Every new Assembly session is opened by the Queen. Its a big jamboree. But like every event it’s not without some controversy.
Dedicated Republicans boycotted the event. Last time Leanne Wood, Bethan Jenkins and Lynsey Whittle decided to hold a rival republican meeting.
Ieuan Wyn Jones the then leader of Plaid Cymru decided after a bruising election campaign to take a holiday. Oh, how his holiday created a storm on the Welsh airwaves and in the press. Disrespectful to the monarch was the cry at the time.
It was a day of pomp and some considerable ceremony.
Shortly, afterwards the new Labour government announced what its legislative programme was to be. Most of the bills proposed will become law, eventually.
To make them legal, the Queen has to sign up to them by attaching her signature. Part of her duties as head of State.
A formality. Just another throwback to the days when the Monarch had real powers. But still part of the constitution. A throwback to the old days. No question that the will of parliament will prevail and the Queen will put pen to paper shortly afterwards.
Well, that’s what most of her “subjects” were led to believe. The powers of the crown were now purely ceremonial. Oh, how naive a view that would seem to be.
The extent of the Queen and for that matter the Prince of Wales’s secretive powers have just been made public. Made public only after Downing Street had to be dragged kicking and screaming to publish after a 15 month long battle and a court order.
The papers show that at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals’ little-known power to consent to or block new laws. Ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood. If the Royals don’t agree major bits of Bills “have to be removed.”
These powers have been used on Westminster bills. What is not know is what powers the Royals have over Welsh laws. Do they have the same powers? Do Welsh Government civil servants have to run past the royals, Welsh Bills? Does the same happen to amendments proposed to such bills, do they have to have the consent of the Royals?
The powers they have come under the name of prerogative powers. Now most constitutional anoraks say that they are little used. Implying that they have the cobwebs of history all over them. Not so, what is clear is that the Royals wield great power and influence. And its all hidden. No transparency here.
Wales has a relatively new democratic body. It won law making powers after the people had decided in a referendum. All should have an equal right to influence the law makers. But no one, apart from those elected by the people should be able to stop or amend Assembly laws.
“The Labour Party is now a de facto federal party recognised by party leadership across the UK.” so claims Leighton Andrews. He’s to say so in a speech to the Clwyd South Labour Party, tonight.
His claim. Labour is already a British federal party. To be fair to him he does use the words “a de facto federal party.”
His argument is based on the fact that “The leader of the Labour MSPs is formally the Leader of Scottish Labour. In Wales, Carwyn is the only person elected by the whole of the party in Wales, and is recognised as Welsh Labour leader.
Ed Miliband as a contender for the Labour leadership in 2010 recognised that:
“It is time for London to lighten up and be more mature about our relationship with the Senedd and also the Scottish Parliament”.
There is no disputing the fact that devolution has changed many attitudes within the ranks of Welsh Labour. More and more of the ordinary rank and file members have learnt to live if not necessarily love the Welsh Assembly.
The outright opposition of many to the institution has certainly declined over the years. The party in Wales is now less Unionist.
But what about the Labour party over Offa’s Dyke?
There’s not much evidence that they understand or indeed sympathise with devolution. And as for it being a Federal Party? Not so, not by a long chalk.
Leighton Andrews is a devoted devolutionist. He’s played a leading part in the last two referendum debates and his lecture tonight may well be a start of a new campaign, on his part, to return his party to its “Home Rule” roots.
Home rule was the party’s policy from the days of Keir Hardy up until the landslide of 1945. Then Clem Attlee and his party turned their back on the commitments to Wales and Scotland and became Britain’s second unionist Party.
Devolution only really took a hold again as a reaction to Thatcherism. The argument went that the two countries didn’t vote for her, so why should they put up with her policies.
Wales and Scotland now have a measure of control over their own affairs. But within the British state, the Westminster Parliament is supreme. It’s still top dog.
Andrews is right, Labour does elect from all the constituent wings of the party in Wales its own leader. But that doesn’t make it a Federal party.
Its constitution is still very much based on it being a British party. The party in Wales has no separate status. Its general secretary is appointed by the party centrally. All candidates for elected office have to be approved by the party’s national executive in London.
The national executive is responsible for the party. With no one place for Wales on it. No, Labour is still very much a party controlled from the centre. And the centre is London, not Cardiff.
However Leighton Andrews might wish it to be otherwise the ultimate authority for Wales lies in the party’s national conference. National in this instance being very much British. For British read English.
In his speech he draws attention to Carwyn Jones’s plea to David Cameron for a constitutional convention. “The First Minister has rightly called for a UK Constitutional Convention to be set up before the Scottish referendum.”
But David Cameron isn’t going to do anything until after the Scottish referendum. No, nothing. A shame, but there you have it, they are after all ‘the Conservative and Unionist party.’ The conservative bit dedicated to the status quo and the unionist bit with an outright objection to Federalism.
But what of the de facto Federalist party leader, Miliband? Dear Ed hasn’t shown any marked enthusiasm either. As Leader of the Opposition in Westminster he’s not harried the PM on the convention idea. Not one question. His silence on the matter is deafening.
Andrews”s view is that “a model based on one centre of power at Westminster is, bluntly, bust.”
A Federal constitution for Britain is surely the way forward. But Ed Miliband and his team have yet to say so. And as for the Labour party’s own structure, it surely ain’t anywhere near being a Federal party yet.
No. Mr Andrews has a real fight on his hands if he’s to change his party’s constitution. The gap between wanting and getting it is very wide indeed. One speech does not a Federation make.
Every Tuesday morning all three opposition parties lay out there stall for the week. This morning was no different. But what was different was the Plaid Cymru’s press conference It was taken by their leader, Leanne Wood. An event that is as rare as a sunny day in Wales.
Her message. “As I said when I was elected as Plaid Cymru’s leader, the economy is my priority because without jobs people can have no security.”
In other words “it’s the economy stupid.”
But apart from advice as to how the government should spend the £227m capital boost announced in the Autumn Statement. Nothing yet of substance.
On the £227m. This apparently “should be used to stimulate the Welsh economy, using local procurement to create jobs and invest in skills in Welsh communities.”
But for Plaid’s definitive statement on the economy. Wait for it, we await for a Commission to report back on the matter.
‘Manana’ would seems to be Plaid Cymru’s word for urgency on the economy.
Yet Plaid Cymru have acted with speed on the internal reorganisation of the party. They’ve been able to digest and produce for a February internal conference ideas for reorganising the party’s rules and constitution. Oh, yes this can be done but nothing yet on the economy.
It’s just what gets politics a bad name. Naval gazing. Behaving like an inclusive sect, more concerned about boring internal rules and not about the issues that concern the voters.
Of course, she leads a minority party in the Assembly and it’s her role “Through 2013, as in 2012, Plaid Cymru will be the only party challenging and scrutinising both Welsh and Westminster governments – without fear or favour.”
Quite right, government needs to be held to account. They have a lot to account for. But much more is required from her and her party, ideas.
What are they about? What are they proposing? What’s to be be done? Unless parties offer relevant alternatives, they just don’t get the votes.
If the party is to arrest its downward spiral it must produce policies in plenty of time to sell them to the voters. Plaid need to act with a greater sense of urgency.
On an other matter the party resolved the Bethan Jenkins issue.
They lifted their suspension of the assembly member for South West Wales.
She was suspended when charged with drink driving. After pleading guilty and been convicted.
In her first day back at work after the events she apologised to Plaid AMs for her behaviour.
Consequently Alun Ffred Jones on behalf of the group said: “Her suspension from the assembly group has been lifted and she is a full member again. The group’s disciplinary process has now ended.”