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It’s been a tumultuous year for British politics.

The 13-year Labour reign came to an end, and for the first time in 36 years Britain witnessed a hung parliament. David Cameron and Nick Clegg married in the Downing Street rose garden, promising “new politics”, and Ed Miliband became the youngest Labour leader since World War II.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg

In recent months protesters have taken to the streets to vent their hatred towards the rise in tuition fee rises and the slashing of EMA. The coalition darling, Vince Cable, fell from grace this week after divulging too much to what he thought were two constituents.

Tuition Fees Protest

Political memoirs have proliferated, as Brown, Blair and Mandelson reflect on their time in government. Britain witnessed the first televised leaders debates, followed by ‘Clegg-mania’ and a more American-style election culture. As Michael Jeremy, ITV’s Director of News, Current Affairs and Sport, told students during his lecture last month, this was an unprecedented event which has totally transformed the way voters engage with politics. After 15 drafts and countless compromises, Clegg Cameron and Brown finally took to the stage and debated in public. Hailed by Jeremy as a “success for a democracy”, the debates are probably the most significant development in coverage of British political life.

So what does the future hold for those walking the corridors of power?

Miliband will be pressed to formulate an alternative strategy, after being mocked by the Tories on a weekly basis in the panto that is Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Lib Dems are likely to come under increasing pressure from voters, as they backtrack on the promises they made on the campaign trail. Accused of being “held hostage” by the coalition government, the Lib Dems will need to carve out their own identity, and restore people’s faith in the party, which many predict will split and splinter. Clegg looks set to be in dire need of some tweezers.

Meeting in Downing Street

The Tories’ concept of the “Big Society” has gone down like a lead balloon, with widespread confusion about what the idea actually means. Eric Pickle’s desire to empower “communities” and cut the red tape has raised eyebrows, as the logistics of the plans come under scrutiny. It does, however, look set to dominate the 2011 agenda.

CPP_Conservative_party_344

The brutality of the VAT rise and cuts to local government will come to fruition next year, as thousands more lose their jobs and homes.

Who knows what the future holds for our politicians, but it will be fascinating to see the melodrama unfold. ‘Clameron’ is keen to convince voters we’ve moved into an era of “new politics”, but voters don’t seem to have bought it. The public’s opposition has dominated the news agenda in recent months, and the sense of betrayal is mounting. But of course voters have a short memory, and it remains to be seen whether the newlyweds will be forgiven at the next ballot box.

Cardiff is a multi-cultural melting pot that attracts people from across the globe. Yet its metropolitan nature can often disguise the city’s growing Welsh community. Home to 33,000 Welsh speakers, the language is growing steadily in the capital, particularly in the West.

Map showing numbers of Welsh speakers in Cardiff 1999-2001:

Historically, Cardiff was not a Welsh-speaking city, but it has since been transformed. There is greater confidence in the language, and people are increasingly proud to speak it, as these figures published by Cardiff Council show:

  • 1991: 18,064 Welsh speakers in Cardiff (those who could read, write and/or understand Welsh)
  • 2001: 31,944 Welsh speakers

The Welsh language itself has been in the spotlight recently. Last week the Welsh Language Measure was approved by Assembly Members, and there have been suggestions that S4C should broadcast English programmes, amid plans to scale back the broadcaster.

I spoke to Professor Mark Drakeford, and discovered that while Cardiff boasts 33,000 Welsh speakers, that impressive figure amounts to just 11% of all Welsh speakers in Wales.

Prof Drakeford served as Rhodri Morgan’s chief special adviser for almost ten years, and is now the prospective Labour candidate for the Cardiff West constituency, following Morgan’s decision to retire.

Having grown up in Carmarthen he moved to Cardiff in 1979. He spoke of how far the Welsh language has come.”You would expect these days as a Welsh speaker that if you wanted to conduct a conversation or a discussion with almost any official body in Welsh that you would be able to do it, and I think that is a huge change,” he said.

Elliw Iwan, who is part of the Welsh-medium Development team at Cardiff University, agreed. “Welsh was previously a language that had to defend itself, but now it is not like that.”

