Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Golowg Column translation: Parliament poorer at the end of term

At one time a barrel of beer would be enough to decide who would represent a Borough in Parliament. And there was not much choice of candidate either. It was either a Tory or Whig and the decision was in the hands of the local landed gentry. Westminster was in the hands of the upper classes and the vast majority of society had no representation.
In truth it took until the middle of the last century until we had a parliament that was truly representative of all. A representative democracy at last.
Perhaps. There is a long way to go before there is fair representation of women and members of the ethnic communities in the building. But the success of the twentieth century was the election of members of the working classes to parliament.
And indeed the islands have profited greatly from their contribution. What kind of society would we have today without the massive working class contribution to Parliament?
People like Jim Griffiths.
We remember him as the first Welsh Secretary of State. But he made his name as a Minister in Clement Atlee's government where he was responsible for creating the welfare state. His background? A miner that left school at 13 to work in a the Betws pit near Ammonford.
Aneurin Bevan had a similar background - the architect of the National Health Service. From England we had people like Ernest Bevin, a labourer and a lorry driver who became one of our best Foreign secretaries.
There are plenty of other examples as to how the House of Commons has profited from having politicians from the working class under its roof.
As this Parliamentary term comes to a close there are over 140 MPs that have declared that they are not standing again. In this cohort there are many members of the working class retiring.
The vast majority of those chosen as replacements are middle class. With a large number of these having down nothing but made their living from politics.
Straight from school to unioversity to red politics and economics. Out of university and into the office of a politician as a researcher or advisor. Taking advantage of the position to  find a seat and with a fair wind a Member of Parliament in no time at all. Experience of nothing but  the world of politics. Never coming out of the bubble, and certainly little experience of the world that the rest of the population inhabit.
Ther is no doubt about it, if there are less and less politicians that understand and are sympathetic to the working class, that class will turn  their backs on conventional parties and look to more extreme ones to represent their interests.
No, the big parties are recruiting their candidates from the same pool, they are all of the same mould. There is no place in todays politics for a Jim Griffiths or a Nye Bevan.
Consequently its our loss.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Golwg COLUMN: Referendum Lost?

Strike. That's the last act in a dispute between an employer and workers. The debate comes to an end, neither side has anymore to say on the issue. The situation has reached an impasse and the only way to solve the dispute is to do battle until one side yields. The strike is the final stage of the dispute.
As Wales was the birth place of the industrial revolution the 'strike' plays an important  part in our history.
There are many examples, strikes in the quarries of North Wales, like that in the Penrhyn in Bethesda. Strikes in the docks on the railways and of course a long history of disputes in the Welsh coalfields.
The last strike in the coal industry was the contest between Arthur Scargill  and Margaret Thatcher, who was the then prime minister. The strike went on for over an year and resulted in a victory for Maggie. Yes, it was a story of defeat for the miners and even today some of the South Wales valleys are suffering the effects  of  the pit closures. Coal, for better or worse, was what bound these valleys together and once the pits went there was very little left to maintain them.
Yes, a victory for Mrs Thatcher but Jim Callaghan was not so successful.
A series of strikes took place towards the end of his period as Prime Minister. It was public sector workers that were unhappy with their lot during this time. And some part of the sector was on strike or working to rule during this period.
Literally, there was litter on the street and the dead remained unburied.  It was called the winter of discontent. The public lost their patience with the government and as a consequence first the referendum on  devolution of powers to Wales was lost. And secondly, Mr Callaghan and his Labour government were thrown out of office. Yes, the keys to number ten were given to Mrs Thatcher. And as they say , the rest is history.
The economic landscape of Wales has changed since then. The old heavy industries like steel and coal have almost vanished. Gradually, our economy has moved away from manufacturing sector to the service sector.
But one thing that is very clear in our economy is the massive growth in the public sector. Now one in every four of those in work are employed in the public sector. Yes, a quarter dependent on the taxpayer for their wages.
Unfortunately it looks as if the taxpayers benevolence is coming to an end. In order to get the country's finances 'tidy', all parties are promising large cuts in public expenditure sooner or later.
This is why the largest civil service union has started on a series of strikes. Not strikes for more pay but strikes for  fair redundancy terms. Without doubt, many in the civil service will lose their jobs and not only civil servants but also local government workers as well.
As a consequence its not difficult to foresee a future when strikes are on the increase. And as night follows day dissatisfaction with the government of the day will also increase.
Will we see history repeat itself. Will the next referendum be lost for the same reason as the first?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Golwg Column: Vote on television?

