUS STEAD

Des Jacklin

BDO Chairman Des Jacklin

HOPES that troubled regulator the British Darts Organisation might be salvageable following a calamitous period suffered a crushing blow when Des Jacklin was reappointed chairman in bizarre circumstances on 21 April.

Jacklin’s original controversial tenure as chairman began in August 2018 and ended on 17 March this year with a terse one-sentence resignation statement, which was followed days later by a rambling, semi-coherent rant on his wife’s Facebook account, in which he blamed everybody but himself for the debacle of the last 18 months.

Shortly after his initial appointment, Jacklin outlined a series of far-fetched plans to rival the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation), a body that broke away from the BDO in the early 1990s and has since become a huge success story, packing out arenas across the world with six-figure sums of money for the winners of many of its biggest tournaments. The reality of what followed for the BDO was rather different.

On 28 February, the organisation’s commercial arm, BDO Enterprises, submitted its annual accounts to Companies House, which showed a loss of £468,452. The previous year they recorded a profit of £99,156. The same day, the BDO itself posted a profit of £2,995, up from £572 the previous year.

Even more concerning is that these accounts only tell the story until 31 May 2019, before the numerous controversies that the BDO experienced in the second half of the year.

Dutch production company 1:1 claims it has still not been paid the €100,000 it is owed by the BDO for its coverage of the disastrous World Masters tournament, staged at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet in late October, where top players considered a strike after the mess of redraws and fake names being put into the original draw.

Around the same time, the BDO’s registered address moved from an industrial estate in Taffs Well to Penycraig Boys and Girls Club, a youth activity centre in Tonypandy.

Events at the World Masters led to the World Darts Federation (WDF) the global umbrella body on the non-PDC side of the game, to cut its links with the BDO, and it has since outlined ambitious plans to create its own version of the World Championships, along with two other major tournaments.

The BDO World Championships, which were moved from the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, their home since 1986, to the Indigo at the O2, took place in the first week of January with no sponsor, and 85% of tickets were unsold.

Prize money was eventually reduced by more than 75%, with the winner of the men’s event, professional roofer Wayne Warren, receiving £23,000 rather than the £100,000 he was expecting when he entered the tournament. Players owed prize money from the World Championships were eventually paid in early February, but Warren said during interviews he felt ‘hurt’ by the BDO’s behaviour.

During the tournament, Dutch player Martijn Kleermaker gave a scathing interview to the Metro newspaper where he said of Jacklin, “I really hate the guy.”

The BDO sanctioned 247tv to produce the coverage from the Indigo, but they were forced to work to a very tight budget, and bosses at Discovery Inc, owners of broadcasters Eurosport and Quest, have expressed serious concerns to the BDO about the quality of the coverage, which was well below the standard TV viewers had come to expect.

The BDO was due to stage a week-long Torremolinos Festival of Darts, consisting of a series of tournaments over the course of a week, beginning on 15 March.

In the week leading up to the start of the event, the coronavirus situation was worsening by the day, and Torremolinos itself was in a state close to lockdown, but Jacklin sent out a memo insisting the festival was going ahead and that all players and officials should attend.

At 9:30 on the Sunday morning it was due to begin, and with players and officials having already arrived at the venue, Jacklin announced that the festival was to be cancelled after the Spanish government announced a ban on all sporting events in the country for at least the next 14 days.

Two days later, Jacklin announced his resignation via a one-sentence statement on the BDO’s website, and many in the darting fraternity breathed a sigh of relief.

But on 19 April, it was revealed that Jacklin had been voted on to the BDO Board via an online meeting of county representatives held via Zoom, where he 66 percent of the votes, though his future role was not specified. He initially declined the position due to seemingly a lack of trust but he later reversed his decision and returned to the Board.

Two days afterwards, in a letter sent out to counties it was announced that he was to return as Chairman following a unanimous vote from the other BDO directors.

Jacklin released an online letter within hours, where he reignited his war on social media critics, saying, rather menacingly: “We WILL be appointing a committee whose purpose is to monitor social media and more importantly where the BDO, its directors, county officials and players fit in. We will be taking a very hard stance on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and as soon as this is in place, all counties will be expected to adopt our new ruling. That’s right folks. As soon as this is legally adopted, there will be a consequence to your actions both in the way of fines and exclusion.”

