Thursday, 22 December 2011

A year's a long time

From a pink elephant to Father Christmas, what a political year it’s been. 
In Wales, It started so promisingly for the political class, they had a referendum to occupy themselves with. Should Wales have direct law making powers or not?
You’d think it would raise some real passion, not a bit of it. Those that wanted a real fight were sadly disappointed. 
In the yes corner you had the whole of the Welsh establishment. In the other corner a pink inflatable elephant.  No contest. A win for the “yes” side and for more powers. 
A majority in all areas of Wales apart from, you guessed it, Monmouthshire. The settled view of the minority that bothered to vote and a big yawn for over 60% of the population outside the Cardiff Bay bubble, who couldn’t care less.
And, just like buses, you wait for ages for a referendum and then two come along together. No sooner had the one on more powers for Wales been concluded, the country was being asked what voting system it wanted for Westminster elections. The answer? “Don’t care a toss”, with only 41% bothering to vote. 
The real losers were the Liberal Democrats who had  been pushing for “a fair voting system” for years. By “fair” they meant the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) but the coalition negotiations foisted the Alternative Vote (AV) system on them. And even this would not happen without a win in a referendum.
The vote was lost. The “yes” for change vote was 32.1%, the “no” got over twice as much with 67.9%.
Not a good year for the Liberal Democrats. Their u-turn on students fees made them the target of student protests, a lost  vote on AV and by the year end their coalition partners pull the rug from under them, on Europe. It’s difficult to see what the Liberal Democrats are getting out of the coalition, except for some, their butts on the back seat of government chauffeured cars.
But PR came to the party's aid in May's Welsh elections. The  system prevented the Liberal Democrats from a wipe out in the Welsh Assembly elections.  

Despite dropping down to their lowest share of the vote, a little over ten per cent, they still returned five Assembly Members. Only down one from when they had about 15% of the vote. 
Mind you, it took a while before two of those list places could be filled. Two of the candidates concerned had cocked up their declaration forms.  They were members of prescribed public bodies and were ineligible to take up seats in the Assembly. 
After a suspension, one came back, namely Aled Roberts, but John Dixon failed to win support and had to step down in favour of Eluned Parrot, the next Liberal Democrat on the South Wales Central list.
But the real losers in the May elections were Plaid Cymru. They lost their grip on power.
Oh how, they must have though after such a success in the referendum a grateful electorate would reward them. Not a bit of it. They polled abominably.  They took third place, 3 seats behind the Conservatives who reached 14 seats.  Plaid’s worse results since the National Assembly was established and the Conservatives best.
But for the Conservative’s success was bittersweet, in the form of a lost leader. Nick Bourne their leader lost his seat on the top of the Conservative list in Mid Wales because of the success of the party in winning constituency seats. Result Bourne out, and after the steady hand of interim leader Paul Davies, Andrew RT Davies in. He just nosed in front of Nick Ramsey to become the first Conservative Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Assembly.
And the winner, Carwyn Jones’s Labour. Half the seats in the Assembly, the Liberal Democrats back his budget so it’s all plain sailing for him. 
But in politics it’s seldom without hitches. Christmas bought an unexpected gaff when he questioned on S4C the existence of Father Christmas.  Result,  Paddy Power, make him 10/1 to resign next year.
And that was the year that was in Welsh politics. This blog will go into winter hibernation for a few days now. Back with you in the new year.
So have a good Christmas one and all.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The best leader ever?

It’s unlikely to come up as a question in a Christmas quiz, but nevertheless a point of discussion amongst political anoraks on the eve of Plaid Cymru’s leadership election, who has been their most successful leader to date?
Now most would mention the saintly Gwynfor Evans who turned, what was essentially a protest movement to safeguard the Welsh language, into a recognisable political party. Indeed his election to parliament as Plaid Cymru’s first MP was a breakthrough and a coming of age  for the party as a force in Welsh elected politics.
But if the measure of leadership is winning votes  and seats Gwynfor Evans period as leader was not great. Why? Well, he was careless with his own seat and lost it twice. To loose a seat once may be sheer bad luck, but to loose a seat twice can be seen as careless. 