I have never voted. My wife and children have, but I've resisted the temptation. Despite family pressure, I up to now, have mastered the art of saying , no.
Despite my refusal many million have voted as part of the television phenomena - the reality show. Big Brother and I'm a celebrity and talent shows like X factor  and Britain's Got talent  gather millions of votes. There is no apathy, almost everyone want a share in the outcome.
If this is true about something that is of little importance, why is it not true about elections, where the results are important to both individual and his society? Is there anything special  in a television programme that makes people want to vote or has politics declined so much that we turn our back on the process?
Well, we'll see what influence television has and whether or not it energises the general election. The three leaders of the British Parties - Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg - have agreed to debate with one another over three television programmes on ITV1, Sky News and the BBC in the weeks leading up to the general election. In Wales the three channels will have a debate that also include Plaid Cymru.
We will see if these historic debates have an effect on the vote. It is possible, as opinion polls in an election campaign tend to show the lead between parties narrowing, to see whether the debates have an effect on the eventual results. If Britain follows the USA example, it could make a big difference.
It is very likely that the television debate between Richard Nixon and J F Kennedy,  lost it for Nixon. Why?Because President. Nixon looked shifty on the box. Of course, things are different here, we are not electing a President but a Member of Parliament. And of course, there are other influences at play when electing a local Member.
But there is no doubt that the leaders personality is important and can make a big difference to the result. We have moved closer to the US in our electioneering over the years and it is to there the parties will be looking for the specialists to advise on the three  television programmes.
But there will be one big difference between these historic programmes and reality programmes. The voting.
All of us will have to leave the warmth of  home and bother to go out and cast our votes. It won't be a question of lifting the phone after the programmes end. Well that's the way it is at the moment but who knows about the future?
And what about the referendum? Is this the way to increase the vote. A television debate between Cymru Yfory and True Wales and a phone poll afterwards? And Andrea Benfield announcing the results after the phone lines are closed!
I guess it will be a little while yet, before the ballot box get and honourable place in Saint Ffagans.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Golwg COLUMN: Budget forecast

Everyone has an interest in the pence. In the political calender the budget is one of the few things that happen in Parliament that grabs the attention of the public. Its not a big mystery, why.
We’re all eager to know how the budget effects our pockets.
Before long the Chancellor will be standing outside the doorstep of the Treasury teasing us  as to the content by waving his red bag. Every budget is important but without doubt the budget before an election is in a different league. It could make the difference between winning or losing the contest.
Its likely that one of the reasons that Gordon Brown has postponed the date of the general election is to get his budget in before he faces the country. But there’s an old chinese proverb which says ‘Be careful of what you wish for,’ Experience tells us that setting a budget is not always to the advantage of the government of the day.
Forty years ago, the then Chancellor Roy Jenkins was responsible for setting the pre-election budget. He set a budget that was good for the country but not by a long chalk good for his party. Those in his party judged him for not being generous enough and as a consequence Harold Wilson’s government were defeated in the following October election.  Jenkins was not forgiven and consequently was sent to Europe and out of his party forever.
And that’s Alistair Darling’s dilemma. Should he do his best for the country or his party? It is understood that Treasury officials want a budget that really tackles the country’s enormous deficit. They’re advising that taxes should be increased and the axe taken without mercy to public expenditure. The Governor of the Bank of England is singing from the same hymn sheet, cuts and taxes is the refrain.
But that isn’t the view of his party especially his fellow Members of Parliament they want a relatively generous budget. Something that brings some comfort to the electorate. And just perhaps that warm feeling lasts long enough to influence the electorate to vote in a way that saves their skins.
The Labour government or the country? And that is what Mr Darling has decide. And what will his decision be? Well, until recently most would have thought that he would have done his best to try to secure his old political friend Mr Brown’s  future. But since Mr Brown turned his back on him the old loyalty is no longer there
Mr Darling’s stock has risen in comparison to the decline in that of Mr Brown’s. He’s his own man at last. Insiders say he is well regarded by the City and Treasury officials. 
I suspect  that he is more likely to frame a budget to please them rather than is own party.
If so, on budget day we Welsh will not be opening the champagne.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Welsh for some but not for WAG