It is not yet clear whether such rules will apply to his wife Paula or son Kane, who have both behaved in a rude and abusive way towards members on social media.

Jacklin’s second tenure as chairman got off to a bad start when, on 10 May, BDO Enterprises Ltd filed a Notice of Intention to appoint a liquidator, which it blamed on a cashflow crisis following the cancellation of the events in Torremolinos.

An unnamed BDO director said, unconvincingly: “Our message to the membership is that our organisation is financially secure and that our commitment to British darts as a sport for everyone remains now and in the future.”

The BDO suffered a further blow the same day when Lancashire became the first county to vote to leave the British Inter-County Championship (BICC), run by the BDO, and instead aligned itself to a new body, Tri Nations Darts, which was founded by BDO critic Tommy Thompson in February. Thompson is himself an active figure in the Lancashire darts community.

It remains to be seen which other counties will follow Lancashire’s example, but it raises the possibility of a chaotic situation where some counties remain loyal to the BDO, while others switch allegiance to Tri Nations Darts.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 21, 2020 at 2:15 am

Posted in Sport

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in UK This Year Sounds Farfetched Given Various Safety Checks – Marcus Stead on Radio Sputnik

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By MARCUS STEAD

Earlier today, I appeared on Radio Sputnik, where I argued that a COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the UK this year seems far-fetched. I went on to say a large number of people can’t afford to drive to work due to car parking/congestion charge costs. The transcript is on top and the audio is underneath:

Written by Marcus Stead

May 18, 2020 at 7:15 pm

Coronavirus Update: 13 May 2020

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

CoronavirusTHE UK Government’s slogan ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ has been replaced by the altogether more woolly, ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’.

In this week’s Coronavirus Update podcast, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins assess the Government’s strategy, as we enter a new phase of the pandemic.

Marcus and Greg also look into the problems devolution is causing in preventing a UK-wide, co-ordinated response to the crisis.

Later in the podcast, they discuss whether Germany’s part-relaxation of lockdown rules is likely to lead to a second spike in COVID-19 cases, and whether the planned resumption of Bundesliga football this weekend is wise.

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, SoundCloud and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 13, 2020 at 8:18 pm

Chaos at BDO as Des Jacklin is reappointed Chairman

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By MARCUS STEAD

BDO Chairman Des Jacklin

HOPES that troubled regulator the British Darts Organisation might be salvageable following a calamitous period suffered a crushing blow when Des Jacklin was reappointed chairman in bizarre circumstances on 21 April.

Jacklin’s original controversial tenure as chairman began in August 2018 and ended on 17 March this year with a terse one-sentence resignation statement, which was followed days later by a rambling, semi-coherent rant on his wife’s Facebook account, in which he blamed everybody but himself for the debacle of the last 18 months.

Shortly after his initial appointment, Jacklin outlined a series of far-fetched plans to rival the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation), a body that broke away from the BDO in the early 1990s and has since become a huge success story, packing out arenas across the world with six-figure sums of money for the winners of many of its biggest tournaments. The reality of what followed for the BDO was rather different.

On 28 February, the organisation’s commercial arm, BDO Enterprises, submitted its annual accounts to Companies House, which showed a loss of £468,452. The previous year they recorded a profit of £99,156. The same day, the BDO itself posted a profit of £2,995, up from £572 the previous year.

Even more concerning is that these accounts only tell the story until 31 May 2019, before the numerous controversies that the BDO experienced in the second half of the year.

Dutch production company 1:1 claims it has still not been paid the €100,000 it is owed by the BDO for its coverage of the disastrous World Masters tournament, staged at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet in late October, where top players considered a strike after the mess of redraws and fake names being put into the original draw.

Around the same time, the BDO’s registered address moved from an industrial estate in Taffs Well to Penycraig Boys and Girls Club, a youth activity centre in Tonypandy.

