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Meet tonight’s cast.
From Plaid Cymru: Andrew Bennison – The Warm-up Guy; Bethan Jenkins AM – Madam Tantrum
From Welsh Labour: Stephen Kinnock MP – The Red Prince; David Rees AM – Mr. Janus
First let me set the scene.
It’s a grey, miserable autumn evening and I’m driving through Sandfields Estate in Port Talbot. Sandfields West is within the top 50 most deprived wards in Wales. I’m heading to a 1960s monolithic concrete brick building, set just back off the road on the seafront. No, it’s not a prison.
Many thoughts started to enter my mind on the short distance from entering the estate to my destination. As I passed some familiar streets on my way through, thoughts such as, how is the family of the young man who will have his funeral on Friday? I attended his friend’s funeral, just a few years ago. Yet another young life tragically cut short, I guess this has become the norm and with that comes acceptance. Deprivation: it’s a killer. Suck it up, Port Talbot!
TATA selling out to Germany.
During the final 1000 metres of this short journey, I’m faced with the flames of TATA Steel in the distance. The biggest steel producer in the UK and an employer that’s put its workers and their families through some well-documented turbulent times recently. Only to hear this week, it’s being bought by a German company. Not news I wanted to hear being anti-EU. I fear Germany will start dismantling the works over time to favour its own sites on the continent. And that is why we can’t allow this to happen, in the interests both locally and nationally. We’ll come back to this story in the near future, I’m sure.
Let the prison show begin.
I’m now sat in the royal box in the Aberafan Beach Hotel looking over a packed-out room. The STAGE is set now and, as much as you’ll hear this meeting is cross party, non-political, it’s anything but.
Madam Tantrum, of Plaid Cyrmu is an effective megaphone politician. She’s always quick to sniff out a campaign that will give her maximum exposure. At the first whiff of this proposed prison for Port Talbot, she decreed a call-to-arms. So, a public meeting was called. Most people left leaving scratching their heads. “What’s the purpose of the meeting?” I heard people say.
But I didn’t leave scratching my head. I was quite clear on the objective of the meeting and it had little to do with the prison and more an opportunity for political grandstanding. That’s something I’ve become all too familiar with in this region. And let’s not forget this was just before the council elections. So, we saw a greater presence then from Mr Bennison who was standing for Plaid Cymru.
Now on to this pantomime. Mr. Bennison goes on to play the warm-up act in this performance, following the opening of the show by The Red Prince. I must note that Mr Bennison received the first round of applause of the evening despite a wobbly performance. But then again he hasn’t had the experience of treading the boards, like the other actors have in this one-night-only spectacular.
Not in my back yard.
The Red Prince kicked off proceedings with a slick performance. I’d expect nothing less from such a seasoned performer. However, he clearly wasn’t opposing the prison itself. He made a strong case for taking it out of his back yard and building the prison at Felindre in Swansea instead. But he conveniently failed to read the line that the site at Felindre could potentially mean his Welsh Government having to pay back almost £10 million. This figure is mainly EU-funding (that’s your money, by the way) that’s already been spent on this site. I know at this point people will be asking what that money was spent on in the first place, especially if you know the site. But, we must remember EU-funding here in Wales is often spent on roads that lead to nowhere. So I’d be surprised if you’re surprised!
I feel strong arguments were put across by The Red Prince on the subject of infrastructure and health care. Although these were strong arguments that may have impressed the laymen or Labour supporters of the audience, I know these are not strong enough to refuse planning. And I’d expect politicians of his calibre to know this, too. I suspect the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would have already considered these arguments and would be able to provide adequate solutions. Possibly to include reinstating services at the expensive PFI hospital at Baglan Bay that recently saw a downgrade of its services.
Smokescreens and mirrors.
Come on Welsh Government, you know any increase in services at the Baglan Bay hospital would be hailed a victory for the NHS in Wales. The sheep that so blindly allow you to keep running our NHS into the ground won’t have realised you’ve cut services on the quiet, only to reinstate them with what I’m sure would be with a blaze of glory! A win for Welsh Labour.
Now Madam Tantrum made it clear. She wasn’t opposed to the prison being built in Port Talbot. Oh, no! She was opposed to any prison being built in Wales. And has demanded the Cabinet Minister in Cardiff, Carl Sargeant, does not sell any public land to the MoJ. I must say Madam Tantrum’s performance didn’t disappoint. She knows how to work the crowds. Although NOTHING she presented would assist in overturning a planning application. So, while I felt myself wanting to shout Bravo! from the top of my voice, I realised it was all just a well-rehearsed script.
Mr. Janus and his short-term memory loss.
We then have Mr “Say-One-Thing-Do-Another” Janus preaching down to his adoring audience, who were lapping it up. Not yet aware he’d just left the Welsh Assembly failing to cast a vote on this very subject in a debate tabled by Plaid Cymru. Despite speaking out about the prison, he decided his party was more important than his constituents. He also failed to recognise his own administration’s failures on economic development. The land in question has been barren for decades.
A neighbouring business has now taken an interest after all these years. A business I remember working at for around two weeks in 1998. Then, true to form, I expressed my contempt for the working conditions in the most creative of ways. The jobsworth, who shared one of my names, was told to kiss what I had on display. I left the building giving the floor a much-needed laugh! I was worth more than that. And so were the people paid to sit for £3.24 an hour by the an open fire exit, cleaning cans with noxious fumes.
I wonder if any of these highly paid public servants on the stage know what it’s like to work in such low-skilled positions that blight and demoralise our region?
Petitions vs. Planning
Come on Port Talbot, wake up and smell the coffee! You’ve been through this numerous times. The methane and shale gas exploration in the Afan Valley is a prime recent example. I sat there in a council chamber packed out with members of the public with their list of genuine concerns being put forward by their representatives. And all sending a strong and clear message for refusal. Yet, it was soon apparent we were all clutching at straws. The planning guidelines are black and white; it matters not how many people sign a petition or how many local councillors oppose an application. It’s simply all down to the applicant meeting the criteria. Not one of the cast in this Paedos, Prisons and a Pantomime spectacular put a strong enough argument across that could come close to defeating a planning application! And they know it!
These groups are founded upon tribalism. And that only serves to reinforce they’re actually just different sides of the same coin. But if they really wanted to put the public’s mind at rest over the concerns of paedophiles and murderers escaping, they’d ensure all relevant information and resources were available to them. Caroline Jones AM has years of experience within the prison service at Bridgend. But no invite was made to her. Likewise to our other regional AM, Suzy Davies, who has extensive legal experience.
Keeping an open mind.
I know both have been following events closely. At first, I was pretty annoyed to see neither of them there. But I completely understand them sending staff to gather information on their behalf. When you know how these events unfold, it’s often better to not attend but to work constructively in the background. And personally, I favour a proactive response to a reactive one. I found this in their responses in the Senedd.
Upon arrival, I refused to sign the petition put under my nose. And I will continue to do so until I have all the facts, figures and relevant information that will come in the form of a consultation. The region can’t afford to be played by political grandstanding. But instead must reach out to whoever we can, to get informed on these decisions.
I’m not pro-prison and I’m not anti-prison. I urge everyone to get as informed as they possibly can and not allow political grandstanding to cloud their judgement.