Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Back to the future

“A mixed team of councillors and housing professional from Wales visited Moscow in the late nineteen seventies on a visit of observation. They were shown a series of drab featureless, overcrowded tower-blocks.  All were built with the cheapest of materials and with little in the way of amenities inside. They were an overhang from the Stalin era. 
On the last day of the visit the group were shown, what could only be described as, luxury flats. A councillor asked the Russian hosts who had been allocated these apartments. The answer - party members.  The councillor commented in reply “ we have the same allocation system for our council housing back in Wales too.”
OK, not the best of jokes I grant you. But one I used when delivering an after dinner speech to councillors and staff attending a housing conference during the same period.  The joke certainly provoke a reaction. Some of the audience objected and accused me of having committed a slur on honourable men (at the time there were few women involved) But there was clearly a slither of truth in what was said to provoke such a reaction. 
Public life at the time was bedevilled with patronage. Patronage by Labour Councils for their own members in areas that they held power, patronage in Wales’s quango land by the Conservatives who held power in Westminster.
Now fast forward to the 21st century and yesterday’s exchange in the Assembly.
The occasion First Minister’s question time.

Andrew R.T. Davies: You are being defensive, First Minister. There is no reason not to comment on the report that was presented to the Assembly Government back in 2004, and the subsequent remarks in 2007. I appreciate that you might have difficulty commenting on the current revelations, which are subject to investigation and reports, as you have alluded to. However, there is a real perception that if you want a senior public appointment in Wales, you need to carry a Labour Party card. Look at local health board appointments: Maria Battle, a former Labour candidate, was recently appointed as a chair; Wyn Griffiths is the chair of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board; and the chair of Hywel Dda Local Health Board is a former Labour councillor. Can you assure the Chamber and the people of Wales that it is not necessary to carry a Labour Party membership card to secure a senior public appointment in Wales?

The First Minister: The Member is unaware of the Nolan principles and the fact that many appointments are made openly—unlike the 1990s, when Tories who could not get elected ended up in quangos. There are plenty of examples. When they lost their seats in Parliament, or on councils, they became quangocrats in Wales, because the people of Wales did not want them as their representatives. In the 1990s, you needed to be an active Tory to sit on any board or organisation in Wales that took decisions. Now it is much more open, and unless he has evidence of this happening, and can produce that evidence, I would advise him not to make himself look so foolish in future.
So there we have it, accusations of cronyism, banded about by the leaders of the two largest parties in the Assembly.  
The catalyst to these latest accusations is what happened in AWEMA. And two of those involved in the organisation being suspended from membership of the Labour Party pending an enquiry.
Now there are plenty of able people in Wales that are members of political parties. Clearly to bar them from holding public office would be wrong. As a small country Wales cannot afford to ignore people of talent whether they are members of a political party or not.
What would be wrong, however, if people find themselves in important posts simply because they are members of a political party.  That should be a no, no. It would breach one of the principles of Nolan about behaviour in public life.
What is needed is more transparency. The public should know whether those that hold any public office or posts that are in the gift of Ministers or Council leaders are members of a political party or not.  
Joining a political party should be because of belief, not because it enhances job prospects.


  1. Due to a technical glitch the comment received has been deleted.. Please resubmit.

  2. Probably better that I don't!

    Let me just say this, public spending is way out of control here in Wales. Yet, unlike in former times, the English will not rush in to save us.

    We must either cut, cut and cut, or drown!