Attended the much awaited technical briefing on the Welsh language measure today. In its 135 pages it lays down rights for the language. It reinfoces its status, sets up a Language Commissioner who we can all run too if we think our rights to using the  Welsh language are not best served.  How such powers are needed are graphically illustrated by the Welsh Assembly Government itself.
Having just looked at the Welsh Assemmbly goverenment web side I came across a consultation document that has just closed in February  It was titled 'Developing a modern regulatory framework for Housing Associations in Wales - Performance standards.'
Not the sexiest of titles I grant you. But it  focuses on governance and financial management standards for Housing Associations.
One of the set of standards suggested in the 'Living public service values' (whatever that means), is one relating to the Welsh language. And suggests that they [Housing Associations] treat the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality. Fair point, well made, government!
But hold on, closing the consultation documentationon page 5  the very same government says "We need to prioritise our use of the finite translation resources available to the Assembly Government. Unfortunately, on that basis, we are unable to provide a Welsh version of this consultation paper.This is because other items have been given a higher priority rating and have taken precedence in the allocation of resources....." To be fair they did translate the little message into Welsh.
I notice that First Minister, Carwyn Jones, welcomes the measure as it 'provides us with someof the tools  we need to ensure that the Welsh language can continue to prosper.'
Tools that can be used by the Assembly Government, I wonder.
Start of consultation: 01/12/2009

End of consultation: 01/02/2010

Monday, 1 March 2010

Golwg COLUMN: Antiseptic conferences

Responding was the way the congregation expressed their appreciation and sympathy towards the sermon in Welsh non-conformist chapels. The more the preacher raised the roof and got into 'hwyl', the greater the response. The chapels resounded to hallelujahs and Amens.
But now one seldom hears a hallelujah or an amen at all. The tradition has died or on the point of death, or perhaps the enthusiasm has gone.
Just as in our chapels the same goes for the politic world. We're now in the middle of the conference season. Every Spring all of Wales's main political parties meet in various venues for a weekend and their members are invited to the jamboree. For what purpose? An interesting question.
At one time it was a relatively easy question to answer. The purpose was to make and discuss the policies of the party in question. But no more. Just like responding the tradition of discussion and debate has gone. Instead of being active and involved the member is now passive.
The purpose now is not the taking part, but being part of the set. They are there to show the world that the party appeals to every shape and size. To underline the point the are often even put on the stage. And there they'd be looking good, listening carefully and pretending to be interested in their leaders speech.
But its not the audience in the hall that's important but you and me sitting at home watching it on the television. The purpose of it all is to appeal to us. But does it work? I have my doubts.
There has been a tendency in the last elections for less and less of the population to bother voting. Is there some fundamental law that says that the more we hear and see our politicians the less is the enthusiasm to vote?
It very much looks like it. Or perhaps its the modern electioneering process that is so off-putting.
At one time things weren't so certain. Our politicians had to inspire us with ideas delivered through speeches. It was an ideological battle. The left against the right. Unionism against self rule. Socialism or capitalism.
But now? Holding the middle ground is the order of the day. Ideology gives way to the focus group. Appealing to the people of Wales is far less important than appealing to middle-England. Why?
Because it is they that are likely to switch their votes. They have little loyalty to any party but follow their own selfish agenda. Who rules us is dependent on this relatively small group. Because this group  more or less determine the election results.
Conferences are of little value in determining policy. The best we can hope for is the opportunity to hear the party leaders. And the delegates? They can bask in reflective glory and have a warm feeling that their leaders are available to them.
No debate, no disagreement. Everything so antiseptic.
And the result? Apathy