Friday, 28 January 2011

No official campaign

So it’s now official. There will be no officially-designated lead campaigns for more powers for the Welsh assembly, according to the Electoral Commission. 
With True Wales not applying for an official status and there being no other creditable application on the ‘no’ side, there cannot be an officially recognised referendum campaign.
Why you ask? Well, because the law says you’ve got to have two sides designated  or none at all. 
With only the ‘yes’ side seeking offical approval, there is no contest. Well no contest that has official blessing at least.
But worry not, for there are comforting words from Kay Jenkins, the Electoral Commission’s Welsh boss. She says that people will recieve an information booklet on the referendum shortly.
And more, much more than this, she says.
 "A number of campaigners - including political parties, individuals and trade unions - have also already started their campaigns." 
She goes on to say, "So there should be plenty of opportunities for voters to hear the arguments of both sides in the media, in campaign materials and online."
Of course, if she’s right, it begs the question why shell out public money on official campaigns when in her opinion the voters are going to be informed by the competing sides.
But is this true? It would take a brave person to wager that all those entitled to vote will know the why and wherefore of the referendum. 
A significant number of people in Wales get most of their information from a news media that has an English only agenda. This referendum has a snowball’s chance in hell of being featuring by these news outlets.
But would a handout by the state make any difference. Would the Commission’s money make any difference? It is doubtful. 
Not the way the rules are framed. To pay for back office functions but not for campaigning material is a nonsense.  
A free mail shot reaching every household is only an advantage if you can afford to produce the material.Likewise to get people to sit up and notice in a  free broadcast does not come cheap.
Clearly, parliament has laid down some crazy rules for the Electoral Commission to follow. Indeed they never envisaged a referendum that was backed by most if not all the main political parties. 
Surely Parliament needs to look again at the issues raised by this referendum. A major overhaul is needed. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Latest Poll results

Labour maintain their lead in the polls according to the latest ITV Wales/YouGov poll.

They increase their lead slightly on the December election to 46% and have  a 13 point lead on their  2007 Assembly election results. Making a  majority government a realistic aspiration.

Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives are running neck and neck with each other, both on 21%. A slight fall in the Conservative polling from their 23% in December.

The party that have cause for concern are the Liberal Democrats. They still remain in single figures in both the constituency and regional polls. 

In Wales they poll much lower than their poll ratings in the rest of the UK. Here the daily YouGov’s  poll for the Sun has  them at 10% [ CON 37%, LAB 43%, LDEM 10%]. 

The figures would indicate that more of the voters in Wales are punishing Liberal Democrats for entering the coalition in Westminster with the Tories.

Again  the polls show that voters are coming back to Labour in droves in  Wales whilst it still remains slow progress in the rest of the  UK. They have a stunning 25 point lead on the Conservatives in Wales which contrast with only a 6 point lead on them in the rest of the UK.

My analysis of how the poll translates into seats, of course, the usual health warning applies, and I presume a uniform swing and with Blaenau Gwent  reverting back to Labour. 

Given all these caveats, on the poll  Labour would gain their much hoped for majority with 31 seats. But as the Chinese would say, be careful what you hope for, a small majority would pose a real headache for Carwyn Jones.

Management of government on a small majority causes logistic problems, he becomes a real prisoner to his  group each one of which would have to be kept sweet.  He might find it easier all round if the current coalition with Plaid Cymru were to continue. 

Plaid Cymru on these figures, breathe a sigh of relief, for they remain the second largest party in the Assembly with 14 seats. 

The Conservatives are on 10 and the Lib Dems  5. Despite the low poll rating for the Lib Dems, the list system works in their favour

Again the poll points to the 'yes' side looking forward to an easy victory in March referendum. Although there still remains a large number that indicate that they don't intend to vote. Making a low poll a likely outcome.


Results of poll carried out 24th to 26nd January 2011. Sample size: 1113.

(compared with 2007 election and December’s poll. NB This month’s figures are weighted by likelihood to vote, unweighted figures are given in brackets)

If there were an election to the National Assembly for Wales tomorrow, and thinking about the constituency vote, how would you vote?

