Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

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In Focus with Marcus Stead Episode 3: Geraint Powell

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Principality Stadium May 3, 2016.jpg

The Principality Stadium in Cardiff

In this edition, Marcus Stead talks to Geraint Powell, one of Wales’s leading rugby union bloggers and writers, perhaps best known for his work on the Dai Sport website.

Geraint has a wide range of life experiences, having lived in South Africa and in various parts of England, and he has a good understanding of the problems facing rugby union at all levels.

In this wide-ranging discussion, Marcus and Geraint assess the problems facing the structure of club and regional rugby union in both Wales and England, which they trace back to mistakes that were made in the years before the game went professional in 1995. They lament key missed opportunities to restructure the game for the better in the early years of professionalism.

The ongoing pandemic has made the need to address the problems all the more urgent, with regional rugby in Wales and club rugby in England at crisis point, which has increased the likelihood of the Six Nations ending up on pay TV, as a means of bringing new money into the sport.

There is no ‘quick fix’ to the problems, but in Wales, rugby matches are attended by an ageing demographic, and TV viewing figures for the PRO14 are appallingly low. In England, the club game has been living beyond its means for a long time, and is now reaching crisis point.

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

The Aftermath

Geraint Powell 1The podcast was recorded on the afternoon of Wednesday 1 July. Several hours later, Geraint published this tweet, which attracted considerable controversy on social media.

In his social media posts, Geraint has rightly pointed out that the Black Lives Matter UK movement has Marxist and anarchist objectives, including the ‘dismantling’ of capitalism and the ‘defunding’ of the police, and it has also expressed anti-Semitic sentiment.

 

 

 

 

Geraint Powell 2Following Geraint’s initial tweet, Ben Jeffreys, CEO of Pontypool RFC, issued this tweet making it clear that Geraint was no longer welcome at their matches, despite having supported the club through thick and thin since childhood.

Jeffreys received some support from the ‘woke mob’ on Twitter, but his actions were widely condemned in the ‘comments’ section of the Wales Online article, suggesting that out there in the ‘real world’, a very large number of people agree with Geraint’s stance and consider Jeffreys’s actions absurd

 

 

 

Ben Jeffreys 1

A sample of the comments below the Wales Online article

 

Talk Podcasts prides itself on providing our listeners with a wide range of views and perspectives. We condemn racism and anti-Semitism and support the Kick It Out campaign against racism in football.

We also applaud the efforts of Geraint and our friend Jonny Gould, who in recent days have gone to great lengths to expose the toxic agenda of Black Lives Matter UK.

Written by Marcus Stead

July 3, 2020 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Review, Sport

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 41: Don’t Google It!

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Marcus Stead

Marcus Stead

HAVE YOU noticed the way in which online adverts are targeted at you based on private conversations you’ve had with other members of your family in your living room? Do your household smart devices know far more about you than you think?

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss the enormous influence a small number of technology companies now have over our lives, from what information we receive, and which consumer products we buy.

Journalist Peter Hitchens recently conducted an interview with a popular and widely-viewed YouTube channel. He discovered that while YouTube hadn’t taken down the video, somebody, somewhere had messed around with the algorithms to make it much more difficult to find.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has long held a policy of censoring pornography and extremist material, but in recent times, this has been extended to removing the content of people like documentary maker Michael Moore, who dared to challenge the orthodoxy on the man-made climate change agenda.

YouTube and Twitter censors have powers equivalent to, and arguably greater than the courts. Anybody can find themselves subject to a kangaroo court run by Twitter or YouTube staff, and there is nothing they can do about it.

Should we be concerned about the sheer level of influence these tech giants have, and should we be much more cautious as to what information we freely give them about our lives, or lifestyles and our shopping habits?

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

Written by Marcus Stead

June 21, 2020 at 8:34 pm

The Welsh media in crisis

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By MARCUS STEAD

IN ANY democracy, it is essential there is a free and independent media, that rigorously holds those we elect to account, and is widely consumed by the public. This is not the case in Wales.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is providing daily examples of the shortcomings of the Welsh media in its current form. There are daily examples of severe failings by the Welsh Government that are not adequately reported by the Welsh media, nor are large sections of the public even aware that these failings have taken place.

Imagine for a moment that Boris Johnson had spoken at a press conference and directly contradicted his own government’s advice? Or what if he had told people they were only to leave home to go to work, for once-a-day exercise, to attend a medical appointment or to care for a vulnerable person, but then admitted to bicycling to his allotment, which is essentially a hobby?

