Monday, 25 January 2010

A nation of sycophants

'Oh, he's a character.' How many times have we heard this? In an individual it's relatively easy to describe the character been discussed.
He's a warm  and open or a cold boring person. He's shy, or an introverted or an extraverted person.
We've all got our own personality for good or ill. And its to this unique personality that others react. If this is true about an individual, what about nations?
According to Rhodri Morgan's evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, Wales's attempts to create its own policies is treated quite differently to that of Scotland.
In this context, according to our former First Minister, Scotland is treated not as a foreign country but certainly as a different country.  The problem with Wales is, that it is not viewed as a country at all, its viewed as the last colony of the Empire.
There was a little of the 'psychology' of the Empire in Sir Jon Shortridge's, former head of Wales's civil servant, evidence to the same committee.
He alleged that Ministers in London kept their counterparts in Wales in the dark when launching an important policy 'they weren't trusted with sensitive information.'
Why is Wales treated so differently to Scotland? What aspect of our national characteristic leads   others to ignore and undervalue us?
Perhaps, there is a clue in something else Rhodri Morgan said to the committee. Whilst he was  a civil servant it was made clear to him  that if you were ambitious and wanted promotion, the best and most effective way for a Welsh civil servant to succeed was to agree with Whitehall.
But no so in Scotland. There, the best way to be promoted was to oppose England. Interesting.
In a nutshell, if you stood up for yourself you were respected.But 'yes' men, were held in low esteem.
Politically is that not were Wales has been for sometime now? Not insisting on our rights as a small nation, but just making do with the constitutional crumbs offered by New Labour's devolution project.
In all honesty, would Wales have had the small measure of devolution it has  if Scotland had not insisted on its settlement.
There is plenty of evidence that Wales is settlement is simply a fig leaf to cover the major changes occurring elsewhere on these islands. Something in the shadow of what was happening in Scotland.
According to the former Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, originally Tony Blair did not think a referendum was necessary for Wales. Why? Because he thought the proposals for Wales were more  administrative change than a major constitutional one.
No, as a nation we need to change ourselves if we are to win the respect of others. We had better seek the psychiatrist's couch and change our national characteristict.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Bangor fail away to Llanelli.

Bangor City's winning ways came to an abrupt halt at Llanelli. They squandered a half time lead of two goals to one to lose  by giving away two goals in the second half. Final score Llanelli  3 Bangor City 2. Llanelli are second in the league with a game in hand on leaders TNS. Despite their defeat the Blues  remain in eighth position.
They most return to their winning ways if they are to be certain of staying in the premier division.

Scorers: Llanelli Venables (48 Min) Griffiths (69, 90)
             Bangor  Smyth (13) Sharp (27 Pen)

Monday, 18 January 2010

GOLWG COLUMN: The enemy within

According to Benjamin Disraeli there was no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour.
If that was true in the nineteenth century, Gordon Brown is likely to agree that its true today after his recent experience.
Although there has been a feeling for some time within the parliamentary Labour party that Gordon Brown did not set the pulse of the electorate.  Despite this, most had come to the conclusion that now was not the time to get rid of him. Certainly not within months of a general election. And especially when there was some evidence that he was beginning to make a little inroad into Cameron's lead in the opinion polls.
Then suddenly out of the blue comes Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt calling for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership. Their attempt failed. Why? To succeed a number of elements have to in place.
What elements? Firstly, one would need to have more support than Tony Blair's former supporters.
The Labour Party is a broad church and to succeed you need to have the support of the left wing as well as the right wing supporters of new Labour.
As the trade union movement is to a large extent the parties pay master, it was foolish to try to orchestrate a coup  without the backing of one or two union bosses.
But their biggest mistake was to try to change the leader without an alternative leader in the wings. They needed a name. One of the cabinet. In the final analysis no one was willing or had the backbone to put their name in the hat.
Much to Gordon Brown's relief, the plotters were seen as weak, and their dubious venture failed. The Labour party in all its history has never ever got rid of a leader and clearly it is not look likely it is going to change the tradition in the near future.
But the unsuccessful attempt has wounded our Prime Minister and made him look weak and damaged, yet again.
Before this their was a shimmer of hope for Labour. Cameron was looking shaky when accused of having a black hole in the cost of his policy proposals. And in the first Prime Ministers question time of the new year he was bested by Brown. All now to know avail thanks to the intervention of Hoon and Hewitt.
At the very time that Brown and his party should be united to fight the election, their shown to be like cats fighting in a sack.
And consequently Mr Cameron gains a further advantage.
The old adage is certainly true that your opponents are in  the other parties. The enemy is within your own.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Do as I say, not as I do.

