Archive for February, 2012

Protest and the cuts

Aberystwyth came to the Assembly today. Well, not actually the town but the people in their hundreds. They came to demonstrate because rumours abound that their district hospital is to be downgraded.

Politicians are never slow to get on a band waggon and this one is no exception, so up step Plaid Cymru with an accusation that the government is putting patients at risk with their proposals. Quoting research conducted by Sheffield University which concluded ‘increased journey distance to hospital appears to be associated with increased risk of mortality.’

Carwyn Jones responded ‘I would like to make it perfectly clear, there are no plans to close Bronglais hospital. There are no plans to downgrade Bronglais hospital. District General Hospitals – like Bronglais – will continue to be District General Hospitals. Our commitment to Bronglais is clear – and reinforced by the £38m investment we have made in the hospital over the past few years.’  

So there you have it, or do you? Because what the First Minister goes on to say is that ‘In order to deliver on this commitment, and create a world class health service, we must take into account the pressures placed on the NHS by an ageing population and the advances in medical treatment.

Any changes that are proposed by any health board across Wales will be based on clinical evidence – and on the need to improve services. Any changes will then be scrutinised by experts on the National Clinical Forum and by local communities as well as the Welsh Government.’

What he’s saying is, lets get real, there aren’t limitless resources. And he’s right. You know and I know that times are tough. 

In the real world, which the voter inhabits there is an understanding that the cash just ain’t there to do everything. It’s the real world. But politicians live in some parallel universe where cash can be thrown at every problem.

In the last few weeks alone, Conservative Janet Finch-Saunders  demanded a freeze on Council taxes. Her leader demanded that Carwyn Jones, ‘stopped dithering and playing politics and got on with the job of delivering improvements in public services for the people of Wales.’ In other words spend more.

Last week Plaid spokesperson Alan Ffred Jones wanted ‘The Labour government.  Our Small Business Job Protection Scheme would directly help any business with a ratable value of up to £18,000 ’“ over 80% of businesses in Wales – and I call on the Labour government to reconsider their rejection of these plans.’

Now politicians across the Assembly have got to get real. There ain’t enough cash to go around. You can blame Westminster but there you have it. The cupboard is bare.

With cuts in both revenue and capital expenditure, priorities have to be decided on. Politicians can’t have the penny and the bun. For the first time they may have to take decisions. Unpleasant, but necessary. Priorities. Yes,  priorities should be the language of the time.


Show them the door, George

The budget will be held on the 21 March. But now is the time when pressure groups get their campaigns going to try to influence the Chancellor. 

One of these that are pressing the Chancellor are the Free Enterprise group of MPs. Membership of this right wing group consists of many of the new intake in 2010. One of those from Wales in membership is Alun Cairns formerly an Assembly Member and now MP for the Vale of Glamorgan.

What case are they pressing on Mr Osborne you ask? Wait for it, even deeper public spending cuts. 

Not happy with the draconian cuts already visited on the economy by the government. They want more. They’re calling for the Spending Review to be reopened to see if more savings can be made. Why? In order to deliver more tax cuts for the rich.

The group are working in tandem with the right wing think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs on a ’˜wish-list’ to present to the Chancellor. This list includes a cut regulation for businesses, to merge national insurance and income tax, and to reduce the 50p top rate of income tax over two years. All this will be paid for by further cuts.

If the Chancellor was to listen to the group and public expenditure was cut further, then undoubtedly Wales would suffer. For these cuts  would likely reduced the amount the Assembly receives, courtesy of our old friend the Barnett formula.

This kind of medicine is exactly the opposite of what the economy needs. Indeed such a move would add further to the country’s woes. What the economy needs is confidence. It needs people to start spending. They don’t start spending if they think their jobs are under threat.

In Wales over 30 percent of the population are employed in the public sector. Making more of their number unemployed would make no sense at all. What is needed is more confidence, this doesn’t happen when the dole queue beckons.

There are signs that gradually the economy is beginning to pick up. 

