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Democracy is what you make of it

May 3, 2016

 

Winston Churchill is supposed to have once commented that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

 

It could be argued almost seventy years later that not much has changed – other than election turnouts have almost halved.

 

Nowadays, it sometimes feels that we’d be a lot happier with democracy if we didn’t have to actually participate in the process.

 

This is a bit strange when you consider that a devolved Welsh Assembly was supposed to bring governance closer to the people – well, geographically at least.

 

Political parties are in despair that Thursday’s election will see less people than ever cast their vote. Few however would admit that politics might be part of the problem.

 

For all the chummy first-name informality of the Senedd chamber, electioneering in Wales is no less a brutal business than when Westminster was the only game in town.

 

All too often it comes across as a series of negative messages where two rules basic apply: (1) never admit your opponent might have a good idea and (2) never credit voters with the ability to count.

 

Let’s be honest, who can say that they came away informed or enlightened following one of the televised leader’s debates?

 

With most parties either embracing financial austerity or at least resigned to having it around for a while longer, you can’t blame voters for being unimpressed.

 

Looking back, it’s apparent that there was a lot more interest in the decision as to whether we were actually going to have an elected assembly than later determining who should run it.

 

Our relationship with democracy in Wales is like the one we have with our lawn-mower. We occasionally bring it out and put it to use but we rarely do anything about its maintenance.

 

Then we’re horrified that it doesn’t work just when we need it - and that's when we find ourselves gathered in Cardiff Bay waving protest placards.

 

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think we will ever lose the right to vote. What I believe is that it will become increasingly meaningless – and that will be our fault.

 

We already see major decisions affecting our everyday lives taken by people we don’t elect but who are answerable to governments.

 

Voters eventually become an inconvenience, which is what Churchill was essentially saying.

 

As it happens, another of his quotes is that 'democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.'

 

It’s up to us as to what kind we get in Wales.

 

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Still hung up over phone bills

 

I’m just back from a short break. The post-holiday chores of unpacking and stashing away the sun-block have been done.

 

All that’s left now is learning how the horror story of the phone bill unfolds.

 

You may have read that UK consumers using their mobiles in Europe will see reductions in their bills from last weekend as caps on roaming charges come into effect.

 

Indeed, these insidious charges will be abolished completely from June next year. Yay!

 

A few network providers are already ditching the charges in advance but the majority are hanging on.

 

What’s worse is that many of the big names also intend to continue the practice of adding on their own service charges should subscribers venture abroad.

 

As you would expect, opposing referendum camps disagree as to whether these roaming costs would continue to apply whether we remain in the EU or not.

 

For me therefore, the whole thing comes down to consumer rights and how effectively they are enforced.

 

And when you compare the track record of successive UK governments and the European Commission – who are scrapping the charges - then I’d say you end up with a clear signal.

 

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A splash of colour in the city

 

If you’re anything like me, any official mention of ‘bio-diversity’ is enough to make me run for the hills, figuratively speaking.

 

Yet one aspect of this approach that definitely gets my vote is the abundance of wild flowers that are becoming a regular feature of Swansea’s summers.

 

More than 41,000 square metres of wild flowers are being planted to provide a splash of colour to the city around mid- June.

 

This includes roughly 180 roundabouts, roadside verges and parks. Or, if you really like illustrative statistics, that’s seven football pitches.

 

This imaginative and very popular initiative is funded by Swansea council and community councils. Individual county councillors can also use environmental allowances to sponsor planting.

 

No surprise that the schemed earned the city a Sustain Wales award for excellence.

 

Swansea’s roadside verges have never looked better – and it’s a really welcome distraction when you’re caught up in traffic congestion. Only joking.

 

 

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