Archive for March, 2012

Its voting time not pastie time

Assembly Members are packing up on Cardiff Bay to go back to their constituencies to take part in Easter egg hunts or whatever exciting other events they get up. So today has that end of term feel to it. 

The last act of all was the First Minister’s monthly  press briefing.

Today, he concentrated his remarks on the work of selling Wales apparently there’re a few firms out there that intend coming to Wales. He even announced an Indian company coming which caught everyone by surprise. Surely they’re not outsourcing their call centres to Wales now. But that was the First Minister in First Minister mode doing his bit for Wales. It was almost above politics. 

But perhaps the questions that the hacks ask bring the worse out of him. ‘Cos politics certainly raised its ugly head. This time it was the tanker drivers dispute. The First Minister was scathing about the panic caused by the UK government  by their injudicious remarks about stocking up on petrol.  All so very irresponsible of them.

He even remembered where he had his last pasty. It was a corned beef one and purchased in Bridgend. He also bought one in Paddington too. So there you have it the eating habits of our First Minister.

Oh, in case you ask, he’s still waiting for a reply from Mr Cameron to last month’s press conference demand for a convention on the UK constitution. Carwyn Jones has written asking for one, but the PM hasn’t got back to him yet. Perhaps, the Prime Minister is to preoccupied with pasties, dinner parties and petrol shortages to get round to posting a reply.

The week also marks the end of the Spring conference season. Sorry I’ll rephrase that the conference and rally season, for of course, the Conservatives cancelled their Spring Conference much to the annoyance of Llandudno hoteliers in favour of a Sunday rally. 

Did the conference season advance knowledge of the political scene in Wales?  Well, if we didn’t know it before, we certainly rediscovered the truth that political parties are less obsessed with worthy policy and are more interested in the cruder political art of getting one over on the other lot.

The two largest parties thought Plaid Cymru offered fertile territory for their ambitious. Both the Labour and Conservative leaders appealing to the ordinary Plaid Cymru voter to come to them. 

Labour’s Carwyn Jones latched onto the St David’s day poll conducted by ICM for BBC Wales. The poll showed that many Plaid voters did not believe in independence and more generally only 7% of those polled wanted an independent Wales, separate from the UK. The figure only edged up to 12% wanting Welsh independence in the event of Scottish independence. 

So quick as a flash Carwyn Jones was on his feet making a direct  appeal to Plaid voters.  Labour in Jones’s opinion was a party for those that wanted primacy for all things Welsh, but not independence. Playing up the fact that it was the party that delivered devolution.

Leanne Wood’s election and her first conference as leader made it quite clear that she was placing her tanks very firmly on Labour’s lawn. She sees the labour vote as being up for grabs. In her opinion Plaid Cymru is already to the left of Labour and she aims to keep it that way. 

So Plaid and Labour are involved in a tussle for the centre left vote.

Meanwhile, the Tories see an open goal on the centre right of Welsh politics. The will continue their strategy of targeting the centre right Plaid Cymru voter of which, despite many a Plaid members protest, there are many.

In his first speech to his party, all be it at a cut price rally,  Andrew RT Davies made a direct appeal to Plaid voters.  “If you’re a patriot, if you’re proud of your community, if you’re proud of your heritage and your culture and your language, then your beliefs are our beliefs in the Welsh Conservative Party.”  

The successful strategy of targeting the Plaid voters which has served them well in successive Assembly elections will continue. This strategy has seen them wrestle control away from Plaid in Aberconwy and also seen them replace Plaid as the largest opposition party in the Assembly in both seats and votes.

Liberal Democrats concentrated their conference more on the local government elections in which of course they’ve got a lot at stake. They currently  are in a ruling coalition in four of Wales’s biggest councils.  

They’ve  been trying desperately hard to distance themselves from Westminster.  They want voters to concentrate on the work of Assembly and the deal they did with Labour to get the budget passed. 

Hope springs eternal and Liberal Democrats if they’re anything they’re life’s optimists. Their dearest wish is to buck the national trend and pray that voters vote on local issues. A forlorn hope if past elections are to go by. Voters tend to punish national government in local elections. 

Kirsty Williams remains her parties biggest asset. Of all the opposition leaders, she’s much the most effective performer.   She rarely misses her target and often bests Carwyn Jones The others often struggle for a hit. Granted Leanne Wood has only experienced two such events and may grow in confidence but she ain’t there yet. 

In the next few weeks to focus  of Welsh politics moves out of the Assembly and on to the doorstep. Yes, it’s council election time. 

Whose going to be running a given patch may be important locally but for the parties it is a test of their popularity. 

Labour will be hoping for gains so that young Ed can prove to his backbenchers that he’s a winner. And they should do well as they lost last time when the party was in government and deeply unpopular. 

