Archive for February, 2011

Hostilities resumed-breaking news

High level members of Labour have produced an astonishing attack on Ieuan Wyn Jones the Plaid Cymru leader and Deputy First Minister.

It is believed that some senior elected members of the Parliamentary Labour party aided and supported by an Assembly member and spun by a parliamentary aide have produced this withering attack on the competence of Mr Jones in running his Department of Transport and the Economy.

When contacted Plaid Cymru rebutted the charges and went on the offensive. They pointed out that Mr Jones needed to completely reorganise the departments that he inherited from the Labour Minister Andrew Davies. This restructuring is only now showing dividends they added.

It is not thought that Carwyn Jones, First Minister, had any knowledge of the report but some Plaid Cymru members are raising questions about the control he has of his party if such a criticism can be made by senior members of his own party without him knowing about it.

The timing of the attack is intriguing. The latest story which has all the hallmarks of Westminster on it, is the kind of attack one would expect in the election campaign.

But to produce such a personal attack in the middle of the referendum campaign seems inept. Unless of course the aim is to sabotage the ‘yes’ campaign.

Those campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote will not be helped by the latest row. This follows what many thought was an own goal when Peter Hain the shadow Welsh Secretary pointedly said that the referendum would not be held now but for the insistence of Plaid Cymru. He later played down his remarks. But many thought that his initial remarks were ‘not helpful’ to the yes side.

There has always been a rump within the party that have never embraced the devolution project and this might be their attempt to derail the united front between the two parties.

All this will put an enormous strain on the coalition. It might also be seen as an attempt to force Carwyn Jones to go it alone in government after the May general election. For there are many in the Labour party that believe that Rhodri Morgan should never have gone into bed with Plaid Cymru and are determined to prevent such an event happening again. This could be the first strike in that campaign.

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Diplomatic returns!

Welsh politicians are desperately trying to remember what they said to members of the US Embassy staff. Meetings between them are a regular occurrence. The new element of course is Wiki Leaks or in Wales’s case Wiki ‘leeks’.

Now that no conversation is a secret for long, they had better get ready with their rebuttals. Blaming it on the diplomat/spook’s shorthand can only work once.

Having for over ten years earned my bread on the tittle tattle [Editor: surely political analysis] of Welsh politics until ITVWales brought it to an undignified halt, I have clearly missed out on a business opportunity.

The American Embassy could have got it straight from the ’˜man in the know.’ It would have been a great deal cheaper than entertaining the politicians and in the end getting bum information.

Anyone with even the barest and most primitive knowledge of Welsh Labour would know that to organise an internal coup would be way beyond it’s ken. Piss-up and brewery come to mind.

The thought that either Peter Hain or Eluned Morgan could be parachuted in to replace Rhodri Morgan as leader of Welsh Labour would cause a belly laugh in Labour Clubs up and down this fair land of Wales.

These saloon bar pundits would recall the fate of the last parachutist. The guy pushed out of the plane by Prime Minister Blair – the much lamented Alun Michael.

It stretches the imagination that Edwina Hart, Huw Lewis and Carwyn Jones would have rolled over for Hain or Morgan. All three have their flaws but pussy cats they are certainly not.

No, at the time the story first appeared most commentators dismissed it as a story arising out of the machination of those at Westminster. Politicians that had spent to much time at the Strangers bar crying into their beer.

True, Westminster has an over abundance of Members of Parliament that have one thing in common, a profound dislike of the National Assembly for Wales.

These forty political giants that represent Wales over Offa’s Dyke have nothing but contempt towards Assembly Members. The Welsh Parliamentary Labour Party would naturally presume that not one of ’˜that lot’ would be worthy successors to Rhodri Morgan. He after all was one of them – once. But any connection that this bar room gossip had to reality, would as they say in the movies, be purely co-incidental.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this amusing tale is – what happens to the reports back at base. What are they to make of them back in the land of the free.

Does what is collected by the diplomat/spooks from such sources form the background of America’s world view? If so, it would explain a lot about the somewhat bizarre decisions they have taken abroad. The US like the UK has a long history of foreign policy miscalculations. Could it be a case of garbage in, garbage out.

