Saturday, 30 July 2011

A flutter or two

Now writing on politics over the years seldom produces any feedback but last Saturday’s blog seems to have produced text messages and the odd phone call from those wanting more. It was the priceless prose, of course, and not the tips that got the response, Surely.  

Although those that had a little flutter would have just have been a little ahead with one winner, one second and two thirds. Don’t mention of course the two horses still running.

A dear colleague has suggested that a regular weekend blog on the gee-gees might be a bit of fun. What he really meant was that political blogs were stirring up nothing but apathy. Anyway it is the silly season and for the next few months this blog will be taking a bit of a breather until the party conferences in September so why not idle away the occasional Saturday with such trivia.

First a word of re-assurance.  This blog is untainted by the multi-million pound betting industry. Who needs them to encourage you to lose your money when this blog can do it equally as well.

But weekly column is pushing it a bit. If it’s to be done, it had better be done with at least a little research. That dear reader would require stamina and dedication, not attributes often associated with my good self and certainly not when holidays loom. But perhaps on some of the big occasions pen will be put to paper or whatever the modern equivalent is and a view will be ventured..

This Saturday is one such occasion, for it ends the week of Glorious Goodwood; alongside Ascot it is one of the highlights of the flat racing season.

Goodwood is near the West Sussex coast and as such, is often engulfed with a sea mist.  It helps horse and even jockey, to know generally the direction they’re heading – they’ve a better chance of winning if they head towards the winning post. An absence of fog, also, makes it easier for the punter to get excited if they too, can actually see a horse.

As race courses go, Goodwood is quite a complex. It has lot of sharp turns for the longer races and plenty of undulations and is right-handed. In the short 6 furlong races its uphill for the first furlong and then the rest is all down hill. A bit like this blog.

Go for low numbered horses in the sprints. Now if you see a large carthorse enter don’t back it or any other large long striding horse for that matter. Here size does matter and quite the contrary to other areas of life small and balanced is best, especially when running down hill.

With these wise words, here are Major Hughes’s selections; a military title in such things always gives confidence, don’t you think? 

Some last minute advice before you put your shirts on these horses make sure the selection is running. It has been known for a horse to say, “I don’t fancy a run today” and withdraws at the last minute. Mind you if it withdraws before the race you don’t lose your cash.  

Well, OK it’s usually the trainer’s decision to withdraw and not that of the horse’s. Also make sure that whatever you back has four legs. ‘Cos seldom has a three legged horse been successful at Goodwood or anywhere else for that matter. Those of a cautious nature look away or better still concentrate on who will win the Blue ribbon in this week’s Wrexham Eisteddfod.

Remember last week’s advice - back horses each way when the odds are above 7:1. Good luck!!
2:05         With 26 runners covering such a short distance this is more of a gamble than usual  Golden Desert is fancied by a lot of tipsters but my money goes on Novellen Lad and Joseph Henry if you fancy big odds.
2:35         8 Newspapers tip Harlestone Times, nobody tips Activate but my money goes there
3:10         This one should be between Snow Fairy and Midday. It’s a toss of a coin job really.
3:45         Brave prospector takes my fancy with big odds, Hoof it is probably for the cautiou.s
4:20 Everyone seems to fancy Sport Section but Mickdaam does it for me.
4:55 Another big race Safari Storm has the shorter odds at 7.1 but my fancy is Travis County
5:35         Henry Cecil’s Diescentric is worth a punt but Truism is where my money goes.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Carwyn's Progress

When communications were poor and regional control limited, what did our rulers do? They upped sticks and moved around. It was called the Royal Progress.

The King or Queen would regularly tour the kingdom with the purpose of asserting their rule and to win the loyalty of their subjects. It also had the additional bonus of getting out of London to escape the plague and by landing yourself on your rich subjects it was they that footed the bill of maintaining the Court. Many were bankrupted by such visits.

