Thursday, 22 September 2011
Conference hall politics
Oh, dear did she have to be so nasty to dear Cheryl. I’m referring of course to Kirsty Williams in her speech to the Liberal Democrat conference.
And what did she say you may ask.
“I am already working with the leaders of all parties in Wales to build a coalition of support that demands the respect of politicians in Westminster. The coalition agreement included a firm commitment to develop a Scottish Calman-style process to devolve financial powers to the Welsh Government. But conference, do you think we can rely on a Conservative Secretary of State to deliver? The Conservative understanding of devolution is too shallow. The Secretary of State’s accountability to the people of Wales too tenuous. The Wales Office’s belief in giving away power too – well it’s non-existent. That is why we need Liberal Democrats in Government to really push forward radical reform. And I know that at every stage Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander are pushing the case for Wales. Well, Cheryl, somebody’s got to do it. ”
Now, of course, there’s always a temptation when addressing your own members to get carried away but this wasn’t a spontaneous remark or two but part of a well thought out speech. Of course, it presses the right button with the delegates in the hall. The Pavlovian response of delegates to such remarks got her the customary standing ovation, but outside the hall, what?
Is it good politics to set about to do over so publicly our dear Secretary of State, especially when there doesn’t seem to be any tangible political advantage in doing so?
Now there was almost an indecent attempt in this conference by some Liberal Democrat Ministers to parade themselves as there own men and women. Indeed not a speech was delivered that didn’t try to convince how they were acting as a break to the Genghis Khan tendency of their coalition partners.
How they just loved portraying themselves as the Liberal Democrat tail that was wagging the Tory dog. But as Ministers they do have some influence on government policy within their own portfolios.
But in the Welsh Office there are no Liberal Democrat Ministers to influence decision-making. If Kirsty Williams had been a more mature politician she would have seen this as an opportunity to get close to Cheryl Gillan and provide that authentic Liberal Democrat view on the Welsh world. And Cheryl Gillan’s response - without doubt she would have welcomed such an ally.
Kirsty Williams, if she’d chosen to play that particular card, the influence surely might have been greater than the clout she has leading a group of five in the Assembly.
By playing to the Conference gallery and waging a very personal attack on Gillan she has traded possible long-term advantage and influence for the very temporary adulation of her own.
Stateswomanship it’s certainly not. It’s not even good politics ‘cos where’s the gain.