Friday, 24 December 2010

Political fall out

That the Conservatives have 'uncharitable instincts'  and have 'quite nutty' allies in Europe is hardly a surprising view for a Liberal Democrat to hold.
A view that they are likely to express to constituents despite being in government with these allies of the mad. Why? Well, they've got to keep their own supporters on board and win the allegiance of the uncommitted voters in the seats that they hold.
The truth of the matter is that they are in competition with the Conservatives in more seats than they are with Labour. So is a matter of self interest and survival that they, in advertising parlance, preserve their unique selling point.
Now if Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron want to stop these noises off stage they will need to come up with a plan. As for a cunning little plan what about  an election pact?
It would be relatively easy to sell such a plan based on the current seats that both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats represent in parliament. A plan allowing one or t'other party a clear run against Labour in the seats that they currently hold.
Such a move would mean that they are not pitched against each other and are less likely to slag each other off to Telegraph undercover journalists.
Ah, if only life was as straight forward.
There is a snag of Mr Cameron's own making. In a nutshell, less MPs.
In a populist move before the last election he decided that less politicians would go down well with the voters! A move that was clearly not as popular as he originally thought or he would not be in the pickle of being dependent on the back biting Lib Democrat  to keep him in his job.
In order for Mr Cameron to meet the pledge he made, there's a bill going through Parliament  cutting  down the number of MPs to 600.
In Wales this will probably mean down to 30 seats from 40.
All of which mean new constituency boundaries. And shame oh shame all the current crop of MPs will often have to compete against members of their own party to become candidates for many of these newly drawn seats.
So drawing up an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats becomes well nigh impossible.  Little chance then that the coalition partners will learn to love each other.
No the reality in this political marriage of convenience is that the cold loathing of the partners will continue.
But whilst there may be  little good will to be had from the politicians this particular journalist wishes all his readers the very best of the season - Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda.
And I leave you with a picture of a white Caerffili to bring you Christmas cheer.

Normal service with the blog will resume in January, unless of course I need an excuse to hide away from the family!!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Poll predicts Liberal Democrat on the slide

Support for the Liberal Democrats is melting  a great deal faster than the winter snow according to the latest ITV Wales/YouGov tracker poll recently released.
The Liberal Democrats are now down to 6 per cent, 3 points lower than their November results and 9 points lower than their results in the last Assembly elections. On the regional list they sink even lower to 5 per cent which is half that those polled give to other minority parties.
If these results happened on polling day they would be in danger of being wiped out completely if the votes of the 'others' were to concentrate on one other party such as UKIP or the Greens.
The Labour Party continue to poll well with no change at 44 per cent. A figure that gives Carwyn Jones a majority over all other parties and an opportunity to ditch Plaid Cymru and the current coalition.
Welsh Conservatives see an increase of 2 per cent  in the poll, they are now on 23 per cent just in front of Plaid Cymru who remain on 21 pre cent. Plaid remain static in the polls  having polled the same figure these last 3 months. Clearly, being a minority partner in government is not helping them with the electorate.
Both the Yes and No sides in the referendum campaign seem to be losing ground to those that have either not made their minds up or don't intend to vote at all with their figures now up to 29 pre cent. These figures  point to a referendum with a very low turn out. All the campaigning seems to have done hitherto is to confirm those great words of Willy Whitelaw of "stirring up apathy."
The poll also asked people whether they were worried about the ability to pay for Christmas. It seems that the numbers are worryingly high. An indication about how uncertain people are about the general state of the economy.
For the anorak amongst you the poll results in full are below.


Results of poll carried out 20th to 22nd December 2010. Sample size: 1005. This month’s poll includes the usual tracking questions plus a one-off question on how worried people are about paying for Christmas.

(compared with 2007 election and previous polls in 2010)
If there were an election to the National Assembly for Wales tomorrow, and thinking about the constituency vote, how would you vote?

                2007  May  June   July   Aug   Sept  Oct    Nov  Dec
Labour     32%   32%  42%  40%  39%  44%  44%  44%  44%
Pl. Cymru 22%   22%  20%  22%  23%  19%  21%  21%  21%
Cons.       22%   21%  19%  20%  22%  22%  19%  21%  23%
Lib. Dem. 15%   20%  12%  13%  10%  11%   9%     9%  6%
Others       8%      5%  6%     5%    6%    5%   8%     6%   6%

And thinking about the regional or party vote for the National Assembly for Wales, which party list would you vote for?
               2007   May  June  July   Aug   Sept  Oct   Nov  Dec
Labour     30%    30%  40% 37% 39%   41%  40% 41% 42%
Pl. Cymru 21%    21%  19% 20% 23%   19%  23% 20% 21%
Cons.       22%    21%  20% 20% 21%   20%  18% 20% 22%
Lib. Dem. 12%    18%  12% 14%  9%   12%    9%   9%   5%
Others      16%      9%    9%   8%   8%    8%  11%  11% 10%

(compared with previous polls in 2010).
If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales increased law-making powers, how would you vote?
                      April  June  July   Aug  Sept Oct   Nov Dec
Yes                49%  55%  48% 48% 49% 52% 48% 46%
No                 33%  28%  34% 32% 30% 29% 30% 25%
Don’t Know/ 18%   17%  19% 21% 20% 20% 22% 29%
Wouldn’t Vote

Which of these statements comes closest to your view?