There is no suggestion that Carwyn Jones’s regional control is limited but many would argue that communications in Wales is not what it should be. Could this be behind our First Ministers decision to take his cabinet out of Cardiff for the first time to the spanking new Assembly building in Llandudno Junction?

Many have dismissed the decision as a bit of a gimmick to appease those who live in the North.

The constant moan of the Gogs is that everything goes to and happens in the South. They are the forgotten people, far, far away. The constant cry is “what has the Welsh Government ever done for us.”

In response Carwyn Jones had this cunning little plan to take the Cabinet to Llandudno Junction to conduct a closed Cabinet meeting on a little frequented industrial estate. Now if that was all, then it would be a bit inadequate as a response. A bit of a poor show, it could be said.

But the First Minister is one for doing things by stealth.  This year, a simple cabinet meeting, next year, it will be the whole shooting match.

Carwyn’s Progress will be the full works. The Cabinet and all their courtiers/special advisors will be there. Entertainments will be arranged. It won’t be for a day, but it will be for weeks. Cabinet ministers will descend on unsuspecting communities, no hamlet will be without a visit.

Never again will the North be forgotten. They shall have government, the likes of which they’ve never seen before. Oh yes, a mere detail, they’ll have to foot the bill. The Progess doesn’t come cheap you know. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

It's the Royals that did it

Real GDP quarterly growth

“Its not us gov., it’s the Japanese tsunami, and the Royal Wedding.” These are the explanations/excuses used to justify Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increasing by only 0.2 per cent in the second quarter, a much lower figure than the 0.5 per cent of the first quarter.

The Office of National Statistics reckons that these two events knocked 0.5% off GDP growth in the second-quarter.

But the truth is there are always one off factors.  The weather is too hot or too cold, snow - they have more excuses than Network rail. Although to be fair to them they haven’t used leaves on the line as a factor to affect output, but undoubtedly it will come.

If the economy is robust these events are of little significance. No, such events take on an undue importance only when the economy has flat lined and shows such low output as has been witnessed by the UK economy this last year.

This kind of economic performance will hardly cause the Chancellor to rejoice, but being a politician the silver lining will be a great deal larger than the cloud that contains it. He will claim that the economy is still growing, which is true, all be it at a dreadfully slow rate.

But if politicians did embarrassment, which of course they don’t, the Chancellor would be red faced now. Why? Well, it was he no less that predicted in his March budget that the UK economy would grow by 1.7 per cent this year. This now seems as realistic a prospect as Wales winning the soccer European Nations Cup. Nil chance.

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about the need for a plan B, these figures today further underline the fact.

At a time of such low growth it is a nonsense to cut so dramatically and so quickly on public expenditure. In Wales there is a big dependence on this sector for work, but more importantly it is the private sector that suffers most. Who builds the public housing, the schools and hospitals? No, not nationalized industries but the private sector.

Cutting the public sector also puts the skid under consumer expenditure. The message has certainly got through to each one of us that these are desperate times.  And our reaction;  not spend, spend spend. No, frugality is the order of the day. The trip to the shops become few and far between, sales go down, and just as night follows day, output goes down too.

So forget the Royal Wedding, Olympic tickets, warm weather and the Tsunami. The cause of our woes lives in a terraced house somewhere in central London.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Summertime and economic woes