Angharad Thomas, a Youth Officer from Menter Caerdydd, said. “Welsh is everywhere. People just don’t notice. When tourists visit one of the first things they say is ‘the signs are in Welsh and English! Wow!’ We just take them for granted. Welsh is everywhere, on road signs, on menus. You hear it on the street more and more.”

Menter Caerdydd is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Welsh Language Board and local councils, which promotes the Welsh language through activities for people of all ages. Ms Thomas, who works at the Cardiff branch, said:

“I feel a real bond, a real affiliation with the language. Language is a culture, a long-standing identity. It is about more than communicating – it’s who you are.”

Ms Iwan agreed. “Language is so emotional. That’s why they call it your ‘mother tongue’, she passes it on.”

Ms Thomas argued that Welsh speakers are largely misunderstood. “If I request something in Welsh, people ask ‘why do you want a copy in Welsh when you can speak English?’, but it’s about more than communication,” she said. “There are many pre-conceptions of Welsh speakers. People don’t understand bilingualism.”

Prof Drakeford agreed with this, and helped to dispel some of those myths:

Turning to S4C, which is based in Llanishen, Cardiff, Ms Thomas said: “I wouldn’t want English programmes on S4C. There are so many English shows on TV already, if we start hosting English programmes it may as well not be there.”

Prof Drakeford agreed: “I don’t think you can be serious about the future of a language if it doesn’t have its own broadcaster in the modern world.”

Ms Iwan added: “It’s more than a channel, it’s a way of safeguarding out language.”

In contrast, Welsh speaker Dafydd Pritchard said he would be happy to see the broadcaster host English programmes:

The Welsh language is also under scrutiny after calls for it to be given official status. In October the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) made amendments to a proposed law on the Welsh language, which they claimed would give it equal status with English in Wales, requiring companies and public bodies to use more of it.

But both Ms Thomas and Prof Drakeford doubt the significance of the move: “Making Welsh official wouldn’t make a difference to communities,” said Ms Thomas. “English isn’t an official language, but of course it is in a way.”

Prof Drakeford echoed this:

Ms Iwan said: “We cannot make everyone learn it. We have to be realistic. We need to create a healthy attitude towards Welsh, and develop an understanding of the culture.”

Welsh-medium education is also a particularly interesting issue in Cardiff, because around 85% of Welsh speakers come from English speaking homes. Increasingly parents are sending their children to one of the two Welsh-medium secondary schools in Cardiff, even though they themselves cannot understand the language.

A sign of this trend, a third Welsh-medium secondary school is due to be built in Cardiff by 2012.

Prof Drakeford spoke passionately about Welsh-medium education, describing it as a “unifying language” in multi-cultural schools in Cardiff:

He also spoke of the issue of resources in education:

Ms Iwan, who works to promote the Welsh language at Cardiff University, said there exists a strong community of Welsh speaking students in Cardiff. “There is a growing demand – students have a voice. It is gradually becoming more common to teach university courses in Welsh.”

It is clear that the Welsh language is a vital component of Cardiff life, and one which is set to grow over coming years – just this week the WAG unveiled A Living Language: A Language for Living – a new strategy to ensure the Welsh language is used in all areas of daily life.  

Ms Iwan expressed her desire to help create “a bilingual Wales”, and spoke passionately about the future of the language:

“We’ve got everything in place to safeguard Welsh, but now we need to get people to use it. We need to normalise the language, instead of having Welsh speakers in one box and non-Welsh speakers in another.”

For more information…..

BBC: The history of Welsh

Menter Caerdydd

“Video Flashcards: Level 1 – Saesneg for Welsh Speakers”:

Leisure services, parks and libraries across England are likely to suffer, as councils are to face cuts of almost 10% next year in their core central government funding.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced that councils will lose much of the financial support  they receive from central government.

Pickles announced an average 4.4% cut in the spending power of councils next year, and said the “formula grant” from Whitehall would be reduced by 9.9% in 2011/2012 and by 7.3% in 2012/2013.

But he did not give the exact figures for cuts to councils’ revenue support grant.

Eric Pickles outside Wandsworth MOT centre

As it stands, local authorities in England are funded in two main ways: through central government grants (which include redistributed business rates), and council tax.