                  2007           Dec       Jan

Labour        32%           44%        45%    (47%)

Pl. Cymru    22%          21%         21%    (20%)

Cons.           22%         23%         21%    (21%)

Lib. Dem.     15%           6%           7%      (7%)

Others           8%           6%           6%      (7%)

And thinking about the regional or party vote for the National Assembly for Wales, which party list would you vote for?

                     2007         Dec        Jan

Labour           30%          42%       41%   (43%)

Pl. Cymru       21%          21%       21%   (20%)

Cons.             22%          22%       20%   (20%)

Lib. Dem.       12%             5%         8%    (8%)

Others            16%          10%        10%   (11%)

(compared with December’s poll. Again, this month’s figures are weighted for likelihood to vote, the unweighted figures are in brackets)

If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales increased law-making powers, how would you vote?

                               Dec             Jan

Yes                          46%             49%       (44%)

No                            25%             26%       (23%)

Don’t Know/             29%             26%       (32%)
Wouldn’t Vote   

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The economy slows down

GDP Growth
UK output decreases by 0.5%

Real GDP quarterly growth
Real GDP quarterly growth

Output is down. The government  blame the  big freeze of December which put a stop to many an activity. Undoubtedly there is some truth in this. 

But for the Chancellor to blame all of these truly dreadful figures on the bad weather is exaggerating his case somewhat. Its like the the railway bosses blaming the non-running of trains on the wrong type of snow.

The bad weather affected one month, December. This is the  month that the nation spends regardless of the weather. 

The ONS estimates that weather effects knocked about 0.5% off GDP  so, even without the impact, the underlying growth picture is significantly weaker than expected. 

These shockingly bad  figures  raise serious concerns over whether the economy is in a strong enough position to withstand the coming fiscal tightening. The prospect of a double dipped recession is real indeed.

Why? Well,there are other adverse forces in play, not least the impact of the latest VAT hike. 
In addition the pressures on consumers from high inflation and weak wages growth, as well as weakness in some of the UK's major export markets, all suggest that growth will remain pretty sluggish throughout the year.

On top of all, as the year progresses  the government's austerity measures will bite. Government will be taking money out of the economy again acting as a brake on growth. These latest figures  show little sign that the private sector is in a position to  take up the slack.

But perhaps the most worrying sign of the perilous road we're travelling are contained in an other set of figures produced recently, that on mortgage lending.

Mortgage lending dropped to its lowest levels for ten years. It was a drop of 5 per cent from the previous year. It now stands at £16.8 billion. This  lack of activity in the housing market has a knock on effect on the economy as a whole. Reducing further activity that could contribute to growth.

Indeed, these latest GDP figures show construction fell by 3.3% on the quarter after a near 4% increase the prior quarter. The figures are a stark reminder of the critical role that construction plays in the UK economy. 

The Westminster government should reflect on these figures and question it's rush to cut back the public  deficit. These deficit-busting austerity measures cause a real concern about the future health and strength of our economy. 

There many things in life that are better taken gradually. And this is one of them.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Own Goal?

True Wales undoubtedly scored a PR coup be refusing to register to lead the ‘no’ campaign. Their decision undoubtedly put the ‘yes’ camp on the back foot.

But it is likely that the momentary attention they’ve won for themselves will fade away as the campaign gets properly underway. 

There is always a superficial attraction in any argument that tax payers shouldn’t have to fit the bill for political campaigns. But, perhaps a pause for thought is required. Is democracy well served if the electors are kept in the dark?

Not having any mail drops, not having any election broadcasts puts the editorial control in the hands of the media. 

Such a campaign will be conducted by the rules and regulations of the broadcasters or according to the editorial whim of the newspaper editor. Is that the best way of informing people of the reasoned arguments of both sides?

To pitch a campaign as the people against the politicians is good populist stuff. After the goings on in Westminster on MPs expenses there are still an awful lot of people out there that hold politicians in very low regard. 

A campaign that taps into such feelings may just hit the right spot with the voters.
The ‘yes’ side seem to have acknowledged the potency of such an argument by featuring ‘ordinary’ people at their national launch.

But by not going for the lead ‘no’ organization status with the Electoral Commission they may have unwittingly shot themselves in the foot. They seem to have missed the opportunity of getting the views into every household in Wales.

Their arguments can only be effective if people hear about them. To deny themselves an opportunity of putting them across is like winking at a member of the opposite sex in the dark, well meaning but  completely ineffective.

