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.