I am more worried about how I am going to pay for Christmas this year compared with last Christmas 25%
I am less worried about how I am going to pay for Christmas this year compared with last Christmas 9%
I am just as worried about how I am going to pay for Christmas this year compared with last Christmas 20%
I was not worried about paying for Christmas last year and am not worried about it this year 34%
None of these 7%
Don’t know 5%

Monday, 20 December 2010

Old Hughes’s Political Almanac for 2011

Its the month of Janus who is god of the portal -the god that faces both ways supposedly past and future.  A god with the two faces particularly apt for politicians me thinks. The month that the latest batch of the great and good of Welsh society will pledge themselves to the Empire, by accepting the various honours in its name.
I foresee ermine to be the material of choice of three ‘once’ democratically elected politicians.  These very three new recruits to the Upper House have all called for the abolition of the very same House they are now eager to grace with their presence - how appropriate that Janus should be elevated to be the god of politicians.
Unlike Ivor Novello, who was born this month, the hills of Wales will be alive to disharmony as the yes and no campaigns kick off. Who will make the sweetest sounds and get the encore of the Welsh people will come clear only in March.
Named after the Roman festival of Purification, Februa.  The Welsh political establishment based in Cardiff Bay will be pure in word and deed as they campaign together for a ‘yes’ vote. Normal hostilities will be put aside for the campaign, well, that’s the theory. Leighton Andrews and Peter Black excepted. But during the month most of the Welsh parties will hold their political conferences, the last before May’s elections, and the chances of them not taking a swipe at their opponents are absolutely nil. Predictions are that it will be a lack lustre campaign. Apathy is likely to rule!
The god of battle Mars ,brings to an end the referendum campaign on  the 3 March. It shares the same day as the World book day and I predict that the majority of Welsh people will have stayed at home with good book rather than bother to vote.  The National Assembly will go into purdah, meaning that civil servants, support staff and uncle Tom Cobbley and all, will do nothing at all - so no change there then! 
Meanwhile Assembly members will hit the campaign trail for their own election. t Of course, Liberal Democrats will be in a particular state of heightened excitement because their much anticipated referendum on the change to the voting system will be kicking off. Not that it’s the voting system that they want, but the alternative vote system was the best they could wring out of Cameron in the talks that led to the UK coalition. It’s sad to see how the once great party of Lloyd George are prepared to sell out for such meagre returns.
Aperire when the earth opens to receive seed and when the Welsh electorate will receive through their letter boxes the thoughts, promises and aspirations of political parties in the manifestos. This was the month that in the old Soviet Union  ‘Pravda’ was produced for the very first time. A publication that proclaimed the ‘truth’ about the Soviet state and was constantly reminding its readers of how their politicians succeeded in meeting  targets. Much of the literature coming through the doors of Wales at this time will again chronicle the heroic efforts of our own politicians in meeting their targets and will be as realistic as that of Pravda’s. It will be the month to say goodbye to familiar faces in the Bay most will have decided to hand in their passes voluntarily while others will be booted out by the electorate.  All will join the rest of us the great unwashed, but their transisiton will be made all the easier with a generous pension
And now to the god of growth and increase Maia. An aspiration that all political parties attempt to attain. How quite will Labour after winning the Assembly election deliver on such aspirations remains to be seen. Even after the ‘yes’ vote they still have only limited powers over the economy and in Westminster the coalition are unlikely to achieve economic growth in the short term with their current economic policies. 
My crystal ball also predicts that the Liberal Democrats will be disappointed with the results of the AV referendum a low turnout and a victory for the status quo is what I see.
Labour also have to make the decision whether they will go it alone after their victory in the Assembly elections or again seek a coalition partner. Its grass roots would prefer the former but for comfortable government those in control of the party in the Bay would look sympathetically at the continuation of a Lab/Plaid pact. In all events there is likely to be a new presiding officer and a new government formed in the Bay by the time all the politicos head for Hay Festival at the end of the month.
This month is named after Juno the goddess of marriage. The time also when Her Majesty turns up at the Assembly and kicks off a new session and likely will pass her blessings on any new marriage of parties  in the Bay. Certainly the date of her impending arrival acts as a spur to the Bay’s politicians to get their act together and sort out the governing arrangements before she walks up the steps to the Senedd.
Named after that wily general and politician who did not quiet recognize who were his real  friends - Julius Caesar. It is that time of year that both governments in Cardiff and Westminster breathe a sigh of relief. They have a respite for a few weeks from those pesky backbenchers who tend to question their every action. Both bodies go into recess. Yes, our legislators will be packing up  and going back to their constituencies. They never take holidays they go back to ‘work’ in their constituencies. Unfortunately, for the Welsh public this is the time of year that you are most likely to bump into them as you innocently attend the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show and other shows up and down this land of ours. And of course the last day of the month sees the start of the National Eisteddfod, never a politician free zone
All roads will lead to Wrexham for politicians in the first Week of the month to the National Eisteddfod. Here pompous announcements will be made about all things Welsh! English politicians wrap themselves in the union flag, Welsh politicians in the dragon. Of course by the time the political term starts all the announcements will quietly be forgotten.
At the beginning of this month the Blackpool illumination’s are switched on. The display was always ready by the time one of the party conferences turned up. But, alas, all our parties have gone up market and would never be seen dead in a gritty working class holiday resort like Blackpool. So all will go to other venues. 
The large UK party conference season kicks off with that of the Liberal Democrats. In past years this would have been of least interest to the hacks, but not so now. All will be looking for signs of the troops revolting. Will those in their party that have taken the oath of office and sit around the cabinet table feel their wroth? The response of the Welsh bit of the Federal party will be most interesting, should they have suffered a major reduction to their numbers in the May election.
Labour will be in Liverpool under the leadership of brother Ed. Again the pressure will be on him. If he does not improve on his shaky start as Leader of the Opposition it is at conference that murmurs begin and leaders begin to feel vulnerable to a future coup.
Meanwhile back at the Assembly a legislative programme will be submitted that for the first time will be in their hands alone. These Welsh laws cannot be challenged by Westminster but of course can be challenged in the courts. A rich living for Carwyn Jones’s old friends in the Welsh legal profession.
At the start of the month Manchester plays host to the Conservative conference. It will feel like a conference under siege, a range of demonstrators will be making their feelings known outside the conference security zone. Of course the mantra in the hall will still be that the cuts are absolutely necessary but the promised land of milk and honey will arrive in time.  A year before the next general election it’s predicted! Those sniping right wingers will use Ken Clark as a proxy for Cameron and give him a hard time because of his liberal policies towards prison reform.
MPs will come back to work and the focus will move from constitutional issues to getting all the reform agenda on to the statute book in plenty of time for them to bed in before the next general election. There will a large head of steam building up in the Assembly to take the Richards report off the shelf, dust it down and implement some of its conclusions. Particularly its conclusion that to function properly the Assembly should increase its numbers to eighty.  When AMs realise that having sole legislative power is hard work, they will start pushing for more members to be introduced when the number of MPs are reduced. 
The CBI will meet in conference with a refrain from them and the government for more wage restraint although there will be little restraint on their remuneration packages.
The year comes to a close with the usual ritual of politicians wishing us good cheer having spent most of the year ensuring quite the opposite. Their human side is shown by the various visits to worthy causes within their constituencies, one of the prizes of old age is that your stuck in an home and can’t get away from a politician coming around to wish you christmas cheer. They’ll be sending Cards designed by children in schools that are old and pass their sell by date. But never mind it will all be forgotten in the joy of the festive season.
And a Merry Christmas to you all!!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Looking back, looking forward

