Monday, 21 December 2009

GOLWG article translated: Cuts

Don’t panic, don’t panic’ the memorable words of Corporal Jones in the televison series ‘Dad’s Army.’ These words were only used in a frightening and dangerous situation were  panic was a tempting response to the given situation.
And who could blame Jane Hutt if panic was her response to the financial situation she faces as part of her new portfolio as Minister of Finance and Business in Carwyn Jones’s new government.
Certainly we all have cause to worry. Why?
According to Chancellor Alaister Darling,  Britains economy is worst than he forecasted. In April, at the time of the budget, he estimated that the economy would contract by about 3.5%, but now his revised figure is nearer 4.75%. It is not often a politician admits that the situation is worse than he originally thought. But the Chancellor admitted that the economy was in a bad way and the recessesion deeper than he had thought. As a consequence the country faces  massive cuts in its public services.
The full extent of the cuts in public expenditure amount to about a fifth of the budget of the Westminster government. Some economists put the figure at  £36 billion over the next three years.
When will we feel the pinch? After the next general election. Now there's a surprise!
If the Chancellor is going to meet his own target of getting the national debt under control by 2017-18 he will have to  raise an additional £76 billion. A sum equivalent to £2,400 for each family in Britain.
Where does this all leave Wales? Well, in all truth, on its backside.
There is a saying that if the USA sneezes the rest of the world gets pneumonia. It is certainly true that when England has cuts, things are a whole lot worse in Wales.
Cuts of the size been contemplated are equivalent to all the additional expenditure since 1997 being undone by 2018.Where, then, is Jane Hutt going to wield her sharp knife? We have already seen an about turn on student tuition fees. Where or what next? Free prescriptions; free school breakfasts; free bus travel for the elderly; additional Child Trust fund payments for deprived children. All these have been introduced by the Assembly government since its establishment. Will they last in the new world of scarce resources? Where exactly will the cuts fall in Wales?
It is incumbent on the Coalition government to come clean on this at start a national debate on priorites in lean times. An open and honest debate we deserve no less from our politicians. What about it, Jane?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Kim Howells leaves the stage

So Kim is going to hang his political boots for his climbing ones. He'll be missed. Not a friend of sacred cows. He is one of the few politicians that is prepared to speak his mind, whatever the consequence. Not a great friend of devolution but he still remains the kind of MP we need in Wales and certainly the kind of person that the Assembly craves for.
Since Rod Richards and  the late Peter Law, the Assembly has missed a robust politician that can liven debates in the Assembly. Mind you there are very few of our Welsh representatives in Westminster that much better.
But the good thing about Kim declaring he is going now is that it gives the Local Party a say in who the next candidate will be. There are many MPs waiting until the election is declared before announcing their departure. Why? So that the party nationally can shoe-in their favorite sons or daughters. And the pay-off for a late retirement announcement, some ermine and a seat in the  House of Lords.

Christmas visits

They can be seen in more Christmas events than Father Christmas – politicians. Which politicians ? Your local ones of course. Be they councillors, Assembly Members or Members of Parliament.
This is the season they are out to ‘support’ the local community. There is not a Christmas Fare without an Assembly Member or Member of Parliament present. And God forbid, that you should find yourself in a Care home or hospital over Christmas, you won’t be able to escape them.
Why? This time of year provides them with an opportunity to press the flesh. And to them this is all imporant. Their opportunity to show that they haven’t lost touch. Despite living most of the time in London or Cardiff Bay they can show that they still have their fingers on the local pulse.
These things matter to a politicans most years, but this year it acquires a greater significance. Why?  Because of the Spring general election.
This is perhaps the last opportunity they have before the election to create a favourable impression on the local electorate. Its important that they show enthusiasm; that they work hard on our behalf and certainly show that no event is to much trouble to turn up to at this Festive time.
Well, yes that’s the spin.
But what about the truth? This is the way of the modern political machine.  Its important that they show that a closness to the electorate. That’s what caused the scandal of ‘flipping’ homes by taking advantage of having two houses. At one time MPs simply lived in London and would only occationally visit 'the seat.' Their place was in London passing laws not collecting votes locally.The hoovering of votes was left to the three weeks of the general election campaign itself.
Of course that was not healthy. Reason would dictate that our representatives should be aware of our problems. But the pendelum has swung to far the other way. No, there is an air of cynicsm over the whole process, a feeling that it’s all a superficial show to win the goodwill of the electorate.
But despite all their efforts the electorate have seen through the whole circus
Their efforts are wasted. The population have grown tired of politicians and of politics. The sadness of it all, is that the people have turned their backs on the ballot box. It all undermines democracy.
A  word of advise to the politicians. Stay home, put your feet up, enjoy yourselves and just leave us alone. A politician free Christmas, that would be one to remember.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Bangor get an away result

A family party prevented the usually comment on Saturday's result. It's typical when I take my eye off them they go and win away. And in a spectacular way. Five goals to two against Newtown. They have jumped to tenth place in the league. Still plenty of time to trip up again.
Lets now hope, however, that they have turned the corner and  winning ways have returned to the Blues.
The Christmas programme will still be crucial to ensuring a real push up that league ladder and out of the danger zone of an inferior league.