It was Dafydd Elis-Thomas  and Dafydd Wigley that gave the party a boost by winning Merionydd and Caernarfon for the party in February 1974. 
Gwynfor subsequently joined them in October of that year and had another term until losing his seat in 1979. 
Plaid Cymru’s vote had gone up to 175,016(11.5%) votes in Parliamentary elections in 1970 when they fought every constituency in Wales for the first time but down again to 132,544(8.1%) in 1979 when Mrs Thatcher won the UK election 
In 1981 Dafydd Wigley took over from Evans as President/Leader of the party. He took over a party that was demoralised having seen its vote go down in the election and perhaps even more of a blow seeing Wales reject even a modest  amount of  devolution in the 1979 referendum. 
But before Wigley could make his mark the internal politics of the party saw him resign, the lefty MP for Meirionydd, Dafydd Elis-Thomas who took over as President in 1985.  Under him they gained a  third seat in the 1987 election. Ieuan Wyn Jones was elected as MP for Ynys Mon. 
Wigley again elbowed his way back to the presidency of the party and  saw the party gain it’s fourth Member in  Westminster in the 1992 general election. They remained at four until Simon Thomas lost Ceridigion to the Liberal Democrats in 2005
Meanwhile, of course, Plaid’s focus moved from Westminster to Cardiff Bay with the setting up of the National Assembly for Wales.
Under the leadership of Dafydd Wigley in the 1999 Plaid Cymru gained 17 seats in the Assembly and over 28 per cent of the vote. Their most successful results ever. But to who goes the credit? Wigley as leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones the campaign coordinator.
Certainly Plaid Cymru were helped by the perceived disunity within Labour ranks.  Labour had had two bruising elections for the leadership of the Welsh party.The first was between Ron Davies and Rhodri Morgan, which the former won but had to subsequently resign after a sex scandal. Then Rhodri Morgan took on Alun Michael who was parachuted in by Tony Blair. Morgan took on the party machine and lost although took over without a contest when Michael resigned.
In that first Assembly election Plaid won seats in the South Wales valleys for the first time, ever. But the best of times were followed by the worst of times. Wigley retired on health grounds. Ieuan Wyn Jones took over as leader. But the party’s vote took a tumble in 2003 Assembly elections. A drop in their seats from 17 to 14 and the party's share of the votes dropping by over 7%. 

Jones resigned the Presidency and the  leadership of the Plaid group in the Assembly. The party decided to separate the presidency from that of   leader  and  the come back kid of Welsh politics won back his old job. The party members decided that they liked the cut of his jib when compared to Helen Mary Jones and Rhodri Glyn Thomas the other candidates. So Ieuan Wyn Jones became leader of the party with Dafydd Iwan becoming President. 
The next Assembly election saw Plaid Cymru gain  back three seats. Labour  found themselves with only 26 seats. This put Ieuan Wyn Jones in a pivotal position in Welsh politics. He could head a coalition of non-Labour parties and become Plaid Cymru’s first First Minister. Or could form a coalition with Labour. Jones decided to throw his lot with Labour. History will decide whether he was right or wrong. 

The gains of government did not last and the party lost seats. They became the third party in the Assembly and their leader decides to step down. But that's politics. One minute you're running the roost next minute you're on your backside.
Nevertheless for a party that only had 609 votes in 1929 to become a party of government in a little under eighty years is no mean achievement. And all this under a man that many describe as lacking charisma.  The party might well reflect on this when choosing his successor, it's not always the obvious one in politics that get the results.
But back  to the original question, who would dare say that Ieuan Wyn Jones isn’t Plaid Cymru’s most successful leader.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Economic woes