Events at the World Masters led to the World Darts Federation (WDF) the global umbrella body on the non-PDC side of the game, to cut its links with the BDO, and it has since outlined ambitious plans to create its own version of the World Championships, along with two other major tournaments.

The BDO World Championships, which were moved from the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, their home since 1986, to the Indigo at the O2, took place in the first week of January with no sponsor, and 85% of tickets were unsold.

Prize money was eventually reduced by more than 75%, with the winner of the men’s event, professional roofer Wayne Warren, receiving £23,000 rather than the £100,000 he was expecting when he entered the tournament. Players owed prize money from the World Championships were eventually paid in early February, but Warren said during interviews he felt ‘hurt’ by the BDO’s behaviour.

During the tournament, Dutch player Martijn Kleermaker gave a scathing interview to the Metro newspaper where he said of Jacklin, “I really hate the guy.”

The BDO sanctioned 247tv to produce the coverage from the Indigo, but they were forced to work to a very tight budget, and bosses at Discovery Inc, owners of broadcasters Eurosport and Quest, have expressed serious concerns to the BDO about the quality of the coverage, which was well below the standard TV viewers had come to expect.

The BDO was due to stage a week-long Torremolinos Festival of Darts, consisting of a series of tournaments over the course of a week, beginning on 15 March.

In the week leading up to the start of the event, the coronavirus situation was worsening by the day, and Torremolinos itself was in a state close to lockdown, but Jacklin sent out a memo insisting the festival was going ahead and that all players and officials should attend.

At 9:30 on the Sunday morning it was due to begin, and with players and officials having already arrived at the venue, Jacklin announced that the festival was to be cancelled after the Spanish government announced a ban on all sporting events in the country for at least the next 14 days.

Two days later, Jacklin announced his resignation via a one-sentence statement on the BDO’s website, and many in the darting fraternity breathed a sigh of relief.

But on 19 April, it was revealed that Jacklin had been voted on to the BDO Board via an online meeting of county representatives held via Zoom, where he 66 percent of the votes, though his future role was not specified. He initially declined the position due to seemingly a lack of trust but he later reversed his decision and returned to the Board.

Two days afterwards, in a letter sent out to counties it was announced that he was to return as Chairman following a unanimous vote from the other BDO directors.

Jacklin released an online letter within hours, where he reignited his war on social media critics, saying, rather menacingly: “We WILL be appointing a committee whose purpose is to monitor social media and more importantly where the BDO, its directors, county officials and players fit in. We will be taking a very hard stance on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and as soon as this is in place, all counties will be expected to adopt our new ruling. That’s right folks. As soon as this is legally adopted, there will be a consequence to your actions both in the way of fines and exclusion.”

It is not yet clear whether such rules will apply to his wife Paula or son Kane, who have both behaved in a rude and abusive way towards members on social media.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 12, 2020 at 3:28 am

Posted in Sport

Coronavirus Update: 07 May 2020

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

CoronavirusMUCH HAS been made of the news that the UK death toll from COVID-19 is now higher than that of Italy. But is that a fair comparison because the figures were collated in very different ways?

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss how much emphasis should be put on the statistics. They also explore what the ‘easing’ of restrictions in Spain, Italy, Germany and Austria really means and how their lockdown measures compare to those in the UK.

Germany has announced plans to resume the Bundesliga football, a decision which Marcus and Greg utterly condemn.

They go on to explore what the ‘new reality’ will be for restaurants, pubs, cafes and the rail industry, all of which will be operating on much reduced capacity well after lockdown restrictions begin to be eased.

They assess the situation in the United States, where different states are handling the lockdown in widely contrasting ways.

Marcus Stead

On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation and announce his plans for handling the next phase of the pandemic. Marcus and Greg discuss what this is likely to entail.

In a broad context, they ponder what life in Britain will look like in six months’ time.

Finally, they look into whether the changes we’re seeing with more people working from home will become a more permanent fixture – will companies need as much office space in the future?

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, SoundCloud and the TuneIn app.

Written by Marcus Stead

May 7, 2020 at 1:03 am

Posted in Comment, Health, Politics, Review