Archive for September, 2010

Butterflies and coalitions – beware

If a butterfly flaps its wings in one hemisphere it can cause a tornado in another part of the world. This is a much used metaphor in chaos theory. It underlines the fact that small differences in a dynamic system can produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system.

This theory came to mind today on hearing that Trish Law the Independent Assembly Member for Blaenau Gwent was to retire from politics next May.

Now whether chaos theory applies to politics, who knows. Although many would argue that politicians have been known to cause chaos, but as they say, that’s a story for another day.

But what is certainly true is that small changes in one part of the body politics can have fairly dramatic consequences in other parts of the system. This was true in the case of how an Independent got elected in one of Labour’s safest seats in Wales.

The story starts in the year 2000 when Rhodri Morgan decided to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. To make room for his new chums Rhodri Morgan got rid of Peter Law from his cabinet.

So Peter Law returned to the back-benches to became a vociferous critic of the Labour led coalition.

It’s a truism of politics that ex-ministers with time on their hands have an infinite capacity for mischief. Law, certainly lived up to this billing, with his acerbic intervention from the back benches. The devil certainly made work for these idle hands.

Rhodri Morgan missed a golden opportunity to busy those idle hands and perhaps silence this back bench critic following the next Assembly elections in 2003. Following that election Law put his name forward as candidate for the Deputy Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly. However, the Labour AMs were encouraged by the party leadership to vote for John Marek, an Independent AM rather than for Law, the Labour man.

It seemed the mantra of the Labour leadership at the time was, anyone but Law. This all resulted in Labour having a semi-detached member on its benches in the Senedd whose loyalty to his party had been reduced to zero.

Law finally got himself kicked out of the party when he stood against the official Labour candidate Maggie Jones for the Westminster parliament. He defeated her by over 9000 votes. He justified his action as a protest against the imposition of an all women short list against the wishes of many in the local Blaenau Gwent party.

His time in Parliament was sadly short-lived as he died as a result of a brain tumor in just under an year of his triumph. As a result of his death, there was a double by-election in Blaenau Gwent one for the UK Parliament and the other for his Welsh Assembly seat.

Dai Davies, Law’s former agent, won the election to Westminster, but failed to hold it in the recent general election.

Trish Law succeeded her husband to the Welsh Assembly. She subsequently held onto her seat at the last Assembly elections.

Her retirement next April should deliver the seat back to Labour.

The lesson, butterflies and coalitions can have unforeseen consequences.

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Talking cuts

’˜Everybody is talking at me’ as Harry Nilsson’s lyrics go. But unlike him I do hear the word they’re saying ’“ cuts.

It’s difficult to get away from talk about them. The TUC in their conference were predicting cuts with consequences that were more dangerous than have been seen since the 1930s.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, the leader of Plaid Cymru in his conference speech went as far as to say that even the health budget in Wales would not escape unscathed. But now his party’s economics guru has entered the debate by saying that the Government in Cardiff Bay’s assumptions on the size of the cuts are far too high. Who is right and who is wrong will be revealed in the House of Commons on 20th October when the Treasury will tell us how much each government department can spend until the end of this Westminster parliament in 2015.

The wad of cash that the Welsh Assembly has to spend will be determined by how successful the spending departments in Whitehall argue their case. Why? Because in those areas that Wales now runs for itself, like health, housing, education, transport etc it gets a percentage of the English spend in these same areas.

So the two Jones’s that run Wales will be very much hoping that some of these English Tory and Lib Dem Ministers pull a fast one over the Treasury and limit the cuts to their department. Yes, the more they get away with the more, we have to spend.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, it never is it. There is a large chunk of public money spent in Wales that goes nowhere near Assembly politicians. Most of this direct UK government expenditure goes on welfare of one kind or another. Things like old age pensions, unemployment benefit, invalidity benefits, income support and tax credits. George Osborne, the Chancellor said in his budget that he was looking to reduce these by £15bn. And with Wales having many more people claiming these than the rest of the UK such cuts would have a major impact on our communities.

You don’t need Old Moore’s Almanac to predict that hard times are round the corner and its likely that Welsh people will vent their anger in the numerous ballot box opportunities that present themselves next year.

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Last look at Plaid’s conference.

Its always a tonic to attend a party conference, delegates are always so optimistic. Having attended many during my professional life I have come to the conclusion that ordinary party members must submit themselves to some psychometric testing if they are to be appointed delegates. It is only those that are able to suspend any connection with reality and have a high quota of optimism that have the right qualities to be part of the chosen ones. No sceptic need apply.

The testing had certainly produced the right mix for the Plaid Cymru conference if optimism could run amok it certainly was amok in Aberystwyth. When politicians, as they are prone to, over egged things on the platform you got the distinct impression that the delegates in the audience really did believe that the promised land was just an election away. Perhaps its the sensory deprivation that you suffer in being locked away in a darkened room with other fellow travelers that allows even the mildest stimulation from the platform to create wild ecstasy amongst the delegate audience.

For instance when Helen Mary Jones, the current Director of Elections for the party announce on the platform that ’˜they should be proud’ of their general election results the delegates cheered wildly and when she had finished her speech they gave her a standing ovation.

Now I’m very fond of Helen Mary and would gladly give her a standing ovation but surely not based on the results of last years general election results.

At a time when Labour was at its weakest, led by a prime minister seen by many as incompetent, Plaid Cymru failed to make any headway. They started the campaign with three seats and finished with three seats. None of their target seats were won. You could describe the result as many things but ’˜proud’ is not one of the words that readily comes to mind. The question has to be asked, will they fare any better when conditions are not as favorable in the future. But hey, ho, who wants a dose of reality after all it is a party conference.

Although the delegates did have something to get excited about, their latest recruit, the former Labour Secretary of State of Wales, Ron Davies. Now having actually delivered them an embryo parliament he only had to turn up to get them excited and indeed it was so. A standing ovation was his before he opened his mouth. Expectations were high and to be fair he didn’t fail to deliver.

Like the old pro that he is he waved his new party card, another stamping of feet, could it get any better. The forensic criticism of his old party for letting down the Valleys was music to their ears. Could he be the one to help Plaid make the break through to Labour’s heartland? Well certainly many in the hall believed it possible, whether the electorate of Caerffili are of the same view we will have to wait until next May. But the hope was worth another standing ovation when the latest recruit to the nationalist cause sat down.

A note of scepticism was introduced by the ex-chair of the party John Dixon. In answering the debate on climate change he countered those proposing an amendment allowing for a Wylfa B, a move that would drive a coach and horses through Plaid’s avowedly anti-nuclear power policy. He wryly observed that Plaid if they passed the motion would be seen to be against anti-nuclear power stations only on sites that no-one wanted to build them on. How did such a sceptic ever become a delegate? Just for the record they did pass such an amendment.

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