Archive for February, 2012

Behind the Speakers chair.

Forget the ritual shouting at Prime Ministers Question time. When it comes to the vex question of Scottish independence there will be a great deal of talking between the two combatants behind the Speakers Chair. Indeed if recent speeches are anything to go by, the talking has already begun.

Cameron in his recent speech in Scotland said ‘There are the practical reasons for the Union to stay together.  The United Kingdom helps to make Scotland ’“ and all of us ’“ stronger, safer, richer and fairer.’

Milliband ‘economically we are stronger together.’  

So the line is emerging from both sides of the political divide that ‘we’re all stronger together.’

An unusual degree of unity between Labour and Conservative. All members of the two largest UK parties singing from the same hymn sheet. Hmm, are they?

For sure David Cameron doesn’t want to see the Union break up on his watch. After all the official title of his party is the Conservative and Unionist party. 

But there is another view gaining momentum within the Tory party, the party should forget the Unionist bit. Let the Scots leave if they want to. The departure would offer real advantages so some Conservatives reckon. 

So with Cameron girding his loins like some mediaeval monarch for the war of the Union, he may find his own troops talking insurrection and unwilling to become foot-soldiers under his Unionist banner. There is a growing feeling that getting rid of the Scots and down the line the Welsh might not be such a bad thing.

The Conservatives Party is a toxic brand north of the border. There ain’t any gain politically for the Tories in keeping the Scots in the Union.  Lets face it, backbenchers are not very interested in high principles, low politics is their game.

So in the fight with the wily Salmond, Cameron will have to look elsewhere for support. 

Enter stage left, the Leader of the Opposition. 

Now for Labour there is that  happiest of convergence, low politics and high principle. 

Why? Well, should young Ed ever hope to become prime minister he really needs the Scots in the game. Well Scottish Labour Members of Parliament to be precise.

OK, Labour have had majorities in England alone, but not often. No, on many an occasion its the Scots and the Welsh that have given Labour that comfortable majority so that they get their programme through the Commons with ease.

Take the current party breakdown of Scottish representatives in Westminster, 41 Labour, 11 Liberal Democrats, 6 SNP and only 1 isolated Conservative. 

You can see why Mr Milliband might want to stop Alex Salmond’s ambitions. For his party to lose 41 backers at a stroke would make it even less likely that the keys to Number Ten will be handed to him. 

So Cameron and Milliband will enter into a marriage of convenience to campaign for the Union. But they’ll have to show more animal cunning than they’ve showed to date if their partnership is to succeed. 

If the objective is to keep the northern celts on board real constitutional change is required. Yes, real Home rule in a Federal stage is the only long term answer for both Edinburgh and dare it be said, Cardiff too. 


Back to the future

‘A mixed team of councillors and housing professional from Wales visited Moscow in the late nineteen seventies on a visit of observation. They were shown a series of drab featureless, overcrowded tower-blocks.  All were built with the cheapest of materials and with little in the way of amenities inside. They were an overhang from the Stalin era. 

On the last day of the visit the group were shown, what could only be described as, luxury flats. A councillor asked the Russian hosts who had been allocated these apartments. The answer – party members.  The councillor commented in reply ‘ we have the same allocation system for our council housing back in Wales too.’

OK, not the best of jokes I grant you. But one I used when delivering an after dinner speech to councillors and staff attending a housing conference during the same period.  The joke certainly provoke a reaction. Some of the audience objected and accused me of having committed a slur on honourable men (at the time there were few women involved) But there was clearly a slither of truth in what was said to provoke such a reaction. 

Public life at the time was bedevilled with patronage. Patronage by Labour Councils for their own members in areas that they held power, patronage in Wales’s quango land by the Conservatives who held power in Westminster.

Now fast forward to the 21st century and yesterday’s exchange in the Assembly.

The occasion First Minister’s question time.

Andrew R.T. Davies: You are being defensive, First Minister. There is no reason not to comment on the report that was presented to the Assembly Government back in 2004, and the subsequent remarks in 2007. I appreciate that you might have difficulty commenting on the current revelations, which are subject to investigation and reports, as you have alluded to. However, there is a real perception that if you want a senior public appointment in Wales, you need to carry a Labour Party card. Look at local health board appointments: Maria Battle, a former Labour candidate, was recently appointed as a chair; Wyn Griffiths is the chair of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board; and the chair of Hywel Dda Local Health Board is a former Labour councillor. Can you assure the Chamber and the people of Wales that it is not necessary to carry a Labour Party membership card to secure a senior public appointment in Wales?