Golwg Column: Carwyn Jones's first challenge

The kings dead, long live the king. Carwyn Jones has won Rhodri Morgan's crown. He is the leader of the Labour party in Wales and  the Assembly Labour group. Our third First Minister.
It is worthy of note that he is the leader of the Labour Party in Wales which decides the role and not the 'leader of the Welsh Labour Party.' Unlike the Liberal Democrats which has a Federal structure, Labour in Wales is part of a centralist British Party.
Welsh Labour is simply a marketing tool. Like every marketing strategy designed to make them look and appeal to Welsh people.  Misrepresentation. It is not a Welsh party but an English one. No, the label is a devise to mop up the votes of the Welsh.
The challenge to Carwyn Jones is to change this system. Labour waste to opportunity to remind us that they are the party of devolution. If so, why not devolve the party and create a Federal structure. Why not have a 'real' Welsh Labour party?
This would be the first opportunity for the new leader to put his stamp on the party. Why not have a Welsh labour party that rules itself and is not a poodle to England.
Carwyn Jones accepts that if the party is to regain the ground it has lost in Wales it has to learn to listen. But listen to who? The party centrally or the people of Wales. Unless the internal structure of the party is changed, ordinary party members in Wales will have little influence. In essence it is a British party and its English priorities that will rule the day.
In his campaign to gain the leadership Carwyn Jones sold himself as the candidate that would not only unite his party but the country as well. That was the rhetoric now what about the reality.
I'd like to suggest that if he is to succeed he will have to change the way that Assembly members are elected. A fair voting system is required. Currently there are tensions between those elected on the regional list system and those on the constituency first past the post system. It makes little sense to have two different types of Assembly members. This points towards having a single transferrable voting system. A Lord Richard recommendation. It will be interesting to see if Carwyn Jones revisits this and insists on changing the system.
But his most formidable task is to persuade the Treasury to change the funding fomula for Wales. Barnett will have to go and the Holtham recommendations implemented.
I suspect that there is just a small window of opportunity for Carwyn to act before the Tories take control at Westminister.  No time  for prevarication, urgent action is required. The detailed work has been done by Gerald Holtham, its political will that is required now.
Can Carwyn Jones succeed were Rhodri Morgan? That's his first test.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Have we a Counsel General?

In the cabinet changes John Griffiths was named Counsel General and Leader of the Legislative Programme. But is he Counsel General? Surely not, for that can only happen when and if the Assembly vote him into the role. And as they are all off on the holidays this won't happen until after Christmas. So no new big salary until the new year for the Griffiths household. Although as leader of the legislative programme he has the responsibility for arranging the Assembly's agenda. Me thinks the Counsel General vote may feature early in Assembly business.
Just  for the record Carwyn Jones's cabinet:
Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy & Transport
Jane Hutt, Business and Budget
Edwina Hart, Health and Social Services
Jane Davidson, Environment, Sustainability and Housing
Leighton Andrews, Children, Education and Lifelong Learning
Carl Sargent, Social Justice and Local Government
Elin Jones, Rural Affairs
Alun Ffred Jones, Heritage

Deputy Ministers:
Lesley Griffiths, Skills, Innovation & Science
Jocelyn Davies, Housing and Regeneration
Gwenda Thomas, Social Services
Huw Lewis, Children

John Griffiths, Counsel General & Leader of the Legislative Programme
Janice Gregory, Chief Whip

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Who will take Ashgar's place on List?

Respected political commentators are all talking about a shoe-in for Adam Price on the South East list. And surely Plaid need a big hitter like Adam Price in the Assembly. But the S E Region is unlikely to be his political resting place.
Oh no, the likely scenario is musical chairs within the region itself.
The leader of Caerphilly Council Lindsey Whittle, that purpetual Plaid candidate for all seats in Caerphilly. He is currently Plaid's Westminister candidate there. But could he be persuaded to break  the habit of fighting the Caerphilly seat and move on to fight the list. Just maybe.
So if Lindsey Whittle stood for the list they would need a new candidate for the seat. Who might that be  I wonder?
Well, last time there was a certain independent candidate that stood  in Caerphilly, a certain Ron Davies. If the oppositon vote had not been split between Whittle and Davies then Labour would have lost the seat.
Is it possible that these two cabinet collegues on CaerphillyCounty Council could do a deal? Whittle standing on the list and Davies fighting the Caerphilly seat. Leaving Adam Price to find and fight another seat.
Plaid might relish the prospect of two big hitters being returned to the Assembly in 2011.
The Tories might be crowing over today's coup but it might yet prove a blessing in the long term for Plaid Cymru.

Plaid Cymru lose an Assembly Member to Conservatives.

The defection Mohammad Asghar a list member of Plaid Cymru to the Conservatives means Plaid now only have 14 Assembly Members to the Tories 13. This is unlikely to change the dynamics of the Assembly except to give the Tories bragging rights that they are a broad party and welcome members of ethnic minority communities into their ranks.
Apparently, secret discussions have been taking place between Nick Bourne and Mohammad Asghar and the resulting defection was kept under  wraps until this morning.
Plaid Cymru had not been informed of the move and were caught unawares. It would seem second time lucky for Asghar as he tried to become a member of the Tories before but was totally ignored.
The reason why he changed parties was that 'he believes in Queen, a united Kingdom and a strong Wales.'
Interestingly, he joined Plaid Cymru holding these views but it is not noticeable that Plaid Cymru have taken a lurch towards independence. Perhaps it is the smooth talking Nick Bourne that won him over.
No doubt he'll be a shadow spokesman for his new party shortly.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Rhodri Morgan: lacklustre