What we used to call the ‘Fleet Street’ press would be demanding his immediate resignation. Yet that is exactly what Wales’s First Minister did in mid-May. The error wasn’t widely reported, nor was there much call for him to resign. Many in Wales will be completely unaware Mark Drakeford ever said these things.

Similarly, imagine what would happen if England’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, issued guidance insisting people mustn’t sit down on park benches for a picnic while out exercising, but was then pictured eating chips with his wife and child a day later? That’s exactly what happened with Wales’s Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, during the VE Day bank holiday. Yes, ‘Chipgate’ was reported by BBC Wales and the Welsh print media, but there was no great clamour for his resignation.

The most-listened to radio stations in Wales are BBC Radio Two, BBC Radio Four and BBC Radio One, in that order. BBC Radio Wales’s market share fluctuates between a miserable 5-6%, down from 12.9% in 2007, and much lower than BBC Radio Ulster’s 19.4%. There are a number of local commercial radio stations in Wales, but all of them are music-based and aside from short ‘top-of-the-hour’ news bulletins, there is very little news and current affairs coverage on any of them.

The most-read newspapers in Wales are the Daily Mail and The Sun. This, in itself, is not a problem. The vast majority of people in Wales consider themselves both British and Welsh. They do not want to just read about the goings on in the Senedd or the latest squabble in Welsh regional rugby. Many in Wales want a mix of news from Westminster, celebrity gossip, the latest from reality TV shows, the columns of Richard Littlejohn and Tony Parsons, Premier League football coverage and so on.

This only becomes a problem when the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun refer to ‘THE’ Health Secretary and report lockdown restrictions as they apply to England, and fail to make it clear that it’s a devolved matter in Wales and the rules here are different. I do not blame the ‘Fleet St’ press for this. The Daily Mail and The Sun are the best-selling papers in Wales, but Welsh sales make up just a tiny fraction of the paper’s overall readership, and this is reflected in its editorial stance.

Even now, after two months of lockdown and daily media briefings by the Welsh Government, a very large number of people in Wales still couldn’t name the First Minister, or the Health Minister, or are aware that what Boris Johnson announces on behavioural guidelines does not apply in Wales. After more than 20 years of devolution, this is a sorry state of affairs, and a lack of a dynamic, widely-consumed Welsh media is largely to blame for this.

Understanding the problem 

Let me make it abundantly clear at this stage that I do not for one second pretend to have all the answers to this conundrum. The purpose of this essay is to get a discussion going as to a viable way forward.

First of all, Wales is not immune to the problems newspapers are facing across the Western world: Very few people under the age of 45 are in the habit of buying a daily newspaper. Indeed, very few are in the habit of paying for news content at all, whether in print or digital. This is not going to change any time soon.

Setting up a Wales-wide new newspaper from scratch at this time will not work. The costs of employing journalists, selling advertising, print, distribution, and persuading shops to stock the paper would be enormous, and would require the backing of a wealthy benefactor. That is not going to happen.

Welsh newspaper circulation figures

Welsh newspaper circulation figures

Furthermore, this image clearly demonstrates that all major Wales-based newspapers are dying. With the decline seen in recent years, it seems as though the Western Mail, South Wales Echo and Daily Post have a maximum of five years left as paid-for print publications. However, their owner, Reach Plc, recently announced a 30% slump in revenues during April, which suggests the demise of these papers may happen far sooner.

It is not just the young that are failing to engage with these papers. The older generations are breaking the habit of decades, due to what they perceive as a decline in the quality of these publications (they employ far fewer journalists than in the past, and they are expected to produce far more content in a much shorter news cycle), and by realising they can obtain free, up-to-date news on their computers, phones and tablets.  As one person put it to me, “Why should I pay to read yesterday’s news?”

Many older people have discovered this during the lockdown, and, with their confidence in using technology enhanced, it seems likely many will not return to buying a daily paper when life resumes its normal pace.

The business model of Wales Online, the digital sister of the Reach Plc print publications in the Principality, is a questionable one. It appears to be based on ‘clickbait’, namely attracting visitors to the site with an eye-catching headline, and then subjecting them to advertising. Their model appears to be based on making a tiny amount of money ‘per click’, and by cluttering up the page with an excessive amount of advertisements.

This leads to three problems: Firstly, it encourages the writing of sensationalist headlines that ‘stretch the truth’ to its limits in the name of securing a click from the reader. Secondly, it encourages its reporters and editors to focus on the frivolous (Wales Online editor Paul Rowland encouraged a reader who wanted to make it in journalism to write about ’19 mouth watering street food dishes in Wales’ by way of a clickbait article).  Thirdly, a very large number of readers start reading an article, and become so frustrated and irritated by the excessive clutter of advertising and ‘surveys they need to fill in to continue reading’ that they just give up.