Central government grant money pays for capital projects, such as roads or school buildings, as well as revenue spending, such as the cost of maintaining council housing and running services.

Local authorities currently receive three types of central government revenue grants to fund local services:

1) The first are specific grants, which pay for individual services, such as key government priorities. This money is ring-fenced and must be used in the way specified.

2) The second are area-based grants, which pay for services deemed by a council and its partners to be local priorities.

3) The third are formula grants, which are calculated using mathematical formulae based on, among other things, the local council tax base and how many people rely on local services. These will be reduced by 9.9% in 2011/2012.
Council

Bristol council buildings

Councils in England are going to lose a big chunk of the financial support they receive from central government, as government support is to be cut by 27% over the next four years.

That is a cut of several billion pounds in their primary source of income. Comparable cuts are also expected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The hardest hit areas will lose 8.9% of their spending power for two years. These include Ashfield, Great Yarmouth, Barrow-in-Furness, Hastings, Bolsover, Hyndburn, Burnley, Pendle, Chesterfield, Preston, Copeland, and Thanet.

Pickles did however promise that no local authority would undergo a decrease of more than 8.9% in 2011/12, as a result of the grant reductions.

He also said £650mn would be set aside so every council could freeze council tax without hitting local services. The government will provide those who freeze council tax with the equivalent of a 2.5% increase in funding.

Furthermore, Pickles promised to help protect frontline budgets by providing £200m to help councils modernise and cut back office costs.

Council House, Solihull - sign

The government is also proposing a Localism Bill, which aims to empower local residents and communities so they, not the state, take more responsibility for services and decision-making.

Forming a key part of the government’s “big society” agenda, the Bill will give local people and organisations the right to buy community assets like shops and pubs. It will also allow them to overrule planning decisions, empower them to create directly elected mayors in 12 cities, and allow them to approve or veto “excessive” council tax rises.

Pickles said today: “The Localism Bill will deliver a new democratic settlement to councils, overturning decades of central government control.

“The Bill will fundamentally change councils’ freedom to act in the interest of their local communities through a new general power of competence.”

Concerns have been raised, however, about how this agenda can be achieved without more money.

Paul Brant, Labour deputy leader of Liverpool Council, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Some of these reported powers are illusory. The government is making savage cuts to local government finance… Without the money, some services will just fall off the edge.”
Post-Katrina Playground

Leisure services, parks and playgrounds are likely to be affected

Shadow communities secretary, Caroline Flint, told the BBC: “Today we find out what the government really plans to devolve to local councils – the most devastating cuts in funding for a generation and the blame for difficult decisions.”

The coalition government will go ahead with plans to raise tuition fees, after the policy was approved by 21 votes this evening.

The vote was announced after a five-hour debate in the House of Commons. The coalition motion, backed by 323 votes to 302, would raise fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year.

Some 21 Lib Dems rebelled, while 27 – including the party’s ministers – backed the change. Eight, including Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes, abstained.

Lib Dem MPs Mike Crockart and Jenny Willott resigned as junior ministerial aides to enable themselves to vote against the fees rise, followed by Conservative Lee Scott.

Jenny Willott MP

Jenny Willott is due to resign

As well as Labour, all 12 MPs from Northern Ireland are thought to have rejected the proposals, along with SNP and Plaid Cymru members, and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas.

These events took place against a backdrop of mass protests, as hundreds of students took to the streets of Westminster. This is the third protest against increasing tuition fees.

"Nick Clegg, Shame on you, Shame on you for turning blue"

Tuition fee protests earlier this month

Scotland Yard says 10 police officers have been hurt in clashes between police and students. Three are in hospital, and one has suffered a serious neck injury.

So far 15 arrests have been made.

At the time of writing, protesters are attacking the Supreme Court building in Parliament Square. They are not thought to have got in.

The BBC has reported an attack on the car containing the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, as they travelled through central London on the way to the Royal Variety Show. Their car was kicked as they drove along Regent Street, and paint was thrown. Their window is rumoured to have been smashed. The BBC are discussing a “serious lapse in security”.

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Tuition fee protests earlier this month

Student protesters remain in Parliament Square. One BBC reported said “there are a group here who clearly are not ready to go home”.