Many people have been confused by the fact that there have been two Labour MPs called John Smith in recent history. Just to clarify the matter, smug right-winger and Monklands East MP John Smith died in 1994, while smug right-winger and Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith persists in breathing, though dead from the neck up.
No politician has identified themselves more intimately with the proposed St Athan military training complex than Smith. Memorably, Smith opined that campaigners opposing the project should be ‘stopped’; meanwhile this stalwart defender of free speech himself been given double-page spreads in local newspapers to advertise the great benefits of the scheme.
Now, however, as has been recorded here and elsewhere, the St Athan super-deathschool project is beginning to unravel: senior armed forces officers have questioned its economic benefits and ability to deliver suitable training; financial backers have been scared off by the credit crunch; the jobs claims have been shown to be misleading; the moral case against Metrix has been greatly strengthened by the victory of the Raytheon 9 in a Belfast courthouse.
Metrix have responded by a propaganda campaign (or ‘consultation exercise’ as they quaintly call it), with meetings and exhibitions in the St Athan area. Unfortunately, however, they have discovered just how far they have to go to convince local people of the advantages of having a huge military presence on their doorstep, consisting of recruits to the armed forces of any country willing to pay for training in South Wales.
John Smith, however, is undeterred. In response to an assertion from Plaid councillor Nic Hodges that St Athan will be an ‘isolated gated village’, he argues that the Metrix PFI project will provide ‘wonderful’ state-of-the-art swimming and leisure facilities which will be available to the local civilian population and benefit our future Olympic stars, bringing an ‘incalculable’ number of jobs (whatever happened to those confident calculations of 5,500?)
There are two problems with this argument. One is that many people will simply not believe it. The security implications of concentrating all armed forces training into one complex are obvious to all; just try wandering into MOD St Athan now, or even being photographed nearby.
The second problem is that, possibly unknown to John Smith, “the best all round water and fitness facility in the UK” is currently being completed in Cardiff, including a state-of-the-art swimming pool (another PFI project) costing £32m. To quote the council blurb, “a 50m ten lane international competition swimming pool with two submersible booms and floating floors at either end of the main pool, capable of creating three 25m training pools; a family water area with four flume rides, including ‘space bowl’ and ‘lazy river’, a beach area, plunge pool and water slides. In addition there is spectator seating for 1,000; plus extensive state-of-the-art fitness and leisure facilities”
How about a real public consultation over whether it is a sensible use of taxpayers money to build a £11 billion military training complex in order to have another pool less than twelve miles away?
The leisure complex represents even more profits for Metrix partner Laing O’Rourke, who also built the Millenium Stadium and most of St Davids 2. Perhaps there will be a place for John Smith on their board when he finally recognises that he is fooling nobody but himself.