The traditional, basic duties of a local paper are being sacrificed in the name of ‘clickbait culture’. The coverage of Magistrates and Crown Courts, local council meetings and public meetings about controversial local developments has been drastically scaled back. This, in itself, is bad enough wherever you live in Britain. But in Wales, it has the additional problem of insufficient coverage of the Welsh Parliament and Welsh Government.

The Welsh dimension 

In my essay ‘Wales – A Country Divided’, I outlined how prominent Welsh nationalists managed to gain huge influence on BBC Wales from its inception, spearheaded by the racist and antisemitic founder of Plaid Cymru, Saunders Lewis. To this day, nepotistic Welsh nationalist and Welsh first language cliques dominate the senior positions at BBC Wales, and recruit and promote other staff from among their own kind. Veteran investigative journalist Paul Starling outlined the scale of the problem in the early-mid 2000s, while Phil Parry, who worked for BBC Wales for more than 20 years, outlined the cosy relationship between BBC Wales and Plaid Cymru for his excellent The Eye Wales website.

Until relatively recently, the Reach Plc newspapers in Wales seemed largely immune from Crachach/Welsh nationalist influence. However, it appears that in recent years, those with Welsh nationalist sympathies have manoeuvred themselves into position and have ‘taken control of the cockpit’.

One consequence of this has been that several of its best-known journalists have ‘come out’ as Welsh nationalists in the last couple of years. The Western Mail’s chief reporter Martin Shipton has written sympathetically about Plaid Cymru and the Yes Cymru movement in recent years. Carolyn Hitt, known for her articles about rugby and culture from a parochial Welsh perspective, ‘came out’ as a Welsh nationalist during a speech to the Yes Cymru AGM in a far-from-full small converted chapel in Merthyr Tydfil in January 2020. Younger journalists are either recruited for their Welsh nationalist sympathies, or are at least willing to go along with the agenda. The editorial stance could be politely described as pro-maximum devolution, and more bluntly as increasingly sympathetic to Welsh nationalism, in the mould traditionally seen at BBC Wales.

With long hours, poor pay, and an uncertain long-term future, many journalists are looking for a long-term future in public relations, communications, or as part of the Welsh Parliament gravy train, either as civil servants, press officers, advisers, members of that parliament, or employed by lobbying bodies closely linked to it. Therefore, they are unlikely to be especially critical of any aspect of the Welsh establishment in their work.

The mindset and attitudes of those working for these media organisations puts them at odds with the majority of ordinary Welsh people, namely their readers or consumers. Coming home from work to a house in Pontcanna, and weekend dinner parties with Welsh political figures, S4C producers and Eisteddfod Gorsedd members hardly gives them an understanding of the concerns and lifestyle of the teacher from Treherbert, the plumber from Pontypool or the brickie from Bangor.

The Welsh media is dominated by white, middle class, Welsh speaking people, with a bias towards South Wales and the Welsh nationalist movement. The desire to stay on the right side of ‘important people’ to further their future careers has led to a supine media and a cowed culture. They are grossly out of touch with everyday people in all sorts of ways. Here are some brief examples:

Brexit 

A very large number of people in Wales support Brexit. 52.53% of those who voted backed Leave. That’s 854,572 people. The turnout was 71.71%, massively higher than that of the 1997 referendum on devolution (where 50.30% voted Yes on a 50.22% turnout), or at any National Assembly election to date (the high water mark being 46% in the first elections in 1999).

Very few political journalists in Wales will have voted Leave. But in the subsequent four years, the tone of reporting, in both print and broadcast media, was overwhelmingly that the people of Wales had made a mistake and deserved a second referendum to ‘put the decision right’, as they saw it. Pro-Brexit voices were treated disparagingly and as eccentric or extreme. Little effort was made by the Welsh media to try and understand why such a large number of people voted Leave, nor was any attempt made to properly explore and explain the advantages of a successful Brexit.

Anti-Devolution 

As demonstrated above, fewer than one in four of the Welsh electorate voted for the creation of the Assembly in 1997. Fewer than one in five voted in favour of increasing its powers in the referendum of 2011, where turnout was an abysmal 35.63%, and few really understood what the question on the ballot paper was about (again, no thanks to the Welsh media, who made little effort to properly explain the matter).

Turnout at all five sets of Assembly elections to date has been well below 50%. A large number of people in Wales still don’t understand what powers what we now call the ‘Welsh parliament’ has. Polling by BBC Wales in 2014 found that just 48% of respondents knew that the Welsh Government is responsible for the NHS in Wales. A similar number, 42%, wrongly thought that policing is a devolved area.