Politicians both in the Assembly and Westminster are back in their constituencies. But unfortunately they can’t pack up the country’s problems in their kit bags and take it with them. Oh, if only it was that easy.
No, there is a real world out there. It may be summer but the economic weather is not shining. Today, Lloyds TSB report that fewer than a fifth of businesses plan to invest in growth within the next six months.
This lack of confidence will certainly hold back any hope of recovery and may indeed indicate that unless the Chancellor has a dramatic rethink in his policy, the economy will hit the buffers.
The report indicates that business is holding back on investment decisions because of rising costs and weak domestic demand.
But it’s chicken and egg - a lack of business investment damages further the prospect of recovery and will produce even slower growth.
But tomorrow is the real test, for that’s when the GDP figures are produced. 
Many economists are predicting that these figures will do nothing to raise the nation’s spirits. Some economists are even predicting the economy slipping back into negative territory.
The story of growth in the first quarter of the year was that of an insignificant increase, the second quarter may also turnout to be just the same.  Optimism, I think not, a pancake would be less flat.
The pressures on the economy are numerous and varied. These include public spending cuts and the still high inflation figures. Both of which have led to weak consumer spending and a slowing down of the housing market.
The euro zone crisis may hit UK exports, 40 per cent of our trade is with Europe. The trade figures for the second quarter may show a falling off in exports.
But if America sneezes its well known that the rest of the world catches pneumonia. If negotiations fail between Obama and his Republican controlled congress over the budget, then the US could default on its borrowing for it will have run out of cash to pay its creditors. Result, chaos in global financial markets.
So these many factors cause real concern for our economy. Osborne  needs to devise a plan B, and pronto. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Runners and riders

Who will the runners and riders in the Plaid Cymru leadership challenge? Well, that’s a question for another day, well tomorrow to be precise. That’s when my old chum Vaughan Roderick shines the torch in my eyes to tease out the information on Radio Wales’s Sunday Supplement.

No, its other runners and riders that are of interest today. Namely horses in Newmarket.

Now LSE might have taught some interesting subjects over the years but my time there was usefully employed choosing winners.

On the fifth floor in the sixties they had a wonderful library named after Shaw. It was meant to expand the minds of students from politics and economics and other dreary social science subjects to the Arts. There they had chaise longues to lie on and classical music would play.

Many found it a quiet retreat to recover from a hangover. A library that was put to good use by, moi. By osmosis I developed a love of classical music but more importantly it allowed the solitude and time to study form.

It worked, it was afar better thing done there than has ever been done since. Yes, those were winning days. Never to be replicated, unfortunately.

My love of horse racing has stayed with me, unfortunately,  the luck didn’t.  I even had a share in a racehorse once, Mind you I’d probably have had better returns if I’d stood on the river Taff throwing bank notes into the water.

Well, why the ramble you ask. It’s because my daughter and her cousins are going to Newmarket today and she asked me to pick her some winners.

So as a special service or a disservice to regular readers of this blog I  share the selections. Altruism only goes so far, I’ve placed my bets already, just in case dear readers you rush to William Hills and then reduce the odds!!

The first rule of thumb is that on horses with odds of over 7 to 1, an each way bet is advisable.

Now Newmarket is one of those courses that always feels cold, it’s the wind from the Urals. Now punters can keep warm briskly galloping to place their bets but whether it ups the speed of the horses, it’s doubtful.
13:45 Burano is on everyone's list of favourites, but for a me the each way bet is Entifaadha and that’s where my money’s gone.
2:15 Taqleed catches my eye
2:45 Instance is the horse to beat but you no what they say an apple a day etc. so my money goes on Golden Delicious
3:20 Cinderkamp
3:55 Sovereign Debt has had some good outing recently so worth a punt.
4:25 Anoint has a task here but still rates
5:00 Watered Silk
Now when I suggested Horse racing as a regular for S4C with myself as a pundit, they turned it down. The prefer programmes on poetry. After today’s performance you may well thing it was the right move. 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Tax and Spend

Wales’s government is to be held to account for its expenditure, according to an announcement this week by Cheryl Gillan the Secretary of State for Wales. “It is only right that the Welsh Government is accountable for the money it

The Westminster coalition government in the autumn will set up an independent Commission to look at the financial accountability of the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales.

It clearly is a cause of concern to the Prime Minister and his team that Wales can set its own priorities on expenditure but takes no responsibility for raising the cash. He hinted at this when he addressed the National Assembly recently.

It is understood that George Osborne and his Treasury team are more sympathetic to the Holtham Commission’s recommendations than was Gordon Brown’s Labour government. Carwyn Jones is known to be cool on powers to vary income tax and is not greatly enamored with the other powers that Holtham proposed.

