Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Oh no Leveson

Some years back the opening speech at a Welsh Labour conference was delivered by the chairman of the Standing Order committee. Not the greatest of opening speakers, you'd agree. But his language was colourful. He urged the delegates to be on their guard because in the hall according to him were vultures and a nest of vipers. 
He was of course referring to us journalist. We were there to plough our trade. Covering their conference. As welcomes go not the best. But not a surprising comment, politicians just don’t like scrutiny.
Now according to recent opinion polls that man’s views and of course being the Welsh Labour party it was a man,  wasn't to different to that held by the public today. 
Journalists it seems are not universally loved.
Tomorrow will see the publication of the Leveson report into the press. All the indications are that he’ll want more than the self-regulation of the press that exists at the moment. A view undoubtedly shared by the public.
All, it would seem, want a system of deterrents. Deterrents to stop the press, not only breaking the law, but also to stop journalists investigating the lives of people. 
On the face of it perfectly reasonable demands.
Of course, ordinary people should have redress if they’ve been misused by journalists. They too should be able to get compensation for the distress caused just as the rich and powerful are able to. Legal aid should allow the ordinary person to seek legal redress. 
But there is a danger that we're abpot to embark on a journey that journalism will be so seriously curtailed. The powerful will be  able to get away with corruption, dishonesty, illegality and hypocrisy in both the public and private sphere.
For example the army of press officers, public relations officers that control every aspect of the publicity of a celebrity will paint such a glossy, clean image that the public will think that what they read in the OK magazine is the real thing. Perfect, saintly even. Put on a pedestal. 
Hold on isn’t that’s what happened to Jimmy Saville. Knighted by church and state, monarch and pope. Allowed into institutions of all kinds. Leading inquiries on behalf of the state. Feted by charities. The man could do no wrong.  
But he was no saint. He was evil. But got away with it.  The press at the time didn’t do its job. For whatever reason they did nothing. Is this the kind of press we want now?  If a celeb choses to have prostitutes in a back of taxi should their image remain wholesome?
There are armies of people already employed to hinder the press.  Before long all  newspaper will contain are pages and pages of press notices sent out by government and other organisations. Many of our weekly papers are just that now. Seldom are local councils put under the microscope today. They get away with murder. 
The Welsh Government alone has an army of press people. Their task, to put the best gloss on the Welsh government. But it’s not just in Welsh government, there’s an army of them in Whitehall. And almost every other tinpot organisation in the land. An army of people spending their time frustrating journalism. 
Oh, no the last thing that’s required are more curbs on the press. If the police had done their job properly in the first place and investigated illegal phone taps Lord Justice Leveson could have stayed doing his day jobs. But they were to busy enjoying News International's 'hospitality.'
The laws are already in place to protect against press abuse. Do we need more? There is a real danger that here the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater. There is every danger that a free, robust press will be killed. The real looser will be democracy itself.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

No growth, so lets cut the cash

Duw, it’s bad and likely to get worst. No, not the weather, or perhaps that too. No its the economy.  Not my view although it’s been a constant theme in this blog for some time. But its now the view of none other than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
This leading economic think tank says that Britain’s economy will shrink less than was thought this year. Good news indeed, but it was followed by the bad news that recovery would be slow and uncertain against a worsening international backdrop.
Their reasons for pessimism, a global slowdown, a crisis in the eurozone, the government's deficit reduction programme and the paying down of consumer debt.  All were acting as a brake on growth.
To get things moving the OECD said it would back the Chancellor  if the weakness of the economy forced him to slow down his debt-reduction plans.
The reason that the OECD are quietly urging Osborne to ease back on its programme of cuts is that despite low wage increases and part-time working limiting job losses, they are concerned about the high level of youth unemployment and “this could worsen if the economy faltered.”  
Unemployment is forecast to rise to 8.3% in 2013, against a backdrop of 0.9% growth. 
So where does this prognosis leave Wales. The simple answer, not in a good place. As one of the poorer regions of the UK with some of the highest rates of unemployment.  The country desperately needs a growth programme. 
This is why it’s strange that the Conservative Opposition in the Assembly want to see serious cuts to the funds Wales gets from Europe. 
In the words of Andrew RT Davies Tory leader in the Assembly it’s “only right and reasonable that savings be made.” His reason, Wales is still poor after receiving two tranches of European money.  So that clearly points to the money being wasted. His answer to cut the next tranche that comes from Europe. 
But without the cash Wales has received from Europe the economy would be in an even worse state. Where would our rural areas be without CAP. The structure funds have helped with various infrastructure projects and have helped the economy. The fact that Wales is still poor is an indication that more needs to be done, not less.
That is why Carwyn Jones  was right to warn the British Irish Council meeting yesterday that "leaving the EU would be an unmitigated disaster.
We would lose our access to structural funding as well as access to the European market. When I travel abroad to attract foreign direct investment to Wales, what brings people here is not the three million population of Wales, or even indeed the 60 million population of the UK - which is tiny when you compare it the size of India or China.
"No, the reason why people come here is the access to the European market. Anything that interferes with that access to the European market is not in our interests."
If the OECD forecast is right, Wales needs all the help it can get in the next few years. Cutting the European funds to Wales at a time of recession will harm the economy not help it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Wales gets Euro cash