North east Wales is, to a very large extent, economically and culturally aligned to Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside. Many in that part of Wales regard the Cardiff Bay bubble as at best a distant irrelevance, and at worst an irritating nuisance. Elsewhere in Wales, where people were never very enthusiastic about it to begin with, there are growing calls for a rethink, with abolition of the Welsh Parliament polling more strongly than Welsh independence.

There are a number of ‘sacred cows’ with the Welsh media and the Welsh establishment in general, namely issues that they regard as ‘settled’ and ‘not up for discussion’. They have sought to portray anyone who is anti-devolution as ‘extremist’, ‘eccentric’ or, most absurdly of all, ‘far right’. In reality, some of the strongest anti-devolution voices over the last 25 years have come from the left: Don Touhig, Alan Williams, Betty Bowen, Llew Smith, Carys Pugh and others.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is bringing to the forefront many of the absurdities and shortcomings of devolution. A robust, truly independent Welsh media should not be afraid of exposing these failings, nor should it consider the debate on the future of devolution to be ‘closed’.

Losing faith in Labour, but not seeing Plaid Cymru as an alternative 

In last December’s general election, the people of Wales finally said ‘enough is enough’. For years, the Labour Party, in both London and Cardiff Bay, has treated its heartland voters with contempt, dismissing them as stupid, racist and xenophobic.

The election saw the Conservatives win their highest vote share in Wales since 1900, their best ever total in the era of universal suffrage. Blinded by smug arrogance, Labour’s reaction to the political earthquake in Wales was give their once-loyal voters a good telling off, rather than to take time to listen and reflect on what went wrong.

Wales’s First Minister, the ultra-Corbynista Mark Drakeford, even said that the next national Labour leader should ‘keep the same basic message’. He just doesn’t get it.

The disconnect between the Labour Party membership and its heartland voters is now blatantly obvious. The membership base, changed beyond all recognition by the entryism of the last four years, now consists of middle class students, their lecturers, and white collar public sector workers, preoccupied with the dogma of the woke agenda, a mythical ‘Climate Emergency’ and stopping Brexit at all costs. This puts them at odds with the party’s traditional heartlands, who have routinely backed the party for a century.

In 2017, the Welsh electorate gave Jeremy Corbyn the benefit of the doubt. They took him at his word when he said that he respected the result of the previous year’s referendum and was committed to implementing Brexit. This, combined with Theresa May’s lacklustre campaign, saw Labour gain three seats, taking their total to 28 out of 40 in the Principality. What followed in the next two-and-a-half years was a complete betrayal of the trust the Welsh electorate gave to the Corbyn project.

In December 2018, Drakeford became Wales’s First Minister. Drakeford, a dry, academic man approaching retirement age, who spent his entire career before entering politics working in the public and charity sectors, hardly seemed in touch with the post-industrial Labour heartlands of the South Wales valleys or the weathered seaside towns of the North Wales coast.

A year of Drakeford’s insipid leadership in policy areas that are devolved gave the people of Wales a taster of what a Jeremy Corbyn government would be like. Under Drakeford’s socialist Government, Wales has the worst school attainment levels and A&E waiting times in Britain. Betsi Cadwaladr health board has been in special measures for more than four years, with little sign of that status being removed any time soon.

But perhaps Drakeford’s flagship cockup was his decision in June 2019 to break a key Welsh Labour manifesto pledge by scrapping plans to build a much-needed M4 relief road in the Newport area, after more than a decade of planning, during which time £114 million had been wasted.

The Welsh media, in both print and broadcast, did not report or investigate on any of these matters with the zeal they should have done.

As has already been explained, the Welsh media is dominated by people who are either Welsh nationalists or are at the very least prepared to go along with it as an editorial line to enhance their career prospects.

This, by definition, puts them at odds with the Welsh electorate. Plaid Cymru’s vote share and number of votes has declined for three general elections in a row. The party lurched to the left under the leadership of Leanne Wood, and her successor, Adam Price, has gone further than his predecessors in calling for full Welsh independence, albeit within the EU. Price has received a great deal of sympathetic coverage from both BBC Wales and Reach Plc’s publications in Wales (most notably from its most senior writers, including Martin Shipton, Carolyn Hitt and Mari Jones in North Wales).

