Archive for February, 2013

Change tack

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
If you replace “word” with “policy.” It’s exactly the response of George Osborne to the decision by the credit agency Moody’s to scrap Britain’s AAA rating. Just to remind you, dear reader. The mantra used by Osborne to keep our rating was “austerity” and more “austerity.” If he didn’t cut, the UK would loose its AAA rating.
So he cuts and cuts and continues to cut, and lo and behold what happened? Over the weekend, the UK looses its AAA rating.
But you’ve got to admire Osborne without even a by your leave, his mantra changes. Now it’s yet another reason to stick to austerity. So there you have it cuts stop you loosing your status and now they’re needed despite the down grading.
Now I’m not one to take credit agencies seriously, after all they failed to predict the financial crisis, but Osborne and Cameron used them to justify their economic policies. They made them the central test of market confidence, so the weekend’s announcement is another sign of Osborne’s failure.
Failure upon failure. The deficit was going to be sorted this side of the election, but now the target has been moved until 2018. Borrowing is now going to be higher and that’s why Moody downgraded the UK. The expect a “high and rising debt burden.”
Osborne in his first budget predicted that cuts in the public sector would produce a growth led by the private sector. But we’ve witnessed an economy that has flatlined. Or as Moody puts it “sluggish growth” is going to be the UKs lot until “the second half of the decade.”
As this blog has frequently said we’re facing a triple-dip recession and Osborne seems incapable of new thinking. It’s like the 1920s again with the political class of Europe thinking that the only way out of the mess is austerity. Now the politicians in the 20s had an excuse they didn’t know any better, but John Maynard Keynes showed there was an alternative.
Cutting in times of depression makes a bad situation a hell of a lot worse. The  IMF looked at 173 cases of fiscal austerity in advances countries over the period 1978 to 2009. What they found, austerity policies lead to economic contraction and higher unemployment.
As Paul Krugman said in the first chapter of “End this depression now.”
Disasters do happen-history is replete with floods and famines, earthquakes and tsunamis. What makes this disaster so terrible-what should make you angry-is that none of this need be happening. There has been no plague of locusts; we have not lost our technological know-how; America and Europe should be richer, not poorer, than they were five years ago.
Nor is the nature of the disaster mysterious. In the Great Depression leaders had an excuse: nobody really understood what was happening or how to fix it. Today’s leaders don’t have that excuse. We have both the knowledge and the tools to end the suffering.”
To carry on  regardless with the same old policies when they’re failing is sheer political and economic incompetence. If Osborne is too stubborn to change tack, then Cameron has to show him the door. A new approach is needed, urgently.

Inappropriate behaviour

Every Tuesday morning the political parties in the Assembly set their stall as to the issues they wish to highlight for the week. Today all the parties flagged up issues relating to health matters. But as is the custom journalists raised other matters.
Not surprising Kirsty Williams had to field questions on the Lord Rennard affair. Not least because one of the women who has made allegations against the Liberal Democrats’ former chief executive is a Welsh party activist.
Alison Goldsworthy confirmed she was one of the anonymous women interviewed by Channel 4 News who said they had been harassed by Lord Rennard.
Kirsty Williams played the conference absolutely straight. Such behaviour was totally unacceptable and it was right that the party should look into the matter. ”These are very serious allegations and I am satisfied that the investigations set up are an appropriate response.”
When replying to a question by myself had Westminster anything to learn from the Welsh Assembly on the matter of equality and the way it treats women. Her answer was robust. She said “only a man could ask such a question.” People would be “naive” to assume that alleged sexual misconduct in politics is something only confined to Westminster.
“If you think that this (allegations of sexual misconduct) is something only goes on in Westminster, then you are taking the eye off the ball.” In response I asked whether inappropriate behaviour had happened in the Welsh Assembly. ”It’s a distinct possibility that it has happened,” she replied. “If you think that this (allegations of sexual misconduct) is something only goes on in Westminster, then you are taking the eye off the ball.”
So admonished I was.
Of course, unacceptable behaviour can happen in any institution, certainly journalism is no exception. And why would the Assembly be immune. On that point I’d certainly agree.
But behaviour is often determined by the nature and culture of an institution.
Whatever other criticisms can be made about the Assembly, its commitment to equality cannot be faulted. It’s had a balance of the sexes from the start (although since the last election there are now slightly less women, 25 out of 60). In that very balance a different attitude arises one based on respect.
Not so in Westminster.
Talking to women there, from MPs and their aides, Ministers and journalist and you get a picture of a very hostile work environment.
Working in the  place is like going back in time. Out of the 650 MPs there are only 142 women. With the male dominance comes a testosterone culture. Often in the chamber itself women are patronised and talked down. Even the Prime Minister hasn’t been immune from such patronising language.
Power is held by men and they certainly have been known to use it to gain sexual ‘favours.’  As C4s Cathy Newman w

ho worked in the Westminster lobby for 10 years said in today’s Telegraph Westminsteris “more public school th
Her view one that I echo is the only way to change the sexist culture is to have more women MPs.The institution is antiquated and needs to brought out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty first century. It has lesson’s to learn from the Welsh Assembly. Yes, despite Kirsty Williams public service.”



Poll points

UKIP are on a roll in Wales. That’s what the latest YouGov poll for ITV predicts.  Their success bites into the Tory vote reducing them to seven Assembly Members, half the number they have now.

The poll is also good news for Labour they regain their dominance of the Welsh political scene.
In Westminster elections Labour are up 15% from their general election results, according to the ITV’s poll they get 51%.
But for European elections they go up by an astonishing 24%. Meaning they would get 3 out of the 4 Welsh European seats with the Tories getting the remaining one.

The poll data also show’s Labour gaining a majority over all other parties in the Assembly. All be it by one vote, but enough to prevent them having to accommodate the other parties to get their budgets through. This year they had to do a deal with Plaid, last year it was the Liberal Democrats.
Labour gain 4% in the constituency section compared with 2011 but do loose out on the regional vote. In the regional list they are  down by 11%. Unusually the pattern for regional votes differ from that of the constituencies.

Despite Plaid being down 2%  in the Assembly constituency section they are up 8% on the regional list. This puts them comfortably back as the second party in the Assembly and the title of being the official opposition.

But there is a sting in the tail for them. Leanne Wood having decided to give her place up on the regional list to fight a constituency would on this poll data be out on her ear.  This would trigger a leadership election in Plaid’s ranks, as their rules say that the leader has to come from the ranks of Assembly Members.

Whichever way you look at it, its the Conservatives that have most to worry about in the poll. They loose their status of being official opposition in the Assembly.

According to the figures they would be down to 7 members, just 2 more than UKIP who would make a breakthrough to the Assembly with 5 members, one more than the Liberal Democrats who would go down 1 to having 4 AMs.


The new chamber of the Assembly would look very different to the current one. Labour would have the majority with 31. Plaid Cymru would be the Official Opposition with 13 seats. The Tories would be the third party with 7. UKIP with 5 and Liberal Democrats 4.

But there is a disappointment to all the anti european politicians. There is no appetite to leave the EU in Wales. This could raise a very interesting constitutional issue if England decided to vote to leave in such a referendum. There is also another irony in the figures. UKIP was opposed to the Welsh Assembly for a number of years, indeed they wanted it scrapped and now if the poll is right become a player in the institution they once wanted rid of. Yet, the people of Wales reject their main raison d’être by voting to stay in Europe. By gum, politics is a strange business