Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Labour push ahead

The election of a Conservative- Liberal Democrat government in Westminster has created a bounce. But the bounce is for Labour in Wales at least according to the ITV Wales YouGov tracking poll.

42 per cent of those polled have indicated that if there was an Assembly election held now they would vote Labour in Constituency vote. This is an increase of 10% from May. This same level of increase was also reflected in which party they would vote for in the regional list vote – 40 per cent.

This beats Labour’s best-ever vote in an Assembly election, which was 40% constituency and 37% regional in 2003, when they won 30 of the 60 seats.

The big losers are the Liberal Democrats with a fall of 8 per cent from their May ratings. At that time 20 per cent would vote for them in the constituency vote and 18 per cent in the regional lists. This latest poll shows a drop to 12 per cent in both constituency and regional lists.

Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives are running neck and neck with one another. With those polled indicating that 20 per cent would vote for Plaid Cymru in the constituency section and 19 per cent on the regional list. And those indicated that their preference for the Conservatives would be on the basis of 19 per cent in the constituency and 20 per cent on the regional list.

On the basis of this poll Labour could for the first time edge towards a majority in the Assembly.

The same poll indicates an increase in the number of those likely to vote ‘Yes’ in favour of more law making powers for the Assembly. Now 55% are in favour; 28% against and 17% either don’t know how they’d vote or won’t vote at all on the issue. This is 6 per cent up on ITV Wales’s April poll.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

All good things are worth a wait

This term of the National Assembly may not come to a close next May. No there hasn't been a coup and we are not under military rule. The civilian leaders of the Assembly just want an extension of their term of office. In the words of Corporal Jones ,'don't panic'. We're not being deprived of our democratic right to turf politicians out of office for  too long.
The four parties  want a month's stay of execution. Why? Well, all the parties are going to have a massive love in.  They are all going to be singing from the same hymn sheet for the period preceding the referendum, which is expected to be held in early March. So we'll have a period of sweetness and light between late summer and next spring.  All Assembly Members will be cosing up to each other. Whether Members of Parliament will enter into the spirit of things remains to be seen, but as they say that's a different story.
And then? Well business as usual. Hostilities will break out again. Inter-party strife for the election.
The only problem is that the party bosses feel that a couple of months might not be enough to make us the electorate forget this new 'respect' type of politics.
No, they need a longer period to get back into their old ways and back to politics as usual. So in a  private meeting recently the four party leaders decided that they would ask Secretary of State Gillan to postpone the election for a month. For the 'She' has it in her gift to grant the request.
A letter is being prepared by Carwyn Jones at the moment to ask the favour.
So the trip to the polling station for the Assembly elections is likely to be in June of next year. All good things are worth the wait, surely!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Three years of cohabiting

Over three years ago there was a choice to be made, to break the mould of Welsh politics and throw Labour out of office and hope that there was a pot of gold at the end of that particular rainbow. 
The other choice was to get into bed with the class warriors and forget the rainbow of colours and simply concentrate on green and red. 
As the second largest party it was very much Plaid Cymru’s call. As we all know they decided on Labour and as they say the rest is history.
Well, the agreement has delivered the one prize that Plaid Cymru were really after apart that is from getting their backsides on seats around the cabinet table. Yes, the prize was a referendum on strengthening the law making powers of the National Assembly. However, there is a certain irony in the fact that it is a Conservative Secretary of State that is setting the timetable for said vote.
Cheryl Gillan the new ‘she’ of Welsh politics has given the Welsh chattering class until the Spring to convince us the great unwashed, that the Assembly really does need these powers and it is really worth all our whiles to trudge out in the cold and vote for such.
‘She’ and her government will stay strictly neutral on the issue.  All the running will be done by Assembly politicians. Yes, they of the Bay will speak almost with one voice in favour of the proposition. 
Within the next ten weeks the Electoral Commission will consult on the suitability of the question and the preamble that the Wales office of the Westminster government has sent them. So by the end of Summer we will know exactly what the question and the preamble will be. 
Then the campaigning will begin in earnest. 
There are two obstacles that those in favour of a ‘yes’ vote have to overcome. The first is  how do you persuade people that a gradualist approach to law making that involves both Westminster and the Assembly should be put aside in favour of the big bang of all the powers resting in Cardiff Bay.
Most people are suspicious of power resting in the hands of too small a group of politicians. And the mantra often heard is that politicians should try working together a bit more. The current settlement is the very embodiment of such.
The second and perhaps biggest problem for the ‘yes’ campaign is the anti-politics feeling that is abroad in the country. Most punters feel that there should be a plague on all their houses. If politicians are urging you to vote ‘yes’ the natural response is to vote ‘no’.
My guess is that if they really want to win, the ’yes’ campaigners should encourage anyone  but anyone that is not a politician to be the public face of such a campaign.
Who?   ‘Nessa’ from Gavin and Stacy fame. She’s far to scary to disagree with. Any other suggestions?