God knows from time to time I was critical of  Rhodri Morgan's during his term of office. The main theme of my  criticism was that he was not bold enough in pushing forward the devolution project.
But when he  took office as First Minister one of his first decisions was to publicly advertise and recruit his Special Advisors. A decision to be commended. There were some  lapses from this principle later  but Rhodri Morgan's initial decision was the right one.
Surely, it is essential in a modern Wales that all post are subject to open recruitment. It is not a question of political correctness but practical politics.  How else can one ensure that the best talent available is recruited. It must be in Carwyn Jones's interest to have the best at his disposal. The days of who you know as a basis for a job should be over. As a party that sets great store on equal opportunities the Labour Party surely should adhere to high standards in its recruitement procedures.
It goes without saying that Carwyn Jones would want members of his own party around him.  But has membership of the Labour party in Wales reached such a low level that the party leader knows them all intimately and knows all the talents within their ranks. I don't think so.
No, this is the one example when following the previous leader's lead would have been the right thing to do. But alas, this has not happened. His backroom cabinet are now in place without any public recruitment.
For the record the new team are:
Jo Keirnon, becomes Senior special advisor taking over from Mark Drakeford. She will also be working on health and social services issues as a policy advisor. She was Rhodri Morgan's Communications advisor and a former ITV journalist.
Lawrence Conway, former Civil Servant and Rhodri Morgan's Private Secretary. He will advise on Public Service Delivery
Andrew Bold, Peter Hain's Special advisor ditches the Wales Office and joins Carwyn's team. Not a bad career move for this ex Labour Party research officer, if the polls are to be believed and a Tory victory is imminent.
Sophie Howe, a Special Advisor who's contract is renewed.
Steve Jones, who worked for Lesley Griffiths AM for Wrexham becomes responsible for Communications.
Ian Butler and Jeff Andrews continue but as Specialist Advisers.
Plaid Cymru's team are unchanged.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Whitehall and Wales

'Whitehall have little awareness of devolution.' so says Sir John Shortridge the former Head of the Civil Service in Wales in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select committee.
After the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, he reckoned that Whitehall departments made a serious attempt to understand the settlement and its implications for the running of government business. But he was now of the view that after this initial burst of activity that the Whitehall civil service as a whole has failed to keep pace with the evolving Welsh settlement.
The problem arises when Welsh issues land on desks of civil servants in Whitehall who have little knowledge of the governance of Wales or the sensitivities involved.
He blames the London-based media as being partly responsible for this state of affairs. 'Ten years on they [the London media] still regularly report on policy developments in England as if they apply to Wales, and in stark contrast to Scotland the rarely provide any serious coverage of political events in Wales.'
He goes on to predict that when devolution comes of age, a future Prime Minister will scrap a separate department for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as 'no longer needed.'
He suggests that the current system could be improved by building a strong network of Devolution 'experts' in Whitehall supporting a Joint Ministerial Committee.
Its interesting that a man until recently at the top of the civil service tree in Wales sees Wales been marginalized by Whitehall and Westminster. Something we've long suspected. The sooner primary law making powers are devolved so that the English centric civil service cease to matter the better Wales will be.