In announcing the new Commission Mrs. Gillian made it clear that in examining the issues of fiscal devolution and accountability in Wales the work of Gerry Holtham’s Commission would form the bedrock of the study.  

In her announcement she said, “The Government is committed to considering all aspects of the Holtham Commission’s reports.  Separate discussions will continue on Holtham’s proposals for funding reform for Wales.”

So the discussions on fair funding and the reform of the Barnet formula are to be held separate from the main work of the Commission, which is on tax and other fiscal matters.

 The hope is that the report and its recommendations will be complete by the autumn of 2012. Then the Government will consider any proposals, and they will then take the opportunity to look and take stock on the constitutional settlement in Wales in light of experience.

It is thought that it is at this point that Westminster will look at implementing any measures out of the Commissions and also make the final decision on the voting system for the National Assembly. If any legislation is required it is likely to be placed before Parliament in 2013.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Press and politics and democracy

So the Murdoch Empire is facing its decline and, as many hope, fall. Many saw his influence as malign and corrupt to the body politic.

In many an authoritarian country, the fear is that those in power run the press. It seems that here, the reverse is true, this particular press baron pronounces and the government asks how high do you want us to jump.

Politicians paid homage to the Emperor Rupert not out of respect but out of fear. His thumb up or down was the difference between their party winning or losing in an election. Or did it.

There is much evidence to indicate that like the good businessman he undoubtedly is, Murdoch saw a trend and got onto the bandwagon to back the winner. But politicians failed to see that the Emperor had no clothes and clutched him or his underlings close not out of friendship but out of fear.

There is no doubt that his anti-European, pro-American agenda skewed politics in the UK. The populist causes that his press pushed became the discourse of parliament. His agenda was followed.

If politicians dared to argue the opposite they were targeted and made to look like fools or even worse as knaves. Not a healthy state of affairs for a Parliament that is supposedly to be a representative forum of the people.

Democracies need a varied and healthy press. Without doubt Murdoch’s money has kept a number of national newspapers afloat. Without his intervention there would have been a lot less newspapers for the great British public to read.

Let’s not forget that when the News of the World was up for sale the only other bidder was Robert Maxwell. Yes, enough said.

The old leftish Daily Herald had been sold by its trade union owners to become a new left of centre Sun, but was still losing dollops of cash and closure was imminent. Along came Murdoch dipped his hands in his pockets and re-launched it to become one of our most successful tabloids.

His intervention has also saved the Times and possibly the Sunday Times. So if a diverse press simply means lots of different papers Murdoch has certainly played his part. But if diversity means a range of views, then that’s a different story.

Murdoch’s media had but one purpose, to access and influence politicians in the commercial interest of News Corp.
There is little doubt that Cameron and his team would have delivered BSkyB to Murdoch if the phone hacking scandal hadn’t broken in its latest more virulent form.

There is now an opportunity to break up this evil empire. A judge led inquiry will look into the inner working of News International and News Corp. But the good judge will cast his inquiry wider to look at the role of newspapers and the media in a democracy.

Just as Britain has evolved to create a more devolved democracy the press have collectively failed to reflect these changes. All our National newspapers have one thing in common; they are all so heavily London centric. They concentrate almost exclusive on Metropolitan issues. London and the South East is the centre of their universe, if it happens outside, forget it.

These last few weeks the Westminster parliament has concerned itself with the malign influence Murdoch’s group has had on parliament and the Westminster government. But what about the distorting affect the London press has on Welsh democracy.

Can a Welsh reader of a national daily read about what is happening in the Welsh Assembly? Was there any coverage of the referendum on more powers? The answer is no, never, nothing. Our so-called ”national” press carry stories about education, health, housing but what they mean is English education, English health and English housing. It’s as if devolution has never happened.

Yes, every democracy needs a vibrant and free press.  Fleet street has taken Northern Ireland seriously over the years because of strife and the Irish question. Scotland is taken seriously because of prospect of independence.