When Labour voted tactically with the anti-european Conservatives to seek cuts to the European budget this blog warned that this could have serious implications for Wales. A view shared by no less a person than our own First Minister. 

To say that he was less than happy with Ed Miliband and his tactics would be an understatement. Carwyn Jones knows how dependent Wales’s on EU handouts. 

The extent of the handouts has now been demonstrated by Plaid Cymru in the form of MEP Jill Evans. She’s just done the sums. Her conclusion, every person in Wales is around forty pounds (£40) a year better off. 

Ms Evans reckons that on average each person in Wales contributes €195.82 per year to the EU, whilst EU funding to Wales is worth an estimated €243.98 per person annually. So we’re quids in.

Ah, the eurosceptics would say if we didn’t pay the money to Europe in the first place the UK government would have more cash to distribute. Maybe. But would it come to Wales? Highly unlikely. 

If HM Treasury has anything to do with it, a snowball has more chance in hell than Wales’s chance of getting its hand on the cash once it’s in the grubby little paws of Chancellor Osborne. 

Lets face it, London hasn’t been altogether championing at the bit to provide Wales with a fair funding formula. It’s not only Osborne, but his shadow as well. Ball’s only utterance on the matter of Barnet is to say no, to change. Labour did nothing when they ran the shop and there hasn’t been much sign of a change of heart yet.

Successive Labour finance ministers in the Welsh Government have been making the case only to be ignored. Party unity has stopped them going public on the fact. But privately they talk dispairingly about the deaf ears of their Westminster colleagues.

Jill Evans has done us all a great favour by highlighting the following grants that Wales receives.  She points out the EU funds that benefit Wales as the “European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) (including CAP), Structural funds, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), European Fisheries Fund (EFF), as well as the Lifelong Learning Programmes which includes Erasmus. 630 students and 112 staff from Welsh universities took part in the Erasmus scheme last year.

The bottom line is that Wales has a vested interest in seeing PM Cameron fail in his attempts to cut the European budget this week. 

There is little sign that he'll succeed in persuading other European governments to join him in his very short sighted attempt at bringing about cuts. His venture is doomed in the short term.

Let’s hope that Miliband doesn’t gloat over the failure. ‘Cos if he does he’ll loose a lot of friends in Wales. Not least from his own party, in the form of the First Minister and his cabinet.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Who does what?

The Minister of Education today said Welsh local government was not up to delivering education.
In information based on Estyn investigations he concluded that there were no excellent local authorities but 5 good ones.  5 are in a formal Estyn category and 5 are being monitored by Estyn. 
As teachers might write in a homework book - not good enough.
That Wales’s education system is not up to much is generally agreed. Kids leave our schools with very low standards indeed. In the last PISA tests out of 67 countries taking part, Wales was ranked 38th for reading, 40th for maths and 30th for the tests for science. Something is not right in the State of Wales.
So what’s to be done? 
Well, Education Minister Leighton Andrews has tried to get the 22 education authorities to work together. 