Leaving ITV after a ten year period of commenting upon the Welsh political scene has caused me to reflect on the events and developments of the decade.  In that time I’ve seen three general elections and two Assembly elections.
In order to make these events more meaningful I’ve been driven around Wales in a chauffeur driven car with Sian Lloyd, she of weather fame. Made my own way round Wales using a bus pass. Taken my shirt off in a bookies in Pontypridd, gone to the races. All to bring politics to the viewers of Wales. No dumbing down of politics here!!
More recently have journeyed Wales with  the wonderful Andrea Benfield. On this journey we weathered, floods, hail and snow to bring our collective thoughts to bear on the last general election. And despite it all neither of the two of us guessed the outcome. Mind you if we had the gift of getting such results right, we would not be doing television programmes but enjoying our spoils, having cleaned up with the bookies.
In the whole of that time some things have remained constant. Labour have been in office in the Assembly all that time. Sometimes alone, more often in partnership with an other political party. 
For hacks it’s not the night of the Assembly election results that matter but the weeks that follow. These weeks are like the audition days for Blind Date, when Labour’s partner for the next few years is decided. Yes, usually a shot gun wedding rather than a measured betrothal. Mind you there is often considerable discussion over the dowry.
But in looking back on my days with ITV it is not the one big event that has caught my attention but the gradual progress of turning the Assembly from being a glorified county council into a proper parliament.
In the original settlement all AMs were part of the corporate body sitting with Ministers in committee all supposedly forming policy. Scrutiny committees, they were not. 
When Rhodri Morgan took over from Alun Michael in no time at all he changed the title of his post from First Secretary to First Minister. A small change in name but certainly a mark of his intention. 
And that intention was to gradually create a welsh government that was different from the rest of the Assembly. In time WAG, as we affectionately call the Welsh Assembly Government, was formed. A different entity to the National Assembly for Wales which became like the parliament in Westminster the legislative and scrutinising body. A distinction so often missed by many a newsroom in Wales who often use the terms as if they are interchangeable.
These changes were finally given a legal status in the Government of Wales Act 2006
 which created a formal legal separation “between:
  1. the National Assembly for Wales, which is the legislature comprising the 60 Assembly members, and
  2. the Welsh Assembly Government, the executive, which comprises the First Minister, Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and the Counsel General.”
The final moves to making it, in the eyes of many, a proper parliament will be the referendum next March. 
If there is a ‘yes’ vote then it will be able to pass laws in the devolved areas without reference to the two Houses of Parliament in Westminster. 
So will next March be the end of the journey towards self government? To that the answer must surely be, no.
After all what self respecting parliament can exist without the ability to raise it’s own revenue. Indeed even the lowest levels in our democracy, the community councils have powers to raise some of their own money. Will this be the next political issue to concern us in Wales?
And what about the powers devolved. Real Home rule will not have happened until all powers on domestic affairs are passed down to Wales. 
So there are plenty of issues to occupy the political class in the years ahead. 
And despite not looking at the changing tide of political events for ITV. I shall hopefully be able to chronicle these in other media outlets. After all the tyranny of youth hopefully, has not spread to all media outlets.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Councillors have a go .. at each other!

Oh, it's always sad to see old comrades fall out. Especially when one accuses the other "of using the tactics of fascists."
This has happened in Caerffili Council where a Labour Councillor, Ray Davies has incurred the wrath of Independent Councillor, Ron Davies. He  is most unhappy with a leaflet sent out by Comrade Councillor Ray.
The leaflet alleged that "two independent councillors called for an end to free prescriptions, free bus travel and free swims, since they were only gimmicks."
Ex-Comrade Councillor Ron reacted angrily, accusing him of "deliberately trying to mislead people about what Colin [Hobbs, the other independent in the coalition cabinet with Plaid Cymru] and I have done in the ward. You should know, given your long political experience, that it is frauds and totalitarians who have to rely on lies and half truths."
He goes on to warn Comrade Councillor Ray "do not fall into the trap of using the tactics of fascists. If you have something to say, say it honestly."
Now there the matter would end as a local spat, an everyday occurrence in our valley councils. In such areas, political discourse is more cage boxing than the Queensbury rules.
But the spat has now taken a turn for the worse with a formal complaint being made to the Caerffili Council about Ex-Comrade Councillor Ron's diatribe.
Many outside Caerffili may know  'independent' councillor Ron Davies in another guise, for he is a Plaid Cymru prospective candidate in next year's Assembly elections.  For where? For  Caerffili?
In such circumstances it is understandable that Plaid Cymru candidate Ron would not want the electors to be mislead about such populist policies as free bus passes, free prescriptions and free swimming.
And he should know better than most about the winning potential of such policies.
In a fringe meeting at the Plaid Conference reported by Tom Bodden of the Daily Post  whilst Ron Davies, was in political purgatory before entering the heaven of  Plaid Cymru. He dismissed Labour flagship policies of free prescriptions, free bus passes for the elderly and free hospital parking as a "strategy to prop the core vote."
In a looming period of cuts in public spending, after 10 years of growth, any move to axe these flagship freebies would prove politically difficult.
How true.  And how understandable that you would want to appeal to the core vote.