But Wales? No, it never appears on the radar. The country is too small and unimportant for the Metro clique. Concern about newspapers and democracy are valid.  But surely the democratic deficit that exists in informing those living in Wales about their government should also be a concern.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Conservative leaders

The Fifth leader of the Conservative group in the National Assembly has just been elected. Andrew RT Davies is the latest in a line that started with Rod Richards, known as the Welsh Rottweiler. He stood down to fight a court case but nominated David Davies as his successor.

The reign of Davies lasted all of a morning, until his own group tufted him out. They favoured the patrician Professor Nick Bourne rather than Davies with his right of Genghis Khan brand of politics.

David Davies having reached such a career high in the Assembly could never hope to attain such an honour again so went to plough his trade as a minor courtier in the Palace of Westminster.  Rumour has it that he now chairs the Welsh Select committee.

Bourne wrapped the Welsh flag around his party and in a series of spectacular U turns, the Conservative and Unionist Party was turned into the cuddly, pro-devolutionist Welsh Conservatives.

Such was his success that he managed to push his party’s share of the vote up and overtook Plaid Cymru to become the Official Opposition. For him personally not the best of career moves. His party won too many seats in constituencies at the last Assembly election; consequently he lost his seat on the list. Those with an interest may observe him shortly visiting either the job centre or the House of Lords.

Answering the call to duty was the unassuming Assembly Member for Preseli Pembs, Paul Davies. He became the temporary leader of the party, pending an election contest.

The boy did good. Causing some in the party to regret having a contest at all. Why, they reasoned embrace these new fangled innovations such as elections, when they’d found such a good leader without the bother.

Alas, election there was, and Andrew Davies won by a whisker.Only half the Conservatives bothered to vote out of a 5000 or so members of the party in Wales. Of these the victor squeaked 53 per cent of the vote, on my sums about 150 votes.

On this basis Davies must feel a slight discomfort. It’s hardly a comfort knowing that three-quarters of your party refused to vote for you.

The counting of the 2500 votes cast started at nine a.m. and finished just before three.  Why it took so long remains a mystery. Recounts, maybe.

But it caused the new leader to start his reign with a touch of irony. He thanked the officials for the fair and efficient way they conducted the count. Fair it might have been, efficient…. a room full of hungry hacks would certainly disagree. Six hours to count 2500 pieces of paper. Those that worry about standards of numeracy in Wales have a point.

And what can we expect from the new Leader of the Opposition. Forget the Bourne project of “Welshifying” the party, his emphasis is much more on Unionism. He is seen to be very much to the right of his party and it will be interesting to see the dynamics of the group he now leads. How will he deal with the serial ’bleeding’ heart liberals on his benches.

Well, what are his ambition  for his party? To ”reach out to the people of Wales.” Not the most original utterance from a politician, me thinks, a little more substance required soon, Mr Davies.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

PM leaves Palace to mix it with AMs

Well, its all part of the respect agenda. The annual visit of the PM to the Assembly. He came to the Assembly shook hands with Carwyn Jones, spoke to Assembly Members for fifteen minutes at the Assembly, took no questions and was away. That’s your lot Wales, box ticked, over and out.

Although to be fair to him, he didn’t do a Blair. For dear Tony used the occasion not so much to praise Rhodri but to praise himself for having the foresight and wisdom to take the country into war against Iraq.

At least David Cameron made his theme - Wales. Oh how he played to the Welsh vanity. The first industrial nation, architect of the NHS, the Mabinogi and the Eisteddfod oh what a list. And to keep the nationalists sweet Wales was a country not a region. So there we have it.

He said that there was no going back on devolution. A message to the backwoodsmen in his party, it’s here to stay, so stop your whinging.

But for those that  pushed for the law making powers a message too. Now that you’ve lot got these powers you’d better start exercising some responsibility. So shortly a Calman style Commission will be announced and consensus is needed on responsibility for raising the money that  you the Assembly are so keen to spend.

Well, he didn’t actually spell it out but that was the implication. So great, another committee, sorry, a commission to talk finance, but not a word said about fairer funding.