To say that he’s disappointed with their response, would be an understatement. He catalogued that local authorities had in general not been effective in delivering efficiencies, “including promised savings through the creation of consortia, or through the reduction of surplus places. As we have seen during discussion on the School Standards Bill, they have rarely used their powers of intervention to address failure when it arises in schools.”
He goes on to complain that both he and the Minister for Local Government and Communities had repeatedly called upon local authorities to make joint appointments when vacancies arise.  “In respect of posts for Directors of Education and Chief Education Officers, this has largely fallen on deaf ears.”
Now in his desperation he’s ordered a wide-ranging review of the delivery of education services.  It will look at what should be undertaken at school, local authority, regional and national level. 
He says that The review will look at a number of options for delivery:
  • whether we should move to forms of regional delivery, and what the boundaries of those regions in the future should be, taking account of the regional footprint of delivery in public services amongst other options.
  • whether responsibilities for school improvement should be removed from local authorities and vested in a more streamlined regional service accountable to Welsh Government
  • whether statutory merger of the education services of local authorities under joint management by a number of authorities could be a solution.
  • whether we need to go further and remove all education functions from local government and create regional school boards accountable to Welsh Government, either with or without a level of local government representation.
The review will consider whether schools should be directly funded by Welsh Ministers, and/or whether there is scope for cooperative ownership of schools at a local level, combining secondary schools and the primary schools in their clusters, with shared systems of governance, which could mean reforming the system known as local management of schools. Such a system could operate in tandem with any of the proposals outlined above for regional delivery of education services.
I have not ruled anything in or out but the time is right for a full review and obviously the consequence of potential change would need to be considered.”
He may not have ruled anything out, but the mood music is very much that the days are numbered for local councils to be providers of educational service. 
But why just review the provision of education. There are other council services that are below par. Some of Wales's social service departments have been falling short of expectations. Commissioners have been running departments or in the case of Ynys Mon the whole council. 

Surely enough is enough. Why not have a whole scale review of the role, functions and size of local authorities. Can they deliver in these austere times?
The last reorganisation produced councils that were far too small to deliver many a council service. It was rushed through in the dying days of the Major government. It took place before the Assembly had been established. 
Surely now is a good time to look again at what kind of authorities should be delivering what service. There is a place for localism of some services. But equally some services are better delivered at a regional  and an all-Wales level. Desirable though Andrews’s review is its to narrow. A bigger question needs addressing, how best do we deliver Wales’s many public services?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Silk and taxes

Community councils have it, County Councils have it, the Westminster government has it, even those dreaded European’s have it and maybe, just maybe, the Welsh Assembly might have it. What? you may ask. The right to raise some of its own cash from taxes.

A Commission set up by the Westminster government under the Chairmanship of Paul Silk, has come to the startling conclusion that the Welsh government would be more responsible with its money if it had to raise it itself. It needs an year long Commission to tell us what is obvious to anyone that manages a household budget.

They put in much grander language though. That’s the benefit of a posh education for you. “Devolving tax and borrowing powers to Wales would empower the Welsh electorate and Government, increase responsibility.” 

The report  called ‘Empowerment and Responsibility:  Financial Powers to strengthen Wales’ has  33 ways to make the Assembly more grown up and responsible. 

By grown up it means not giving it the powers straight away ‘cos in their light, the Assembly is seen as some wayward teenager. The Commission’s task is to make the Welsh Government learn to be responsible.  And the way to do it? That well and trusted principle of not allowing anyone to run before they’ve learned to walk.

The polite way of saying it without  causing upset. “The proposals to give Wales its own tax and borrowing system for the first time represent a significant change which should be implemented step-by-step to build experience and balancing risks to the Welsh and UK budgets.”

So the Assembly is given the equivalent of a paper round - taxes that don’t generate to much tax. These are landfill tax, stamp duty land tax, and an aggregates levy.  Also business rates should be fully devolved. 

Just to underline the point that the Assembly only get the right over the cash a bit by bit. They say that  Air Passenger Duty should be devolved for long-haul flights initially, with future full devolution possible. So that occasional flight to distant lands from Cardiff you can have the money from, but the large numbers going to Malaga on holiday generating loads of cash, well CarwynJones can forget that. It’s far to much cash and that amount of cash would just go to Carwyn Jones’s head. 

One day children you’ll inherit the earth. Well, if the Welsh people  agree after yet another referendum perhaps not the earth but certainly power over income tax. 

Meanwhile to help you learn all about it we’ll make it a shared responsibility between Cardiff Bay and Westminster, with the Welsh Government being able to vary income tax rates within the UK income tax structure.

They do acknowledge that Wales might have been short changed in the past and that the proposals on income tax should not go ahead until the heads of Jane Hutt and Danny Alexander are knocked together and they resolve the issues of fair funding in a way that is agreed by both the Welsh and UK Governments.