For those interested in such political shenanigans and want to follow the exchanges, they are produced below.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Latest Poll News

Despite the Welsh budget cuts it would seem that the Labour/Plaid coalition government in Cardiff Bay are not been blamed for these cuts and have hitherto escaped the wroth of the voters.

Yes, it’s that time of month again when we see who’s glowing and who’s cursed, who’s up and who’s down in Welsh politics on the basis of the ITV Wales – YouGov tracking poll.

Labour remain buoyant, maintaining their 44 per cent share for the third month in a row on the constituency vote and even edging ahead slightly by 1 percentage point to 41 per cent in the regional or party vote. On the basis of this poll they would have crossed that very difficult winning line of an overall majority, with a projected 31 seats in the Assembly.

Plaid Cymru will be disappointed that they are not doing better. To use a racing metaphor they are running neck and neck with the Conservatives both on 21 per cent in the constituency poll and on 20 per cent on the regional vote. The Conservatives will take some comfort with their 2 per cent gain in both polls on that of October.

The real losers are still the Liberal Democrats for the second month in a row they are in single figures on 9 percentage points in both the constituency and list poll. The will be particularly worried that the ‘Others’ with 11 per cent could snatch the North Wales list seat from them if the voters were to fall for one party such as UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats it would seem are taking the hit for getting into bed with the Conservatives and forming the government in Westminster.

Those wishing for a ‘yes’ vote in next March’s referendum may be slightly disappointed to see the voting intensions slip back to 48 per cent, four points below the October figures. The ‘no’ side are up one point to 30 per cent and those that don’t intend to vote or have still to make their minds up are up two points at 22 per cent. It is still shows a comfortable margin for those wishing to strengthen the powers of the National Assembly.

The poll shows that the Conservatives campaign to ring fence health expenditure is not the killer punch they hoped it would be. 37% of those polled thought that the NHS should face some cuts in order to protect other departments from much bigger cuts, with only 35% saying that the NHS should be protected.

The full poll results are below

Results of poll carried out 22nd to 24th November 2010. Sample size: 1018. This month’s poll includes the usual tracking questions plus a one-off question on WAG and Conservative policy on NHS and schools budgets.

(compared with 2007 election and previous polls in 2010)

If there were an election to the National Assembly for Wales tomorrow, and thinking about the constituency vote, how would you vote?
            2007        May       June      July        Aug        Sept      Oct         Nov
Labour     32%     32%       42%      40%      39%       44%      44%       44%
Pl. Cymru 22%     22%       20%      22%      23%       19%      21%       21%
Cons.       22%     21%       19%      20%      22%       22%      19%       21%
Lib. Dem. 15%     20%       12%      13%      10%       11%        9%        9%
Others        8%       5%         6%        5%        6%         5%        8%        6%

And thinking about the regional or party vote for the National Assembly for Wales, which party list would you vote for?

               2007       May       June       July       Aug       Sept     Oct          Nov
Labour      30%     30%       40%      37%      39%      41%     40%       41%
Pl. Cymru  21%     21%       19%      20%      23%      19%     23%       20%
Cons.        22%     21%        20%     20%      21%      20%     18%       20%
Lib. Dem.   12%    18%        12%     14%        9%      12%      9%         9%
Others        16%      9%          9%       8%        8%        8%     11%      11%

(compared with previous polls in 2010).
If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales increased law-making powers, how would you vote?

                     April       June        July       Aug      Sept      Oct       Nov
Yes                49%       55%        48%     48%     49%      52%     48%
No                 33%       28%        34%     32%     30%      29%     30%
Don’t Know/  18%       17%        19%      21%     20%      20%     22%
Wouldn’t Vote

The Welsh Assembly Government has announced in its draft budget that spending on the NHS will drop in real terms over the next three years, arguing that raising NHS spending in line with inflation would force it to make deeper cuts in other areas, including schools. The Conservative opposition argue that the NHS should be protected from cuts, even if this means much deeper cuts in other areas, including schools.

Which of the following best reflects your view?
1. The NHS should face some cuts if this is the only way to protect other departments from much bigger cuts 37%
2. The NHS should be protected from cuts, even if this means much bigger cuts to areas like schools 35%
3. Neither 18%
4. Don't know 10%

Monday, 22 November 2010

Celtic tiger endangered

 The Unionist strand of British politics were quick to point out that the Celtic tiger was no more. John Redwood, former Secretary of State for Wales was heavily critical of his own Chancellor’s use of borrowed money to contribute to the bail out of Eire’s economy and banks. 
Such views may gain some currency amongst ordinary voters. Some may be bemused by the fact that they are subjected to cuts in their living standards when the UK are bailing out the economy of an independent government to the tune of £7bn. 
Such views are understandable but wrong. 
Eire’s economy is much smaller than that of the UK and their banks became to big for that economy. 
But the banks grew in size  not  on ‘real’ growth but on overseas borrowing. And what did the banks do with the money? They lent on. To who? To commercial and residential property. Resulting in a rapid increase in property prices which in turn fuelled a boom that was unstainable and the bubble eventually burst. With dire results for the economy - the overall burden of debt in the republic was 700% of its GDP. 
So Eire found itself in a situation that it could not pay its way in the world, its economy was in dire straits and this weekend had to admit it couldn't dig itself out of the hole it had created for itself.
It is to deal with this black hole in the public finance and to bail out the toxic debts of the Irish banks that the current IMF and European Union  rescue is all about.
But why is it in the UK’s interest to help bail out the Irish.
Well, the UK and Irish economies are closely linked. The Republic is the UKs largest export market and the crucial role played by Irish banks in Northern Ireland. If these banks were allowed to fail there would be devastating knock on effect on our own economy.
But that apart, it makes good business sense to lend to Eire. The UK is still able to borrow money at very low rates of interests. The rate they’ll charge the Irish will be much higher and provided Eire doesn’t default, it would yield a profitable return for the UK tax payer. 
So those right wing politicians who are such advocates of free market forces should recognise a good deal when they see one. But perhaps their attachment to the union is such that they would love to see the one part of these islands to gain independence become a failed state.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Lord and Ladies awaiting

