Monday, 26 April 2010

Golwg Column translation: Looking at the manifesto

Every party has a launch of their campaign. And just as night follows day, there is another important date in the political calender the launch of the manifesto. All the parties prepare a manifesto and spend a great deal of cash publishing it. But very few read them.
Journalists, the politicians themselves and a few political anoraks - they are the only ones to take an interest. Why then do we need them?
Just like the creed represents a religious faith, the manifesto of a political party is a public declaration of  intention and  principle.
From the manifesto we discover what laws to expect if the party under consideration wins power. There is a special status in a party's intention to legislate on a manifesto commitment. And should a party not live up to their manifesto commitment it is regarded as a real sin. Some might go as far as to call it treachery. So it is not an insignificant act to publish a manifesto and the public declaration that it entails of the party's intentions. It has to be taken seriously.
As the opinion polls are still pointing to a hung parliament, in such a situation the manifesto becomes all important. Why? It is on the contents of these that the parties will discuss the programme of a coalition government. Or come to an understanding with an other party to maintain it in government.
Certainly the whole campaign of Plaid Cymru is based on the premise that there will be an uncertain result. As the party hasn't a hope of ever forming a government even if there was a political miracle and they won all forty Welsh seats and there is no sign of any such miracle. The talk of a hung parliament is music to their ears.
They now campaign with confidence. The opinion polls answer that question that a vote for them is a wasted one. They can push the argument that they will have influence, and it's not impossible for them to have their way with some of the policies in  manifesto.  And that is the hope of all small parties, influence and being taken seriously.
This is also the case with the Liberal Democrats in the British context. They have been squeezed in successive elections between the two larger parties. A lack of credibility. Not taken seriously as a party that could gain power and govern.
That is why the television debates was such  tonic to Nick Clegg and his party. He was on the same stage as the big beasts. 9.4 million viewers watched Nick Clegg in the first debate a holding his own with the Brown and Cameron. And it was he in the eyes of the viewers that won the contest. Consequently his party so this reflected in the polls and are now taken seriously.
It is likely now that Cameron is regretting having challenged the Prime Minister to a television debate. Because he has given a stage to a party that is likely to damage his as much or even more perhaps than Labour. I t was perhaps not an accident that Gordon Brown was looking for Clegg's backing in the first debate. And we see enough  in the two parties manifesto's that they agree on that should the case arise that they can cooperate on in government.
Yes, it will be interesting to look at the manifesto's of the parties after 6 May.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Golwg Column translation: A unique script for everyone

Its a privilege to travel about Wales to ask the population what  issues in the election are important to them, especially when someone else is paying.
And indeed as the saying goes  'something different worries us all.' What is strange is that wherever in Wales you are, something differnt holds the attention of the public.
Of course the agenda of the parties themselves get attention - the economy, the recession, cuts and how to pay back the country's debt. However, there is always a local twist to each one of these.
In Pemrokeshire they were worried about inward migration from eastern Europe at a time of unemployment. In Ceridigion the price of petrol and diesel, was the focus of attention, and the farmers were worried about the purchasing muscle of the supermarkets.
In Holyhead unemployment was the burning issue and in many an other  place, especially in Caernarfon and Bangor , the war in Afghanistan was top of the list. A reflection, perhaps, of the large number of recruits from the area that join the ranks of the armed forces.
Just as I've discovered in my journey around Wales, the political parties have learned the same lesson. They will market direct to the electors reflecting their concerns and worries.
The parties use the same marketing techniques as the largest retail companies. All of us are purt in a category or class. Our status is analyzed and our interests and our worries are discovered by using focus groups. Consequently the parties can create an unique message to each one of us. A message that will comfort us, answer or concerns and of course make us more likely to support them.
But you might say, 'I've never had this treatment from a party'.
well, it depends on were you live and your constituency. If your seat is a marginal one and likely to change the sitting Member, these are the seats that get all the attention. Most of this type of seat lay in the Midlands  and South East of England. So its unlikely that many in Wales will get the attention of the masters of these black arts.
If you happen to live in these seats then you won't have much peace between now and the sixth of May. The phone will be ringing, the parties will be trying to get hold of you, and they'll have a script prepared for you. Just as the supermarkets know what your likely to buy, the parties know exactly what kind of policies that appeal to you.
So be on your guard in case you get cheated by the script. You have to weigh and balance before you vote, especially when all the parties are running so close to each other and are even more eager for your cross in the right box.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

