Archive for June, 2013

That was the political week that was

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Wales

Woe, woe and thrice woe.  That’s basically how First Minister Jones started the week. Speaking at his monthly press conference he warned about the cuts his government were about to make. Apart from health, schools, universal benefits protecting the vulnerable and creating jobs the rest is likely to be for the chop. The blame, you’ve guessed the UK government and their austerity programme.

Cabinet Members had to operate within tramlines according to Jones. No it wasn’t a new transport system joining the Rhondda to the Bay, but mixing a metaphor a line in the sand that his Education minister couldn’t cross in campaigning against changes to the services provided by the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. Apparently you can as an Assembly Member protest, but not in the name of Labour. So the brave Labour protesters repented and became merely no label protesters.

A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, or in the case of Gwent a policewoman’s lot. Carmel Napier the Chief Constable was shown the red card by the police and crime commissioner Ian Johnston, who is him self a former cop, a superintendent to be precise. Johnston made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, retire or get the boot.  It was her apparent hostility to the very concept of a Police and Crime commissioner that did for her.  If true, she is in good company. Most of the population were indifferent or hostile to the posts, as demonstrated by the size of turnout in electing Johnston and his ilk. Also, according to Johnston, morale was at an all time low, she having lost the confidence of police officers.  A clash of cultures perhaps, old style policing against a new corporate management style. And, perhaps, a bit of sexism thrown into the mix.

According to the brothers and sisters at the TUC, the Welsh pay packet has fallen by 8.1% since the recession began. The figures were produced at the launch of its Britain Needs a Pay Rise campaign. Apparently the UK’s overall pay packet was £52bn smaller last year compared to the eve of the recession in 2007, with total pay across Wales falling by over £2.3 billion.

Meanwhile unemployment in Wales stays stubbornly the same with 125,000 (8.4%) out of work for the last 3 months ending in April. The UK figures fell by 5000. But politicians can always find a silver lining. David Jones welcomed the increase of number in work -10,000 and the Welsh Government maintained that Wales had outperformed the UK average in employment, unemployment and economic inactivity.

It would have Lloyd George turning in his grave, because he has been accused over 90 years later of failing to do a job properly. The job? Disestablishing the Anglican Church in Wales. His failure has put the Church in Wales in legislative limbo. Not the place to be, say a National Assembly committee.  It all came to light when the Westminster government drew up a bill allowing same sex marriages. When drawing up their proposals they forgot about Wales and Welsh interests. In this instance they overlooked the fact that the Church in Wales was disestablished. An angry Welsh Archbishop gave them a fle in the ear over the matter, so they duly repented and amended their own bill. But it now seems that it’s more than the living that are affected but the dead also. The state of limbo extends to graveyards and burials. Oh dear, where will it all end and what’s to be done? The only complete answer, another Act of Parliament to do the job properly and fully disestablish the Anglican Church in Wales.  The centre point of the Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2015, perhaps.

 The rest

Think again on the £25 million Severn barrage scheme says the House of Commons’ Energy and Climate Change committee under the chairmanship of Tim Yeo at the time. He of course had to excuse himself later in the week for allegedly breaking the House rules on lobbying. But back again to the 11-mile tidal barrage. The committee reckoned although it would meet 5% of the UK’s electricity needs the proposals did not make economic sense and raised serious environmental concerns.

Your personal details are safe, according to William Hague. Well that’s not quite what he said in a Commons statement on GCHQ. He said that they hadn’t circumvented the law in getting information from the Americans about UK citizens. Although, apparently, our West Country spooks did get information on 197 UK citizens, from the US, we know not why? Well, that’s for them to know and us to be kept in blissful ignorance about. Reading between the lines what was meant was, that your personal data is in a safe place until required by HM Spooks. But our MPs, accepting lot that they are, seemed reassured by the Hague announcement.

Michael Gove tried for a fourth time to get the right results. Having tried bringing back O levels and CSE’s, replacing the GCSEs with an English Baccalaureate, rebranding GCSEs as I-levels he has now launched a reformed GCSE. Dropping the current A* to G and replacing them with numbers 8 to 1. No more course work just exams at the end of two years. Apparently the subjects are going to be more “challenging, ambitious and rigorous.”  Wales is keeping the current system. At a stroke it ends comparison between England and Wales results. No comparisons equals no nasty headlines. As ‘1066 and all that’ would say, “a good thing.”

 Weekly polls UK

Brackets matter. Comparing different polls with each other can be dangerous. God forbid, you might come to the wrong conclusion.  Why? All polling organisation, drat them, use slightly different methods in collecting their data, so you’re not comparing like with like.  So the brackets are elevated to a position of some importance, ‘cos they show the changes since the last poll – whose up (+), whose down (-) and whose treading water (NC).