Next week Rhodri Morgan is giving up as First Minister and moving to the back benches. His political career is coming to an end. And I'm sure that there will be much praise expressed about the man.
Indeed the praise has already started.
In his annual address to the Assembly Peter Hain described Rhodri Morgan as the father of devolution and one of the nation's greats, from the same line as Owain Glyndwr, David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan. Even the Labour benches thought that this was a bit over the the top. I, personally, thought that our patron saint's name had been changed from David to Rhodri.
There is no denying the fact that Rhodri Morgan is a well known and popular politician. Indeed, in YouGov's first Welsh opinion poll  63 per cent of those polled were of the opinion that Rhodri Morgan was a good First Minister. This is an exceptionally high figure for a politician. Usually  when politicians  leave the stage they are unpopular.
But despite all the praise, I doubt whether history will regard him as a successful First Minister. In my opinion the best that can be said about him is that he was a safe pair of hands. Without doubt after the shaky start that the Assembly had under Alun Michael's leadership, it was a blessing having safe hands. But after ten years more was needed.
I'm one of the few that thinks he could have done a lot better. He's a clever man, from an academic background who has held senior positions both in the civil service and Europe's representative in Wales. His working class accent is a sham. The boy's from a cultured academic background. He had every advantage to succeed.
There is no doubt that Rhodri Morgan is an enthusiastic devolutionist, but the project has not moved forward a great deal since he's been at the wheel.
He established the Richard Commission to look at the powers of the Assembly. Richard recommended that Wales should have law making powers and it would be desirable to have power over taxation.
Despite Rhodri Morgan accepting the report, his influence was not to be seen thereafter. The  result was the 2006 Act. An act that created a complex system of law making which effectively provided Parliament with a veto on the Assembly.
And we're still arguing about these powers. Up to now there is no certainty when Labour will decide on the date of a referendum.
But without doubt the biggest accusation against him is his failure to gain for Wales a fair funding system. He should have tackled the Treasury early on in his tenure of office to gain fair play for Wales. We've known for some time that Wales has been short changed under the Barnett formula.  Why did he wait so long before trying to change the system?
This failure has cost Wales billions.
Populist measures was his priority, not the challenge of transforming the nation.
No, we had a pretty empty ten years, mores the pity

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Bangor win at last

Bangor won away by 3 goals to 1 against Caersws. To put it into context, Caersws are bottom of the table. So not to much excitement.
It does, however, mean we crawl up one place in the league, to the eleventh position. Still in the drop zone. But who knows it could be a start of a run.
I know a flight of fancy on my part, but my brain is a bit addled by Christmas spirit!
So here's to the next win.
Ho, Ho, Ho.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Clear Majority, free hand.

Such a decisive win in all three sections of the electoral college gives Carwyn Jones, the new leader of the Labour Party in Wales, a freedom and a mandate to be his own man. He is not beholden to any section of his party. He can pick and choose on the basis of ability rather than on favours owed. That should apply to his cabinet as well as his special advisors.
Its time to take a fresh look at the cabinet and weed out the weak and renew it with people of talent. Granted the pool of talent in the Assembly Labour group is not extensive, but if he is to make his mark he cannot afford to be surrounded by 'yes' men and women.
What is true about Cabinet is equally true about Special Advisors. Here he has greater scope. Indeed the world is his oyster. He does  not have to confine himself to his own party members. Who he choses as his kitchen cabinet is, perhaps, more important than his actual cabinet and he should cast his net out wide. He needs to ensure himself the best talent in Wales and beyond.
Throughout the ages politicians who are likely to reach the top of the greasy pole have lots of 'supporters'. A good career move for many because their support is often rewarded. Carwyn Jones has been seen as a potential First Minister and a successor to Rhodri Morgan for some years so will have collected more than his fair share of camp followers. Lets hope he is wise enough to recognise this and act accordingly.
A sign of a strong leader is one that say 'no' to his friends.
A strong new team is required to end the drift of the last ten years.
Choose wisely Carwyn, and the best of luck.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Golwg Column: Learn to say 'no'

It's hard to say 'no'.
But its much harder to say 'no' on the international stage. Especially to some one with some influence in this world like the United States.
It's such a powerful country and has such an influence on our lives. In every sense of the word it is a big country, economically, politically, militarily and culturally.
Oh yes, its not child's play to say 'no' to the US.
But 'no' is what Harold Wilson said in the 1960s about the Vietnam war.
The United States were determined to stop  communist North Vietnam from taking over the south of the country. And Lyndon Johnston, US President at the time was urging Britain to send its armed forces to Vietnam to fight along side  the American forces. Despite being threatened and cajoled by Johnston, Wilson stood his ground and refused.
Consequently, no British soldier spilt his blood in that conflict. History shows that Wilson's decision was a wise one. Ho Chi Minh's army defeated the American giant. It was madness for the American's to be involved.
Harold Wilson was the last British Prime Minister to say 'no'. Oh for a statesman of his kind today.
The history of Britain for the rest of the twentieth century and in this century was of  Prime Ministers, with little back bone, yielding to America.
Now the world see us as America's  poodle. As a consequence we've been or are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite a large number of the nation protesting against the Iraq war, Tony Blair preferred  bestowing his favors on Bush than listen to his own people. He'd rather mislead us than refuse his friend in the White House.
And who paid the price? Our young people. In Afghanistan alone 120 British soldiers have been killed since 2001. In Iraq there were 1.2 million deaths overall in that war.
At last there is an inquiry into Britain's role in Iraq and hopefully we will see its conclusions. The hope is we'll find out the truth.
Daily there are voices raised about the foolishness of being in Afghanistan. The latest is that of Kim Howells who has reached the conclusion that our efforts  there are wasted. Pulling out would be the wisest move.
Even Gordon Brown has come to the conclusion that we need an exit strategy.
Its not an exit strategy that is required, but a strategy to deal with the influence of our 'friend' across the Atlantic.
We should learn to say "No".