Again, this puts the party at odds with the majority of people in Wales. Plaid Cymru has long been regarded as the party of the middle class Welsh speaker, which limits its appeal hugely beyond west and north west Wales. Among the Welsh population, there is a great deal of resentment about the way in which the Crachach, a Welsh-speaking middle class elite, often sympathetic to the aims of Plaid Cymru, have such disproportionate influence among the Welsh media, arts, civil service and higher education sectors. There is great unease about the way in which the Welsh language is used to block vast numbers of bright graduates from fulfilling their potential. As veteran journalist John Humphrys put it in July 2000: “There is some unease in some areas of south-east Wales that unless you speak Welsh you are a second-class citizen. There is positive discrimination in favour of those who can speak Welsh. There are many jobs that are barred to you if you don’t speak both English and Welsh and that does create some casualties and some resentment.” Such feelings have intensified in the 20 years since Humphrys said those words, as devolution bedded in and the influence of the Crachach increased.

In the same month, another seasoned journalist, Vincent Kane, put it even more starkly, when he said: There is an elitism built into our society which few nations anywhere in the world would tolerate. The 80% in Wales excluded from positions of influence and authority, no matter how talented they might be, simply because they don’t speak Welsh, are victims of injustice.”

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan understood the tenets of the problem. 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.”

Morgan understood the problem, but he did not deliver the solution, as his tenure as First Minister, and the years since, have seen a growth of Crachach influence in Welsh public life.

The Welsh media will not address any of these issues because it is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Staff at Welsh media institutions are among the main beneficiaries of Welsh language elitism.

But Wood’s lurch to the left has resulted in the emergence of a deeply unpleasant electronic army on social media of fascist hunters, trans activists and EU fanatics. This even puts them at odds with the party’s much more socially conservative voter base in its rural heartlands.

Price’s vision of an independent Wales might chime with the staff at BBC Wales and in the sparsely-populated Reach Plc buildings, but it sits far less comfortably with people in wider Wales.

People in north east Wales are likely to frequently travel to Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside for work and recreation, and are also likely to have family and friends in those areas of England. The people of Chepstow, Newport and Cardiff think nothing of a shopping trip to Cribbs Causeway or going to Bristol to see a theatre play of an evening. Most people in Wales have only been here a short time in historic terms, and rarely have to go back more than five or six generations to see that they are at least in part descended from English ancestry. Showing one’s pride in being Welsh is fine for rugby international days, but creating an artificial barrier between Wales and England goes against the core instincts of the majority of people in Wales, who don’t consider English people ‘foreigners’, nor do they want to separate themselves from the lands and people of another part of this small island we are stuck on until the end of time. Or to put it another way, the person running a small plumbing business in Newport does not see why he should feel a greater natural affinity with someone in Porthmadog, where he has never been and may well never go to, over the people of Bristol, where he frequently works and has many friends.

The staff working in the Reach Plc offices and BBC Wales won’t understand this. They will largely live, work, marry and socialise entirely within their own echo chamber of like-minded people sympathetic to Welsh nationalism.

Western Mail front page, 12 May 2020

Western Mail front page, 12 May 2020

It is with this in mind that we should view the front page of the Western Mail, which hit a new low on 12 May this year with its frankly horrible, racist headline, ‘Stay out of Wales, English warned as rules relaxed’, juxtaposed with a picture of footballer Gareth Bale shouting, which is not a coincidence on their part.

This ‘othering’ of English people, and the overall unpleasant connotations of the headline and choice of picture, was enough to turn me against the once-proud Western Mail for good. Its circulation figures are now down to four figures, and its long-term future is bleak. It has no future, and it’s easy to see why.

Little effort is made by the Welsh media to engage with the concerns and issues affecting most people in Wales: The lack of job opportunities, poor standards in education, an NHS in crisis, Wales’s inability to hold on to its bright graduates, poor transport links, poor infrastructure, slow broadband, crime, anti-social behaviour, the lack of a skilled private sector etc.

Conclusion 

The disconnect between those who work in the Welsh media bubble and the wider population is huge. For the Welsh media to have any long-term relevance, it needs to recruit from well beyond its own echo chamber.

Beyond that, its problems are much the same as those as elsewhere in the UK: Regional news programmes on BBC Wales and ITV Wales are no longer considered as relevant as they once were. How many people in Cardiff are interested in hearing about a new school building opening in Caernarfon nowadays? Not many. Few people under 45 buy newspapers at all, and even the older generations are increasingly turning away from them.

The Wales Online website is frankly dire, with its endless clickbait articles of lists of places to eat Welsh food, Welsh ‘celebs’, rugby (especially Wales) and the weather. And people very often give up due to the excessive clutter with advertisements.

Paid-for print publications are in terminal decline. It is likely that the ongoing pandemic will hasten that decline, and even before the end of this year, at least one national newspaper is going to cease publication. The Western Mail and South Wales Echo are highly unlikely to exist as paid-for print publications five years from now.

All national newspaper websites increasingly suffer from the same problems of excessive advertising and clutter, which are not sustainable as long-term business models.