His briefing papers must have told him how the Welsh love a committee and he’s come up trumps. Not just a committee but a commission. How about that then?

 Then he went on to say look I’m doing radical things with the public services in England and there are lessons here for you all. So like a benevolent parent, he won’t interfere but he’ll keep on saying, "dad knows best and you should listen."

So there we are, he’s come and gone and oh he did bare gifts. Well, one gift at least. He announced £56.9m to pay for a super broad band. So the geek vote’s in the bag now.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Leaders come, leaders....

The success of a party leader is more often a matter of luck than judgement. But if lady luck deserts you and your judgement is not what it should, then you’re in serious trouble.

And who can deny that this is where Kirsty Williams now finds herself. The last few months have been her mensis mirabilis.

The disaster that was the Liberal Democrat result in the Assembly elections is somewhat clouded by the fact that they only lost one seat. They now have five rather than six Assembly members.

But, and it is a mighty big but, the drop of one AM hides a truly awful set of election results.

The fall in their vote in all constituencies was dramatic. In 2007, under the leadership of Mike German they gained 144,410 votes, 14.8% of the total vote. Under Kirsty Williams in 2011 they lost over 44,000 votes. The number of votes they got in all the constituencies fell to 100,259, 10.45% of the votes cast.

Well, what does a drop of this kind mean? Well, for the Liberal Democrats it meant being thrown out of two of the three constituencies they held prior to the election, namely Montgomery and Cardiff Central.  OK, they got back up to five when the list system come into play but nevertheless losing seats where they had previously had such large majorities, was careless indeed.

Not only did they lose seats they came bottom of the poll in twenty-six of the forty constituencies. Sadly, they were even over-taken by the British National Party in three seats. Could the results have been any worse?

Now many would acknowledge that all the blame does not lay at Ms Williams’s door. It was just sheer bad luck for her that she found herself in an electoral mess of someone else’s making.

The decision of the Westminster’s Liberal Democrats to consummate a marriage of convenience with the Tories to form a right of centre government went down badly with the voters of Wales.  So Kirsty Williams and her merry band take the rap and get the kicking from the angry voters.

OK. it would be unfair to blame the election results on her, but who said politics was fair, it happened on her watch, the results abysmal so she gets it in the neck.  Bad luck, yes, unfair, yes, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Bad luck has nothing to do with the next problem. Namely the cavalier way she and her party put up candidates for election. Here it wasn’t bad luck, but sheer incompetence.

Four of the candidates they put up were ineligible, because they were members of bodies that were on a prescribed Assembly list.

Now one candidate falling foul of the rules may be deemed unlucky but four! Especially when the committee that drew up the rules had a certain Kirsty Williams as a vocal member. Indeed at the time she piped up to say she knew personally of one candidate that would be affected. Why, if she warned one member, did she not have the wit to tell all the candidates to check on the rules?

Was it incompetence or was it a calculated risk? Did they read the runes and thought that many of these candidates would not be elected if the polls were to be believed?  Did they reason that it might be best to keep Lib Dem membership of some of these important bodies in place? After all in a small party there is a limit to the number of Liberal Democrat available, willing and able to serve on such bodies. So why resign if election to the Assembly is uncertain. Well, we’ll never know whether it was simply a cock-up or more.

Whatever, as some would say, these events have made the Welsh Liberal Democrats look foolish and amateurish. In any other political party the leader would resign, mea culpa. But it's unlikely. The cupboard of replacement leaders is bare. So for good or ill they are stuck with Kirsty Williams for sometime yet.
Due to a technical difficulty I cannot answer comments directly so here is a response to one of the comments below. 
"Hope there's no ageism creeping into Anonymous's comments. I'm still not gagga, yet, so will be around to comment and post a blog or two for awhile. I've even retained the ability to fill in forms correctly and truthfully, and would happily help anyone of any age to fill them in either Welsh or English provided, of course, they've been downloaded. Clearly there are some within the "bubble" that could do with my services."