Although Helen Mary Jones, the chair of Plaid Cymru was trying to dampen expectations that six weeks is far to short a period for their new leader to make an impact on these elections. Nevertheless, many local activists are hoping that Wood’s election will help the party retain control of Caerffili. Some would go so far as hope that her Rhondda pedigree will help the party win back control of RCT. 

The Conservatives will be hoping to retain control in the Vale of Glamorgan and  Monmouth and win seats elsewhere. The current polls suggest otherwise. 

And the Liberal Democrats will hope that the elections show they’ve stopped the hemorrhage in their support. 

So  there we have it the political agenda for the Spring. 

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Whose coming for welsh cakes

Who has the prime minister had round for dinner. Has become subject to political debate. And rightly so. 

The worry is that those round the dinner table may have undue influence and public policy and on law making.

This blog raised concern about those that attempt to influence our law makers last October in the middle of the Liam Fox debacle. 

At the time the absence of a Welsh register of lobbyist was raised. There is still no register of lobbying firms operating in Wales and there should be one. (see http://ogarethhughes.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/whose-in-lobby.html)

In calling for a code of conduct on the lobbying industry there is another safeguard that needs to be put in place. An awareness of who our cabinet ministers meet and why.

A record of all meetings need to be kept and published. 

We know not who have welsh cakes with our ministers. 

It is all about accountability. Making a case to government is a very proper thing to do, indeed some very useful legislation stems from such meetings. 

Many a public or charity body has also been helped with a cash grant by government. Welsh life would be the poorer if this didn’t happen. 

But those that pay through their taxes need to be assured that money is handed out on merit and not because the body has had special access to a Minister.

Today the Liberal Democrats have belatedly taken up the cudgels. They’ve called for the Welsh Government to publish details of its meetings with lobbyists and external pressure groups.

They rightly point out that the ‘UK government  now routinely publishes details of all meetings `ministers and Civil Servants have with lobbyist. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe the Welsh Labour Government should do likewise.’

Of course, the usual reaction of government when an issue is raised by the opposition is a big no, no.

The government should on this issue ditch a habit of a lifetime and say ’˜yes.’

Fortunately there has never been a scandal connected with any member of the Assembly and long may this be the case.  But as many safeguards that can be built into the system to prevent a scandal happening, the better. This is one such measure that should be implemented, and soon.

The architect’s brief for the Senedd building was to make it an open transparent building to represent the kind of political institution that it was to house. Let the government also take that as its brief.

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New leader’s first outing

She came and conquered the faithful. The first of many standing ovations that will be hers as she leads this most sentimental of parties. 

For a new leader the first speech is always the most difficult and she succeeded. Her style is conversational, understated,  discursive but effective. She held her audience.

The message, well, one of hope. She wants to do politics differently. To do ‘politics  positively.’

‘Let’s talk about ideas, not personalities. Let’s talk about our vision of what Wales can be instead of running others down.’  

A noble aspiration, indeed the last politician that had a similar message of a new type of politics was dear old Lembit Opik and look where he’s now. Not that Leanne Wood is in the same mould, thank god.

There were clues in her speech of the direction she wants to take the party. ‘to get the job done…..doesn’t always mean sitting around the Cabinet table. That’s not the only way that co-operation works.’  

She sees the aspiration for independence  and the new Wales being built from ‘the ground up, piece be piece, ward by ward.’  

Almost like Obama she wants to activate the young and other groups that have hitherto not been greatly concerned with politics. The leadership campaign showed that she understands and can reach the twitter generation. Her background as a social worker and community activist means that she’s playing to her strengths in pushing micro politics. After all she is a warm engaging person and has the enthusiasm.

The difficulty with trying to build politics from the ground up is that it takes an awfully long  time. Political parties are not known for their patience. They want and demand instant gratification. 

Under the new leader Plaid will worry less about the National Assembly and worry more about the big world outside the Cardiff Bay bubble. Indeed the fact that she’s not changed the jobs of any Assembly Members  would indicate that this is not a priority.

Her economic policy has three strands. First is to build the green economy. Her ambition is to to see the ‘whole of Wales, retrofitting every home and every building until every last one is fit for the future – staring with those that need the help most, the homes of those on low incomes.’ A noble aspiration but one at the moment without a price tag.

Secondly, she wants investment in the knowledge economy. ‘knowledge will be the economic frontier of the future.’ She wants a 1% minimum investment across all companies for all workers. And a Welsh research council so Welsh universities ‘no longer lose out to the Oxbridge college cartel.’  

The third strand is that old Plaid chestnut of Build for Wales. This will get much needed infrastructure work underway. But this is not currently a runner so meanwhile she hopes to get borrowing by piggy backing on the local councils right to borrow. 

But much of these specifics were simply padding for a speech that’s aim was to rally the troops to her cause and ambition.  Her optimism was infectious and not many in the hall would disagree with her. The challenge she faces is to get the 93 per cent of the population that don’t care a toss about independence  to buy into the vision. 

A big ask.

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