So where does that leave us? Government subsidies should be avoided as a means of propping up news services, as it compromises its editorial independence, and examples from elsewhere in the world demonstrate this. The relationship between journalists in Wales and the Welsh Government is already far too close.

A great deal of credit is due to former BBC Wales Today editor David Morris Jones, who, at the age of 80, sets the gold standard for hyperlocal journalism via his Penarth News blog, which provides daily, relevant, engaging content to the people of Penarth. This is the person to model yourself on if you want to create a hyperlocal news outlet for your town. However, it requires a great deal of time and commitment, something David has in what could only very loosely be described as his ‘retirement’, but for journalists needing to make a living from their work, it does not solve the conundrum as to how to make it pay.

The lack of a dynamic, professional Welsh media is both concerning and dangerous. The public is not aware of where power lies, nor are those with power held to account. Twitter is hardly an accurate barometer of public discourse, but First Minister Mark Drakeford’s personal account has just 14,000 followers, while the official ‘First Minister’ account has fewer than 49,000. By contrast, his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon has more than one million.

Similarly, the lack of old-fashioned local journalism in every town and city has resulted in local council meetings, the courts and planning applications not being covered in the way they once were.

I do not pretend to have the solutions, but the problems are serious, and are in need of urgent attention.

Written by Marcus Stead

June 21, 2020 at 4:29 am

Radio Sputnik Interview

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By MARCUS STEAD

Earlier today, I appeared on Radio Sputnik to discuss the balance between protecting public health and the need to reopen the economy. I also assessed the challenges social distancing measures bring to the private sector:

You can listen to the interview in full below:

 

Written by Marcus Stead

June 16, 2020 at 11:13 pm

Double standards in commemorating complex legacies

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By MARCUS STEAD

WHICH CONTROVERSIAL historical figures are worthy of statues in prominent public places, and which are not?

I have no great love of Edward Colston, and it’s historically correct to say that he made a great deal of his wealth from the slave trade. But in the name of historical accuracy and balance, it is also important to point out that he funded hospitals, schools and churches in an era when the state couldn’t be bothered with such things.

In the recent past, an online petition proposing to remove the statue from its plinth in Bristol and put in a museum was signed by 10,000 people, in a city with a population in excess of half-a-million.

Yes, there is room for fresh debate as to the future of such a statue, and I, personally probably would choose to have it moved from a plinth in a prominent public street to a museum. However, such a decision should be taken as a result of public consultation and rational discussion rather than by mob rule, as we saw last weekend.

File:Winston-churchill-statue-parliament-square-london-uk.jpg ...

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London

In London, the statue of Sir Winston Churchill was vandalised (though thankfully it was swiftly repaired), and with the prospect of further protests this weekend, it has been temporarily boarded up.

Churchill’s legacy is complex and controversial. There was a time when his name had an almost magical quality to it in British politics, but in more recent times, public awareness has grown of his role in such events as sending in the army during the Tonypandy riots of 1910, when he was Home Secretary. Churchill expressed regret over this some 40 years later.

But whatever his faults, the whole nation owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Churchill for the leadership he showed during our darkest hours of World War II. It was a case of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’. If it wasn’t for Churchill’s courage, stubbornness and decisive, clear leadership, the very right to freedom of speech and expression may well have been lost forever, and the ‘Black lives Matter’ protesters do well to remember that.

The very same protesters would do well to examine their own morality. Almost all historical figures that are widely admired have controversial pasts. That includes those figures revered by the left. For example, during George Floyd’s funeral on Tuesday, protesters gathered around the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.

Mandela’s legacy is a mixed one. On the one hand, his message of truth and reconciliation was a powerful and correct one for the years after the evils of Apartheid. He was generous towards those who had wronged him, and he had a personal warmth and humility that was hugely appealing.

But on the other hand, by Mandela’s own admission, he was no saint. Indeed, he did not buy into the ‘sainthood’ persona others portrayed of him in later life. His time as president of South Africa was far from a roaring success. There was a huge amount of cronyism, corruption, a failure to effectively deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and Mandela himself enjoyed close relations with unsavoury characters including Fidel Castro, Colonel Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat. The ANC itself was an especially brutal organisation during his 27 years in prison, when his second wife, Winnie Mandela, was a pivotal figure. Peter Hitchens’s 2004 documentary, ‘Mandela: Beneath the Halo’ is a good place to start when analysing Mandela’s complex legacy.

Is Mandela worthy of a statue in a prominent London location? In my view, yes. But ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters would do well to acknowledge that Mandela, like Churchill, leaves a complex legacy.