The First Minister: The Member is unaware of the Nolan principles and the fact that many appointments are made openly’”unlike the 1990s, when Tories who could not get elected ended up in quangos. There are plenty of examples. When they lost their seats in Parliament, or on councils, they became quangocrats in Wales, because the people of Wales did not want them as their representatives. In the 1990s, you needed to be an active Tory to sit on any board or organisation in Wales that took decisions. Now it is much more open, and unless he has evidence of this happening, and can produce that evidence, I would advise him not to make himself look so foolish in future.

So there we have it, accusations of cronyism, banded about by the leaders of the two largest parties in the Assembly.  

The catalyst to these latest accusations is what happened in AWEMA. And two of those involved in the organisation being suspended from membership of the Labour Party pending an enquiry.

Now there are plenty of able people in Wales that are members of political parties. Clearly to bar them from holding public office would be wrong. As a small country Wales cannot afford to ignore people of talent whether they are members of a political party or not.

What would be wrong, however, if people find themselves in important posts simply because they are members of a political party.  That should be a no, no. It would breach one of the principles of Nolan about behaviour in public life.

What is needed is more transparency. The public should know whether those that hold any public office or posts that are in the gift of Ministers or Council leaders are members of a political party or not.  

Joining a political party should be because of belief, not because it enhances job prospects.


Labour visit Cardiff

Labour’s conference this last weekend was like the proverbial curate’s egg. Good in parts. There was an enthusiasm that comes from being the Opposition in Westminster. 

It’s always good to have a bogeyman to blame for all your ills.  With devolution all that’s wrong is Westminster’s fault, and, of course all that is right is because the Welsh Labour government ‘is standing up for Wales.’  
This state of affairs is likely to last a fair while yet. Why? The leadership of Ed Milliband. If ever there was a party leader that has had a charisma by-pass it is he. 

For those that arrived in the conference hall early, they would have had the experience of seeing and hearing him practicing his speech. If practice makes perfect, he need a hell of a lot more of it.
The Labour leaders’ speech was devoted to the economy and the greater need for fairness. His main thrust, irresponsible capitalism. It’s all those nasty bankers fault. His answer. No not full bloodied socialism or even the traditional Labour version of a watered down pinko version of the creed. No, the answer is responsible capitalism. These nasty capitalists have got to be fair, oh yeah Ed. A good talking to by you, and your team will change the leopards spots, right?
He left the platform after underwhelming the audience. But being loyal comrades, oh, not a word to use in today’s Labour party. OK, being loyal delegates they were full of praise for their leaders efforts. ‘His best speech ever’ . Gosh if this is the best, what would the worst one be like.
Carwyn Jones in contrast knew his audience and has the merit of holding high office – in Wales at least. He gave a bit of red meat to the audience by attacking the other parties. It was all good knock about stuff at the expense of the other parties. He even suggested a collection so that the Tories could hold a conference. But his target was Plaid Cymru.
First it was the Tories, and now it’s Labour that are targeting Plaid Cymru voters
The Tories started to eat into Plaid Cymru’s vote by targeting the more conservative Plaid. The strategy was greatly helped by Plaid Cymru trying to position itself as a left wing party. Whilst Plaid were trying to out left Labour the Tories were blatantly mopping up the some of Plaid’s more traditional conservative voters. Indeed they were so successful that  at the last Assembly election Plaid were pushed into third place and Tories became the Official Opposition.
Now Labour have their eyes on those Plaid supporters that remain. Their approach, target those Plaid voters that don’t believe in independence.  Labour have studied the latest opinion polls.  The First Minister said: ‘If you look at the latest opinion poll we know that two-thirds of Plaid voters don’t believe in independence.
‘We know that only 10% of the electors of Wales believe in independence as well, yet independence has been the major theme of the Plaid leadership contest.
‘What we are saying to people out there who are very proud to be Welsh, who want to see a strong devolved Wales, [who] are very keen that we should have a progressive agenda in Wales, Welsh Labour is actually their natural home and not Plaid Cymru.’
Blatant political opportunism, but who can blame him. If there is an open goal it would be churlish not to take your chances.
The elephant in the room was that all important referendum in Scotland.  They all thought that the Scots would reject going it alone.

Milliband echoed David Cameron that ‘economically we are stronger together.’ Me thinks that more cogent arguments need to be put than these simple slogans if the Union is going to hold together.

Oh, just in case he’s overlooked the Shadow Secretary of State was there signing his book and made a speech that sounded valedictory in its content. It gave the impression of a man that was about to leave the stage.