All in all if the report gets the green light about a quarter of Wales’s spending will be raised in taxes raised in Wales. 

The report is now in the hands of David Jones, the Secretary of State to do with it as he sees fit.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Cardiff South and Penarth - the results

2012  By-election November 15 results

Party Votes Cast Percentage
Doughty, Stephan Labour & Co-op 9,193 47.87
Williams, Craig Conservative 3,859 20.09
Molik, Bablin Liberal Democrat 2,103 10.95
Nicholas, Luke Plaid Cymru 1,854 9.65
Zeigler, Simon UKIP 1,179 6.13
Slaughter, Andrew Green 800 4.17
Jordan, Andrew Socialist Labour Party 285 1.48
Griffiths, Robert Communist 213 1.11
Electorate 75,764 Turnout: 19,204(25.35%)
2010 General election results

Party Votes Cast Percentage
Michael, Alun Labour 17,263 38.9
Hoare, Simon Conservative 12,553 28.3
Hannigan, Dominic Liberal Democrat 9,875 22.3
Aslam, Farida Plaid Cymru 1,851 4.2
Zeigler, Simon UKIP 1,145 2.6
Burke, George Independent 648 1.5
Townsend, Matt Green 554 1.2
Bate, Clive Christian Party 285 0.6
Griffiths, Robert Communist 196 0.4
Electorate 73,704  Turnout: 44,370 (60.20%)
So Labour did it. Not much doubt about it even on a turn-out of over a quarter of the electorate Stephan Doughty increased Labour’s majority from 4,710 to 5,334. 
Whilst Labour had broad smiles both the Westminster coalition parties will have very long faces. Both saw their votes shrink away. Not only did their actual vote fall but their percentage of the poll fell. 

In the case of the Liberal Democrats they shrank from 22.3% to 10.95% yesterday. A figure that is broadly in line with their national opinion poll ratings.
Plaid Cymru of the four main parties remain fourth. There was no Leanne Wood bounce. They managed just 3 more votes that the general election result. Although the party will no doubt be spinning that they’ve doubled their share of the poll. 

Of course, if you get the same vote on a low turnout simple arithmetic says that your percentage will be better. The same can be said for UKIP, Green and even dear old Robert Griffiths of the Communists who more than doubled his percentage of the vote. Mind you it only went up by 17 extra votes to 213. 
It’s still true that there are damned lies and statistics. Never more so when political parties comment on election results.
The figures are skewed because turn out was less than half of the 2010 figure - 25.35% yesterday, compared to 60.2% two years ago. 

So the real winner early this morning was the Apathy party. Who will have had a good day yesterday not only in Cardiff South and Penarth but also in the whole of Wales in the Police and Crime Commission elections. Where early indications show that the turnout is hovering around the 14% mark.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cardiff South and Penarth

The last time there was a by-election in Wales in what was a safe Labour seat from the beginning of time there was a shock result. Labour failed to win the seat. The seat? Blaenau Gwent. OK, there were some pretty unique factors at play. 
The seat had been won by a popular Labour Assembly Member Peter Law. He stood against his own party as a protest. The reason for the protest? The vexed question of all-women short lists. One of these had been imposed on the Blaenau Gwent constitutency by Labour party HQ. 
The local party were not happy bunnies. And that’s putting it mildly. Many left the party. They urged their Assembly Member to stand for Parliament. If truth be told it Peter Law didn’t take much persuasion to stand. He had become a semi-detached member of the Labour group in the Assembly. But in one of those quirk of fates, just as he was about to announce his candidature he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He bravely decided to stand. He won. But died after serving as a Member of Parliament for only an year.
The by-election was keenly fought between Owen Smith for Labour and Dai Davies as an independent. The independent won. But Labour won the seat back inthe 2010 general election. 
Meanwhile Owen Smith fought Pontypridd in 2010, won and has now risen to be the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. 
This preamble is a way of saying that Owen Smith MP was again pounding the streets in a by-election this week. No, not as a candidate but to lend his support to the Labour cause in Cardiff South and Penarth. 
This a by-election caused by Alun Michael resigning his seat in order to stand as a Police and Crime Commissioner.
No one is predicting  a Blaenau Gwent type upset. The seat should remain firmly in Labour’s grip. The big question is, how many will bother to vote. And of course for politclal anoraks which of the other parties are up or down.
By-elections in safe seats are notorious for producing low turnouts. The voters take the attitude to quote a television character “I’m not bothered.”  They know the outcome and take the attitude that their vote won’t change much. 
Apathy usually rules. It’s likely that the turnout will be below 40% and it could be a lot lower. 
So it highly unlikely that Stephan Doughty the Labour candidate will not be the next MP.  He’s straight from central casting for Labour.  Young, male, on message and from the third sector. In his case boss of Oxfam Cymru.
The Tories were second last time and should retain that position. 
The big question is will Plaid Cymru move from the fourth that they got last time. Will there be a Leanne Wood bounce? Are there any signs that they’re making ground in areas outside their heartland?
The seat used to be have a Prime Minister in the form of sunny Jim Callaghan. Although the word sunny was a bit of misnomer as insiders always said he was a difficult person to work for and with. But as they say, that’s another story. Since Callaghan took the peerage the seat was  Alun Michael’s since 1987. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