But, it does pose a major dilemma to those who would like to see Welsh people making an informed choice on 3 March. How will the argument be put so that the voters are motivated to turn out?

In the media? But many Welsh voters still get their information from London based media outlets. Indeed the majority of the voters fall into this category. The media is not known for its coverage of Welsh affairs.

Street  and public meetings? Even the best organized political campaigns only touch a very small number in this way. The answer is, not many. Few will hear, and even fewer will as a consequence act. 

So expect a low turnout on the day. Then the incrimination will begin. The shout will be  'the results lack democratic validity.' Wales will not be well served if that happens. 

No, True Wales have not done the ‘people’ a favour. It’s not the elite that suffer when democracy fails, but the people.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Road to independence?

“Plaid Cymru have nowhere else to go politically if the referendum is won but to go all out for independence.” This is a line that is been pushed in internal Labour party meetings in North Wales to encourage their members to work for and vote ‘yes’ in the March referendum. 
An Independent Wales has not stirred the blood of Welsh voters. There has not been a great rush to re-commission Offa’s Dyke and cut off from those on it’s eastern side. 
Aware of this Labour has always thought that ‘independence’ is a vote loser for Plaid Cymru. And who can disagree with their analysis.
Aware of this Plaid Cymru have played down this aspiration. ‘Independence’ is the word they dare not speak it’s name.
Intriguing how Labour is using the argument that the ‘No’ campaign is pushing, that a ‘Yes’ vote will be the slippery road to independence, to get their own members in North Wales to campaign for a positive vote. It’s Alice in Wonderland politics. 
All sensible voters know that if they vote ‘yes’ on what, after all is a tiding up technical exercise, Welsh passports will not be issued the next day.
But is it true that Plaid Cymru will have nowhere else to go politically if there is a ‘yes’ vote in a few week’s time? 
Undoubtedly the usual suspects in Plaid Cymru will be pushing that particular case. But there is no reason to believe that the leaders of the party will loosen their grip on the reins and allow this particular horse to gallop.
But if not independence then what? Well, it could be home rule. There is a perfectly reasonable case that could be put forward for Plaid Cymru to demand that powers be devolved to the Assembly on all domestic issues.

 OK some of them would be controversial, but it is not beyond the wit of a political party to argue their corner.
Criminal Justice, broadcasting, both Holtham reports, energy, are all areas for starters that a case could be made for Westminster to pass the parcel to Cardiff Bay.
Plaid Cymru could legitimately start running with the Lloyd George agenda for Home rule a policy that incidentally was Labour’s own policy until 1945. 
My hunch is that ‘Independence’ will remain very much a long term aspiration for Plaid Cymru. In other words it will be kicked into the long grass for many an year yet. In that same grass that Labour kicked its commitment to socialism.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Body parts

In the event of my sad demise I do hope that an unseemly row doesn't break out as to what should happen to my organs - provided that is that they are worth harvesting, of course.

Peace and harmony is certainly not the case at the conception of the law making process for organ donation.

The story so far is that the Assembly want the power to pass a law that assumes that Welsh people don't mind  the harvesting of organs from their dead bodies unless of course they expressly forbid it. Whilst they're alive of course!

Now all was preceding nicely. The Assembly  had consulted widely. Of those consulted, the majority   gave it the thumbs up sign. So all was fine and dandy, until yesterday.

What happened yesterday, you ask? The Assembly were in the process of kicking off the legislative process and mid debate  an e-mail arrived to the computer of the Health Secretary Edwina Hart.

The author of said our hapless Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan letting it be known that the Attorney General wasn't happy that the Assembly had the power to push ahead.

Apparently it wasn't a health matter but a human rights matter and as such, not a devolved matter.

Dear, oh dear, you can imagine the reaction of the Assembly, sufficient to say they were not happy little bunnies.

The farce continued with Cheryl Gillan first of all denying on the BBC that she had sponsored a failed Private Members bill along the same lines.  Later she had to apologize ,  she had  simply forgotten.

Politicians being politicians seeing a band wagon they just couldn't resist getting on it. In no time at all  press notices were been issued by the parties, faster than Cardiff traffic wardens issue parking tickets.