Friday, 25 June 2010

The economy and Wales

During the week it was interesting to interview Lord Howe to talk about his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatchers government. The mantra of that era was much the same as the mantra of today’s government ‘they had inherited a mess from the previous Labour government and had to take firm action to deal with it.’ This small extract of the interview was used in a package by my colleague Lynn Courney in Sharp End.
What struck me however in my informal discussion with Lord Howe was the philosophy of the time. There was the belief that Keynesian economics was out and the market should be allowed to do its own thing. Hence the growth of the financial sector and the over dependency on that sector of the  UK economy. With hindsight we now see what a mistake that was.
For us in Wales that period saw big structural changes to our economy. The new governments policy saw the acceleration of the decline that had already started under the Callaghan administration of our heavy industries.
There was a run down of the traditional heavy industry such as coal and steel. The jobs tied to the industries were never replaced with other manufacturing jobs, The  growth was in jobs tied to the service industry. As Max Boyce so wryly observed the ‘pit house was a supermarket now.’
But another aspect of the economy almost directly followed the unique situation the Conservatives found themselves in Wales. They had to govern a country that had a Labour majority. 
How, you might ask did they set about it? They developed the quango state.
These public bodies were established and on the Boards they put on Conservative supporters. Bodies such as the WDA, Development Board for Rural Wales, Tai Cymru etc. all had their placemen and women.
These bodies in time developed, grew and became major public sector employers.
With the advent of devolution many of the quangos were absorbed within the Welsh Assembly Government itself. They were no longer arms length organisations but part of the civil service.
A  convincing argument can, therefore, be put forward that Wales’s high dependency on the public sector for jobs can be directly attributed to the previous Conservative government’s policy. Whilst that government failed to a degree to build up manufacturing and private sector they certainly succeeded in crating the large public sector.  And the sector has continued to grow like Topsy. Now just under a quarter of the people of Wales in work are employed in it. 
There is a certain irony that  almost the first act of the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition has been to pronounce its determination to cut back on public expenditure. 
George Osborne’s budget made it clear that he expected to see all government departments’ budgets cut by twenty five percent.  Meaning a big cut back in jobs.
In Wales this will have a disproportionate effect because of our high dependency on such jobs. 
Wales will take a hit with again and despite the Assembly’s best endeavors can do little about it.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Periods leave their mark

There's a time for everything, and marking time is important to everyone. A certain day is all important to each one of us. The birth day, wedding day and the date of death.
Not only are some days important but some years - the year that you start school or college, the first job or even retirement.
Each one are significant to us as individuals.
Its also similar for society. Time is noted and some days are celebrated. The years of the two world wars, armistice day, Coronation day and for some even the day of the investiture. And to us Welsh Saint David's day and for many that remember with shame Tryweryn  and with sadness, Aberfan.
Some political years are remembered, for good or ill.
The thirties of the last century with high unemployment, poverty and despair have left a scar on the generation of the time. Despite many of us having been  born way after the era, it is still part of our 'psyche' as a nation.
As also 1945 - the end of the war and the advent of Clem Attlee as prime minister and a Labour government with a majority which established the welfare state, the national health service and nationalized many key industries.
Despite us changing governments many times since then, little impression was made until the coming of Maggie Thatcher in 1979. Her philosophy that there was no such thing as society, it was the individual that was all important. Almost all industries were privatised, and she made many of us shareholders and capitalists.
Many were buying shares in the once  state owned industries. The regulation of the City of London and the financial sector in general was eased.
There was a negative side to all this. Wales lost its heavy industries and great was the cost to many a community in South Wales. Despite this all the period of her premiership was memorable.
Her successors changed very little. It was very unlikely that John Major would change much, but what was disappointing to many Blair and Brown followed the same path.  And in some respects it is why we are in the economic mess we find ourselves at the moment. Because, it was the light touch on regulating the banks that caused them to take risks and hence the hole we're in.
What about 2010? Will this be an year to remember? It is quite likely that it will.
All the signs are there. It is quiet possible that our society will undergo fundamental change. If there is a substantial cut back in public expenditure, most of us will be affected. Some services will disappear totally, others will be transferred either to the private or voluntary sector. The welfare state will shrink almost out of existence and as certain as  night follows day the economy will be back in recession again.
Oh yes, its possible that we'll remember the time with bitterness.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Listening to the cuckoo sing

