Archive for March, 2010

Golwg COLUMN: Budget forecast

Everyone has an interest in the pence. In the political calender the budget is one of the few things that happen in Parliament that grabs the attention of the public. Its not a big mystery, why.

We’re all eager to know how the budget effects our pockets.

Before long the Chancellor will be standing outside the doorstep of the Treasury teasing us as to the content by waving his red bag. Every budget is important but without doubt the budget before an election is in a different league. It could make the difference between winning or losing the contest.

Its likely that one of the reasons that Gordon Brown has postponed the date of the general election is to get his budget in before he faces the country. But there’s an old chinese proverb which says ’˜Be careful of what you wish for,’ Experience tells us that setting a budget is not always to the advantage of the government of the day.

Forty years ago, the then Chancellor Roy Jenkins was responsible for setting the pre-election budget. He set a budget that was good for the country but not by a long chalk good for his party. Those in his party judged him for not being generous enough and as a consequence Harold Wilson’s government were defeated in the following October election. Jenkins was not forgiven and consequently was sent to Europe and out of his party forever.

And that’s Alistair Darling’s dilemma. Should he do his best for the country or his party? It is understood that Treasury officials want a budget that really tackles the country’s enormous deficit. They’re advising that taxes should be increased and the axe taken without mercy to public expenditure. The Governor of the Bank of England is singing from the same hymn sheet, cuts and taxes is the refrain.

But that isn’t the view of his party especially his fellow Members of Parliament they want a relatively generous budget. Something that brings some comfort to the electorate. And just perhaps that warm feeling lasts long enough to influence the electorate to vote in a way that saves their skins.

The Labour government or the country? And that is what Mr Darling has decide. And what will his decision be? Well, until recently most would have thought that he would have done his best to try to secure his old political friend Mr Brown’s future. But since Mr Brown turned his back on him the old loyalty is no longer there

Mr Darling’s stock has risen in comparison to the decline in that of Mr Brown’s. He’s his own man at last. Insiders say he is well regarded by the City and Treasury officials.

I suspect that he is more likely to frame a budget to please them rather than is own party.

If so, on budget day we Welsh will not be opening the champagne.

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Welsh for some but not for WAG

Attended the much awaited technical briefing on the Welsh language measure today. In its 135 pages it lays down rights for the language. It reinfoces its status, sets up a Language Commissioner who we can all run too if we think our rights to using the Welsh language are not best served. How such powers are needed are graphically illustrated by the Welsh Assembly Government itself.

Having just looked at the Welsh Assemmbly goverenment web side I came across a consultation document that has just closed in February It was titled ‘Developing a modern regulatory framework for Housing Associations in Wales – Performance standards.’

Not the sexiest of titles I grant you. But it focuses on governance and financial management standards for Housing Associations.

One of the set of standards suggested in the ‘Living public service values’ (whatever that means), is one relating to the Welsh language. And suggests that they [Housing Associations] treat the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality. Fair point, well made, government!

But hold on, closing the consultation documentationon page 5 the very same government says “We need to prioritise our use of the finite translation resources available to the Assembly Government. Unfortunately, on that basis, we are unable to provide a Welsh version of this consultation paper.This is because other items have been given a higher priority rating and have taken precedence in the allocation of resources…..” To be fair they did translate the little message into Welsh.

I notice that First Minister, Carwyn Jones, welcomes the measure as it ‘provides us with someof the tools we need to ensure that the Welsh language can continue to prosper.’

Tools that can be used by the Assembly Government, I wonder.

Start of consultation: 01/12/2009

End of consultation: 01/02/2010

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Golwg COLUMN: Antiseptic conferences

Responding was the way the congregation expressed their appreciation and sympathy towards the sermon in Welsh non-conformist chapels. The more the preacher raised the roof and got into ‘hwyl’, the greater the response. The chapels resounded to hallelujahs and Amens.

But now one seldom hears a hallelujah or an amen at all. The tradition has died or on the point of death, or perhaps the enthusiasm has gone.

Just as in our chapels the same goes for the politic world. We’re now in the middle of the conference season. Every Spring all of Wales’s main political parties meet in various venues for a weekend and their members are invited to the jamboree. For what purpose? An interesting question.

At one time it was a relatively easy question to answer. The purpose was to make and discuss the policies of the party in question. But no more. Just like responding the tradition of discussion and debate has gone. Instead of being active and involved the member is now passive.

The purpose now is not the taking part, but being part of the set. They are there to show the world that the party appeals to every shape and size. To underline the point the are often even put on the stage. And there they’d be looking good, listening carefully and pretending to be interested in their leaders speech.

But its not the audience in the hall that’s important but you and me sitting at home watching it on the television. The purpose of it all is to appeal to us. But does it work? I have my doubts.

There has been a tendency in the last elections for less and less of the population to bother voting. Is there some fundamental law that says that the more we hear and see our politicians the less is the enthusiasm to vote?

It very much looks like it. Or perhaps its the modern electioneering process that is so off-putting.

At one time things weren’t so certain. Our politicians had to inspire us with ideas delivered through speeches. It was an ideological battle. The left against the right. Unionism against self rule. Socialism or capitalism.

But now? Holding the middle ground is the order of the day. Ideology gives way to the focus group. Appealing to the people of Wales is far less important than appealing to middle-England. Why?

Because it is they that are likely to switch their votes. They have little loyalty to any party but follow their own selfish agenda. Who rules us is dependent on this relatively small group. Because this group more or less determine the election results.

Conferences are of little value in determining policy. The best we can hope for is the opportunity to hear the party leaders. And the delegates? They can bask in reflective glory and have a warm feeling that their leaders are available to them.

No debate, no disagreement. Everything so antiseptic.

And the result? Apathy

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