Three new Welsh Peers a dancing. Well, perhaps not a dancing but Jenny Randerson, Eluned Morgan and Dafydd Wigley will all three have a spring in their step today. For they are all to go the House of Lords as Life Peers. These appointments underline again the fact that old politicians never die but fade away to that final resting place for retired politicians, the House of Lords
There is nothing surprising that both Eluned Morgan and Jenny Randerson should have accepted their respective party's nomination to the Lords, for it's very much part of the patronage system of Westminster parties. It is one of many weapons in the armoury of political parties that they can offer such rewards to politicians that have loyally served the 'party' without rocking the boat.
Both are members of parties whose first loyalty is the British state and all its glories. These glories include an anachronistic legislative chamber whose Members are not elected but  stuffed full of old party hacks - an interesting form of law making body in a democracy. Quite why two intelligent women would want to give credence to such an institution is somewhat of a mystery.
Now why Dafydd Wigley would want to accept such an honour is an even greater puzzle.
For years Plaid Cymru took the view that as an undemocratic institution the House of Lords was very much a no go area. They refused to play, what they described as the 'British Establishment's game.'  They decided to boycott  the place.
This was the settled view of the party until relatively recently.  Then in what can only be described a spectacular u-turn they decided to stand the policy on its head and  nominate  party members to the upper House.
Plaid, being  Plaid, held an election of all party members to decide who would be their nominees. The three chosen was a certain D Wigley, no surprises there then; Eurfyl Ap Gwilym, he of Paxman fame and Janet Davies an ex-Assembly member.
There was only one little fly in the ointment and that was Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He wasn't having any of it.  No "Nat" would get preferment on his watch. So Plaid have been kept waiting for a more sympathetic occupant in Number 10 - and now they clearly have one, in the form of David Cameron.
Now why should Plaid have changed their policy after years of principled opposition to the Lords. Well, it was all because of Peter Hain's Government of Wales Act.
This act meant that any proposal by the Welsh Assembly for new laws[Legislative Competence Orders]  had to pass through the two Houses of Parliament in Westminster. So the Plaid Cymru leadership put forward a compelling case that they needed to be in the Lords so that they too could vote on LCOs as they passed through.
But, and there's always a 'but' in politics, if the referendum produces a 'yes' vote there will be no need for the House of Lords, or the Commons for that matter, to deal with Welsh only laws. These will be in the sole hands of Welsh Assembly members. The compelling case for Plaid Cymru members sitting in the Lords will vanish. It will be interesting to see if Mr Wigley or perhaps by then Lord Wigley will hand back his ermine and join the rest of the great unwashed!! Stranger things have been known to happen, but not very often.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Draft budget of the Assembly

The announcement of the draft budget by Jane Hutt brings the cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review home to Wales. The Budget next year will fall by £860m and will be £1.8bn lower by 2014-15.

It is this budget that will set the scene for next May’s Assembly election. It is Carwyn Jones’s first opportunity to put his mark on the priorities of the Assembly. Hitherto he has operated to a budget set by Rhodri Morgan. The budget underlines his priorities of protecting health, social services, schools and skills.

The draft Labour – Plaid Cymru budget will set the financial background for the next four years. But as finance dictates the political agenda, the budget will also set the parameters for Welsh politics for the coming years.

The budget allocates around £15bn of expenditure across the public sector in Wales, covering devolved areas like health, education, agriculture, local government and economic development.

Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition parties will use the occasion not only to wrong foot the Welsh government by setting out a different set of priorities, but with an eye to next May they might also want to set an agenda that distances them from their colleagues in the Westminster coalition. For tactical electoral reasons they have to demonstrate that they are standing up for Wales.

Already the Conservatives are on record in saying that they’ll ring fence the health department budget. Consequently, the governing parties have been pressing them to say where the blue axe will fall in the unlikely circumstance that they should be in government in Cardiff Bay.

 Although the government will say that they have protected the cash budget in health as Jane Hutt said ‘We have listened to the people of Wales – and have taken action to protect Health and Social Services – vital services that we will all depend on at some time in our lives. It is a measure of the difficult decisions we have had to make that health and social services is the only area where the budget will not reduce in 2011-12. Despite the cut to our budget in 2011-12, revenue funding for NHS Delivery – by far the largest budget line in the Health Service - will actually be higher next year than this year.’

But of course with inflation there are cuts in real terms with inflation running over 3 per cent and health inflation running at over 6 per cent. So even on the Conservative commitment there will be real cuts to the health budget.

Carwyn Jones’s leadership campaign commitment of increasing expenditure on schools is being met. ‘Budgets for schools, both within the Education Department and through local authorities, will grow by almost 5% over the three years. Budgets for schools and skills within the Education Department will grow by 6.5% over the three years. This means that we can continue the roll out of the pioneering Foundation Phase for 3-7 year olds and increase funding for Flying Start over the period.’

But as education budget is to be cut overall, it is likely that higher education will receive swingeing cuts, but the details of these as in the case of all the other ministerial portfolios will be announced later.

The universal benefits that the government are so proud of are protected. So the free bus pass scheme, free prescriptions, free school breakfasts and milk for primary school children will remain. Indeed the funding for these initiatives will rise by 3.7% by 2013-14.

This will be an area that the Opposition parties will be expected to attack because they have always described them as populist ‘gimmicks’.

There are major cuts to the money going in to build new housing – a cut of £53m in the capital amount with £8m revenue. But help to the most vulnerable is to be kept with the budget for Supported housing being kept.