Sunday, 29 November 2009

No goals Bangor

Another disappointing performance by the Blues. If they can't win at home against a club like Connah's Quay they have little hope of staying in the top league at the end of the season. They are currently 11th, not good enough for salvation.
Their only hope, it would seem, is to join in the political campaign to scrap the changes the Welsh FA are proposing to the league structure. Perhaps they would be better off putting their collective energies into that 'cos clearly they haven't any energy for their campaign on the pitch. They could hardly have less success.
Perhaps a call to their local Assembly Member, sports minister Alun Ffred Jones might be a useful start. He might be persuaded to pressure the league officials to change their proposals. On second thought with his experience on 'C'mon Midfield' he could perhaps combine his political career with a coaching one. After all many of the successful clubs in Spain and Italy are run by politicians.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A real referendum

There seems a lot of chat at the moment about the referendum on more powers. Sorry, lets be clear, despite all the heat there is not much light, more powers are not on offer.
What's on offer is a tidying up exercise. That is, should we cut Westminster out of the law making process. To that question,  the answer  surely, must be 'yes'.
The current system is a cumbersome system. A system that is both costly in time and effort. Those charged with holding the governments of Westminster and Cardiff Bay to account could use their time to greater purpose. It must be despiriting, even to them, to waste their time in going backwards and forward on LCOs  in order, at some time in the future for the Welsh, to pass a measure [law].
Laws are needed when they are needed. They are not passed  to act as some dubious virility symbol. for politicians.
Now a referendum on more powers would be worth  dragging the  people of Wales out to  vote for.
And what should be on offer. Well, all the powers that Scotland have, or are about to have, would be a good start.
Yes, taxation powers, law and order  and all things that would make for real home rule.
What an achievement it would be to put Lloyd George's nineteenth century agenda  to bedat last. All be it over a hundred years later.
Yes, bring it on. A referendum on real powers would even get me excited.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Joint statement on referendum

Rhodri and Ieuan have issued a joint statement on the referendum. Sweetness and light has broken out. But, and there is always a but, the final sentence. "nothing has been ruled in or ruled out including, if it proved practical, a referendum in the Autumn." 
Now, how can it be proved practical if Labour are not going to discuss the matter until  after the general election. 
Plaid Cymru, if they don't get an assurance of a vote  on a referendum early next year,  can say goodbye to an Autumn date with the electors. Consequently, new powers will not be
in place for the post 2011 Assembly.
What price going to bed with Labour  if they can't stick to done deals.
Rhodri has form in backing down to Peter Hain.  For it was he, [Hain] that  was  pushing for the Labour statement of intent and the issuing of the press statement that has caused today's excitement.
His address to the Assembly tomorrow should prove interesting.

Labour poised to break up coaliton

The press statement produced by Labour at the insistence of Peter Hain that Labour AMs cannot discuss and vote on a referendum until after the general election poses a real threat to the coalition with Plaid Cymru.
Plaid Cymru see this as a complete breach of faith. It is understood that Plaid Cymru quite understood that no action could be taken until Rhodri Morgan's successor was in post. But the statement from Labour would seem to limit the options available and steps away from the agreement reached by Plaid Cymru that formed the basis of coalition government.
One of the reasons that Ieuan Wyn Jones moved away from the Rainbow option was the agreement with Labour that a referendum on more powers  would be held before 2011. This was pivitol to the establishment of the  current  Plaid/Labour government.
Peter Hain , the Secretary of State for Wales, has always questioned the need for a referendum before 2011. It would seem that the statement issued today by Labour is  aimed at taking the steam out  of Sir Emyr Jones Parry's conclusions that a referendum should take place earlier rather than later. The first step in Hain's agenda in delaying the referendum for some time.
Plaid Cymru will wait to see what Rhodri Morgan's statement will say before deciding on their response. But many feel that the coalition government may be in serious danger of collapse.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Translation last Thursday's Golwg Column - Special Advisors

Reading about the Tudors gives my great pleasure. Films and TV drama about the period are a constant source of satisfaction.
Glenda Jackson playing Elizabeth 1 was memorable. Its a constant course of regret to me that she gave up acting for politics although her old skills may well be useful in her new career.
It's strange to think that modern Britain started off in a small bay of the coast of Pembrokeshire when Henry Tudor landed with his army before moving on the Bosworth to defeat Richard III and become  Henry VII and start the Tudor age.
The popularity of Court officials were in and out like the tide, on the whim of the king or queen. And certainly those with influence in the court would change on the death of the reigning monarch.
It will be the same in Wales next month. As soon as the Queen accepts Rhodri Morgan's resignation as First Minister his advisors will have to clear their desks and head for home. Apart from a couple that will help the transition to the new regime, the rest will be out in the cold.
History gives us a clear picture of the influence of the special advisors in the past. We are reasonably aware of the influence Thomas Cromwell had as chief advisor to Henry VIII. He was one of those who argued and was enthusiastic about the Refomation - the split of the English church from the Roman Catholic church.
But today? What do we know about the influence the Special  Advisors have on our government here in Wales? We haven't a clue  where their coming from and their  take on the world. What exactly do they do? Are they worth the public money spent on them?
In the United States those appointed to high office in an adminstration are vetted publicly by Senate committees before they take up their posts. Welsh democracy would be the healthier if the same happened here. And certainly special advisors should be submitted to such a process  if Wales was to adopt such a system. It would be our opportunity to assess them, know their views and the advice they are likely to offer  Ministers.
Certainly the one growth industry of recent years, is that of advice. Most of our public representatives have paid advisors. What on earth do they all do?
Does anyone think that we are more efficiently or better managed or ruled now, than in the past? The answer surely is, no.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bangor City fail again

Another away defeat. This time to Port Talbot 2 - 1. This keeps them stuck on the 12th place in the league. If this continues they will be out of the top flight of Welsh football next season. What a humiliation for a side that was one of our top sides for years.
Major change in management in order if this continues.

