Saturday, 20 February 2016

Labour AMs Crucial To Stage 3 of Public Health Wales Bill

Vapers In Power have been running a campaign urging Vapers to Adopt an AM. You can find the full post here. Since they started that campaign, I have started my own investigation into where Labour are most vulnerable in the coming Assembly Elections. I discussed this in my previous two blog entries.

However, before the Assembly Elections, there is a crucial vote at Stage 3 of the Public Health (Wales) Bill. This really is our last chance at getting eCigarettes removed from the Bill.

It is well known that the Labour AMs are being whipped into supporting the Bill. It is also well known that several Labour AMs are 'uneasy' about eCigarettes being part of the Bill. To stand a chance of defeating Mark Drakeford, we are therefore reliant on every single non-Labour AM opposing the Bill whilst eCigarettes are still a part of it.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if a couple of Labour AMs ignored the whip and voted against the Bill for the same reason ?

"It won't happen", I hear you all shout. "Labour AMs are whipped", is the other cry I hear.

Both statements are true. But would the whip work on Labour AMs who have no intention of continuing life as an AM ?

During my investigations, it has became apparent that a significant number of Labour AMs are standing down at the upcoming elections. It is entirely possible that these particular AMs could be persuaded to vote against their own party on this issue. After all, what can Labour do to them ?  They are standing down so it is not as if the Labour Party can sanction any of these people. I have no idea what the views of these AMs are in regard to Vaping, but it cannot hurt to try.

So, I now present NINE Labour AMs who are standing down at the upcoming Assembly Elections. If you care about vaping and ANY of the AMs on the following list happen to be YOUR Constituency AM (they are ALL Constituency AMs), then write them a letter or email, or go and meet them in their Constituency Office or Surgeries. Tell them your Vaping story and why Vaping is important to you. Implore them to ignore the Labour Party Whip and do right by you, their constituent.

Huw Lewis - Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney

Edwina Hart - Gower

Gwenda Thomas - Neath

Keith Davies - Llanelli

Sandy Mewies - Delyn

Christine Chapman - Cynon Valley

Janice Gregory - Ogmore

Jeff Cuthbert - Caerphilly

Rosemary Butler - Newport West

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Vaping in Wales - Time To Change Tactics ? Part 2

In my last blog, I suggested that another way of changing the minds of the Labour AMs would be to target their seats in the forthcoming Welsh Assembly Elections to see whether party loyalty means more to them than their jobs. To that end, I endeavoured to gather the information required to see where Labour are most vulnerable. The result is the table below, sorted into ascending order showing the seats with the smallest majorities first.

Unfortunately, these blog building sites are not very 'table-friendly', so I have had to insert the table below as an image. If you are having trouble reading the text, then click the image and it should open into a larger format.

What the above table does not show you is the 'UKIP effect'. This is simply because UKIP did not field any candidates in the last Assembly Elections. However, they did field candidates in last year's General Elections. Whilst they did not win any seats in Wales, they did put up a strong showing in many constituencies. Contrary to what Labour will have you believe, much of the votes that UKIP took were from Labour. For this reason, UKIP are going to be an unknown in the Assembly Election. Many observers believe that they will succeed in getting a number of Regional AM's. This is possible given that Regional AMs are selected through Proportional Representation. However, Constituency AMs are voted in a straight contest and I honestly cannot see UKIP gaining a Constituency AM. What they will certianly do is 'dilute the vote' and so could have a strong influence on results for other parties.

For reference, the following table shows the results for all Welsh Constituencies at the General Election 2015.


Based on the results of the last Assembly Elections, and on what happened in the General Election, I now present my top 5 seats where we have a realistic chance of getting rid of Labour AMs and their attempts at block-banning vaping in enclosed public spaces.

Cardiff Central: Held at the 2011 Assembly Elections by Labour with the smallest majority of any seat - just 38 votes. The main opposition in 2011 were the Liberal Democrats. Since then it is fair to say that the Lib-Dem vote nationally has imploded. But I am not so sure that the same will happen in the Assembly Elections. Furthermore, the Lib-Dems have selected the popular Eluned Parrot to contest this seat in 2016.

My verdict: Eluned is a well-known and outspoken member of the Lib-Dems. Despite the national implosion of the Lib-Dem vote at the General Election, they still ran Labour close in Cardiff Central. Eluned's popularity will help their cause greatly and I think she stands a good chance of succeeding. Also, the Lib-Dems have been strong supporters of vaping in Wales. Time to repay that debt and support the Lib-Dems in this seat.