Woe, woe and thrice woe, as Frankie Howard used to say. It’s certainly true when looking at the outlook for the economy. 
The head of the IMF visited the first woe upon us when she said all nations, starting with Europe, needed to head off a crisis with risks of a global depression. The lack of growth is contagious and her warning underlines how interdependent the countries of the world are.
And as if to underline the IMF’s prediction, another warning of woe comes from Mario Draghi the European Central Bank (ECB) President.  He sees the euro zone debt crisis spreading and deepening next year.  This happens as Britain refused to contribute its £25bn share to the latest International Monetary Fund bailout fund for distressed states.
According to the ECB the failure of politicians to act in time will cause a "systemic crisis”  of similar proportions as was seen at the time of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.
So there we have it, two international financial institutions predicting very hard economic woes ahead.
The third woe comes from nearer home. Indeed from our very own Nationwide. Their consumer confidence index shows confidence at almost an all time low. The index is 40 nearly half the long term average of 77.  
It is not difficult to understand why this should be, rising unemployment and the high cost of living. 
The survey indicated that people judge it to be a bad time rather than a good time to make a major purchase. If this judgement is translated into  behaviour and consumers act on their instinct, we can expect the figures on Christmas trading to be gloomy indeed.  
If we don’t shop until we drop over Christmas this will be bad news indeed for the UK economy. Many companies look to Christmas as the high point of their sales, so if demand is not there at this time many will be in receivership early in the new year.
To add further to the woe the Nationwide survey indicated that people were also expecting house prices to fall by an average of 1.1% over the next six months.
Although last week’s inflation figures were down slightly to 4.8% it’s still a great deal higher than wage increases. leaving a big gap in household incomes.
Those living in Wales face a new year of gloom and there is little prospect that the Welsh Government can do much about it. 
“Standing Up for Wales” seem a very hollow slogan now. With little real control on the levers of the Welsh economy, the Welsh Government look weak and helpless. Although the`Silk committee is looking into these lack of powers, it’s work has hardly begun and its conclusions are a very long way off. It’s the here and now that preoccupy the population. They want action now. 
And for now at least Wales is dependent on Westminster for it’s salvation. But there’s little sign that they have Wales at anywhere near the top of the agenda.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Saturday's horsing tips.

Again the races followed are on the telly. Last week the predictions produced 4 winners, a 2nd and and only one that failed. A very healthy return. 

Lets hope this Saturday sees the same form kept up.  

My selections are below, remember to back each way on 7/1 and above and it might be worth doing a double combination bet on very low odds. 
May the luck be with you.

13:55 Shawbrook Bank Graduation Chase, 4yo plus, 2m 5f 110y, Class 2
Aerial seems to be ripe for showing he’s got more to offer Giorgio Quercus should do better at this distance
2:30  Lough Derg Long Walk Hurdle (Grade 1) 4yo plus, 3m 1f, Class 1
I can’t see any other horse in the race doing over Big Buck’s trained P F Nicholls and ridden by Ruby Walsh. The odds will be pretty low so I shall use it as a base for a double.
15:05 GL Events Owen Brown Silver Cup Handicap Chase (Listed), 4yo plus, 3m, Class 1
Duc De Regniere or The Minack has never really shown its potential but this could be the start of a run

15:35 Ladbroke (Listed Handicap Hurdle), 4yo plus, 2m, Class 1
Brampour was good on flat but has not got used to hurdles it takes a while this could be the start or Sailors Warn
Haydock Park
14:10 Maxilead Metals Supports Alder Hey Imagine Appeal Handicap Hurdle (3yo+ Class 2, 2m 4f,
Zanir or Pateese 

14:45 Maxilead Metals Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase 4yo+, Class 2, 3m
Wymott  should find the conditions suit and has alwys been regarded as a good chaser in the making or The Sawyer

15:20 Maxilead Metalss Face It Make Up 'Fixed Brush' Novices Hurdle 4yo+, Class 4 2m 4f
Highland Lodge or Diocles