Friday, 20 November 2009

What are Assembly Members thinking?

It may not be a question that bothers you to much but it exercised the mind of  Ipsos Mori. So they conducted face to face interviews with 30 Assembly members to see how they viewed the world.
Not surprising nine out of ten of them wanted more powers, with most [81%] wanting the same powers as Scotland and even half saying that they should have powers over taxation. So watch your wallets.
On the economy they certainly were glass half empty types. With only 28% believing that the Welsh economy would improve next year a third thought we would see things get worse.
Edwina Hart [25%] was seen as the most impressive Assembly Member even outscoring First Minister, Rhodri Morgan [22%]. Her leadership rivals Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis trailing far behind with just 5% each.
Of the current party leaders the most impressive was seen to be Rhodri, with Ieuan Wyn Jones and Nick Bourne both on 4%. Kirsty Williams nil points, despite  5 of her fellow Liberal Democrats being included in the survey. The most impressive Plaid Assembly member was seen to be Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones [12%]. Could she be Plaid's next leader in waiting.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Golwg article - Kick the politicians

Lists are not one of my things. But if one was to draw up a list of the most unpopular people in the eyes of the public almost certainly politics and politicians would be near the top. Undoubtedly after this Summers  scandal on allowances they're unlikely to be moved from the top of the list for some time.
Consequently, we all like to prod them as often as we can. And that's the problem . It's impossible for them to ask us any question without the temptation on our part to kick them up the backside.
And that's the danger with a referendum. Its not the question that tends to  be answered but the public vote to punish the politicians asking the question.
Now that David Cameron has declared that he won't veto a request for a referendum on more powers if the National Assembly request one. Its highly likely that a referendum may be held early after the next general election despite Peter Hain's best efforts.
The electorate may well be fed up with a referendum campaign on more powers so they may use their vote to have their say and give the politicians a kicking.
If that happened it would create a rather interesting situation. If they electors voted down law making powers were would leave the Assembly. For  what is the Assembly at the moment but a law making body. Granted its a complicated system and wasteful in both time and money, but nevertheless it is a law making system. So if the principle of law making is rejected by a referendum the Assembly would have to go back to first principles and surely the question would arise as to  whether we need an Assembly at all.
No, it would be foolish to have a referendum with only one question. Especially as most ordinary people think that the Assembly pass laws already.
In my opinion the only way to stop this continues discussion about constitutional matters is to have a multiple choise ballet paper. And the type of question? Independence or not? Powers over taxation? And yes, should we scrap the Assembly?
We need to put an end to the endless constitutional nonsense once and for all, and start addressing the questions that the punters want answers to. Such as economic policy, poverty, housing, health, education etc. If politicians don't answer these their stock will continue to remain low.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sir Emyr's report

Next week will see Sir Emyr Jones Parry report  whether or not the Welsh Assembly should have exclusive powers to make their own laws. The report is likely to be an unanimous 'yes' and with a recommendation that the referendum should be sooner rather than later.

The debate will then move on to timing, when will the best time to hold the referendum. In the one corner will be Peter Hain who wants to delay any referendum until after 2011 in the other corner will be Plaid Cymru who'll want the referendum before 2011.

The hot money is on their being a debate in the Assembly in the Spring of next year and the Assembly agreeing by the required two thirds majority and leaving  the likely Tory Administration having to decide on the actual date.

So a busy year for returning officers with a general election and a referendum to organize next year.
But a good year for pundits.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Last week's Golwg column

How many times have we heard someone being described as charismatic. I'm not sure what it means but I'm pretty certain I haven't got it.

But neither has the BNP leader Nick Griffin. After his recent performance on 'Question Time' it is difficult to understand how he became the leader of the extreme right wing party. If he's the best, God help the rest of his Party. He was so poor there was a risk that he might get the sympathy vote.
But one politician who could be described as having the 'wow' factor, is Tony Blair. Especially at the start of his career as Prime Minister, he couldn't put a foot wrong.

It was only the Iraq war that took the shine off. As a consequence he took a dive in the polls when the public turned their back on him, and as a consequence the Labour Party decided he was past his sell buy date.

But as soon as we think we have seen the last of him the old stager may be about to make a comeback.

Under the Lisbon treaty the European Council must elect a president to drive forward their work. Yes, and the name of the United Kingdom government have put in the frame to become the first president, is our old friend, Tony Blair.

The government hope that the old magic will still work and persuade European countries that he's the man to fill the post. Of course we don't have a say on the matter. No, the decision is in the hands of 27 people, the leaders of the nations of the European community.

David Milliban's enthusiasm, when he said 'we need someone that will stop the traffic in Beijing or Washington or Moscow', underlines the seriousness of Brown's government to their former leader.

Despite his charisma, Blair's appointed would be an absolute error.

There are many reasons to oppose the appointment.
Would it be suitable to appoint someone to an international organizations who many believe, has rode rough shot over international law? That's the charge against Blair, and the questionable legality of the decision to go to war with Iraq.

It would seem odd to give the job to a man that did little to strengthen the EU whilst Prime Minister. And streadfastly kept the UK out of the Euro zone. How in the world could anyone take him seriously in the job.

No, him in the job  would be a disgrace.