These are UK based polls so the samples will not really register the Welsh or for that matter the Scottish political scene. Support for Plaid Cymru/SNP would barely register and therefore will not be included. On the rare occasions when there are Welsh polls the political almanac will provide a full commentary.

Wed MORI/Standard Con 31(NC) Lab 35(+1) LD 10(NC) UKIP 12(-1)

Tues ICM/Guardian Con 29(+1) Lab 36(+2) LD 12(+1) UKIP 12(-6)

Mon TNS-BMR Con 27(+3) Lab 36(-1) LD 8(-2) UKIP 19(NC)

Poll graph for weekly column (14 Jun)

SunYouGov/Sun. Times Con 30, Lab 40, LD   9, UKIP 14

What does it all mean? A uniform swing throughout the country would give the Conservatives 219 seats (-87), Labour 372 seats (+114), Liberal Democrats 32 seats (-25), Others 9 seats (-2) Northern Ireland has 18 seats. Remember the health warning it’s a UK sample so Plaid and the SNP are under represented.

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Not in our name

Cover of the South Wales Programme Consultation Document

On the 23 April the Welsh Health Minister, Mark Drakeford introduced a paper for discussion with the rest of the cabinet under the title “Together for Health – Service Change.” The paper restated the need for service change within the NHS in Wales.

“Cabinet was asked to note the update on the Regional Service Plans and other work being undertaken at a national level in support of the Reconfiguration Programme. It was acknowledged that the case for change was not predicated solely on meeting the challenges of financing the NHS.bigpic

“Medical needs were the main driver, and the need to respond to a rising elderly population, treating an increasing number people with chronic conditions and addressing medical staffing pressures provided strong reasons to change the current service models.”

Now the minute tells us that cabinet noted the paper. But what we don’t know about is who said what in the discussion that followed. But the minutes certainly don’t note any dissent.

Fast forward until May when two events happen the first the registration of a campaigning website by the Rhondda Labour Party called labour4royalglam on the 19 May and then on the 22 May when a consultation paper was produced outlining what was going to happen to hospital services in South East Wales. That consultation indicated that changes were intended for the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant.

Changes that went down like a cold cup of sick amongst many a Labour member, including some local bigwigs in the party. And they certainly were not shrinking violets in saying so.Lab4RoyalGlam

Both the AMs and MPs from the Pontypridd and Rhondda constituencies were leading lights in the campaign to ensure Accident and Emergency services were provided in the Royal Glam. All admit that something has to be done to reconfigure services but not to the Royal Gwent.

The shadow Secretary State for Wales, Owen Smith goes through the ritual of blaming it all on the coalition in Westminster’s cuts. Then saying, “difficult decisions are having to be made as a result but I would strongly urge the Health Board to retain A&E services at the Royal Glam. As MP for Pontypridd, I know that people from Llantrisant, Ponty, Tonyrefail and all across the area rely on, and are reassured by, having access to a local and effective Accident and Emergency department.”

Chris Bryant went further in frightening the horses by alleging the downgrading was going to be a closure. “The A&E at the Royal Glamorgan is an essential service to the people of the Rhondda. When you are severely ill and requiring urgent medical attention, you want to receive the best care as quickly as possible – I hope that the health board will see sense and realise that closing an accident and emergency unit at a hospital that is only 13 years old and accessible to both the communities in the Rhondda and Pontypridd is not the best use of NHS resources.”

Mick Antoniw AM made no bones about the need to campaign against the proposals. “We are, however, convinced that as part of those changes, Accident and Emergency must be retained at the Royal Glamorgan as well as other specialist services.

“We intend to muster support in the community for this objective and will put forward a positive and constructive case during the consultation process.”5177f3_a5308c7f5fb0e4326af50449ba945fba.jpg_srz_270_180_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz

But perhaps the most interesting comments came from the veteran of many a campaign and now the cabinet minister for education, Leighton Andrews. He as the local Assembly Member has a go at the A & E proposals but seems to go further by saying that his colleague the Health Minister should also look at a number of health outcomes in the Rhondda. Implying that he ought to get his finger out and deliver a better service.  Andrews said “Safer and more reliable services have to be the priority but if Accident and Emergency services disappeared from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital then most Rhondda people would have to travel to Cardiff, which would overburden services there and lead to greater congestion around the University of Wales Hospital at the Heath. I hope the Health minister will also look at ambulance services in the Rhondda and the quality of Out of Hours and GP services”.

