Friday, 10 August 2012

What's in a name?

What’s in a name? A great deal, according to Andrew RT Davies. Assembly or Parliament? A no brainer says the Conservative leader it ought to be a Parliament.
The name  change would give the institution more respect  and clear up confusion says the dedicated ‘unionist.’
The great unwashed get confused between the actions or non-actions of the Welsh Government and the goings on in the Assembly itself.
In making his plea for change Mr Davies, the “unionist” as he describes himself, didn’t consult HQ - the Westminster government. 
It is understood that the Welsh Secretary was caught on the hop. When she eventually found out what the Welsh branch of her party was proposing.It would be an understatement to say that she was rather underwhelmed by the idea. 
Dear Cheryl, doesn’t regard it as a priority. And as she never ceases to remind politicians in Cardiff bay, it is her that’s charged with law making in Westminster, when it comes to Welsh matters, at least.  So it would be the right honourable lady that would need to amend the Government of Wales Act to usher in the change demanded.
It’s Mr Davies’s view that it’s a simple re-branding exercise. Lose the ‘Assembly’ tag and re-brand as ‘Welsh Parliament.’ 
The distinction between legislature and executive would then be clearer and reflect the aspiration of Welsh people expressed in the referendum for a more powerful body.
If the change was to happen this would be the latest in the evolving story of devolution. The institution started after the 1997 referendum as a glorified county council as a ‘corporate body.’ There was no legal separation and ministers sitting on committees. 
It was that other Davies, Ron’s, hope that mature politics would reign in Wales and all would work together for the common weal. Oh, dear, political parties working together, what an innovation that would be.  Suffice to say, it didn’t happen.
So along came Peter Hain and his Government of Wales Act 2006. This recognised the real world. Labour  to control a government that was separate from the motley crew that was the Assembly.  The motley crew’s role? To hold government to account and institute laws. That is, create laws with the help of Westminster. Peter didn’t quite trust them to do it on their own.
But now the institution is very grown up and can pass its own laws unaided by Westminster. To date it’s passed one on the important issue of local government by-laws. Even that is now in dispute and is going to the Supreme Court. A nice little earner for the lawyers again.
First Minister and newly elected member of the Gorsedd, Carwyn Jones’s government certainly haven’t adopted an Usain Bolt approach to law making. The legislature hasn’t being greatly worked. 
So a change of name would be more appropriate. Parliament after all comes from the French word “parler” to speak. And that is certainly the only thing that is happening in our institution at the moment. 
So Andrew “parliament” it shall be.
This blogger is now taking a holiday. Normal service will resume in September. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

King downgrades, again

A trip round the Eisteddfod will confirm that the economy is sliding. Not a bank to be seen. It’s left to the Principality to wave the flag for the financial sector. Grant you, even it they were here, they’d be as welcomed as a rap artist would be in the Gorsedd of bards. 

In past eisteddfodau every major bank would be here. As would be the large utilities. Few, if any this year.

Now it’s small niche businesses that predominate, political parties, voluntary organisations and of course all those Welsh bodies that tax payers in their generosity finance. 

No, if the Eisteddfod is any indication, the economy ain’t doing well.

These impressions are now confirmed by no less an authority than Mervyn King the governor of the Bank of England. Even he’s now saying the bleeding obvious, that the economy is in the mire.

To put in official speak, the Bank of England has cut its growth forecast to zero from the 0.8% that was predicted in May. Some of us thought that 0.8% was wildly optimistic. How true. A year ago 2% growth was predicted for 2012. Now it’s no growth.

Little wonder. The double-dip recession intensifies.

So whats to be done? Speculation is rife that there will be a further interest rate cut. Unlikely immediately, perhaps later. Although what such a cut would do is difficult to imagine. The current rates are already so low, it is difficult to envisage that lowering them further will do much to get the economy growing again. 

He said his recovery hopes had consistently been dashed. He can say that again. We’d be better off with Mystic Meg doing the forecasts than him. Each time he makes a prediction he’s had to downgrade it.