One swallow does not a summer make

Unemployment in Wales is down. It is now 121,000. Down by 14,000 from the same time last year. But with an unemployment rate of 8.2% it is still higher than the UK average of 7.8%.

The Office for National Statistics(ONS) say that whilst the unemployment figures were down by 7,000 overall in the last three months it rose for women. 

A figure that the Welsh TUC were quick to latch on to. Their economic policy officer Alex Bevan said “Unemployment amongst women in Wales has also risen by 1.5% since this time last year, adding yet more evidence to the case that austerity guarantees deepening inequality.”  

Many economist attribute the positive figures less to real growth and more to an increase in part-time jobs. 

Welcome though the figures are, it would be dangerous to breath a sigh of relief that the hard times are over. The new dawn hasn’t arrived yet. 

That old Jonah, Sir Mervyn King the governor of the Bank of England was quick to put a damper on things. He reckons the UK economy is at risk of a triple-dip recession.  And just to make sure that Cameron and Clegg have sleepless nights, he says the UK economy is going to have persistently low growth. And this low level  will bump along the bottom until the next election.

He’s cut Britain's growth forecast to 1% next year and warned that output was more likely than not to remain below pre-crisis levels over the next three years. 

The much heralded growth of 1% in the last quarter which brought to an end the double-dip recession was seen by King as driven one-off factors.  It was the Olympics that did it. Now? Well, no legacy for the economy. Just barely holding our own. He goes further and says that if the contraction continues into 2013, then the UK could be looking at a triple-dip recession.

If that woe was not enough, King just had to pile on more misery. Not just making us miserable with his forecast of low growth his Bank of England has also said that inflation will be up as well. It’s now expected to rise to 3% and not likely to drop until late in 2013.

So the chances of the government getting the economy back on track by the time of the next election don’t look that great. It doesn’t take Mystic Meg to predict trouble ahead.  With wages frozen and inflation eating at living standards the voters ain’t going to be very happy bunnies. They’ll certainly be feeling the pinch and may be looking to allocate blame. 
Not the best of circumstances to go to the country. Without doubt when the time comes for the nation to place the crosses young Ed will be reminding the voter, that “its the economy, stupid.” 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Leanne's leap of faith

Plaid Cymru’s hope is to leap frog the Conservatives and Labour and become Wales’s largest political party after the 2016 Assembly elections. That’s the ambition of Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. 

In making the declaration she said that she was going to give up on her relatively safe regional list seat in South Wales Central and seek her political fortune in a constituency. 

Although she’s being a bit coy at the moment as to where precisely she’s going to throw her hat in ring. 

Ms Wood's  ambitious to become Plaid Cymru’s First Minister and take her party into Government. She’s targeted the fifth Assembly term to do just that. 

In order to head a Welsh Government she's got to become the largest party. This means winning a majority of the 40 Assembly constituencies.  As she put it “In Wales it’s two thirds. That’s how many of the constituency seats we have to win if we are to achieve our aim of becoming the major party of Wales.......I believe I can win.”  

Brave action or foolhardy in standing for a constituency? Well, as party leader she’ll have the pick of the seats. 

The turnover of safe seats and retirements in Plaid Cymru is extremely limited. They currently hold five seats. Three of these in the party’s Welsh speaking strongholds of North West Wales one in mid Wales leaving only one in South West Wales.