Local government will also take a cut of 7.4 per cent. So there will be many cuts to services and the prospect of larger Council Tax bills falling through our doors are very likely.
What happens now? For the next couple of month’s assembly committees will be looking carefully at the draft and then all AMs will debate the budget in mid-January. The assembly government will then reflect on all the comments before drawing up its final budget to put to a vote of members in February.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Looking for a seat!

If you're a member of a political party you can look forward to a lovely Christmas card from him or her shortly. Who? Your Member of Parliament. 
What’s more during the next couple of years he or she will be attentive to your every need. 
Why? It’s all down to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which is going through Parliament now. The bill  paves the way to the reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and the redrawing of boundaries to create similar-sized constituencies. The posh word for this is ‘equalization.’ So with these changes most, if not all constituencies, will have new boundaries. In Wales when the numbers of MPs are likely to be reduced from 40 seats in the House of Commons to 30, many of the constituencies will be vastly different from the ones that voters have been used to.  Some will even cross very old boundaries. For instance Ynys Mon will be tacked on to Bangor and Bethesda and some of the South Wales Valley seats will be joined without regard to the natural geographic boundaries of the areas. Yes, valley shall speak to valley!And there in lies the rub, for many of our existing MPs will be pitched against existing party colleagues in re-selection contests.  And as we know from musical chairs, when a chair is removed there are losers. Usually, a Member of Parliament can expect his own party to re-select him without any great difficulty. It is a different ball game when the boundaries have been changed.
Member’s will be eyeing up the neighbouring colleagues and thinking nasty thoughts.
In Labour seats expect MPs to rekindle their love of the various trade unions that are affiliated to the constituency party. The Co-op party will have many more recruits from existing MPs.
Ministers that are kept busy in Westminster will be worrying that their back bencher neighbour will be stealing a march in the constituency by turning up to coffee mornings, whist drives and the like. Why? To press the flesh with local party members.
Oh, yes, the bill when comes into play, it will create a great deal of uncertainty for Members of Parliament and will certainly hasten the departure of many. Perhaps, it is only right that they should be worried about their jobs, after all these are uncertain times for all public sector workers.  The uncertainty is in no small part due to the action of politicians in the way they have managed affairs. 

Friday, 12 November 2010

Mindless violence?

Now it is easy to sit back and condemn the scenes of students breaking windows and trying to enter buildings as ‘mindless violence.’ But one broken window and attempts to enter a building do not constitute the start of a revolution! Whatever the London press may say.
Perhaps at this point I should declare an interest. In the 60’s whilst a student at the London School of Economics I too showed the same determination as some of the students last Wednesday to get into a building. The object of my singularly ineffective efforts was the American Embassy in London to protest against the Vietnam War.
Many of us at the time wanted to enter the Embassy, quite what we would have done had we got in, I know not. I guess we would have sat in there for a while until removed by the authorities. After all we had done the same in LSE itself.
Occupying buildings for a while, seemed at the time a good idea and was seen by protesters as a legitimate form of protest.
Nearer home, Cymdeithas yr Iaith adopted similar methods to win rights for the Welsh language.
A couple of years ago I wrote and presented a short documentary about protests in Wales for ITV.  What struck me at the time was how many of those taking part in protests of all kinds were now part of the Welsh or English  ‘establishment.’
You can hardly think of an organisation in Wales that is not run by an ex-member of ‘Cymdeithas’, as it is affectionately known. They are, for certain, the great and the good of Welsh society. Establishment, you bet!
Farmer protesters, who hijacked lorries and threw their contents into the Irish sea, later become magistrates, councillors and Assembly Members. Those fuel protests, that held us all to ransom, their leader is now a respected Conservative Assembly member.
Protesters against Apartheid who stopped rugby matches and cricket tours became Ministers of the Crown.
Protest, demonstrations and other acts of civil disobedience are as much part of the political process as voting and elections. After all, our politicians don’t always get it right and sometimes action is the only way to get them to listen. The history of this country is shaped by those that have taken to the streets. Long may it last.
As for the students, it was good to see them shake off their apathy and do what students have always done, challenge their elders and betters. And when in turn they become tomorrow’s rulers, they’ll know that there are always consequences to every decision. A lesson Mr Clegg and his party may have learnt this week.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Boris defender of the poor?

The row between David Cameron and Boris Johnston about the cap on housing benefits dramatically illustrates the problems that many English cities face if these measures go through unchanged. It is predicted a large migration from city to suburbs and to areas even further afield will take place.
Now its unlikely that Boris has become a bleeding heart liberal over night and has started to wear his heart on his sleeve. No, his concern is likely to be more about the economic effect of losing those very low paid workers  doing the essential but menial tasks from the capital city. It is a no brainer, high rents and low wages means an exodus  from the capital. It was only housing benefits that kept those on low incomes literally in their city homes. And those homes were mainly provided by social landlords - councils and housing associations.
It was not always thus. Rents in the social sector historically were kept low. Why, because, instead of subsidising the individual, the capital cost of building the houses were kept low with a government grant. Housing Associations were given a grant to cover the remaining capital cost of the property after the rent officer had determined what a fair rent for the property in question would be.
All this was to change under Mrs Thatcher. In her second term of office, she embarked on a round of  public sector cuts. One of the casualties of that round was public sector housing - local authority house building ground to a virtual halt. Also her housing ministers were told in no uncertain terms that the grants to housing associations were to be reduced dramatically and the cost of building new social housing was to be  finance from the private sector.
Raising money from the private sector is expensive, banks and building societies want a healthy return for their loans - as many an owner occupiers is aware.
This change of policy saw a gradual upward spiral in rents. No matter, government argued,  housing benefit would take the strain. So those poor people who could not afford to pay their rents would be bailed out by housing benefit payments.
But there are always consequences to such changes. What this move  brought about was a sea change in the nature of social housing tenants. What was previously a relatively healthy mix of tenants changed over time to more and more tenants being out of work and locked into the benefits culture.
Why was this? Well those that were in work exercised the right to buy their homes at a subsidy. More and more of the tenants left behind were without jobs and not able to raise even the small mortgages required to buy their council or housing association flats. So we see the development of ghetto estates with large numbers of the population unable to break out. Taking a job would mean losing the housing benefit and  would either lead them to look for inferior housing in the private rented sector or eventually lead to their eviction for non-payment of rent.
So far from leading to a healthier society the latest move is likely to see a large migration from our cities and more rather than less people with housing problems.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Who wants to run a tv station?