Plaid Cymru"s leadership battle

They're all now in the paddock ready for the off in January. No, not the horses for Welsh Grand National but the candidates in the race to take over from Ieuan Wyn Jones as leader of Plaid Cymru. 
Four candidates have now declared themselves in the race. The first to indicate he was standing was Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Who was leader of the party when an MP and until May’s election was the Presiding Officer of National Assembly. He know chairs the influential Environmental and Sustainability committee of the Assembly.
Dafydd Elis-Thomas argues that Plaid needs to strategically position itself clearly as a left-of-centre alternative to Labour and is confident this would lead to electoral gain. He said: “In my view there is nowhere else to live comfortably within Welsh politics.” 
On the vex question of independence, he maintains “Constitutional independence is a mirage. It’s virtual politics, it’s not real politics. The important thing for Wales is to make itself economically, environmentally and politically sustainable. 
He goes on to say “I was happy to talk about self government and self determination but independence is something I found ethically incompatitable I am a Welsh European first and foremost.”
Elin Jones declared her candidature in September and has being campaigning hard since then.  Describing her political philosophy, she says “Had I lived in any other country in the world, I would still have been a republican and a socialist. But as a Welsh citizen, then I am also a Welsh nationalist.”
On independence she sees “a new chapter is opening for Plaid Cymru. Our task is to strengthen our country’s autonomy and economy, and to make the case to the people of Wales that our nation is better served by independence than dependence.” 
Simon Thomas  takes a more pragmatic line on independence “I support independence as the constitutional aim for Plaid Cymru and our nation. But independence in not the answer to today’s immediate problems and focusing on arguing about it only encourages the voters to assume we are not addressing their daily difficulties.
“But Plaid doesn’t just exist for the sake of Wales’ constitutional future. We exist to fight for and deliver fairness in social and economic policy. I believe in a mixed economy - I think Plaid Cymru should be concerned that the private sector is not as strong or successful as it could be. But Plaid Cymru should never be laissez faire about the impact of global capital on our communities. Regulating business for environmental and social benefit is a core value of the party I want to lead. The prize for Plaid is to marry our national ambition with a proper concern for the long term future of our planet. We live in a comparably well off society. “
Leanne Wood who’s candidature was announced yesterday,describes her personal philosophy been honed in the Rhondda Valley which instilled in her “my love of Wales, my socialism and my republicanism.”
She is the only one of the candidates who is not a Welsh-speaker but is very much seen as the candidate of the left. She feels Plaid should push a lot harder for independence “securing independence for Wales is so vital. I am not talking of independence for the sake of independence; I want independence so we can protect and build on those things that are valuable to us all. We campaign for “real independence” in Raymond Williams’ words – independence of thought, as well as constitutional freedom: independence to enable us to develop economic equality; to free us to argue for peace in the world instead of war; to allow us to build on our internationalist traditions by contributing to world affairs while ensuring a vibrant future for our unique language and culture.”
So there we have it, the four likely candidates. Who ever gets the prize will have an up hill struggle to win back the ground tthe party has lost in recent elections. 
They are now the third party in the Assembly behind the Conservatives. Politically, Plaid Cymru has chosen to describe and position itself as a left of centre party. In so doing it has allowed the Conservatives to make inroads into the non-Labour vote and in a good year  Labour mops up the left vote.  Plaid Cymru tend to do well only when Labour governs in Westminster then and only then do Plaid collect the floating protest vote of the left. 
If the Party decided to pitch for the central social democratic vote it might have a chance to capture the non-Labour vote. It could then gain some of the ground that has been so successfully cultivated by Welsh Conservatives  and also some of those disaffected Liberal Democrat voters.
Looking at the four candidates, three of them do not have any ambitions to move the party to a new political terrain, they are quite happy to continue to fight the same turf war with Labour for the “left” vote. It is only Simon Thomas the declares a more social democratic aspiration and could creditably move the party to the centre ground.
Independence will undoubtedly move central stage in politics in the next few years. Not because of Plaid Cymru, but because of the promised referendum on the issue in Scotland. David Cameron promises to fight for the Union. It will be a ding dong battle about the very nature of the United Kingdom and the relationship between its countries. Plaid Cymru will need to be ready for the debate and have a clear position.  Dafydd Elis-Thomas and to a lesser extent Simon Thomas’s views are more ambiguous on the issue than the two other candidates. 
So who will emerge the victor? Internal party elections are always difficult to predict, after all who would have thought that the younger Milliband brother would have succeeded. 