But by her own logic she really has to fight a seat that currently is held by another party. That makes her task difficult. 

There is only one seat that can be described as marginal and that’s Llanelli. They’re only 80 votes behind Labour and with a swing to Plaid it could be theirs. It’s one of those seats that has swung between Labour and Plaid in the various Assembly elections. But that seat is very much associated with Helen Mary Jones who has worked the seat over the years and she surely has an emotional attachment to the area. Would she willingly step aside for her leader? Unlikely?

Plaid Cymru’s best ever results were in 1999 under the leadership of Dafydd Wigley when they had 17 Assembly Members. Their success that year was more to do with Labour than Plaid.

Labour entered the election in the first Assembly elections having had two bruising leadership contests. The first was Ron Davies against Rhodri Morgan. Then following, Ron Davies’s resignation after his stroll on Clapham Common, Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan.  

Voters don’t tend to vote for parties that are riven with internal strife. Labour gave the impression they were split from head to toe. The valley’s turned against them. Plaid benefited. 

Labour lost Rhondda and Islwyn. It was seen as a political earthquake. Many at the time thought the mould in Welsh politics had being broken. Labour’s hegemony in the valleys was over.  Not so. The seats reverted back to Labour at the next election. But could be the seats that the Plaid leader might feel she's got the best chance of winning back for Plaid. Although it's noticeable that she's recently moved her regional office to Pontypridd.

But the question is will Plaid do better in 2016 than they did under Wigley in 1999? Hmmm, it's a big ask.

It is unlikely that Labour will be in a similar place in 2016. They have a settled leader in Carwyn Jones. If they have a fair wind behind them they just might be back in government in Westminster.  But not long enough to alienate the traditional Welsh Labour voter.  

Even in the dark day’s of 2007 when Tony Blair’s government was unpopular  and Labour’s vote dropped to 32.2 they still got 28 seats to Plaid Cymru’s 15.

By setting herself and her party an unrealistic target for 2016 she is neither doing herself or her party any favours. She’s setting the bar to high. If Plaid fall short of the self imposed target of being the largest party, it and she will be branded failures.

She’s a young enough leader to contemplate a longer term strategy for her party. She’s throwing her and her parties future on a wild gamble. She’s not in the last chance saloon but she’s behaving as if she is. 

And what about her seat on the list? Could that be where Adam Price could make his comeback to active politics? And dare it be suggested, a potential leader should the position be vacant.

Monday, 12 November 2012

History in the making

For all those that voted in the referendum to give the Assembly law making powers, today is an historic day. 

The first bill passed by the Welsh assembly is to become law.

And what pray was the the bill in question? A bill that passed the eagle eye of the Attorney general and allowed the Queen to pick up her pen and sign it into law. Well, its the National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Bill.

Well, it’s not the kind of bill that sets the pulse raising. Historic it might be, but who says history has to be interesting. This new law gives equal status to the Welsh and English languages in the Assembly. 

Worthy, yes, historic, maybe, but how many are going to be turned on by it. Not many, I’d wager. Whichever, language you read the proceedings of the Assembly in, you can be sure that it’s main effect will be, to cure insomnia.

Never mind, we Welsh love our ceremonies. So in a ceremony the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, fixed an official seal to the document. ‘Cos Carwyn Jones is not only the first minister but he’s also Keeper of the Welsh Seal. 

It’s aways so in Welsh life, you get rewarded with one title and others follow with monotonous regularity. 

But back to the ceremony.

The ceremony will consist of the first minister applying the seal and handing it to the clerk of the assembly. 

Ok, not much of a pageant granted. But it’s history, see. And in the famous words of “1066 and all that.” A thoroughly good thing