There always be an England

If I was ever to seek membership of a top golf club I feel that I would be well prepared after attending the launch of UKIPs Welsh campaign and manifesto launch. It was almost an all male affair and although they weren't all wearing blazers you just felt that they should.
Although it was a Welsh campaign launch at Cardiff Yacht Club any reference to Wales would have been purely accidental. In effect it seemed like a launch of an English Independence campaign. The only reference to Wales was in the context of scrapping the Welsh Assembly - Henry Tudor re-visited without the Act of Union. But in order not to let the building go to waste Welsh MPs were to make their way down the M4 from Westminster for a week to attend to devolved matters.
Ah! hold on, they are at one with those campaigning about the unfairness of the Barnett formula.  Just  one slight difference. They think the formula is unfair on the English, so ought to be scrapped. Its replacement, not in the in-tray, yet.
The party leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the main speaker at the launch. He kept protesting that he wasn't a politician despite sitting in the House of Lords  for some years. But he was refreshing in his candour.  When he could'nt answer a question  and there were many in this category, he admitted to his ignorance.
All too often the question was passed to  a man in the know. Unfortunately, his answer left one even more confused.
I did glean however they want us out of Europe. And they want a halt to  migration into UK. Although the  dear Lord had a soft spot for the Polish plumber.
And an official holiday for St Georges day. No mention of St David. But apparently that was an oversight and will be put right on their web site.
Just as I was leaving said launch  I was asked by a member of UKIP ,who said he  'was as Welsh as anyone,'  why had I asked questions about Wales. It seemed rather a strange question to ask someone who was attending their 'Welsh' launch. On reflecting on their manifesto, perhaps, it was not so strange a question after all.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Its good for the English but not the Welsh

'Strengthen shared ownership schemes which allow those on low-to-middle incomes to own or part-own their home. We will offer tenants with a record of five years’ good behaviour a 10 per cent equity share in their social rented property, which can be cashed in when they want to move up the housing ladder' 
A straight lift from the Conservative manifesto. What the manifesto fails to mention is that it can only apply to England. 
Why? Because the Welsh Assembly government don't have the powers to implement this type of scheme. And why not I hear you ask. Well, because the Conservatives both in the Palace of Westminster and in the National Assembly decided to reject the Housing Legislative Competence Order that would have allowed the Welsh Assembly to introduce such schemes.
Despite all the leading Housing organisations in Wales pointing out the harm that would be done if the Tories continued with their opposition of the Housing LCO. They took no notice. So the LCO failed to make it because Parliament dissolved. If the Tories had  agreed to it going through in the Wash up arrangements that fast tracks legislation all could have been saved. But they refused.
Now we have the invidious postition of the English being able to gain help through shared ownership schemes to access  owner occupation, courtersy of Mr Cameron's party.  But the Welsh unable to gain access, courtersy of Mr Cameron's party. 
It will be interesting to see what the Welsh Conservative manifesto says on this point.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Golwg Column translation: Keeping to principle