So what has the First Minister to say about the incredible situation of his education minister campaigning about the changes that his health minister had taken to the cabinet? Well until yesterday not a great deal. Despite taking a hit last week from the Opposition parties on the issue no action was taken

But the issue came up in his monthly press conference yesterday.  When asked about the behaviour of the big Labour beasts of Chris Bryant, Owen Smith and of course dear Leighton Andrews. His reply ‘I think it’s very important to be absolutely clear about what is being proposed. Inevitably Cabinet ministers have to operate within certain … um, tramlines when it comes to campaigning for local hospitals but individual members, including cabinet ministers, are able to make representations on behalf of local hospitals but certainly it wouldn’t be correct and – nor has this happened – for Cabinet ministers to disagree with the process. ‘

Image+1Q: ‘So has Leighton Andrews stepped beyond the tramlines?’

CJ: No. This is something that I’ve looked at and discussed with him. We know that there are certain things that can and can’t be done as far as cabinet ministers are concerned, but it is certainly the case that at no point has Leighton ever suggested that the process itself is flawed … And that is a process that was decided by cabinet.

Q: ‘So he can carry on using this sort of language?’

CJ: ‘No. It’s important the party’s name is not used for any campaign – that has been made very clear but Assembly Members are able to make representations regarding the programme board but of course it shouldn’t go beyond that.’

Q: ‘So Labour for Royal Glam (the name of the local campaign) is NOT something you are comfortable with?’

CJ: ‘No. That is something that as a party we cannot condone, nor did we. It’s exceptionally important that the public understand that Welsh Labour is not campaigning for or against any hospital. It’s for individual Assembly Members to make their views known.’

Whether or not the Education Minister has come off the tramlines is for others to decide. But the issue certainly stretches the concept of collective responsibility.

Meanwhile, the labour4RoyalGlam has vanished into the ether but its spirit lives on in the Campaign4RoyalGlam and their latest newsletter is published by the Rhondda and Pontypridd Labour Party. So much for “It’s exceptionally important that the public understand that Welsh Labour is not campaigning for or against any hospital.”sc0003a5fa

 

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Noses in the trough

P90400021Nothing changes. Cash for questions was the big scandal of John Major’s government. Indeed it destroyed his government.

Now two decades later an MP and three Lords are accused of attempting to feather their own nests by trousering money from lobbyists. They, of course deny any wrong doing and have referred themselves to parliament’s standards watchdog.

It’s not as if David Cameron was unaware of lobbying after all he used to be a lobbyist for Carlton TV before he became a politician.

So when leader of the opposition he spoke knowledgeable when declaring that there was far too “cosy a relationship between politics, government, business and money.” And according to him at the time lobbying was “the next big scandal to happen.” How right he was. And it’s happened on his watch.

Remember Liam Fox the then Defence Secretary had to go when it was revealed that his friend and advisor was funded by companies that had interests in defence.

Despite this early casualty for Cameron as a result of lobbying, he seems to have done nothing about it. And now his inaction has come back to hurt him – Patrick Mercer MP having to resign the Conservative whip after being caught in a sting by journalists.

When will Parliament learn that the honourable members are not honourable at all. The public saw that over the expenses scam and now again over lobbying. The only thing that stops these things happening are robust set of rules that govern the behaviour of politicians.

When Nick and David signed the coalition agreement they pledged a statutory register of lobbyist.

We’re still waiting.

And what of the Assembly?

Well, they looked at the matter recently and concluded in the words of the Presiding Officer that “the Assembly already has robust systems in place to ensure transparency and openness in the way that Assembly Members deal with external organisations and individuals.”

What are these robust systems?

Well, the Assembly prohibits its members from lobbying for reward or consideration and of course Assembly Members have to declare any “gifts, hospitality, material benefits or advantages” they receive. But hospitality below £250 doesn’t need to be registered.

Even the biggest boozer couldn’t drink that in a free bar. So if lobbying firms provide such events for Members the public would know nothing about them, unless of course there was an alcohol induced incident arising from the event.

To date there have been no examples of Assembly Members abusing their office along the lines of those Westminster. But the latest incidence in Westminster shows what can happen when a system lacks transparency.

Better take action to prevent an abuse that trying to catch up when an abuse has happened. In the interest of openness, the Assembly should set up a statutory register for lobbyist.

Nobody is naïve enough to think that the private access to members is going to stop, and the bending of a ministerial or a member’s ear is going to cease.  But the greater the transparency the less it is likely to happen. Openness would certainly limit such activity.

 

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