There is  tradition in parts of Wales that when you hear the cuckoo sing for the first time each year if you shake some coins in either your pocket or purse prosperity will come your way. So my advice to you dear reader is to go out and listen for the bird before George Osborne gets on his feet to deliver his first budget.
But you may say we've already had one budget in April why do we need another so soon? A fair question, why indeed?
Its because the strategy of the new government is totally different to that of Mr Brown's government.
Alistair Darling's approach was to tackle the problem gradually. His biggest worry was to through the country back into recession by acting in haste on the debt. Indeed the strategy had the backing of the Liberal Democrats especially their economic 'guru' Vince Cable.
But he, like his party has changed his tune. That's what power does!
Now the most important thing, according to the coalition, is to rush in and deal with the problem immediately. And the strategy? Firstly, to start to cut public expenditure. We've had a taste of this already from the unfortunate David Law, and we'll have more in the Autumn when his successor starts on the comprehensive spending review.
But now the other side of the coin, the Budget. As George Osborne has made it clear for some time, an urgent budget is required to increase and improve the public accounts.
He is eager to get more of us to cut back on our personal debt and make us more careful and less profligate. As the Bank of England is independent of the Treasury its not possible to change our behaviour by using interest rates. It is therefore necessary to deal with the problem directly. How?
Take the money straight from our pockets. VAT will  certainly go up. Some benefits will be frozen and some will vanish all together. There will be less money redistributed than previously.
What ever the details of the Budget, the public will ask but one question, is it fair? Will the burden of the situation the country finds itself in be shared equally amongst us all? There is a suspicion that the Conservative government will look after their friends, the rich and privileged, and it will be the rest of us that will bear the cost. We'll see.
What is certain, it is at the start of a term of office that a government will take the most unpopular decisions. So we can expect a rather tough three years.
So we live in hope that the cuckoo sings in the next week or so.

Half a sentence on Wales

The just love their pageants in Westminster. You'll often see men, and they usually are men, dressed in a colourful uniform more appropriate for a fancy dress party than a parliament. All this is writ large on the occasion of the state opening of parliament.
The Queen turns up with her husband in an up market coach and horses, members of the House of lords in their furs and members of the Commons 'summoned' to listen to the address from the throne. If you were to arrive on this planet from outer space, you'd think the whole thing to be bizarre. Well that's the way it is the English do like their pomp and ceremony.
But far more important, is the content of the speech. Or to us in Wales the lack of content. In the whole speech there was only half a sentence specifically on Wales. The brief reference was to inform us that the government would comply with the request from the Welsh Assembly and grant a referendum sometime within the next eighteen months. Hooray!
Despite the National Assembly deciding by an unanimous vote in the chamber requesting a referendum on more powers it is Westminster's decision in the end. They decide on the timing of the order and as a consequence when the nation decides 'yes' or 'no.'
Interestingly the prime minister said that it was likely that the referendum would take place next year. Why is this of interest? Well because it was as much of a surprise to Cheryl Gillan , the Secretary of State as it was to everyone else.
It was also a disappointment to the Carwyn Jones who heard this, not through the usual channels, but from the press. Embarrassment all round.
Carwyn Jones maintains that it should take place the Autumn. The Secretary of State saying that there was not enough time to consult on the question for this to happen. With the former Secretary of State, Peter Hain, announcing that his officials maintained a few days before he left office that it would be tight to hold a referendum in the Autumn but not impossible. Those very same  officials are now working for Mrs Gillan.
And in truth, with parliament now extending the time that it is sitting by an extra four weeks this summer with political will it would be possible to have things ready for the Autumn.
But with the David Cameron now having expressed his view the hot money is now on the new year being the time when Welsh people will be able to express their views.
The sooner the better. Why? It is not possible for the inquiry on how Wales is funded to be established until  the referendum has taken place.
Wales will be at its loss by delay.