History does have a habit of repeating itself. Ministers and broadcasting are a case and point. A new Conservative government is elected with a manifesto commitment to do one thing, civil servants get to the new Ministers and the commitment is quietly dropped and said Minister does the opposite. The natives get agitated, protests occur and then the government have second thoughts and do an U turn.  Familiar, well that’s how S4C came about.

Now for the action replay. A new Government is elected with a new minister. He is encouraged by his civil servants to cut the budget, and just as night follows day, a row breaks out. There is a knee jerk reaction and a new method of funding is found  using the TV licence to pay for the channel . No, not directly but with a tranche of cash from the BBC.

Welsh politicians have now pitched in on S4Cs behalf wanting David Cameron to launch an independent inquiry into the channel. Their fear is that the future of S4C as an independent television channel is very much up in the air.

Now in good financial times everyone was happy to let S4C to plough its own furrow. But now that the proverbial, has hit the fans they are all trying desperately hard to find a way out. A way out, that is, that prevents the future of the channel becoming a political football just before the Assembly election.

A cynic might contrast the inaction by the Assembly government on S4C over the years and the frenetic activity now as a direct response to the source of the money.. Could it be down to the fact that there is money  floating about  that is not coming from the Assembly’s own pockets but from us as licence fee payers?

For years the mediocre performance of the channel has scarcely raised an eyebrow but now it seems that everyone has a view.

Indeed yesterday the Minister for Heritage, Alun Ffred Jones, and Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, held frank discussions at a special forum in Cardiff with the movers and shakers of the industry to discuss concerns over the future governance and funding of the channel.

And what came out of the meeting  ‘the need to maintain and protect the independence of S4C. The channel should continue as an independent broadcaster with its own budget and be able to make its own editorial and governance decisions’. Well, no surprises there then.

The truth of the matter is that no matter what structure is adopted, how much money is thrown at the channel and how many politicians interfere, unless the channel starts making programmes that ordinary people want to watch – it will all end in tears.

So let them stop making programmes for the Pontcanna and eisteddfod elite, and start making programmes that the rest of us, the great unwashed, can enjoy. So lets scrap Crachach TV and set up the Werin TV.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Poll results show Lib Dem decline.

Many may have missed the latest ITV Wales and Yougov poll results last week due to the half term holiday. They are produced below.
As can be seen there has been a further decline in the support for the Liberal Democrats. They are now for the first time since the poll began in single figures with 9 per cent support both in constituencies and in the regional section. It probably underlines the great unhappiness that Welsh electors feel towards the party in forming a coalition with the Conservatives in Westminster.
Labour continue to maintain their lead with 44 per cent in the constituency section exactly the same figure as that of September and 12 per cent ahead of the results at the last Assembly elections. It is on the margins of having a majority over all other parties and offers Carwyn Jones the opportunity of ditching Plaid Cymru and going it alone in running Wales.
Plaid Cymru regain their place as the second largest party in the poll with 21 per cent ahead of the Conservatives who slip back to 19 per cent, 3 per cent down from September and their results in the last Assembly elections. Although the Conservatives do not seem, as yet, to be blamed for the austerity measures announced by their colleagues in the coalition in Westminster. This might change when the measures are felt in the pocket of the voters by next May.
Those wishing to see more powers for the Assembly will be heartened by the increase in the 'yes' vote. It is now 52 per cent. A still large number have yet to decide how they will vote or whether to vote at all [20%].
When questioned  on which areas of public expenditure the Assembly government should save from the knife, health and education were still regarded as areas that should be left alone.


Results of poll carried out 25th to 27th September 2010. Sample size: 1012. This month’s poll includes the usual tracking questions plus a one-off question on public spending cuts.

(compared with 2007 election and previous polls in 2010)

If there were an election to the National Assembly for Wales tomorrow, and thinking about the constituency vote, how would you vote?

                  2007 Result   May Poll    June Poll     July Poll      Aug Poll     Sept Poll     Oct Poll

Labour            32%              32%           42%             40%             39%            44%          44%

Pl. Cymru        22%              22%           20%             22%             23%            19%          21%

Cons.               22%              21%           19%             20%             22%            22%          19%

Lib. Dem.         15%              20%           12%             13%            10%             11%            9%

Others                8%                5%             6%               5%              6%              5%             8%

And thinking about the regional or party vote for the National Assembly for Wales, which party list would you vote for?

                     2007 Result    May Poll    June Poll     July Poll     Aug Poll   Sept Poll    Oct Poll

Labour              30%                30%          40%             37%           39%           41%           40%

Pl. Cymru          21%                21%          19%             20%           23%           19%           23%

Cons.                 22%                21%          20%             20%           21%           20%           18%

Lib. Dem.           12%                18%          12%             14%             9%           12%             9%

Others                16%                   9%           9%               8%             8%             8%           11%

(compared with previous polls in 2010).

If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales increased law-making powers, how would you vote?

                               April Poll          June Poll    July Poll   Aug Poll    Sept Poll    Oct Poll

Yes                             49%                   55%          48%         48%         49%            52%

No                               33%                   28%           34%        32%         30%            29%

Don’t Know/                 18%                   17%          19%         21%         20%           20%
Wouldn’t Vote  

As a result of the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the Welsh Assembly government’s budget is being cut. However, it will be up to Assembly ministers to decide how different areas of spending are affected.

From the following areas of spending by the Welsh Assembly Government, please select up to three you think should definitely NOT face spending cuts. (Please select up to three.)