But if this is what our diplomats do, it raises the question do we need them. Perhaps the Foreign Office in these hard economic times should take a bigger hit in its budget. Or as my friend Vaughan Roderick suggested, the money would be better spent on backing the BBC World service. Such a transfer of resources would do more for the UK image than paying for duff information from abroad

But back to the Americans. If they want to continue collecting this kind of information and who am I to oppose it. And just in case Wales creeps up the league of most favoured nations back in Washington and should Hilary Clinton want to investigate further the country of her roots. I make this special plea. As a freelancer with his finger on the pulse of the Welsh body political, all reasonable offers will be considered! So anyone with ears at the Embassy and of course a budget, just get in touch.

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What lies behind a vote

‘I’m voting ’˜No’ ’˜cos I don’t want to give them ministers any more powers to muck things up.’ How often has this been said since this referendum campaign has kicked off.

It is a common enough reaction to politicians, but why single out politicians in the Bay for the treatment.

Westminster abounds with ministers that have ’˜mucked things up’ but no one seems to be advocating that they be stripped of their law making powers as a consequence.

Surely it is wrong on two levels, first it mistakes the purpose of the referendum and secondly, mistakes law making with government.

The referendum is about the powers the institution itself should have. It is about simplifying the process of law making. Although quite why a referendum is required for such a purpose has never been adequately explained.

If a referendum was needed it should have been held in 2006 when Westminster allowed the Assembly to make its own laws for the first time. OK, it was a very convoluted way of making a law, but it was law making never the less. For the first time the Assembly could initiate the law making process despite Westminster having their fingers still in the pie.

Indeed a compelling case could be made to say that they mucked it up when they devised the system. But not many raised any objections at the time. No one cried out ‘off with their heads.’

Yet, when it comes to this referendum an argument is being put forward that a vote for the ’˜no’ side is a way of giving a good slapping to Assembly politicians.They must be punished for their past misdeeds.

Although their misdeeds when weighed against those of the Westminster politicians were insignificant indeed. There many MPs were exposed as having their noses very much in the trough. Many were found to be feathering their own nests with tax payers money when the expenses scandal was bought to light by the Daily Telegraph last Spring.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good line. It would seem to be a winning formula, to make a successful ’˜no’ result a vote on the performance of the Assembly government.

But is this referendum the appropriate time and place to kick Assembly politicians? Surely not. Most fair minded people looking at the laws that Assembly have passed to date would say that they have been for the best.

Who could reasonably object to safety belts on school buses, fire sprinklers in new homes, measures to increase the supply of affordable homes and of course helping those with mental illness.

Most of the voters would approve of most if not all of these measures. If criticism there was, it was with the time the whole process took. Yes, it is the speed of their enactment that has been the bone of contention, which is of course what the referendum is trying to put right.

So if its not the laws that people object to, what is it? The issues that cause political controversy are what Ministers do or don’t do. That is the meat of our political system both here in Wales and in Westminster.

Welsh Assembly Government ministers have vast powers over devolved matters.

The Health service reorganisation(s) is a case and point. It is not law that is dictated the constant changes but the various Ministers’ whim. It is not law that decides the way the cash is divided up but the Finance Minister.

Now all these areas are far more controversial than law making. When laws are passed there is an opportunity to influence and change the legislation as it slowly meanders through the various stages before the Queen puts pen to paper and signs off the process.

In contrast, there is little opportunity to change the mind of a minister hell bent on a certain outcome. These matters can only be changed at the ballot box. Yes, not the ballot of March but that held in May.

For it is on the fifth day of May that the Bay politicians are to be held to account for their stewardship these last four years. For that is the day of the Welsh General Assembly elections.

A campaign to use the referendum as a device to kick politicians is misplaced. It will not touch them. But as certain as night follows day, it will weaken the National Assembly itself.

Many suspect that this is the real intention behind the ’˜no’ campaign. The reasoning is that a successful ’˜no’ vote would so discredit the institution that Westminster would decide to scrap it.

It is highly unlikely that any government will roll back devolution and even more doubtful that the Assembly now that it’s established will be scrapped, it’s not the Ark Royal. But, a ’˜no’ vote will considerably weaken the hand of Wales in its dealings with Whitehall.

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