Similarly, close to where I live in Cardiff Bay, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was erected in 2017. Gandhi was also a complex figure, who was often wrong. For example, in his early life, Gandhi expressed racist attitudes towards South African blacks, though he moderated his views in later life. There are currently calls for a statue of Gandhi to be removed in Leicester. Once again, that would probably be an excessive move, but even his greatest admirers should acknowledge that his life was not without blemish.

Furthermore, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, still very much alive, and sure to have statues erected of him when he passes on, is championed as a hero of the struggle against Apartheid and is a Nobel peace Prize laureate. But his track record of anti-Semitism over many decades shows a deeply unpleasant side to his character.

Leanne Wood 2

Former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood endorses the behaviour of the Bristol protesters

Talking of anti-Semitism, it was astonishing to witness former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood actively encouraging the mob in Bristol with their removal of the Edward Colston statue and then throwing it into the harbour. We know from the Jeremy Corbyn experiment that the hard left has a tendency to think of anti-Semitism as a sort of ‘lesser racism’, not as important or as significant as racism against black people or Muslims, partly because they caricature and associate Jewish people with business and great wealth.

The party Wood led between 2012 and 2018 has a long and murky track record of anti-Semitism which it refuses to confront or condemn. Plaid Cymru has a history of anti-Semitism stretching back to its founder, Saunders Lewis, but it remains an ongoing trait with the party. As recently as last December’s general election, Plaid Cymru member Sahar Al-Faifi was suspended days after she appeared in a party election party when it was revealed she had been responsible a number of ant-Semitic social media posts several years earlier. She has since been allowed back into the party.

It would also be wrong to assume that Plaid Cymru has gone to great lengths to distance itself from its past. Saunders Lewis is still widely revered by Plaid Cymru supporters and the Welsh nationalist movement in general. They can be rather touchy when you raise the subject. At best, they seem to regard Lewis’s antisemitism as a minor character flaw, like leaving the toilet seat up after using it.

Lewis’s writing is littered with numerous grotesque examples of anti-Semitism. A repeated phrase of his is ‘Hebrew Snouts’, which he uses when referring to Jewish financiers, with Alfred Mond being a favourite target of his.

Lewis had an affection for the politics of Franco, Salazar and Petain. Plaid Cymru officially remained neutral during World War II. Some senior figures openly advocated that a German victory would be better for Wales. Lewis’s anti-Semitism and support for fascism became a target for opponents of the party and an embarrassment to some of its supporters, including the writer Ambrose Bebb (the grandfather of former Conservative MP Guto Bebb).

Of Hitler himself, Lewis declared: “At once he fulfilled his promise—a promise which was greatly mocked by the London papers months before that—to completely abolish the financial strength of the Jews in the economic life of Germany.”

Plaid Cymru’s neutrality during World War II did not stem from Christian pacifism but from their own nationalist opposition to Britain, which they saw as a greater threat to Wales than Hitler. In the late 1930s, the party’s internal newspaper cited Jewish influence over the British media as a source of the drive to war.

Of  English children being evacuated to Wales to avoid the bombing of their homes during the war, Plaid Cymru said that that would completely submerge and destroy all of Welsh national tradition. Saunders Lewis went on to say that the movement on population is ‘one of the most horrible threats to the continuation and to the life of the Welsh nation that has ever been suggested in history.’

So, there we have it. Hitler and Mussolini were friends of the nationalists, but English children escaping the ravages of war were the enemy.

Plaid Cymru doesn’t like to mention or discuss, let alone condemn its own murky past. Indeed, former party President, Lord Dafydd Wigley, who will have known Lewis personally, called for the ‘character assassination’ of him to end during a 2015 interview, as though Lewis’s abhorrent views were a minor footnote in his life.

Dadorchuddio Plac

Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley at the unveiling of the Saunders Lewis plaque in 2015

In 2015, on the 30th anniversary of Lewis’s death, Wigley unveiled a plaque commemorating Lewis outside the house in Penarth where he lived in later life. Unlike Edward Colston’s Bristol statue, that was erected in 1895, Lewis’s plaque was put up at a time in living memory for all of us.

The Welsh nationalist movement’s links to fascism and anti-Semitism go far deeper, but don’t expect the mainstream media in Wales to talk about it, thanks partly to the actions of Lewis himself.

Lewis perceived the early development of radio broadcasting in Wales to be a serious threat to the Welsh language, and as time went on he even went as far as to accuse the BBC of ‘seeking the destruction of the Welsh language’. At the same time he also recognised that if he could exert influence and pressure on the BBC, the Corporation could become a useful tool to serve Plaid Cymru’s political ends.