Much better for all of us that he continues to use his talent and charisma to travel the world and lecture for the millions that he's earning.

One of the most uncharismatic of prime minister was Clem Atlee. But many recognise him as one of the best.

Maybe grey and boring is the way forward.

My Golwg column

Every Thursday a regular column of mine appears in the Welsh language magazine 'Golwg' Many have asked if I'd translate it and place it on my blog. I've used Google translate,so the translation is a bit iffy but I'm slowly going to post some of the backlog and eventually will provide a weekly posting. This was the first effort. Much is lost in translation, but I would say that wouldn't I.

" It is some years now since my driving test. In fact it took four applications before I succeed. And if you have had the Bad Luck be with me in the car, you would very clearly, why [cymeroedd]it so long.

But I still remember the day of my success as clear as yesterday. Finally I was behind the wheel and foot on the accelerator. Freedom and power. I travelled aimlessly for miles , without any idea or objective where I was going. The important thing was to get the power and the wheel in my hands.

And back every sign that the three candidates who want to fill Rhodri Morgan shoes are doing something similar. They want the wheel but little idea of what direction they want to go.

They have warm words and slogans of the Left - equality, fairness radicalism, values, even socialism. Political Musak. All to try to influence members of the Labour Party in the crucial vote.

But where's the foundation. And more importantly which direction they want to take us.

In the economic situation exactly how will they fill the gap between our needs as a nation and the funding available. What are their priorities? Exactly where will the cuts fall? Will the knife be used on health, education, public associations or any other service. And would they demand the right to taxation varying powers? Should this be a referendum question?

The Holtham Commission's report claimed that Wales could lose more than £ 8bn during the next 10 years unless change the Barnet formula. What is the candidates response to this? No word yet. The real need is to reform the system for funding the Assembly Government and this be the top priority of anyone who has the ambition to lead our nation.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry and nothing has been busy taking pulse of the nation. The whispers are that they will recommend an early referendum. Current system is not working and an early move to a lawmaking Assembly should be a high priority. The date in sight, - in late spring or early summer next ..

If so, how will the candidates respond. Will they be for delaying to please Labor members of parliament or will they push ahead. It will be interesting to see. And what, about Lord Richards recommendations of an 80 member Assembly. For the Assembly to work smoothly it is certain to need more members. More politicians, not the best case to argue. But that's a mark of a leader, one that argues for the unpopular.

As the campaign goes on, we'll see if they can kick the practice of warm words that are meaningless and provide real leadership. Dyna'r her. That's the challenge."

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Cameron offers no veto on referendum

There has been speculation for some time as to what attitude David Cameron would take if the Assembly demanded a referendum on more powers.
Well, the speculation will end tomorrow when Cameron visits Wales. He will make it clear that he'll not exercise a veto on a request from the Assembly for a referendum on the issue.
This announcement by Cameron will be seen as a victory for the Tory Assembly group who have been pushing for some time for a committment from the Leader of the Opposition on the matter.
Now the attention will be on  what stance the Tories will take in such a referendum. The last time they opposed devolution. But this time the Tory group in the Assembly will almost all be pushing hard for law making powers and  campaigning for a Yes vote.
The MPs, though, are a different kettle of fish. They will be in the 'over my dead body' wing of the Tory party. The same lot that were on the wrong side of history in the 1997 referendum.
The current formula adopted by the leadership to cover the schism in their ranks, is that old political standby - the free vote.  All will be free to campaign on either side of the debate, as they see fit.
Is this a  credible stance for a governing party to take?
It would seem so. As Cheryl Gillan makes clear in tonights 'Sharp End'. When pushed to say what line she'd take as a future Secretary of State she declined to commit herself and enlighten us.
To paraphrase the words of the Ella Fitzgerald song:
'She didn't say yes, she didn't say no,
she didn't say stay, she didn't say go;
So what did she do?
I'll leave it you.'

Monday, 2 November 2009

Just for the record

Bangor City in the next round of Welsh Cup. It's getting a habit. League form still required to ensure remaining in super premium league.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Distancing from the agreement

Two out of the three candidates for the leadership of Welsh Labour seem to be distancing themselves from the commitment  contained in One Wales for a referendum on Scottish type law making powers for the Assembly.
Whilst it's well known that Huw Lewis was opposed to the Plaid Labour coalition so its not surprising that he takes the view he does on a referendum. Basically no referendum this side of a general election. It would suit his purposes if Plaid walked away from the table on this issue.
Of greater interest is Carwyn Jones's stance. He is of the view  that a vote should not go ahead without the wider consent of the 'labour movement' and particularly the MPs. If so its unlikely that a vote under such circumstances will take place before 2011.
If so, what price the coalition.
Kirsty Williams must be reading these comments with interest. Thinking her day may yet come and its just a matter of time before she receives the phone call.
It would seem that the only candidate that is prepared to stick with the 'All Wales' agreement is Edwina Hart.
Unfortunately for her, Plaid Cymru don't have a vote in this election

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Welsh Labour face defeat.