Health 75%
Schools 50%
Business, employment and training 23%
Public Transport 23%
Housing 20%
Projects to help poor communities 19%
College and university education 17%
Road improvements 16%
The environment 11%
Other local government services 9%
Farming and countryside 9%
Arts, culture and heritage 5%
Sport 2%
None of these 2%
Don’t know 3%

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Liberal Democrats meet before cuts announced

Oh for the enthusiasm of a Liberal Democrat. The quote that comes to mind  when sitting through their conference is  that of Mr Micawber “Welcome poverty!..Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!” 
Well they certainly have ‘mutual confidence’ by the bucket load. And perhaps the fact that they're in government for the first time since the days of Lloyd George it does give them a feeling of confidence.
This was evident from the outset in their Autumn conference.The first debate of the conference under the catchy title “a radical manifesto in an age of austerity” speaker after speaker after the ritual blaming of Labour for the mess the country finds itself in , intone a mantra that all is being done for the national interest.  And with glazed eyes have a messianic belief that all will be right in the end.
Now with over four years until the likely date of the next general election it is possible that something will turn up but by next May! - scarcely believe. 
In a different age and a different country you could almost imagine them waving little red books and willing you to vote for them. Alas, if the polls are right whatever the colour of the book it looks as if it will all end in tears at the Assembly elections.

Roger Williams MP as deputy leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats did his level best to raise spirits. He had a vision of the proud nations joining together on the basis of common goals and values. Like in the days of Lloyd George he clamed that"this government takes forward Welsh Home Rule to give Wales more freedom and power than ever before, it is right that we review the arrangements [of MPs in Westminser]. So less MPs can be blamed on Lloyd George, Nice one Roger. Mmm Yes Peter Hain was once a Liberal but taking credit for the Government of Wales Act is pushing it a bit.

 He finished by urging delegates “to step up to the plate again and get the message across.” Well, they may or may not step to the plate but they failed to get on their feet to give him the ritual standing ovation that leaders usually get. Although there was one delegate who stood up looked around and promptly sat down. Clearly, his oratory not up to Lloyd George's standards.
Kirsty Williams their leader said she was going to stand up for Wales."The people of Wales have had thirteen years of a Labour government in Cardiff that wouldn't say boo to the Labour government in Westminster. They don't want a nodding dog. They want to elect a leader who will speak up for Wales" 
Show me a leader that will not. But the people of Wales would understand the need for the cuts. She intends going round Wales pushing the line that Labour did not help in their thirteen years of office.
Her most audacious line though was that "every cut that comes our way is a Labour cut and we shall not let the country forget it". If she can pull that one off she's a better magician than Tommy Cooper.
Now their fortunes as a party depend on the Welsh voter understanding the argument  and being a forgiving lot. As Lembit Opik found to his cost the milk of human kindness doesn’t often flow through the veins of the typical Welsh voter.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Bourne Doctrine

The Bourne Doctrine - this is a newly unveiled doctrine that is now to enter the political lexicon. Not surprising it was unveiled by the Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne.
But what is it, you may ask? It is the yardstick that the Conservative group in the Assembly will use to decide whether or not they will oppose the policies of the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.
And by what criteria do they decides whether to give a policy the thumbs up or down. Well, its whether or not Wales is been treated unfairly in comparison to the other countries of the United Kingdom.
 The Bourne doctrine in practice is seen by  the stand the Welsh Tories are taking in relationship to the threatened closure of the passport office in Newport. They  oppose  the closure, because none of the other countries are losing their office.
Again the doctrine comes into play in defence of S4C because they too are been threatened with cuts that only apply to Wales. So accordingly, the doctrine declares this to be unfair and directs that the Tory Group to oppose Jeremy Hunt's, the UK Culture Secretary, intended cuts.
Put simply, as long as all countries that form the United Kingdom are punished equally then the Tory group in Wales will not squawk. But oh, if only the world was that simple, but alas it is not.
All would be fine if the countries of the United Kingdom were the same, but they are not. England is a great deal richer and more prosperous than Wales.
Wales has a large number of jobs that are dependent on the public purse, England has a larger private sector than Wales. So a policy applied equally to all countries in these islands can have very unequal outcomes in the different countries.
The Bourne doctrine should be re-interpreted to read that the Welsh Conservative group will oppose all the unpopular decisions of the UK government this side of the Assembly elections. Its a bit like '1066 and all that', whatever we decide to do will be 'a good thing'.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Benefits who?

It's the small print that matters in agreements. Likewise it is often those passages in speeches that don't make the headlines that contain much the most interesting passages.
All the headlines of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech was on child benefit  being withdrawn from households paying tax at the  higher rate.  The Tory press went overboard on the matter. 'This was hitting the middle classes. It was unfair on stay at home mothers etc '
But George Osborne, in the very same speech,also announced a new £500 a week cap on welfare benefits.  In his words it was 'designed to ensure that work less households no longer receive thousands of pounds in benefits more than the average working family receives in pay.' 
Now because it has been a popular sport for some time to demonise those on benefits very little attention was paid to this aspect of his speech. 
The changes mean that household benefit payments will be capped at around £500 per week by the time of implementation in 2013.
This cap will apply to the combined income derived from benefits including Job seekers Allowance, Income Support, Employment Support Allowance, housing and council tax benefits, Child Benefit, and Carers Allowance. 
Now a cap of £500 may on the face of it seem quite high. But when one considers that often in some of our large cities, rents and therefore housing benefit payments  alone  may take the recipient above the £500 level. In such cases it will put many families into real difficulty and make it virtually impossible for them to stay in our biggest towns and cities.

So where will they go? At a guess they will be forced to look for areas with relatively cheap housing costs. 

In the eighties these were places like the North Wales coast and other parts of  rural Wales were renting houses were comparatively cheap.

At the time many Welsh politicians were angry at what they saw as the negative effect of these incomers. Often these politicians would be pressing for only local people to be housed. Such campaigns had limited success and went against the obligation of authorities to house those in greatest housing need.

It looks as if the Westminster coalition are about to repeat past mistakes. What was said in the speech would be better if  it was not acted upon.