At the moment Elin Jones would seem to be the favourite, she has done all the running and has certainly increased her profile of late. But as they say, a week is a long time in politics and a campaign is even longer. And as is well know a front runner can often become a cropper.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Latest Unemployment figures

The UK unemployment figures just released by the Office for National Statistics(ONS) show an increase to 128,000 since October. 
In this pre-Christmas period the figures will not lighten the mood within a coalition government that is already under strain after the EU debacle. 
The figure of those unemployed now stands at 2.64 million. This is the highest level since 1994. The jobless rate is up to 8.3% from the 7.9% of the previous quarter.
The number of people out of work for longer than a year rose by 19,000 in the latest quarter to 868,000, the worst figure since 1996.
The figures for Wales also show a rise of 8.3% with the figures now having climbed to 130,000 unemployed between August and October an increase of 10,000 on the previous quarter.
Both young people and women have been particularly hard hit. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds increased by 54,000 to 1.027 million, the highest since records began in 1992.
The Office for National Statistics also reported that women's unemployment increased by 45,000 to 1.1 million, the highest figure since 1988.
The figures also show that much of the increase are from jobs that have been cut from the public sector. In the sector 67,000 jobs were lost. Clearly the private sector is not compensating for these losses, the sector added only 5,000 jobs in the same period.
Even those in work are feeling the pinch. Wages continued to rise well below the rate of inflation. Excluding bonuses, average pay rose 1.8% from a year ago, and by just 0.1% from three months ago. But with inflation running at 4.8% many are facing serious cuts to their income. 

Total Unemployed 
Quarterly change
Unemployment rate
plus 97,000
N Ireland 
minus 4,000
plus 25,000
plus 11,000 
Again of the four countries of the Union, Wales is hardest hit, the other countries seeing a smaller increase in the unemployment rate with Northern Ireland seeing a decrease.
The figures again point to the need for the government in Wales to push a great deal harder on its economic renewal programme. It also validates the stance that Plaid Cymru took over the budget when it pressed for more resources to be pushed towards the economy.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Who wants in and who wants out.

Where would Wales stand if the Westminster government were to no longer be part of European Union?  This was a question that this blog raised in October (25 October 2011). The question becomes more relevant now that Mr Cameron has isolated himself from the other countries of the EU.
Indeed it has caused some concern to Carwyn Jones who fears “that the UK Government’s new position in relation to the European Union threatens Wales’ national interest.”
Not an unreasonable point of view when one considers that half of all Welsh exports go to Europe and Wales’s agricultural industry is so reliant on the Common Agricutural policy and of course the Welsh Governments economic policy is so heavily dependent on funds from Europe.
 But what is interesting In Carwyn Jones’s letter to David Cameron is that he raises the question, would Wales be better served if it was to plough its own furrow as an independent country. Well, he didn’t quite put it like that, but that was certainly his direction of travel.  
He said, “For  the first time, I am now seriously concerned about whether the interests of Wales can be advanced effectively in Europe by the UK Government.  For those of us who are  committed to the United Kingdom, and the place of the UK within the European Union, this is a deeply concerning position to be in."
Indeed Cameron had taken unilateral decisions with huge implications for both Wales and Scotland. Many are claiming it as gifting Alex Salmond an open goal on the independence issue. 
Salmond being Salmond was quick to see Cameron’s weekend exploits working to his political advantage and was like a greyhound out of the trap ready to exploit the situation.
In a letter to Cameron, Salmond accusied him of damaging Scotland’s interests in Europe and “blundering” into the controversial move to veto European Union treaty changes. Scotland was  “left out of the room” and the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had not been consulted on a matter that greatly affected them.
The situation was not lost on Paddy Ashdown, now Lord Ashdown, who claimed Mr Cameron had strengthened “the hand of Mr Salmond to create an argument for Scotland to leave Britain” and become a separate member state.
Wales and Scotland even if they went their seperate ways from England would automatically retain EU membership as they were already part of Europe through the UK. This of course would change if the UK left before and if, Wales or Scotland gained their independence.
It would be ironical indeed that the arch Unionist David Cameron had made Welsh independence look more attractive than ever anything Gwynfor Evans and Plaid Cymru had done.  
And all because the PM said “no.”

