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%