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.