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cheltenham tips

It was an interesting day's racing in Cheltenham today when I was kindly invited along by friends from the BBC. Two winners helped to make it even more enjoyable. Those that threw caution to the wind and went for the names did a great deal better than those like myself that try a more scientific approach. It just shows that knowledge may mitigate heavy losses but can often be bettered by lady luck.
Not much time to give reasons for my selections for Cheltenham on Saturday but these are the ones where my money goes.
12.10 Hinterland
12.45 Mosseley
1.20 Astracad
1.55 Rev it up
2.30 Quantativeeasing
3.05 Grandouet
3.35 Oscar Whisky

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Right foot in or right foot out

Tonight’s the night, not for romance but for tough talking. No, there won’t be a love-in between David Cameron and his European partners. Tonight will see the foundations being laid for an United States of Europe. And what of Britain? Left in the cold.
Indeed, in all matters European, the Prime Minister is caught between the rock and a hard place. On the one hand he leads an Eurosceptic party who want an EU referendum and wants out. Whilst on the other he faces increased isolation and marginalisation in many capitals across Europe. 
Oh, yes, he has also got to keep a coalition government going with his pro-Europe Liberal Democrat partners.
And even his cabinet colleagues are plotting. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, laid down the gauntlet by declaring that any revision to the Lisbon treaty would have to trigger a referendum. 
Quick to get on this particular bandwagon was Boris Johnson who echoed Paterson. Both were following Duncan Smith’s referendum call of last Sunday.
These calls challenge directly Cameron, who asserts no referendum will be required if Britain does not lose more powers to Europe. His view are, that any agreement at the crucial two-day EU summit, designed to save the single currency from collapse, will not involve the transfer of UK powers. 
Paterson contradicts Cameron by declaring "If there was a major fundamental change in our relationship, emerging from the creation of a new bloc which would be effectively a new country from which we were excluded, then I think inevitably there would be huge pressure for a referendum."
It’s all a throwback to the John Major day’s with Europe causing seismic rifts within the Conservative party. And he, didn’t have to keep the Liberal Democrats sweet.
Paterson’s view are given credence by a letter written by the leaders of France and Germany. In a joint letter, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are demanding new rules aimed at establishing "fiscal union" among the 17 eurozone countries, whose leaders would hold monthly summits during the crisis and install a permanent president of the euro group as well as a ministerial structure to run the body. This is nothing less than laying down the foundation of a new European state.
But Cameron will be hampered in giving the Eurosceptics what they want by his certain knowledge that Britain needs, for its own economic good, Europe to stabilise the eurozone. For this to happen the Merkel-Sarkozy plan has to succeed. 
European institutions have to be able to enforce sanctions on the 17 eurozone countries. When  this happens, as it surely must if the euro is to survive, Britain will be out of the loop. Decision’s will be taken that will have real consequences for the British economy and Britain will be powerless, with no say. So whichever way you look at it Cameron’s on a hiding to nothing.
The next forty eight hours will show us what kind of Europe it’s to be. The UK will have confront the issue to be a player or not.  But let’s be clear, such a decision will be made in England’s interest. Where does that leave Wales and Scotland, who have gained greatly by membership of the EU. Will they choose to opt in and thus break up the UK or opt out and loose out on crucial European aid? 