Golwg Column: An interesting year for political anoraks

Over Christmas we had a house full and whilst watching the news one of the family said 'fast forward' it because she was not interested in the item. Oh for the power to fast forward and see the future, but unfortunately that's not possible to the great relief of the bookies.
But it is possible to foresee some political events that will grab our attention during the year. One thing is certain there will be a general election in the next few months. When exactly?
Most commentators believe that Gordon Brown will leave it to the last before facing the electorate. If they are right then the first Thursday in May will be the appointed day. It is the day that local elections will be taking place in many parts of the country and out prospective Councillors will be available to distribute propaganda on behalf of their parties. Brown almost confirmed this as the likely day in his new year's interview.
And the result? Despite the Conservatives having been in the lead in the opinion polls for some time, in an election campaign the gap between the parties usually close, so its not in the bag for Mr Cameron, yet. Its more than possible that there will not be an overall majority and the smaller parties may become important in Westminster politics. A coalition in London and Cardiff, as Tom Jones would sing, 'its not impossible.'
And what about Welsh representation in the House of Commons? I foresee a change in our political landscape. The Tories with 12 members, Plaid Cymru 5, the Liberal Democrats losing ground with only 2, an independent in Blaenau Gwent and Labour down to 20. Am I right? We'll see.
The other big Welsh question: will there be a referendum on more powers?
I expect that the Assembly will take the next step by voting in the next few weeks on the principle of a referendum on more powers. Then it will be up to Westminster to consult on the nature of the referendum question. Its not out of the question that there will be a an October referendum.
If the signs are good for a positive outcome it will take place in the Autumn. If it looks more problematic, it will be delayed until the Spring of 2011.
All in all an interesting year for the political anorak.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Election promises and Wales

The next five months are going to be dominated by claim and counter claim. Is their a back hole in the Tory proposals of £34b, or was Labour's presentatation based on a 'dodgy dossier'? Mature politics it ain't. But for certain, the election campaign is well and truly underway.
How the campaign pans out,we will see. However, those that see it developing into a class war are widely off the mark. Labour kept losing elections when they only appealed to their traditional constituency. The election will still be about winning the vote of middle England. So we'll hear a lot about opportunity, choice and fairness.  The campaign of both the main parties will be aimed at the aspirational vote. The economy, health and education will dominate the campaign  as they appeal to this section of the electorate.
The difficulty for us here in Wales is that many of the policy announcements and the intentions of the main parties are in areas that are already devolved.
And there in lies the rub. Although the policy announcements are not relevant toWales, most Welsh people will  think that they do apply. Such is the state of the media that there is little information about the difference between England and Wales at the best of times, in a fast moving election campaign there will be even less differention made.
So many Welsh voters will be buying a pig in the poke. Voting for a party that promises a policy but then they are disappointed to find that it was worthless promise as that party's policy writ does not run in Wales. It is precisely because of this, that the Nationalists have a case to be included in the main leadership debate alonside Brown, Cameron  and Clegg.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Just out of goodwill

No sooner are we out of the season of goodwill and the knives are out for Brown. The guys must have a death wish. A leadership contest within 5 months of a general election would be an open goal for Mr Cameron and it ain't going to happen. Brown is unlikely to go quietly and there is no favourite son or daughter to slot into place. For better or worst the Labour party are stuck with him.
A Cameron victory is the most likely result, he has being polling a consistent 40%. But, Labour currently have a massive majority, a formidable task for Cameron to overcome.
In general elections the gap between the parties tend to narrow so its possible that the outcome could be a hung parliament. And who knows in that situation what the outcome will be. A National Government to get us out of the economic mess?
What is certain is that if Labour want to have any chance at all, they need to be a united party. But with the current calls for Brown to go there's fat chance of that.
So the bookies still favour a Cameron victory and it would a brave or foolhardy man to bet against them.