Llanelli: If I recall correctly, this seat has a habit of changing hands quite regularly. It is currently held by Labour's Keith Davies who won the seat with a majority of just 80 over Plaid Cymru's Helen Mary Jones. However, Keith Davies is standing down at the next election and it is not yet known who will stand in his place. What is known is that Helen Mary Jones will be standing once again for Plaid Cymru. Can she win ?  I would say Yes. Plaid have a strong following in Llanelli and always put up a strong showing.

My verdict: Whilst I do not know Helen Mary Jones views on vaping, I would suggest that any AM other than a Labour AM is a better bet for Vapers. So I would strongly advocate supporting Plaid here. 

Cardiff North: Labour literally squeaked through in 2011 by a mere 1782 votes over the Conservatives. However, at the General Election, the Conservatives overturned that majority and won it with a majority of more than 2000 votes. This is significant because Labour have a prominent AM holding Cardiff North in the shape of Julie Morgan. This means that if the Conservatives maintain the support they received at the General Election, then Cardiff North is a major scalp to take.

My verdict: Vapers should support the Conservatives in this seat as they must be seen as the hot favourites to win it.

Clwyd South: Currently held by Labour's Ken Skates with a majority of 2659 over the Conservatives. The Conservatives have selected Simon Baynes to contest the seat this time around. I do not know anything about Simon, but given that the AM in neighbouring Clwyd West is Darren Millar, I would imagine that we can quickly find out about him. Plus I would expect that he and Darren have quite a bit of dialogue.

My verdict: Simon Baynes has a significant task ahead of him in overturning a majority of 2659 from the last election. Labour also took Clwyd South in the General Election by a similar margin. However, the Conservatives are the best bet for taking this seat from Labour so my advicer to Vapers would be to support them.

Delyn: Currently held by Labour's Sandy Mewies with a majority of 2881 over the Conservatives. However, Sandy Mewies is standing down at the forthcoming Assembly Election. There is no news as yet on who will be taking her place as Labour Candidate. Neither can I find any news on who will stand for the Conservatives. Mark Isherwood stood as the Conservative candidate for this consituency in last year's General Election - which he lost by just under 3000 votes. I have met Mark in person and know that he is a friendly, intelligent, informed and knowledgeable man. He also supports Vaping. It wouldn't surprise me to find that Mark contests this seat. 

My verdict: Winning the seat will be a big ask, but once again the Conservatives (whoever they select) are probably our best bet as Vapers to support.

I have highlighted the Top 5 Labour Seats to target for tactical voting. Please remember that the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives have been a united voice in opposing the ban on vaping in enclosed public spaces. Where the Lib-Dems and Cons are protecting small majorities, help them by supporting them. It is no use in targetting Labour seats for tactical voting if we then lose our biggest supporters from other seats.

Also, Plaid Cymru AMs have (in the main) been staunch supporters of vaping. The only Plaid Cymru AMs that have supported Mark Drakeford's crusade to ban vaping are Elin Jones (at the HSCC - she is also trying to defend a small majority) and Dafydd Elis Thomas in the Senedd vote. Plaid's overall continued support is vital.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Vaping in Wales - Time To Change Tactics ?

Those of you who have been following the fight to save Vaping in Wales will be aware of the battle that Welsh advocates have been waging to save vaping from being banned in enclosed public spaces over the past two years.

Throughout those two years we have been meeting with as many Welsh Politicians as we can and engaging with the science and the scientists responsible for that science. Indeed we counted on, and received, strong support from the likes of Cancer Research UK, Royal College of Physicians, ASH Wales, British Lung Association, Tenovus and the British Heart Foundation.

Despite this, the Public Health (Wales) Bill and it's incorporated sections to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces, still managed to pass through both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the scrutiny process executed by the Health & Social Care Committee. The reason it got through Stage 1 was because the Labour AMs closed ranks and used their majority on the HSCC to force the issue through. Stage 2 garnered the same result despite admirable and convincing arguments against the ban tabled by the likes of Kirsty Williams, Darren Millar and Lindsay Whittle. Though at Stage 2, vapers will have been extremely disappointed to see Plaid Cymru's Elin Jones have a change of heart (for whatever reason) and support Mark Drakeford's ideological and evidence-free proposals to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces.

Now Stage 3 (the final process) is in progress. Whilst technically ANY Assembly Member can now table amendments to the Bill, it has to be said that Labour have sufficient numbers to effectively veto any changes.

So it would seem that all is lost and the battle is over. But is it ?  My answer to that is NO !!

