Archive for July, 2010

We’re all off on a summer holiday

Parliament rises for its summer break today. The Welsh Assembly members are well into their holidays by now. Although if you mention that they’re on their holidays you tend to get short shift. No holiday for them, but a summer of political events and campaigning. If they are to be believed they never relax and take time to think or reflex they are always ’˜doing.’

Be aware the ’˜doing’ involves you. Not an agricultural show, eisteddfod, summer fete or even a market is out of bounds to them. There are few places that you can safely be out of the reach of politicians.

No, they seem to be omnipresent. Ever ready to ingratiate themselves to you, to meet, speak but seldom listen. If they listened more and spoke less they might start to get things right.

But if politicians can’t reflex, political journalists can. They could look back and see what an interesting few months it has been.

One Prime Minister sent back to serve his Scottish constituents as a back bencher. A new Prime Minister now governing, all be it, courtesy of a party whose ordinary members are spitting blood, at such an appointment.

But looking back is mere history. There is more fun to be had by looking into the crystal ball. So what of the future?

Even Gypsy Rose Hughes can predict that Labour will have a son of a Marxist as its next leader. The ball hazily shows Milliband the elder wondering why he has to have such an ambitious younger brother. It raises sibling rivalry to another plain. Although the Dave is still the front runner, the Ed could still over take on second preference votes.

Whilst looking at Labour our own dear First Minister is doing his own little tour of Wales to talk to people about their public services. Presumably, he will then be enlightened as which cuts he can impose with the least damage. A futile exercise me thinks, for after the Autumn Spending Review next year’s block grant to the Assembly will cut services to the quick. The best he can hope is to persuade the Welsh that ’˜its not me, gov’ and make sure that the Westminster government takes the rap. The polls are beginning to show that this is fertile territory to campaign on and his party might have a good outcome in the 2011 elections.

Things may not be so certain for his coalition partners. If they are to make any real gains these will have to be at Labour’s expense. With Labour likely to be in the ascendant there is little hope of this happening. They have been treading political water for a while now and there is little sign that this is likely to change.

The Conservatives are still relatively popular at the moment. Clearly, the country is inhabited by masochists. The early cuts and the budget have not dented their support, whether this remains so after the Autumn when the effects of the budget slows down growth and pushes us towards another recession, remains to be seen. But the electoral system of the Welsh Assembly will unlikely dent their numbers, perversely they may even gain a seat or two in constituencies that they won in the general election.

The big losers are likely to be the Liberal Democrats. Many who felt clever at the time voting tactically to keep the Tories out. They are now repenting their choice. No, its likely that the Assembly elections will see the equivalent of ’˜massacre of the innocents.’ Or in the Liberal Democrats case the not so innocent.

Ah, before all this there is the little matter of the referendum on more powers. Welsh Assembly politicians of all parties will be singing from the same hymn sheet in the ’˜yes’ camp. The same harmony from Westminster is highly unlikely.

But before all that, my bucket and spade awaits. Have a good summer, dear reader.

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Badgers and Ministers.

Badgers are dominating discussion at the Royal Welsh. Not in their own right but as a consequence of the reprieve they have received courtesy of the Courts from the Welsh Assembly’s attempts to cull them in North Pembrokeshire. So they survive, but should those who have failed to dispatch them also keep their jobs.

It does come down to the individual ministerial responsibility. In other words should they take the rap for the clear failure of their advisors.

I’m not sure whether there are badgers on the farm at Crichel Down, but it became one of the most famous farms in British constitutional history. Why? Because civil servants handled the landowner unfairly. So much so, that the Minister of Agriculture at the time, Sir Thomas Dugdale was forced to resign.

He took full responsibility to ‘Parliament for any mistakes and inefficiency of officials in my Department, just as, when my officials bring off any successes on my behalf, I take full credit for them.’ Thus the benchmark for ministerial responsibility for the Westminster government was laid down.

Of course, there have being many resignations of ministers from the UK government, since Sir Thomas Dugdaleon.

There have been no resignations in Wales.

Not one minister in Wales has felt it necessary to drop on their swords because of mistakes by their department. Naturally enough many have taken the credit for any successes.

But last week saw some calling for the resignation of Elin Jones, the Rural Affairs minister because of the very dramatic and public failure of her policy of culling badgers to prevent the spread of bovine TB. This week she has the unenviable task of explaining WAGs future intentions to the farming community at the Royal Welsh.

But is she the guilty party in all of this. If heads should roll should it be hers? It would be most unfair if the Minister was to go, for she was not the cullpable minister. No, the blame lay elsewhere. After all her policy was clear and unambiguous, she wanted measures in place to stop the spread of the disease. It was then left to the civil servants to draw up the orders to implement the policy. For this they would have to take legal advice.

In the debate on the Minister’s statement last week it was established that the legal advice was provided internally by the WAG itself. And who was responsibly for such advice, the Counsel General. And who was the Counsel General at the time, a certain Carwyn Jones.

Now that really puts the cat amongst the pigeons or more appropiately amongst the badgers!

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New programe for Assembly

A Queens speech it ain’t. The Welsh Assembly Government’s last legislative programme before next year’s elections has just been announced and it is a very modest programme indeed. With three measures [that is equivalent of laws that the Assembly can now enact without any further reference to Westminster] and one Legislative Competence Order [LCO] which Parliament in Westminster must agree so that the Assembly can pass measures in the given area.

The reason for such a modest programme is not difficult to work out. Referendum. All parties are going to be spending most of their energy between now and next March on winning a yes vote. Such a positive vote would end the humiliating practice of Westminster deciding the Assemblies law making programme.

But it also demonstrates that the green – red coalition is now coming towards the end of its agreed programme. Both are now starting to disengage from the coalition.

So all the bright ideas will be kept for their manifestos. These goodies will be used to get us to vote for them.

Just for the record the new programme is as follows.

Safety of Learner Travel Measure ’“ this Measure will improve the quality of contracted school transport and ensure that standards are sufficiently high for the public, and especially parents, to have confidence in the contracted learner transport their children use.

Housing Measure ’“ this will enable local authorities to apply to Welsh Ministers to suspend the Right to Buy in areas of housing pressure. It will also provide Welsh Ministers with a broad range of intervention powers to strengthen the regulation of Registered Social Housing providers.

Education Measure ’“ this will include provisions to improve school governance which in turn will raise education standards. It will further and deepen collaboration amongst schools and other educational providers and provide enabling powers for Welsh Ministers in relation to the federation of governing bodies of smaller schools.

The Organ Donation LCO ’“ We have held a number of public debates on the issue of organ donation underpinned by a formal consultation in May 2009 on ’˜Options for changes to the organ donation system in Wales’. The majority of responses we received supported a change to the soft opt-out system. We now intend taking this issue forward by seeking the necessary powers to be able to implement a Welsh system of organ donation that best meets the needs and wishes of Welsh people.

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