Unless there is a general change of direction in number eleven Mervyn’s hopes will continue to be frustrated. 

it’s not all due to the euro-zone crisis. This is a made at home crisis. Unless someone starts spending soon, the economy will continue to be depressed. It’s as simple as that. 

So what will the bank do. Their standard response is quantitative easing. The devise used to push more cash into the tills of the banks in the hope that they’ll lend it on. Will it work? Not much sign that its had a great affect to date. 

So there we have it, despite Olympic golds there ain’t any golds being handed out for economic management. 
A Chancellor to stubborn to stop digging when in a hole and a Governor of the Bank of England whose economic forecasts have the consistency of always having to be downgraded. 
Without a change of tack and personnel we can only conclude in the immortal words of Private Fraser from Dad’s Army ‘We’re all doomed.”

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Lords reform ditched

The Conservatives have just blown a twenty seat advantage in the race for power at the next general election. All over that vote in July on Lords Reform.

As this blog predicted on Friday Lords reform is off the agenda. Consequently there is a price to pay. 

The Liberal Democrats made it clear  that the price is Mr Cameron’s attempts at limiting the size of the Commons to 600 members and making sure that each constituency had broadly the same number of electors.  

When the plans are voted on in the Autumn Liberal Democrats will not be in alongside their coalition partners in the lobby.

It’s the view of the Liberal Democrats that the Tories did not deliver on the coalition agreement so it’s retribution time. 

Simon Hughes said on Newsnight last night he expected all 19 Lib Dem ministers to now oppose Tory plans for changes to electoral boundaries. And he is, after all, the Deputy leader of his party.

One of the prime reasons that the Liberal Democrats entered into coalition was the prospect of constitutional change. The referendum on the voting system was lost. And now their cherished plans for changes to the Lords - to make 80% of peers elected and to halve the number of members to 450 - have bitten the dust.

 After more than 90 Conservatives defied the government in a vote on the issue in July. Mr Clegg pulled the plug on the plans.

The coalition government will continue because if they don’t both parties will sink together. But relations between both parties will be frosty. And some Liberal Democrat back bench MPs are openly saying that "the gloves are off." The party will pick and choose which elements of the coalition agreement they will support or oppose in future.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, would have to live with the current parliamentary boundaries which means it will continue to take many more thousands of voters to elect a Conservative MP than a Labour MP.

The Parliamentary and Voting Constituencies Bill  introduced fair-sized seats of equal population. This could have boosted the number of Tory MPs at the next election by up to twenty.  
Wales will now retain 40 MPs. Despite the brave face being put on it by the Welsh Secretary, yesterday, it looks as if her Green paper is dead in the water. There are unlikely to be any changes in the way the National Assembly is elected for sometime yet. 

Poor Lord Richard’s plans for an eighty seat Assembly voted by PR will be on the shelve for a few years yet.

Monday, 6 August 2012

In the eye of the beholder

It’s the first week in August, so its the national eisteddfod. This year in the Vale of Glamorgan. Its always a good place to catch up with Welsh politicians. And true to form within my first few minutes there were three presenting themselves. Politicians are like buses when you need them for a story none can be found when you’re out enjoying yourself three turn up.

But its the politics of Art that gets attention for my first blog from the Maes. It is always a source of some controversy the Art Council’s pavilion.
The Art world is entered at ones peril. The trouble is we all have a view. Yes, a bit like politics.
As a presenter of one of the BBC’s art programmes commented as I was doing my tour of the Arts pavilion “I don’t understand nor do I want to understand this conceptional shit.” So there you have it. Art criticism at its most articulate.
This brings me to the winner of this years eisteddfod prize for fine arts - the gold award, no less. And the winner was..... Carwyn Evans for his work Docio. Translated as Docking.
Now as you  might gather it’s not without some controversy. But its conceptional art all right.
If that’s not to your taste how about a polystyrene Cildraeth cove by Alex Duncan. With the summer as it is your own indoor beach to give you that beach holiday moment without having to leave home.

If its a sense of direction you lack then Cecile Johnson Soliz's work might set you right. Or maybe not. 

Andre Stitt say's this is the perimeter. Or his other work is the Wladfa.

