Archive for September, 2011

Oh, what a week that was

Blink, show any signs of hesitation and you’re in trouble. Yes, politics, is a bit of a blood sport, displays the least sign of vulnerability and opponents are like hounds ready to rip out your guts. Not recommended for the faint hearted

Poor Ed Miliband finds himself in this very situation after a conference week that he’d rather forget. Gaffes there were aplenty. Many that could be laid directly at young Ed’s feet.

Indeed Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards MP was quick to claim that the Labour Leader had followed a series of glaring errors in an interview about the Labour party in Scotland with similar mistakes in an interview to BBC Wales.

Edwards said that the Labour leader wrongly said, ‘Carwyn got elected with the largest ever majority that Labour had in the Welsh Assembly’ . Well as gaffes go, small beer indeed.

But in the context of a week of own goals it just adds to the prevailing mood that the man’s not up to the job.

It was a bad Labour Party conference full of contradictions. Cameron was the real winner with Labour having failed to land a punch on such an easy target.

As this blog indicated just after the leaders speech, the younger Miliband doesn’t look like a Prime Minister. Nice guy, but prime minister, you’re having a laugh.

One has to go back to the quiet man speech of Ian Duncan Smith to find delivery and content as bad. And we all know what happened to him.

The week delivered many hostages to fortune. They even made a commitment to spend all the taxpayers’ money wisely. Gosh, indeed.Prizes if any reader can name a government that hasn’t entered office with that very same intention.

But what happens, events, dear boy. There will be some event or some project that doesn’t work out and members of the fourth estate will have a field day pointing out the unwise use of money.

But, perhaps, the authoritarian lurch that conference took is its greatest worry. In the guise of the new morality journalist’s working under license, the deserving will jump the queue over the undeserving for access to housing, a judgment will be made as to what constitutes a good or a bad businesses and even a thumbs down was given to TV’s ‘Big brother.’

Just like John Major’s Back to Basics helped undo the Conservatives this too will be seen as a millstone round Labour’s neck. Voters always suspect politicians that get all moral over them.

All, in all, the chances of the younger Milliband being Leader of the Opposition at the time of the next election is slim indeed. If not him, who?

Well, not the elder Miliband for sure. The Miliband brand will be seen as toxic.

The time has come for Labour to shed its macho past and choose a woman leader, who better than Yvette Cooper. She could be seen as the candidate to unite the three wings of Labour, namely trade unions, MPs and party members.

The wife living in number ten and husband next door in eleven Downing Street. That really would be a first in British politics. Now there’s an interesting thought.

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Ballot box politics

Let’s face it party conferences are tribal affairs. It’s almost obligatory for party bosses to throw a bit of meat to the rank and file. In that respect Peter Hain is no exception, how he just loves putting the boot in.

So his latest wheeze, the opportunity offered him at conference to write a piece for a Labour conference briefing paper as to ‘Why Labour needs First-Past-the Post in Wales’

This is an old chestnut, but as the say, some of the old once are the best.

It was with their hands very much holding their collective nose that Welsh Labour endorsed an element of proportionality for the Assembly elections.

Labour’s Welsh Office team at the time, which included a certain Comrade Hain, had a real hard sell to get the Welsh Party to accept this small element of PR. It was sold on the basis they needed both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats on board to campaign in favour of Labour’s devolution proposals.

The narrowness of the result shows how right they were to entice the other two parties on board for the campaign.

But Mr. Hain now sees it as a massive mistake.

What has changed? The other two parties are past their sell by date. Labour don’t need to cwtch up to the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru for the devolution project anymore.

As far as Labour’s concerned the process has come to an end. The referendum has been won; Labour’s in the driving seat and looks likely to be there for a while yet. One party rule is alive and well in Wales, OK.

Why then has Mr. Hain reopened the debate about the election process now? A new opportunity presents itself to show he’s keeping the socialist flame alive by attempting to elbow out or seriously weaken the other parties representation in the Assembly.

The pending changes to Parliamentary boundaries give him the ideal excuse to peddle his partisan proposals. At the next Westminster elections MPs will be elected in new constituencies with new boundaries. Why? Mr. Cameron is reducing the number of Welsh Members of Parliament from the current 40 to 30. So we’ll be voting in new seats at the next general election.

Now there is no need to change the Assembly seats as their numbers are not changing. The Assembly could continue with the existing boundaries, Mr. Hain thinks that having two different constituencies for the Assembly and Westminster would be far to confusing.

As he says ‘Everyone is agreed on the need to avoid decoupling in Wales, and maintain the same boundaries for Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies.’

Although how he quite knows that ‘everyone agrees’ is a bit of a mystery, most ordinary voters have never been asked.

His argument against decoupling is that it caused problems in Scotland it ‘lead for confusion for voters, and organisational chaos for political parties.’

Oh, there we have it, we mustn’t inconvenience our political parties. Our democracy has to reflect what they want, not what the voters want.