Estate agents are indicating there has been a slight increase in activity and signs that the housing market is on the turn. There was an increase in average house prices in Wales and England of 1.1% in January. OK, some of this might be explained by first time buyers trying to buy before the stamp duty exemption on cheaper properties ends towards the end of March.

But accessing mortgages is getting slightly easier. Some would say not before time. But the fact is, the last four years has seen a very depressed housing market. Housing is a good indicator of the state of the economy if the housing market is depressed the economy as a whole is also down. So activity in housing, bodes well for the economy. But this could all be sniffed out if  the Chancellor falls into the trap that his own party’s right wing are urging on him.

His budget should be based on stimulating growth with more public investment not less. Let’s not kill the small shoots of growth that are appearing. So show the door to Cairns and his new chums, George.


Gloves off in leadership race

The open Plaid husting was a tame affair. All the candidates on their best behaviour, none to them delivering a killer punch. There are very much more exciting things to do with one’s time, watching paint dry might be such an alternative.

But one shouldn’t be fooled by the outward display of courtesy and goodwill. You know and I know, things are not always what they seem.

As Harold MacMillan once wryly commented, about the nature of party politics. The Opposition are in front of you it’s the enemy behind you have to watch.

It’s in the nature of these internal party elections that the gloves come off behind closed doors and its only occasionally do outside observers get a whiff of the vitriol behind the scenes. 

And lo, and behold such is the case with Plaid Cymru’s leadership election.  No sooner are the Plaid Cymru hustings over, the bare knuckle fighting begins.

Just as the ballot papers land in the letterboxes of party members they are confronted with the spectacle of two of the candidates, not so subtly, ganging up on the other.  

How? You may ask. Well, the prince across the water, a chap named Adam Price, has taken the pulse of the members and decided his candidate of choice was not anywhere near, home and dry. So he decided that it would have to be anyone, but Elin Jones.

It is difficult to know why, unless of course, it is based on the personal rather than the political. These things often are. 

 After all Elin Jones is the candidate that has made the clearest commitment to independence. She even said that she would produce a route map to such. Not a fare that many find palatable but red meat to others. And, right up Price’s street, one would think.

After all it was the very same Adam Price that wrote in December ‘ Without independence as our goal, what, frankly, is the point?  We might as well have spent our time in the metaphorical (or in some cases, quite literal) pub….. If I had wanted a life of political posturing that was agnostic on the question of independence I might have joined the Liberals….. Unlike the current Welsh Government I think targets are a good way of holding yourself to account.  So how about independence by 2036, as Elin Jones has suggested?  Why not?  Five hundred years of colonialism is surely enough, even for us long-suffering Welsh.’

Now to endorse the candidate that has almost the opposite view on independence to him, is strange indeed. That canny operator Dafydd Elis-Thomas, will be like the cat that got the cream with this endorsement. Indeed he wasted no time in posting it on his campaign web page. 

For the good Lord, has from the very start based his campaign strategy  on winning enough second preference votes to gain himself the crown.

Clearly Adam Price concurs ‘This election will probably be decided by second preference votes. For those of you who are supporting Dafydd with your first vote, I would urge you to consider supporting Leanne with your second. I would ask Leanne’s supporters to consider lending their second vote to Dafydd.‘

So what are we to make of this dramatic intervention. From such a political thinker this is unlikely to be an impulsive intervention. He would have thought it through. As a political journalist I can ensure readers, stories such as this hardly ever are printed after some news breaking investigative journalism. They are handed to us on a plate, to suit the agenda of the politician that places it (and also the needs of a journalist to break a story)

So why was the story placed? Well, clearly, there is a feeling abroad that Elin Jones is the candidate that has to be stopped. Have the other two made a deal to stop her? Politics are full of marriages of convenience.  It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in the sordid world politics that a deal had been struck. 

And could there also be worry that if Elin Jones won, she might just be a successful  and gritty leader. Now, if that happened there wouldn’t be any pressure for her to move aside in a few years time. In such circumstances there just might not be a coronation for the venerable Price. Perish, the thought. 

But whatever the motive it would seem to be hamfisted. There is nothing that party members, who are usually sophisticated in their politics, resent more, than to be told what to do and how to vote.