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.