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lecturing on the union

Wales’s First Minister warns English Tory MPs not to push for a referendum on leaving the European Union. Their concern with wanting out of the European Union might lead to the breakup of the other Union. The union that is the United Kingdom. 
Carwyn Jones delivered this stark message to the London School of Economics, on the eve of the Scottish government confirming the wording of the question it plans to put to the people of Scotland in the independence referendum.
The people of Scotland will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" to the question: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" Of course, the Electoral Commission will have to give its blessing to the wording.
Carwyn Jones’s view is that if the English, with its large population, vote to leave the European Union and other parts of the UK, like Wales and Scotland, vote to stay in then according to him it puts “us under enormous strain, and could only serve the interests of those who wanted the United Kingdom to cease to exist.” 
In other words the very act of the Conservative Euro-sceptics in pushing for a referendum on leaving the EC is playing into the hands of the “Yes” side of the Scottish question. 
What’s more, it might even push Wales down a similar road.
For almost the last year, Carwyn Jones has been trying  to get the Cameron’s government to take seriously the need establish a convention to look at relationships between the countries of the isles of Britain.
Prime Minister Cameron hasn’t responded.
So Wales’s First Minister set out his stall at the LSE. His theme Wales’s place in the union.
He makes great play on changing the nature of the devolution settlement. He wants a new Act passed in Westminster giving Wales a reserved model of devolution. Meaning he wants Wales to be more like Scotland. 
All the powers over Hadrian’s Wall rest with the Scottish Parliament unless Westminster make an exception. He wants it to be the same for Wales. This would stop the Attorney General referring Welsh Laws to the Supreme Court to rule on their legality.
He’s seen some of the powers of patronage of the British Prime Minister, likes what he sees, and wants some of that for himself. 
So wants the power to nominate potential members to the House of Lords and for a Welsh Judge to sit on the Supreme Court.
He also wants some of the same powers that Scotland has over finance but not income tax unless of course there’s a referendum on the issue. He said
“Welsh voters would expect a say before they found themselves potentially paying a different rate of income tax than in other parts of the UK. In other words, there should be a referendum before this power could be transferred. 
So there we have it. Carwyn has set out his constitutional stall. More powers for the First Minister. But not to much over tax, ‘cos he wouldn’t want to have to raise the money that he spends. Oh, what a happy world that is.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Budget deal

Plaid Cymru have cut a deal with the Welsh Government on next years budget. The deal. £40million over two years for apprenticeships, with the potential, through EU funding, for this to be increased to £60million over two years.  
A further £10million in capital investment for a science park led by Bangor University in collaboration with Aberystwyth University.
So the price of the deal is £25m a year over two years. £5m more than last year’s deal with the Liberal Democrats. 
The £20m accord with the Liberal Democrats last year was described by Plaid as the “Lib Dems have sold their support very cheaply." 
So the going rate in Welsh politics between a good deal and one that is cheap is £5m. So there you have it. The formula for agreeing budgets in Wales.
To be fair to Plaid Cymru, God knows why I am, it does have the potential to ratchet-up an additional £10m courtesy of EU funds. Provided, of course that the unholy coalition of right wing Tories and Miliband’s Labour don’t get their way and reduce the EU budget.
Apart from getting Labour’s budget through and giving Jane Hutt an easy time, what does it amount to? 
Plaid Cymru’s estimates it will provide for between 8000 and 10,500 much needed apprenticeships. And according to Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru leader “the Science Park would provide a much needed economic boost creating jobs in the construction phase leading to a knock on effect for the wider economy.  She added that the completed Science Park will help to equip young people with the skills they need for a successful future.” 
Not to be out spun a government spokesman said:
"We are very pleased with today's agreement. It's entirely in line with what we're already doing as a Government and what we pledged to implement through our manifesto. Since the last election, via Jobs Growth Wales and our current apprenticeship schemes, we have repeatedly demonstrated our commitment to tackle unemployment amongst our young people. We believe today's deal is an extension of our commitment and the promise we made to the people of Wales.”
So there you have it, Labour would have done it anyway. It poses the question of course, why didn’t they just put it in the budget and dare the other parties to vote against it.
The government even had warm words to the Liberal Democrats.
"We consider the proposals put forward by the Welsh Liberal Democrats during these negotiations, as very interesting. In recognition of this, the ideas they brought to the table during recent weeks, will be examined further by the Government. The Pupil Deprivation Grant that we jointly agreed last year with them, will receive an uplift in the coming financial year and we will look very closely at the idea of an innovative health technologies fund for Welsh patients.”
Meaning, hi, Liberal Democrats behave. Vote for the budget. You got a little of what you fancied last year and perhaps if you’re very very good you might get a fund on health technologies. 
So everyone’s a winner.
Well, not everyone. 
One tory’s comment on the Plaid Cymru deal in the form of a tweet by Darren Miller. ”Plaid backing for the Welsh Labour government’s budget is like a dog returning to its vomit.”
Nothing dog in the mangerish about Mr Miller then.