God knows from time to time I was critical of Rhodri Morgan’s during his term of office. The main theme of my criticism was that he was not bold enough in pushing forward the devolution project.
But when he took office as First Minister one of his first decisions was to publicly advertise and recruit his Special Advisors. A decision to be commended. There were some lapses from this principle later but Rhodri Morgan’s initial decision was the right one.
Surely, it is essential in a modern Wales that all post are subject to open recruitment. It is not a question of political correctness but practical politics. How else can one ensure that the best talent available is recruited. It must be in Carwyn Jones’s interest to have the best at his disposal. The days of who you know as a basis for a job should be over. As a party that sets great store on equal opportunities the Labour Party surely should adhere to high standards in its recruitement procedures.
It goes without saying that Carwyn Jones would want members of his own party around him. But has membership of the Labour party in Wales reached such a low level that the party leader knows them all intimately and knows all the talents within their ranks. I don’t think so.
No, this is the one example when following the previous leader’s lead would have been the right thing to do. But alas, this has not happened. His backroom cabinet are now in place without any public recruitment.
For the record the new team are:
Jo Keirnon, becomes Senior special advisor taking over from Mark Drakeford. She will also be working on health and social services issues as a policy advisor. She was Rhodri Morgan’s Communications advisor and a former ITV journalist.
Lawrence Conway, former Civil Servant and Rhodri Morgan’s Private Secretary. He will advise on Public Service Delivery
Andrew Bold, Peter Hain’s Special advisor ditches the Wales Office and joins Carwyn’s team. Not a bad career move for this ex Labour Party research officer, if the polls are to be believed and a Tory victory is imminent.
Sophie Howe, a Special Advisor who’s contract is renewed.
Steve Jones, who worked for Lesley Griffiths AM for Wrexham becomes responsible for Communications.
Ian Butler and Jeff Andrews continue but as Specialist Advisers.
‘Whitehall have little awareness of devolution.’ so says Sir John Shortridge the former Head of the Civil Service in Wales in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select committee.
After the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, he reckoned that Whitehall departments made a serious attempt to understand the settlement and its implications for the running of government business. But he was now of the view that after this initial burst of activity that the Whitehall civil service as a whole has failed to keep pace with the evolving Welsh settlement.
The problem arises when Welsh issues land on desks of civil servants in Whitehall who have little knowledge of the governance of Wales or the sensitivities involved.
He blames the London-based media as being partly responsible for this state of affairs. ‘Ten years on they [the London media] still regularly report on policy developments in England as if they apply to Wales, and in stark contrast to Scotland the rarely provide any serious coverage of political events in Wales.’
He goes on to predict that when devolution comes of age, a future Prime Minister will scrap a separate department for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as ‘no longer needed.’
He suggests that the current system could be improved by building a strong network of Devolution ‘experts’ in Whitehall supporting a Joint Ministerial Committee.
Its interesting that a man until recently at the top of the civil service tree in Wales sees Wales been marginalized by Whitehall and Westminster. Something we’ve long suspected. The sooner primary law making powers are devolved so that the English centric civil service cease to matter the better Wales will be.
Over Christmas we had a house full and whilst watching the news one of the family said ‘fast forward’ it because she was not interested in the item. Oh for the power to fast forward and see the future, but unfortunately that’s not possible to the great relief of the bookies.
But it is possible to foresee some political events that will grab our attention during the year. One thing is certain there will be a general election in the next few months. When exactly?
Most commentators believe that Gordon Brown will leave it to the last before facing the electorate. If they are right then the first Thursday in May will be the appointed day. It is the day that local elections will be taking place in many parts of the country and out prospective Councillors will be available to distribute propaganda on behalf of their parties. Brown almost confirmed this as the likely day in his new year’s interview.
And the result? Despite the Conservatives having been in the lead in the opinion polls for some time, in an election campaign the gap between the parties usually close, so its not in the bag for Mr Cameron, yet. Its more than possible that there will not be an overall majority and the smaller parties may become important in Westminster politics. A coalition in London and Cardiff, as Tom Jones would sing, ‘its not impossible.’
And what about Welsh representation in the House of Commons? I foresee a change in our political landscape. The Tories with 12 members, Plaid Cymru 5, the Liberal Democrats losing ground with only 2, an independent in Blaenau Gwent and Labour down to 20. Am I right? We’ll see.
The other big Welsh question: will there be a referendum on more powers?
I expect that the Assembly will take the next step by voting in the next few weeks on the principle of a referendum on more powers. Then it will be up to Westminster to consult on the nature of the referendum question. Its not out of the question that there will be a an October referendum.
If the signs are good for a positive outcome it will take place in the Autumn. If it looks more problematic, it will be delayed until the Spring of 2011.
All in all an interesting year for the political anorak.