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A comedy of errors

So now the National Assembly for Wales is again a sixty member legislature.

Just to recap, a vote was taken yesterday (6 July 2011) on a motion to reinstate Aled Roberts after his suspension for being a member of the Valuation Tribunal for Wales. Membership of which disqualified a person from being an Assembly Member. At the time of his election Aled Roberts was a member of this body. He has now resigned from it.

The motion was carried allowing Aled Roberts back with 30 votes in favour of letting him back 20 votes again and 3 people abstained. End of matter, he’s back in the club, with half of the AMs voting for his reinstatement. So the Liberal Democrats have their full team of five AMs at last.

End of story, well, no.

Enter stage left the Electoral Commission. In a TV interview they disclose that there were no hits at all on these matters on their Welsh language web. They had 143 hits on their English language site but ‘nil’ in the relevant period on their Welsh site. Intriguing, when most of the mitigating arguments put forward in Aled Roberts’s defence was that he was misled by the Welsh language information provided by the Commission.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the Electoral Commission in the same interview said that they informed the Gerard Elias QC inquiry about these matters. Despite this, there is scant mention of this in his report. Surely at the very lease it ought to have been noted as evidence received in the appendix of his report.

Quite why the Electoral Commission should decided to go public on this information now that the vote is done and dusted is a bit of a mystery. But by so doing they have reopened the issue and Assembly Members will surely feel that they were pushed into a vote with many of the salient facts still hidden from their gaze.

None of the responsible bodies come out of the situation well. The National Assembly, the Electoral Commission, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats all contributed to this comedy of Errors

Surely a thorough inquiry is required to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.

It used to be said about Westminster that it was difficult to work out which end of Whitehall produced the best farces, parliament or the Whitehall theatre. Is there an equivalent street in Cardiff, if not there should be.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Will they be allowed into the club?

It’s crunch time for the two Liberal Democrats that were barred from taking their seats in the National Assembly because of their membership of prescribed bodies. Political parties will get a copy of the Gerald Elias QC inquiry into the matter and then come to a conclusion.

But one gets the feeling that minds are already made up.  Yes, even though every Assembly Member has a free vote on the matter and many giving the outer appearance of judicial reasonableness. Like the three monkeys of old, they have no thoughts until they get a sight of the Elias report and it is only then they’ll decide what to do.

Describe us as cynical if you like, but those of us that have been around politicians awhile know that what is said seldom matches up to what is done.

It won’t be the conclusions of Elias that will determine action. What will, you ask? Sheer naked politics, that’s what will decide the outcome.

Well, no surprises there then. It was always thus. Yes, party advantage will determine the votes. Forget the fact that there’ll be no party whip on the two motions that will welcome the two into the club that is the National Assembly. No it is the tribalism of Welsh politics that will determine the results.

The case against one seems more clear-cut than the other. John Dixon was a member of the Care Council for Wales and should have resigned before submitting his nomination as candidate on the South Wales Central list. He resigned from the Council after he was elected, but by then it was to late. He stood as a candidate when he was ineligible so to do, end of story, dead in water.

The truth of the matter is that the Liberal Democrats did not expect that the good folk of Cardiff Central would have the temerity to ditch the Liberal Democrats in favour of Labour.

The knock-on effect of Cardiff Central changing hands was  that the Liberal Democrats were entitled to a place on the regional list seat. So John Dixon was unexpectedly elected. It is doubtful whether his resignation as Member of the Care Council –a remunerated position - would have been left so late if he had thought his election was at all likely.

Now in the case of Aled Roberts, there was every expectation that he would be elected. As such he was careful to check the rules, but not careful enough, it would seem.  Although to be fair to him he was given duff information by the Electoral Commission. He was directed to an old list, which did not include the Valuation Tribunal for Wales, which is an ineligible organisation of which he was an unpaid member. 