The 1st YouGov Poll in Wales makes miserable reading for Labour. They would loose 9 Members from Parliament leaving them a total of 20 seats if the poll results were reflected in the general election.
There is nothing suprising as these results merely reflect the actual votes cast in the European election.
Indeed Labour on this polling data do slightly better than their European vote with 34% to the Conservatives 31%. Reversing the second place they got when those votes were counted.
But not since, almost, its birth as a party have Labour faced such a grim prospect at the hands of the Welsh electors.
Their new leader in Wales will have the daunting task of re-energising a party that will be demoralised by defeat.
Meanwhile, the Tories will rue their opposition to PR. Labour gains half the Welsh seats with only just over a third of the votes and they the Tories will have to be satisfied with only 12 seats despite being only 3% behind Labour.
Plaid Cymru will be reasonably pleased with gaining two additional seats bringing their total to 5. But they still don't seem to be making the breakthrough that the SNP are making in Scotland. Putting themselves in the driving seat by leading a Rainbow coalition might have produced a better result than being tied to a failing coalition partner like Labour.
As for the Liberal Democrats despite having a dynamic young female leader they seem to be moving backwards, with only two seats left in Wales. Not the breakthrough that Kirsty Williams promised in her leadership campaign.
And last but not least, the Peoples republic of Blaenau Gwent remains firmly in the grip of Dai Davies's and his Peoples' Voice.

Monday, 26 October 2009

No referendum just pass over the powers

It looks as if the referendum campaign is been waged by proxy.
We have True Wales trying to water down the powers of the Assembly but not having the guts to campaign for its scrapping - their real agenda.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry's convention saying we should go for gold and have law making powers.
In no time at all, we'll have Holtham demanding power over taxation and financial policies. And our dear Secretary of State taking his lead from St Augustine 'Let's have a referendum, but not just yet'.
Most ordinary people already think, if they think at all about the Assembly, that it makes laws. You can imagine what their response will be if the question is put to them again.
The Government of Wales Act is just one of those classic fudges to get Labour off the hook created by the Richard Commission. The Commission said the Welsh Assembly should have full law making powers. Labour back benchers would not swallow it. Result, the dog's breakfast of the Legislative Competence Order[LCO]system.
It would be difficult to find in any other democracy a more complex, time wasting, expensive system of making laws. But law making it is. So what's the point of the charade of a referendum on law making, when the principle has already been conceded.
An incoming government could do us all a favour and save a large amount of cash be changing the current Government for Wales Act and move to full law making without dragging us all out to a pointless vote.
Oh, for politicians that will stop wasting our time on meaningless referenda, just because they can't face down their own MPs.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pay and rations - an independent panel?

Tomorrow the National Assembly are to vote on how their pay and expenses are determined. The intention is to set up an independent remuneration panel to decide the question.
This was one of the 108 recommendations contained in Sir Roger Jones's review of the Assembly Members' pay and allowances.
All seem to be plain sailing with no one raising any objection when the Presiding Officer, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas said that the intention was to implement all the recommendations.
Now the Tories are having cold feet and intend voting against setting up and independent panel. Why? Because they are an Unionist party and don't want to break off from the Senior Salaries Review Board[SSRB].
This is despite Members expressing a view that the SSRB approach was heavily weighted towards a Westminster basis for assessing Assembly
Members' financial support and not sufficiently tailored to Wales.
The Tories by opposing this move will be putting themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. By sticking with a system that rewards MPs and is run by civil servants it can't be claimed to be truly independent.Indeed Sir John Baker a one time chairman of SSRB was of the view that an independent review body was required for Westminster.
One wonders why the Welsh Tories are seemingly out of step with their own Westminster front bench. Cameron and his team have consistently called for transparency on the question of pay and provisions.
Not a word from the Tories on this matter when the Presiding Officer made a statement on the intention to introduce the measure. The vote will take place later when the motion itself is presented, debated and more importantly voted on. Watch this space for further developments.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Still at wrong end

Despite their away win today at Welshpool, Bangor City are still at the wrong end of the table.
There is a real danger that this once successful club will fail to make the new Welsh super league at the end of the season.
A consistent run is needed.

Friday, 16 October 2009

February - decision month?

Will February be the month that the National Assembly debates whether or not to call for a referendum? Some Assembly members are very much talking up this month. Why? To get the vote out of the way before the general election and to sweep the decks so that any post-election government will be in a positon to hold an early referendum.

It is widely rumored that the Sir Emyr Jones-Parry Convention will say that the evidence they garnered suggests an early move towards law making powers. They conclude that the current system is not fit for purpose. The Convention is thought to favour a Spring/Summer vote.

So if 40 Assembly Members vote in favour then it will be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether to give the thumbs up or not. Whether it be a Tory or Labour thumb remains to been.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Selling Wales - at a price

International Business Wales[IBW] is charged with selling Wales to the world. Selling anything has a price. But, and there's always a but, is the price right.
Today a list was produced by KPMG after a forensic investigation of Expenses at IBW. The found that there were 781 transactions(11%) where there may be breaches of policy and may require further investigation. But there were already a number of cases that breaches of procedure had occured.
The Welsh tax payer has paid:-first class air travel at a cost of £6125.63, when Business class was available; Credit cards used to withdraw foreign currency for 'hospitality'; the purchase of children's school text books at a cost of £553.87; AA membership - £203.54; electrcity bill for a residential address - £345.22; clothing - £74.00; football kits -£150.00; dishwater for the office (including 3 year warranty) - £280.30 and an item called "personal care" on a department store receipt £45.30. They spent £3,394.44 overseas on a Wales v South Africa rugby match.
Now this might be small beer in the Welsh Assembly's total budget but for the rest of us who pay our own bills it an another example of public servants living the high life on the back of the Welsh taxpayer.
It's not as if we're been overwhelmed by inward investors. Value for money, it is not.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Pay back time or maybe not