You see, the Welsh Assembly now has just FOUR weeks of business left during which they must get Stage 3 completed and voted through. After that period the Assembly goes into recess because in May ALL of those AMs must seek re-election.

Now many of you will be thinking 'So what ?  The election is far too late to change anything'. But this is where you are wrong. This is also where vapers need to start thinking about a change in tactics.

Three of the main Welsh parties - Labour, Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats - are holding the whip to their AMs. That is, all Labour AMs are being instructed to support the proposals currently on the table, whilst all Conservative and Liberal Democrats AMs are being instructed to oppose the current proposals. Plaid Cymru are the only party that is (currently) allowing a free vote on the matter.

So we Vapers now need to change our tactics and use the forthcoming Welsh election to our advantage.

We have already seen that vapers can change the outcome of elections through the actions of advocacy groups in the USA such as SFATA. They have successfully mounted campaigns that have unseated anti-vaping Senators. This is a tactic they continue to employ with considerable success.

We need to emulate this tactic in Wales. You see, several prominent Labour AMs are sitting on very small majorities in their constituencies and even a small shift in the voting base can unseat these people. Furthermore, Labour had their noses severely bloodied in last year's General Election when two seats they strongly expected to win were lost to the Conservatives. This happened in the Cardiff North constituency and the Gower constituency. Labour also failed to win the majority of their other targetted marginal seats. Consequently, Labour are running scared in the Welsh Election (regardless of anything they may say to the contrary) because they are well aware of the threat. Add in to the mix that UKIP are fielding candidates in the Welsh Election for the very first time and you can understand Labour's jitters. After all, contrary to what Labour will tell you, UKIP's strong performance in Wales last May was due to their taking of LABOUR votes in the Valleys, not Conservative ones.

Over the next few days, I plan to start analysing the potential for tactical voting across all of the constituencies and regions that will form the battle grounds in the Welsh election campaign. I plan to engage with Vapers In Power (who are also planning to field several candidates) to work out the best way of targetting the success and liberty that Vapers across Wales deserve.

Whilst the definitive list of Candidates for each Constituency and Region are not yet available, I can give you a few examples of where Vapers votes can have a significant amount of influence.

Cardiff West: This is the Constituency currently held by the Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This would be a significant and substantial scalp for Vapers were Mark Drakeford - the man who wants to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces - to be unseated. It may surprise you all to find that at the last Assembly Elections, Drakeford only had a majority of just over 5000 votes. In a constituency with as dense a population as Cardiff West, that is NOT a significant majority. As the lists come out over the next week or so, I will be seeking out his opposition to learn their position on eCigs.

Ceredigion:  This seat is currently held by Plaid Cymru's Elin Jones. Until recently, Elin was a strong supporter of our opposition to the eCig ban. Then, at Stage 2 of the HSCC scrutiny, Elin suddenly changed sides and supported Mark Drakeford. This surprised and angered a great deal of Welsh vapers as her support for Drakeford meant that his hated Bill got an easy ride through Stage 2. Surprisingly, Elin Jones majority at the last Assembly Elections was just over 1000 votes. This means she is extremely vulnerable to losing her seat in May.

Cardiff North:  Another Labour seat, held by Julie Morgan, which the Labour party will be very nervous about. Labour targetted Cardiff North in last years General Election - and lost it to the Conservatives. The Cons will be targetting this seat again in May and a have serious chance of achieving their aim of winning the seat.

Other marginals at the last Assembly Elections that were won by Labour are: Cardiff Central and Llanelli. However, I listed the three examples above as they are the most significant seats involved insofar as Vapers being able to make a big statement. The only way we are going to jolt Welsh Labour out of their arrogance and unswerving support for Drakeford's madness over eCigs is to demonstrate that we have the ability to remove them from power. Nothing focusses the mind of a politician more than the potential to lose his job because he blindly followed the party whip - regardless of his own personal feelings on the subject.

I happen to know that several Labour AMs do NOT support Drakeford's proposals to ban eCigs from public enclosed spaces, but they think loyalty to their party is more important. They forget that it is us VOTERS that they are there to serve. If they refuse to listen to us now, then let's force them to listen by showing how much of their destiny is held in OUR hands.

My next blog will be a detailed breakdown of each marginal constituency held by Labour (and any other AM who supports Drakeford's plans) and who the main opposition is. It will demonstrate which Labour AMs are most vulnerable and where we can focus our efforts to change the political landscape in Wales. The only reason I am doing this is because LABOUR REFUSE TO LISTEN.

They would not listen to us before, but now is our chance to MAKE them listen :-)