Some other selections just to give you a flavour. 
So much for the fine arts. Perhaps politics and economics ain’t to bad after all.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Lords dancing with joy

It looks as if Nick Cleggs cherished bill on the reform of the House of Lords is to be dropped by the government.
The Prime Minister has concluded that there is no way that he’ll get his own backbenchers to bite the bullet on Lords reform and rather than stand up to them, he’s bowed to the inevitable. The bill is likely to be dropped. 

Although as yet there hasn't been a formal announcement, it is widely rumoured its going to be kicked into the long grass.
The decision will put real strain on the coalition. Nick Clegg will have seen plans for Lords reform and electoral reform for the Commons thrown out partly due to Conservative opposition.
But there may be some benefits to Wales in the fall out. It is almost certain that the Liberal Democrats will retalitate by kicking the legislation designed to cut the number of MPs to 600. 
This legislation was widely seen to be to the advantage of the Tories and to the disadvantage of the Liberal Democrats.  

In Wales the number of MPs were going to be reduced from 40 to 30 under the proposals. 
It is unlikely that there will be changes to either the Assembly or Westminster constituency boundaries despite the current consultation being conducted by Cheryl Gillan.
Pressure will likely raise its head in the Liberal Democrat conference to question the advantages to the party of being in coalition with the Conservatives. The party delegates just  love talking constitutional reform, the Welsh conference even wanted elections to the boards of national parks. How much disappointment they must now feel that their party has failed miserably to stop an unelected second chamber in the highest parliament in the land.
Labour will be blamed for the failure. Ed Miliband saw an advantage in not committing his party to a timetable that would have seen the passage of the bill through the Commons.
It now looks as Lords reform will not see the light of day for sometime soon despite the three parties having reform of the upper chamber in their manifestos.
Plaid Cymru were quick to discomfort the other parties. Dafydd Wigley said that it was extremely disappointing that such an important opportunity had been blown off course by an unholy alliance of Labour and Tory backbenchers.  
So it looks as if laws in the UK will continue to be made by unelected party nominees awhile yet.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Less in the pocket

Its not just the weather that is making for misery this summer. If the feel good factor is tied to how much we’ve got to spend then good reason for long faces. We’ve all got less to spend than any time since 2003.
If you take price increases into account, the amount we’ve all got to spend has fallen by 1% since the previous quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  And that's after the tax man has taken his cut. 

These figures reinforce last week's results on GDP growth. Those showed that UK economy shrank far more than expected.  The gloom that was announced then was of an economy  contracting by 0.7% in the second quarter of the year.  
The lesson, apparently, not learnt is that real incomes   drive the economy. ‘Cos if we don’t have the income we can’t spend. What we spend in turn accounts for around two-thirds of GDP. 
So no cash, no sales. It’s not rocket science, but clearly beyond our Chancellor.
Squeezing families' finances to the lowest level since 2005, is not a recipe for growth but for decline. Increasing VAT and cutting tax credits was and is just the wrong approach to the crisis. 
If such a policy is a disaster for the UK it is a catastrophe for Wales. 
With Wales’s GVA currently about a quarter less than the average for the UK as a whole. An economy of low wages, and a high dependency on benefits. It is sheer madness to cut these further and another argument why regional pay is a bad idea. This ain't the way out of the economic hole we're in. No, dear Mr Osborne needs to stop digging. 
The Silk Commission is beavering away looking at whether the Assembly needs powers over taxation. My advice to them is,  "pack up its bags and find something more useful to do." 
Unless there is a change in the economy of Wales the tax raised here wouldn’t pay for an eisteddfod, let alone the expenditure of the Assembly. 
Raising taxes on a poor people is not a good basis for going forward. 
Devolving real powers over finance without devolving real macro economic powers is a disaster waiting to happen. 
Its not the Scots that need devo-max but Wales. And soon. 
All the signs are that UK economy is sinking. To be tied to a sinking boat is not the best of moves. Westminster's economic management hasn't after all been a success story. for Wales. Would getting Wales's hands on the economic levers be any worse?