In the post bag of Members of Parliament this morning will be a letter that most will not want to receive - a bill. Not any ordinary bill but a letter from Sir Thomas Legg.
He has been auditing their expense claims for the last 5 years and it is believed will tell them to hand back the cash or justify their claims afresh.
It is thought 500 MPs of all paries are in Sir Thomas's frame for being to greedy.
But many MPs are outraged at such demands. As they see it, they played by the rules of the game at the time. Now they don't see why they should have to dip their hands into their pockets now that the rules have changed. All be it that they drew up the rules in the first place.
It is reckoned that about 200 MPs will refuse to pay. This will ensure that the controversy on MPs expenses will rumble on up to and beyond the next general election. A nightmare prospect for Gordon Brown.
So much for cleaning up their act and making a fresh start. This will do nothing to rehabilitate politicians in the eyes of the public.
In contrast, the National Assembly have a measure going through the Senedd this week which aims to strengthen the powers of the Standards Commissioner. These new powers will put a duty on the Standards Commissioner to promote and encourage best practice amongst Assembly Members.
Again the Assembly are showing themselves to be more sure footed than MPs in reading the public mood. Wheras MPs still don't seem to get it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

A spring referendum

Sir Emyr Jones Parry's Convention has finished its work. It will be published next month once translation into Welsh is complete. But last Wednesday Sir Emyr was hot footing it to meet First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones to give them an oral preview of the conclusions. And whatabout the conclusions.
Yes, despite Carwyn Jones's heroic attempt to say that the LCO system of law making was working well the convention were not convinced. They want to move to full law making powers for the Assembly as soon as possible. And the date - late Spring or early Summer of next year. Could it be before the next general election? Unlikely.
But it could be a decision for Mr Cameron as he opens his red box when he takes the keys to number 10.
Perhaps, of more immediate interest will be the response of the leadership contenders for Rhodri Morgan's job. Will they agree with Sir Emyr's conclusions or will they try to curry favour with Welsh Labour MPs and try to kick it to the long grass?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Language law

Almost from the first, Westminster has frustrated the right of the National Assembly to make laws[Measures] on the the Welsh Language. But tomorrow could see a break through. The Legislative Competence Order[LCO] may finally emerge from the murky corridors of Westminster and Whitehall. Then the fun and games will begin when the National Assembly starts to use its new powers.
I'm sure that, even as I write, Cymdeithas yr Iaith[The Welsh Language Society] are getting their banners and placards ready for the first skirmish on a Language Measure.

The LCO will be laid before the National Assembly sometime after the Welsh Grand Committee debate the issue on 14 October. Quite why the Welsh Grand are involved, as they have no formal role in the legislative process, remains a mystery.
What is beyond dispute is that Assembly Members have been turned over by MPs on this LCO as on so many others. Instead of sticking to their role of adjudicating on the principle of an LCO the Welsh Affairs committee of the House of Commons have gone further. They have insisted on the LCO containing details that should be in Measures. Welsh MPs are again trying to micro-manage what the National Assembly does. This constitutional nonsense will have to be sorted sooner or later. The process is neither straightforward, transparent and in these straightened times economic.

Rules of the game

The race is on to choose the next leader of the labour group in the Assembly, but what are the rules.
To win you have to get over half of the votes cast. But it being the Labour Party it's not quite as straight forward as counting all the votes. Oh no, they have what is called an 'electoral college.' In the college there are three distinct sections all having a third of the total vote.

The first and most important are the 56 elected Welsh Labour members of the National Assembly , House of Commons and the European Parliament. These 56 members between them command a third of the votes. So they have a disproportionate say in the final outcome. Indeed, by virtue of the fact that there are more of them, the Labour MPs are top dogs in this section.

The second section are ordinary party members who will all have a postal vote.

The third section consist of trade unions and socialist societies that are affiliated to the Welsh Labour party. Unlike last time the union bosses can't cast a block vote for their favourite son or daughter, this time they have got to ballot their members. In total there are 278,450 potential voters in this section. They break down as follows: Unite 36%, Unison Cymru 18.7%, GMB 18.3%, USDAW 7.9%, CWU 5%, Community 3.6%, Wales Co-op Party 3.6%, NUM South Wales 1.8%, UCATT 1.8%, ASLEF 0.7%, Musicians Union 0.7%, BECTU 0.4%, TSSA 0.4%, Fabians 0.4%, Socialist Health Association 0.4%, Welsh Labour Students 0.4%.

Only the Assembly Members can nominate the candidates and each candidate has to have 6 nominations. So it is theoretically for four candidates to be nominated, but only three candidates are likely to be in the race. Edwina Hart, Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis. We will only know for certain on 22 October.

The ballot papers will be sent out on the 2 November and will close on the 26 November with the results been announced on Tuesday, 1 December.

There will only be one mailing which will include the candidates' information and the ballot paper. There is a bar on the candidates doing any other mailing or advertising in the press. They can, however phone, e-mail and use the web to reach the voters.

Unions can send out material backing their chosen brother or sister to there members. Which will undoubtedly give an advantage to whoever they choose to back.

There will be 5 husting meetings but only Labour party members may attend. So the rest of us will be left in the cold with no say at all on who we want as our next First Minister.

Perhaps the pressure will grow for a recall Assembly election. So that the people of Wales can decide who they want as First Minister.

Friday, 2 October 2009

To the winner the crown, maybe.

Well, the race to replace Rhodri Morgan as leader of the Labour group of Assembly Members is underway. But will the winner automatically become First Minister. Not necessarily. The eventual winner will have to enter into discussions with the deputy First Minister who, of course, is Ieuan Wyn Jones the leader of Plaid Cymru. Despite the insistance of both parties that the Plaid/Labour coalition is a done deal there are voices off stage that are looking at other options. Rhodri might yet be with us as acting First Minister a little longer than December.