So the answer, don’t decouple, have the same constituencies for both Parliamentary and Assembly elections. Simple. But here’s the rub, he would see the regional list scrapped. Instead his proposals would see two Assembly members elected for each constituency. An idea that’s been floating around Labour circles since devolution came back on the agenda.

And how would they be elected? By introducing the first-past-the-post election system. It’s simple, easy to arrange and surprise, surprise, guarantees an Assembly packed to the brim with Labour Members.

Even under the current system Labour has a distinct advantage. At the last election they got 41.87 per cent of the votes cast but the system gives Labour fifty per cent of the seats. If their vote was to be fairly represented in seats they should have twenty-five, five less than the thirty the now hold.

But that’s not good enough for Mr. Hain he wants even more.

Not only would his proposals guarantee perpetual Labour rule with a large majority, a bit like the old USSR but it would seriously reduce representation by the opposition parties. There would be few around to question the ruling clique.

Yes, reducing the representation of the smaller parties would seriously weaken the capacity for opposition and challenge. Perhaps that’s what Labour want, but is it wise.

Unlike Westminster where first-past-the post can not only deliver a government but also sufficient numbers to form an effective opposition, this would not be the case in the Assembly. The combination of FPTP and a sixty member Assembly would almost certainly reduce opposition members to a rump. Good for Labour, but bad for democracy.

So what’s to be done? Well, the decision is that of the Westminster government and rests with Cheryl Gillan the Secretary of State. For Wales.

Peter Hain’s intervention has almost certainly guaranteed that dear Cheryl will simply increase the regional list from the current twenty to thirty. But that would be a mistake.

The clever political thing to do would be to devolve responsibility to the National Assembly to decide on its own election system. However in so doing she would need to ensure that no one party could imposes a system that advantages them. So the Secretary of State would need to ensure that no change could happen, without a consensus. No new system without at least a two-thirds majority being in favour of the change.

Hopefully that will concentrate the minds of the parties to revisit the conclusion of Labour Peer Lord Richard’s Commission which concluded that much the best system for the Assembly was the single transferrable vote in multi member constituencies based on the boundaries of our local councils.

Yes, decouple from Westminster Peter, and couple up with our local communities.

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Two leaders, one party

Two leaders of one party were on show today.

And both the Welsh leader and the UK leader of the Labour party had something to prove today. The one thing they both had in common apart, from being allegedly from the same party, the need to demonstrate that they knew where they were going.

Ed Milliband had the more difficult task as Leader of the Opposition. It is often described as the most difficult job in politics, you can’t do anything but you do have to demonstrate that given the chance you could.

So he has to show that his has alternative ideas are the way forward and his vision captures the imagination and more crucially the votes of the public.

So today he had to convince that he’s got what it takes. In other words he’s got to look like a Prime Minister in waiting with the personality and authority to do the job.

Did he succeed? Well, one speech won’t do it for him, but today he had to lay the foundation. It was a valiant attempt. There was plenty in it for the party members who were in the hall and even the ritual bashing of the undeserving poor for those middle Englanders who were outside the hall.

Although he succeeded in a thoroughly competant performance, it didn’t have the X factor.

He came over as a thoroughly nice guy, but nice guys don’t get prizes. Was it the speech of a future Prime Minister? That’s doubtful.

So what next. He will be given the next year or so, by his party to try to work some magic with the voters. But unless the public starts to see him in a more positive light his own party will kick him out of the leadership. Labour MPs learnt their lesson with Brown, they failed to plunge the knife in the lame-duck leader with dire consequences for the party. There won’t be the same hesitantion again.

Now Carwyn Jones is in the job of being the Welsh Labour leader and also the highest Labour holder of a public office in the land.

Today he announced his programme for government.

It contained many worthy aspirations, but the one major area that might determine whether his programme sinks or swims was missing. In Labour’s manifesto they had the intention

‘to review and seek realignment of the governance and performance of the Assembly civil service, better to reflect the developing requirements of devolution whilst remaining part of the Home Civil Service.’

Now it wasn’t by chance that this appeared in the manifesto. It wasn’t one of these meaningless commitments thrown into bulk out the document. It was heartfelt.

It appeared because many ministers in the last government felt that the civil service was ‘not fit for purpose.’

Not up to the job, but Ministers weren’t able to do anything about it. Hence, their determination to change things. They really thought that if it went into the manifesto it would happen.

But today, nothing, not a whisper. Oh, never underestimate the basic conservative instinct of civil servants.

Sir Humphrey has ensured that his comfortable little number will not be scrunanized by the Hackers of this world.

How confident can Carwyn Jones be that his ‘Progamme for Government’ will be met if it’s left to an unreformed civil service to carry out.

Postscript:

It has been pointed out to me that although the reference to civil service reform is not in the report, it is in the annex.

This blog will not be holding it’s breath that reform will happen soonest.

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