Now the Electoral Commission bare a measure of responsibility for Aled Roberts being in the mire, they should keep their records up to date. Taxpayers are entitled to ask what are they there for, if they can’t give candidates the right advice? But that, as they say, is a question for another day.

The fact that Aled Roberts took all reasonable steps to ensure that he complied with the rules but was ill served by a body that should have known better, may provide mitigation but the rules are the rules and he broke them. If there is any justice in the world it should be the Electoral Commission in the dock and not Roberts. But, alas the world is full of injustice and Aled Roberts fate will now rest in the hands of politicians. That's poetic justice.

So will Elias’s report change anything, unlikely. If it’s a typical lawyer’s report, there’ll be no conclusion or recommendation. So where will that leave things? Well, where it started, in the hands of the politicians.

Assembly Members will vote on the fate of the two according to their prejudice and what will be to each party’s advantage.

So what then will be the verdict?  Will it be thumbs up or down to both or will Alex Roberts be saved? My gut instincts tell me that they’ll both hang together and the second candidates on the regional lists will take their seats after the summer recess.

Now in the light of the Elias report my gut instinct might have to be revised.
Here are some relevant paragraphs from his conclusions. Firstly, Aled Roberts

Accordingly, in the circumstances pertaining, I find that Aled Roberts did everything that he could have reasonably been expected to do in ensuring that he was not a disqualified person for the purpose of nomination or election to the National Assembly. 
So on the basis of that if Assembly Members were a jury they would have to vote for him to take up his place as a Member.

The case of John Dixon is somewhat different, he clearly did not behave with due diligence.

At the time of his selection as a candidate and immediately prior to signing his nomination form, John Dixon read the guidance provided to candidates by the Electoral Commission. 
He agrees that he would have read the reference provided to the 2006 Disqualification Order and the additional caution. 
He acknowledges that he had a responsibility to check the 2006 Order. He further acknowledges that at no time did he check the Order (either in its 2006 or 2010 form).  
Perhaps because he was lulled into a false sense of security by his experiences in earlier elections, he honestly believed that he was eligible to be a member of the National Assembly. 
 Now Keith Bush, the chief legal adviser to the National Assembly warns in his report that
the Assembly’s decisions on the motions seeking such resolutions in relation to Aled Roberts and John Dixon are quasi-judicial in nature and therefore subject to being challenged in the courts if not taken in accordance with correct legal principles 

But nevertheless that's what they'll have to do. For if they don't, the decision can, and undoubtedly will, be challenged in the courts. In the light of this it would be sheer prejudice and party politics if a vote was not taken tomorrow to reinstate Aled Roberts.

So where does that leave things.  An example, will be made of Dixon and  he'll have to plough his political trade elsewhere. Roberts will be allowed into the club.

Politically, the Liberal Democrats  should have known the rules and ensured that all their candidates complied with the regulations. The need to have a root and branch look at their organization.

But the body that has most egg on its face is the Electoral Commission, if they can't advise candidates properly about the rules, what are they for? Are they fit for purpose? Heads should roll.
Stop press
As I've indicated throughout this blog John Dixon was dead in the water. Now the Liberal Democrats have finally seen the light and withdrawn the motion that sought to reinstate him. So this morning there will be a rushed job to swear in the second name on the South Wales Central list, Eluned Parrot as an Assembly Member. 
And don't they just need her in place for the vote on the motion to put  Aled Roberts back. The Liberal Democrats  need every vote they can muster for Aled Roberts's reinstatement ain't a done deal yet, not by a long chalk. 

Many Assembly Members are still of the opinion that the Liberal Democrats should have checked the rules of eligibility for all their candidates. They didn't, the rules were broken so goodbye Aled, welcome back Eleanor. These unconstucted AMs see the mitigation of Aled Roberts in the Elias report as a red herring. Their mantra continues to be "he broke the rules and should be punished." 
How many hold this view is difficult to say but the arithmetic of the vote would indicate it's too close to call. My guess is that many will take the opportunity to take a tea break and abstentions could well save Aled Roberts's political skin.