All in all, it promises to be an interesting run-in to Christmas and beyond. And you thought it was all coming to a close with the National Assembly in recess. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Rate for the job

“I can also announce that we are asking the independent Pay Review Bodies to consider how public sector pay can be made more responsive to local labour markets – and we will ask them to report back by July next year.
This is a significant step towards creating a more balanced economy in the regions of our country that does not squeeze out the private sector.” so said George Osborne in his Autumn statement. 
This understandably caused a flurry of condemnation from opposition politicians and not only opposition politicians even the Conservative Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Assembly raised an eyebrow at the policy.
The report, when published next July, will likely, generate plenty of heat if not light, should it recommend a move away from national agreements to regional and local pay agreements. 
But there is one area of the public sector that the policy has already been implemented and that is in the pay cheques of our politicians.
If you’re lucky enough to be elected a Member of Parliament, you'll get an annual pay cheque of £65,738. Yes, even before claiming expenses. Contrast this with the pay of politicians in our devolved institutions. 
In Scotland  a Member of the Scottish Parliament gets £57,521. In the Welsh Assembly a member would get £53,852 and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly £43,101. So there we have it, regional differentials for the same job.
But the story does not end there. It raises the question why Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are paid the same as their English colleagues when they have to do a lot less than their English colleagues. 
Why, less? Because the politicians in the devolved countries are doing most of the heavy lifting. It is Assembly Members that deal with issues like health, housing, education and planning amongst many other areas that have been devolved. 
It is in these areas of public policy that voters most often go and  seek the help of politicians. 
And at a devolution stroke, the MP has had this burden lifted off his well paid shoulders. No more full surgeries full of dissatisfied or aggrieved constituents, no more amateur social work. They've had their job description changed for the better. 
The workload was cut, but was the rate for the job?  Well, no, not on your life. A pay cut, wash your mouth  out, Hughes.
Surely such a state of affairs shouldn't go unchallenged. Politicians are constantly urging the voter to make sacrifices for the greater good. How about leading by example.
If the salary of  MPs from the devolved countries were to be reduced to that received by their colleagues in these administrations, there would be a saving to the public purse of £1,114,056. In these hardened times not a sum to be sniffed at.
So c’mon David Cameron, push for change. Let the Commons take action. After all, you’ve already declared that there are too many MPs in the Commons, that’s why you're reducing the numbers. Why not save some more cash by paying the proper rate for the job.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

To do or not to do, that is the question

It’s a Tuesday ritual that all the political parties in the Assembly hold a briefing for the press. Oh, that’s not quite accurate, Labour has never bothered to do a briefing for the fourth estate. 
Now, quite why Labour don’t want to speak or brief the press has never been made clear, but it might be because they've always been the party of government and have let “their” Ministers do the briefing. This worked reasonably well, until this new term, now there are no government weekly briefings. They brief only when it suits, not as a matter of course.
But back to the briefings. As often happens a theme emerges  and today was no exception. The line was that Carwyn Jones’s government was lazy. In effect the government has done little since their election in May.
Plaid Cymru were first off the mark saying they were going to vote against the  government’s budget. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s because the government is not responding  to the dire state of the Welsh economy. 
When the hacks questioned  Ieuan Wyn Jones on Plaid’s stance. His response was that it was unusual for Plaid to vote against a budget, normally they would abstain. But such was their despair with the Welsh Government  they had very little choice but vote against the budget.
Then he made an astonishing declaration. In a quarter of a century of his being involved both as a Member of Parliament and an Assembly Member, he hadn’t experienced a government of any hue, doing so little in its first seven months of office, as this Welsh Government.
An echo to this theme of inactivity by the government, came in the Conservative briefing. They pointed out that there had only been one piece of legislation brought to the Assembly for consideration in the seven months since the election. 

Andrew RT Davies the Leader of the Opposition contrasted the Welsh Government with the actions of the other British legislatures. In Scotland six bills and been laid and six was also the tally in Westminster. He  was critical at this lack of progress, but he particularly pointed out that the Enterprise Minister had not made an oral statement to the Chamber on the economy since she took over the portfolio in May. 
But, perhaps, the unkindest cut of all came from the Liberal Democrats. They were claiming that their support for the budget and the negotiations surrounding the budget had resulted in a wake up call for the government. Peter Black the Liberal Democrat claimed that the Welsh Government “had” been lethargic but "now" they, the Liberal Democrats, had helped “refocus the government” and they would now snap out of their lethargy. 
Of course, there was no opportunity to get the government’s take on all the criticism that they’re a 'do nothing' government, ‘cos they don’t 'do' press briefings, either.