Election 2017: BBC Wales Debate


With the finishing line now in sight, I’ve got two more debates to cover, starting with the BBC Wales election debate held last night in Cardiff.


The topics included: terrorism, Brexit negotiations, public spending, childcare and benefits cuts.

As usual, I’m listing the party representatives from left to right as they appeared on stage.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)

People are concerned about different issues and are looking for leadership, but the Conservatives didn’t even send their leaders to debate and be scrutinised while Labour are divided. Only Plaid Cymru can chart a course for Wales that offers hope and optimism.

The best way to keep people safe is to invest in intelligence services and the police, but terrorists want people to feel divided and turn against each other. Police spending has been cut by 20% – including when Theresa May was Home Secretary – so there is a political element.

Wales hasn’t been on the agenda since the EU referendum. Leanne’s concern is the Conservatives will grab any extra money for themselves, so money guaranteed by the EU won’t be guaranteed by Westminster. Their starting position for negotiations hasn’t been revealed either.

People who are in the best position to pay for public services should pay more towards them, and the UK deficit is staying near enough the same despite public spending cuts. A real living wage needs to be introduced, and some aspects of social security should be devolved so Wales can treat vulnerable people with dignity and respect.

Plaid want to reintroduce free childcare for 2-4 year olds requiring £50million above current commitments by the Welsh Government.

6.5/10 – Another solid, if somewhat staid, performance. Came to life when discussing the impact of poverty and cuts on people, and we needed to see more of that really.

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West)

The next five years will be the most challenging facing Wales and the UK in a generation, and Brexit negotiations start immediately after the election. We can’t afford to let parties who’ve “run Wales into the ground” to sit at the negotiating table.

He was brought up in Manchester and remembers IRA attacks; he was pleased the UK Government have made a £3.4billion investment in the intelligence services. The internet is a platform for terrorism and we need to be tougher with internet service providers to solve it.

The EU funding we’ve already received has failed and improvements haven’t been delivered. We’ll get the best Brexit deal by having the best negotiator – Theresa May. Farming funding will be guaranteed until 2022, and a shared prosperity fund will replace Objective One – which he’s convinced Wales will do better from  as it won’t be confined to West Wales & The Valleys.

People have to remember what the Conservatives inherited in 2010. Since then, the deficit has been cut and people have seen tax cuts or been taken out of tax altogether. The Conservatives need to deliver regional city deals and that’s cause for optimism going forward. He was a bit ambiguous on support for the Swansea tidal lagoon, hoping there was a “positive outcome”.

6.5/10 – One of the best speakers on the Tory Assembly benches, so was always going to be a good substitute. As things went on he was given a hard time by the audience, as well as the other participants, and ended up on the ropes.

Mark Williams (Lib Dem)

People will vote on different issues, but values are important – and it’s at times like these (post Manchester attack) that decide what sort of nation the UK is.

MI5 have had marked success in foiling terror attacks, and it’s a knee-jerk response to call for extra police officers. Intergration is key, and that has to be led from within the communities to idenify potential extremists not top-down.

Brexit will have a particular impact on farming areas and West Wales & The Valleys. We can’t trust the Tories to deliver for Wales. Labour, Plaid and the Lib Dems backed an amendment to ensure the Senedd would have a say on Brexit but it was voted down by the Conservatives in London. The Lib Dems support a referendum on the final Brexit terms.

We need to invest in the economy, but big infrastructure projects often deliver very little on the ground. The Lib Dems are proposing raising income tax by 1p to pay for health and social care, while some benefits should have cuts reversed or be re-instated – like housing benefit for the under-21s.

7/10 – Made some good points, but faded in and out of the debate itself.

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales)

The election is about “national independence”(UK) and taking back power. Theresa May has been soft on Brexit before and if it wasn’t for UKIP there would’ve been no EU referendum. UKIP can keep the Conservatives “on the straight and narrow”.

A small number of people can cause massive damage and we need to invest even more than we do in police and intelligence services, alongside a tougher policy on deporting suspected terrorists and border control – possibly even Northern Irish style internment. He did argue that foreign policy has given Islamists a propaganda weapon.

The funds spent in Wales by the EU is British taxpayers money, and there’s a massive Brexit dividend coming by leaving, so there’ll be “plenty of money”. Also, agriculture is only 2% of the UK economy, but it should be for the Welsh Government to decide agricultural policy not a faceless bureaucrat in Brussels. He refused to accept that Wales got more back from the EU than we put in.

UKIP wants to spend an extra £11billion on health and social care, and this can be funded by cutting long-term foreign aid. They would also look to take more low income workers out of income tax. The Welsh private sector is too small to generate wealth to redistribute, which could be done by devolving corporation tax.

6/10
– A bit quiet, a bit doddery. Other than that he neither excelled nor disappointed.


Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend)

He got into politics because of his  anger at the Tories a generation ago, which saw communities, industries and public services gutted. The Conservatives don’t want you thinking about the vulnerable and we can’t afford five more years of that.

He’s received security briefings as First Minister, but terrorists can’t be compromised and won’t hesitate to kill people who aren’t like them – including other Muslims. We all need to be vigilant, but he doesn’t believe that UK foreign policy plays a part (contradicting Jeremy Corbyn).

Brexit is going to happen, it’s a question of how it’s done. Labour and Plaid published a white paper supporting full access to the EU single market and adapting freedom of movement. All we’ve heard from Theresa May is slogans like “Brexit means Brexit”. Promises to maintain funding from Wales have “been ditched”, and Welsh farmers are set to be sold down the river.

There was a time when we used to tell people that to get out of poverty you find work, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore due to in-work poverty. We’ve had seven years of “bumping along the floor”economically in the UK and there’s still too much inequality.

Investing in childcare is an investment in families and pilots have already been launched in Wales as part of Assembly election commitments.

8/10
– A convincing performance. Far more animated than he’s ever been in the Senedd chamber.

Conclusions

That was more like Question Timethan a debate as such, but it was refreshing that it didn’t focus into non-devolved topics….until towards the end when it became a bit of a quick-fire round that was hard to keep up with.

Nobody really stood out and nobody messed things up, but you could argue Carwyn put in the best performance overall.

The irony here – as pointed out by Daran Hill last week – is that (realistically) only one of the participants will actually have to go to Westminster and deal with those issues (Mark Williams). Leanne Wood can (sort of) justify being there as she’s a party leader, but we deserve to hear more from prospective MPs, not AMs desperate to muddy the line between devolution and London.

The other talking point was the internal row within the Welsh Conservatives. I’ve no idea what’s going on there, but after the recent poll shift back in Labour’s favour and what appears to have been a relatively poor performance by Andrew Davies in the ITV Wales debate, it may be the hint of a power struggle behind the scenes, possibly linked to Mark Reckless joining the Senedd group.

Are the Tories chucking this away?