Welsh nationalist activists Phil Stead and Aled Gwyn Williams pay homage to Saunders Lewis

In October 1933, the University of Wales Council, which had been lobbying for more Welsh language broadcasting, appointed a ten-man council to press the case with the BBC, which included Lewis, his fellow Welsh nationalist W.J.Gruffydd, former Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his nephew William George. (I would welcome any help with names of the other six members of the Council, as I have been unable to trace them so far.)

BBC Director General John Reith described the Committee as ‘the most unpleasant and unreliable people with whom it has been my misfortune to deal’. Yet the Committee gained ever more influence on the BBC in Wales. Appointment of staff at BBC Wales was delegated to the Committee by the Corporation, and as newspapers of the time noted, appointees seemed primarily drawn from the families of the Welsh-speaking elite including “the son of a professor of Welsh and the offspring of three archdruids”.

Lewis’s campaigning succeeded in cementing a strong Welsh nationalist influence at BBC Wales that continues to this day. The BBC’s Welsh Advisory Council was established in 1946, which included several Plaid Cymru supporters, one of whom was Lewis’s successor as Plaid Cymru president, Gwynfor Evans.

And so the seeds were sewn. A nepotistic culture has existed at BBC Wales in the decades that have followed, and former BBC Wales, Panorama and Newsnight journalist Phil Parry has outlined the modern-day close relationship between BBC Wales and Plaid Cymru here.

The Welsh nationalist movement, which has serious problems with abusive behaviour from its activists on social media and in real life, have shown little or no intention of addressing their own hugely murky past, and by continuing to revere Saunders Lewis and other extremists, they are not worthy of mainstream respect. Unlike Mandela, I struggle to find many redeeming qualities about Lewis at all.

All those who encouraged the ‘mob rule’ removal of Edward Colston’s statue and approved of the defacing of Churchill’s ought to reflect on the reality that pretty much all widely-revered figures, on both the left and right, are not the saintly figures they are often portrayed as.

 

Written by Marcus Stead

June 13, 2020 at 4:27 am

Posted in Comment, Opinion, Politics

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 40: Rewriting History

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Statue of Edward Colston - Wikipedia

The statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, now toppled

“THE PAST is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So reads the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s novel ‘The Go-Between’, published in 1953.

Last weekend saw ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters in Bristol tear down a statue of Edward Colston, a philanthropist who supported and endowed schools, hospitals and churches, especially in Bristol and London, in an era when the state couldn’t be bothered with such things. However, much of his wealth was as a result of the slave trade, and protesters took the law into their own hands by toppling the statue and throwing it into the harbour.

Is it right to judge people’s actions in centuries past by the standards of today? Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss the weekend’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests and the tearing down of statues.

Has mob rule and police inaction replaced law and order? Why were mass gatherings even tolerated at a time when we are under clear instructions to socially distance for the sake of not spreading the COVID-19 virus?

What does this all mean for the future of statues of other controversial figures, including Horatio Nelson, Sir Thomas Picton, Sir Cecil Rhodes and even Sir Winston Churchill?

While George Floyd’s funeral was taking place, ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters gathered around the statue of Nelson Mandela in London. But as Mandela himself openly admitted, his own track record was far from perfect. Should statues of Gandhi (a racist in earlier life), Desmond Tutu (an anti-Semite), and Muhammad Ali (who held unpleasant views until he embraced moderate Sunni Islam in the mid-late 1970s) be torn down?

Do the protesters have a point, or is this just the latest attempt by the woke brigade to posture and virtue signal, even if it means endangering public health by causing a second wave of COVID-19 infections?

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

Written by Marcus Stead

June 11, 2020 at 1:59 am

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 39: The New Normal

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Marcus Stead June 2020

Marcus Stead

WHAT IS ‘the new normal’? It’s a phrase we hear a lot on TV news bulletins and read a lot in the papers, but what does it actually mean? As the lockdown begins to ease, and economic activity picks up, what restrictions on working life and on recreation are we going to have to learn to live with well into the future?

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss whether restaurants, theatres and other places of recreation have a future, if social distancing means they will have to operate at massively reduced levels of capacity.

The discussion then turns to the wider issue of tax revenue. Around 60% of tax yield comes from VAT and National Insurance. With places of entertainment and recreation operating in a much-reduced way, this, in turn, means a much-reduced tax revenue. What does this mean for the future of public services and public sector workers?

Finally, the discussion turns to new ways of working. The pandemic has proven that it is possible for many office jobs to be done from home, most of the time. Businesses will increasingly question whether they need so much office space. But will the trend spread to other sectors?

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

Written by Marcus Stead

June 3, 2020 at 2:44 am

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

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