The theme of many of these notices,  that a 'yes' vote in the March referendum would stop such nonsenses.

But would it? Unlikely.

Ambiguity will still abound as to whether an issue was  devolved or not. In the mantra of all constitutional lawyers  'where there is clarity let me bring confusion.' In such disputes  it would be 'my learned friend' that would decide.

Indeed not only will lawyers  be making a killing on these issues but without a revising chamber  for the Assembly they must be rubbing their hands in anticipation of the pay day that will undoubtedly come.
Disputes  from the unicameral Assembly  will surely abound, after all, no  legislative body is perfect.   Despite the best brains in Wales sitting in the Assembly there will be occasions when they'll  err in their legislative duties.

The answer surely lies with the Gorsedd of bards. They should have an enhanced new role as our second chamber. After all if you can play around with strict metre, looking at Welsh Laws would be child's play.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Who next to run the country?

After the last Assembly election the prospect of Wales being run by a non-Labour coalition was very real indeed. All the talk was of a rainbow coalition of all the opposition parities doing a deal to run Wales. 
The prospect became very close to realization and was very much a go-er until the Liberal Democrat executive refused to endorse the agreement reached by its own party leader, Mike German, with the other two party leaders. The fact that they changed their minds again on the issue was to no avail, the damage was done. 
So Plaid Cymru found their pot of gold not under the rainbow but in the sweet embrace of Rhodri Morgan’s Labour Party in a new coalition. The One Wales agreement came into force and Plaid Cymru held national office for the first time ever in it’s history. 
Now in May Wales again goes to the polls. A new Assembly will be elected, but who will govern?  What will happen if Labour again fail to achieve an overall majority?
Carwyn Jones has ruled out a deal between Labour and the Conservatives. No shocks there then.
But what about Plaid Cymru? Are they equally emphatic? After all they came dangerously close to doing a deal with the Tories last time.
When pressed on the matter Ieuan Wyn Jones says that it would be difficult for his party to work with the Tories. But something that is difficult in politics is not impossible.
By not categorically ruling out such a deal but saying that such a deal would be extremely difficult to achieve what the leader of Plaid Cymru is saying is the bar for any agreement has been raised to a much higher level than last time. 
Any deal would not depend on what Nick Bourne brought to the table. No, its not Nick Bourne that would be the coalition broker but Mr Cameron. 
Plaid Cymru in any negotiating position would want Mr Cameron to offer some very big prizes indeed. 
What could those prizes be? A fair funding formula for Wales. The transfer of criminal justice powers and policing to the Welsh Assembly. Broadcasting.  And many other devolved matters. Anything that brought about real Home rule would be tempting  morsels indeed, for a nationalist party.
Although in reality it his highly unlikely that these events will come to pass. The most likely event is another deal between Plaid and Labour. 
But in politics the cardinal rule is ‘never say never.’

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The national mood.

 How sad to be French. Well according to a Gallup World survey The French are the most pessimistic nation state  followed by the Icelanders, Romanians, Serbs and then the British.
The happiest were Nigeria, Vietnam, Brazil, Ghana, China and Kosovo.
It would seem that in no small measure those with the rosiest outlook are people living in the fast-growing emerging powers. The most miserable of nations, those that face a bleak economic outlook. Such an outlook is what currently prevails throughout the Western world.
Alas, there was not a direct survey of Wales. So we know not whether we are a happy or sad little Celtic nation. But it would be surprising if we were in the ranks of the happiest.
A Wales that faces billion of pounds worth of cuts over next four years, a capital programme  that is slashed by 40 per cent, the benefits of large numbers of its population reduced and with little prospect of growth in its economy is hardly a country where the population walk around with a smile on their faces.  A recipe for happiness it is surely not.
It is only in Hollywood legend that adversity brings up smiling miners, gloriously singing their way to the pit. 
No, gloom and doom is likely to be the outlook of a population that faces such an uncertain economic future.
And it is against such a background that a referendum on more powers for the Assembly has to be conducted. Those hoping for a positive outcome will have to convince a dispirited Nation that it is worth bothering to go out and vote.
The challenge for them is can they build enough enthusiasm to motivate the voters. Is it possible that a referendum campaign can be conducted that helps us shake off the bad national mood and make us a can do nation?
We shall see in the next couple of months.