'I'm a man of principle, and if your not happy with them, I'll change them,' So said Marx - Groucho not Karl. In the next few weeks we'll hear a great deal about principles in the context of politicians trying to win our support.
At one time it was relatively easy to separate the two major parties by their principles. The Conservative party was certain that the market was the way to growth. The less government had to do with the market the better.  You could describe them as the party of big business. The party for the capitalists. And it was big business, to a large extent, that were the main donors to the party.
The Labour Party had an opposite view of the world. `as their name suggests, they were the workers party. A party that reasoned that the best way for society to progress was for the state to control the economy and in many an industry for the state to take the reins completely and nationalize them.
That's how it used to be between the two parties until the 1950s. Then a new word appeared in the political dictionary 'Butskellism' - a word that described the political consensus between Rab Butler from the Conservative Party and Hugh Gaitskell from the Labour Party.
Butler was the Conservative Chancellor at the time and Hugh Gaitskell was the former Chancellor in the Attlee government. under the influence of both a political consensus emerged. The two parties came to the conclusion that the economy should be a mixture of private and publicly controlled industries. And government's role was to gently intervene in the economy. And this is how it was between the two parties until the advent of Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister.
She broke the pattern and her party went back to its roots. many an industry was privatized. The old consensus was out and the party was back as a party of business.
She was so successful that she caused Labour to shift its principles. Old Labour went out and in came New Labour.
Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown New Labour became the friend of the City  and the business community in general. The constitution was changed dropping Clause 4 to break the links with socialism.
And thats how it remained. A socialist party changing to be a party and a friend of business. Breaking the harsh regulation over industries was the day's mantra. The light regulation became apparent when our banks got into difficulties. And the economic difficulties we face as a country follow this 'light touch' regulation.
And now in the midst of another election, how in the world are we going to differentiate  between the principles of the parties? Perhaps the old world of parties with principles and a core philosophy are over. Pragmatism rules. It will be one of the two pragmatic parties that will form the next government.
Perhaps the message for us the electors lies in Groucho's saying. Will it be possible to influence the parties to change their principles to suit us?

Monday, 5 April 2010

Golwg column translation: The marvel of the rubber man

In the Llan fair, Llanllechud fair, I saw many a wonder of this old world. One that left a great impression on men was the indian rubber man.
As his promotional material described, the person could change his body to any shape, almost as if there was not a bone in his body. An exceptional talent.
Strangely the old indian rubber man came into mind in the Assembly recently. Why? As the ability to bend every way was prominent on the day of the civil service strike.
As in every strike the pickets were out encouraging their fellow workers not to go work. As a matter of principle and sympathy with the civil service strikers, Labour and Plaid Cymru Assembly members refused to cross the picket line.
The mantro of these Assembly Members was 'I'll be working somewhere else.' And fair play to them members of the cabinet were to be seen working iin some of the best restaurants in the Bay and I have no doubt that the rest of the AMs were working hard in their constituencies. And that's the end of the story.
Well, not quite. The Members of Parliament of the two parties under discussion were working in Westminster. Yes, they crossed the picket line. Of course, one would expect members of the government to be at their desks as it is they that are behind the dispute.
In the bone, it is the governments attempt to change the redundancy terms of civil servants is at the heart of the dispute. One would expect members of the government to work through the strike but their collegues on the back benches were also in their usual places. The picket line it seems was not a problem for them.
How were members of the same party able to make a different principled stand in the two places?
Welsh Labour Members of Parliament able to cross the picket line but their collegues an fellow members in the Welsh Assembly refusing to cross the line.
But it was even more difficult to understand Plaid Cymru's viewpoint. In Westminster Plaid Members of Parliament expressed their sympathy to the  stand taken by the Union but, in their opinion, it was important that they took part in the debate on the Budget.
But on the very same day in the Assembly there was an important debate in the Assembly. A debate on the order on the remuneration of members. After the whole debacle of MPs expenses one would have thought that the debate on how the Assembly was going to deal with the issue would have been regarded as important by all Assembly Members. No, clearly not. Only the Tories and the Liberal Democrats were present to vote n such an important Order.
How could a debate in Westminster by important enough to Plaid Cymru to cause them to cross the picket line but the same compulsion was not there for the Assembly? The ability for  a party to change its shape to suit the occasion. An indian rubber party?
One member of Plaid Cymru did attend the Assembly on the day in question, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas. And his explanation? Fulfilling his democratic duty.
Its a pit that more didn't feel under the same obligation.