Archive for December, 2013

A week in politics

Week 15 to 20 December

Wales

Assembly Members have started there Christmas holidays. Sorry, not holidays but working hard in their constituencies.

If a week is a long time in politics, 18 years in the same department as a Minister must be an eternity. That was the lot of Wyn Roberts who was Conservative MP for Conwy for 27 years.  He died at the age of 83 as Lord Roberts of Conwy. He piloted the Welsh Language Act in 1993. It was said of him that during his stint in the Welsh Office he built more roads than the Romans and even one tunnel under the Conwy.

Too little is known about the objectives and expected results of the Welsh Government’s Enterprise Zones, according to a National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee.  They were told that all seven Enterprise Zones have strategic objectives – but not what they are. That they have bid for investment – but not exactly what they have bid for. They will be expected to deliver results – but not how that success will be measured. In other words treated like mushrooms kept in the dark and feed them plenty of manure.

Draft Wales Bill was issued allowing for a referendum on income tax varying powers. It cannot be held three months either side of an all Wales poll or referendum thus limiting the scope of when it can happen. A cynic might even say they don’t want it to ever take place. The bill if passed would allow Welsh Ministers to borrow in order to invest in capital projects; it would enable the Assembly to develop its own taxes for land and property transactions, and in relation to landfill; and also establish a mechanism that will enable the Assembly to create new taxes on a case-by case basis. On non-financial matters it extends the Assembly term to 5 years & removes prohibition on candidates standing in constituency and on regional lists. It will prohibit “double jobbing”, by preventing MPs from also being Assembly Members. It also allows a change of name it will no longer be the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) but Welsh Government. But same lot in charge.

Another Kinnock wants to throw his hat into Welsh politics. This time it’s the son, Stephan Kinnock. He is interested in becoming the Labour candidate in Aberavon at the 2015 general election. He’s not understood to have  had any previous connection with the constituency. Mr Kinnock is married to the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thoring-Schmidt. Although his family live in Copenhagen, he is based in London but says that if he is elected he would make the constituency his home, with the support of his wife. Well, the political class know no boundaries, Wales, Denmark, Europe, who cares, as long as the cash comes rolling in.

Rest

Sir Michael Wilshaw the chief inspector of schools in England said that Grammar schools are “stuffed full” of middle-class children and do not improve social mobility and the selective system was not the way to make up ground on other nations. Results of the OECD’s global Pisa tests recently showed that the UK is falling behind global rivals, with British 15-year-olds ranked 26th in maths, 23rd for reading and in 21st place in science. But Sir Michael said he did not think the selective system was the way to make up ground on other nations. Many Tory MPs were unhappy with his intervention and rubbished his claim. Well no surprises there then.

Plans are afoot to make the Health Service in England a truly seven day service. It follows the alarming fact that you’ve 16% higher chance of meeting the grim reaper on the weekend than in the week. As yet there are no such plans for Wales.

Ed Miliband says that councils will be allowed to expand beyond their current boundaries to provide new housing if Labour are elected in 2015. He blamed “stick in the mud councils” for blocking plans by neighbouring councils.

And as he highlighted in his conference speech he will seek to introduce measures to stop housing developers “hoarding” land that has planning permission. His target is to build 200,000 homes a year in England by 2020. Only the small matter of getting the keys to that des res in Downing Street first, then.

Jenny Willott MP for Cardiff Central and a Liberal Democrat whip became a business minister, standing in for Jo Swinson while she is on maternity leave. She also remains a whip.

 The Scottish and UK governments have missed today’s (Friday) election watchdog deadline to agree what will happen after the independence referendum. The Electoral Commission asked both administrations to reach joint position on the processes for after the vote, whatever the outcome. The Commission said that the voters needed clarification on what will happen after the referendum, whether the vote is “Yes” or “No”. Neither side have come to an agreement as to what comes next but they are due to meet again in the New Year. They had better decide soon, as the vote takes place on 18 September 2014.

Polls

To round the political year off, here’s the polling average based on the last twenty days of polling. Conservatives 33 Labour 38 Liberal Democrats 10 Ukip 11 Greens 3 Others 5. Based on a uniform swing it would give Labour a majority of 58.

Thursday

YouGov/Sun         CON 34%, LAB 38%, LD 10%, UKIP 11%.

Wednesday

YouGov/Sun         CON 33%, LAB 41%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%.

ComRes/Independent           CON 32%(nc), LAB 37%(nc), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 10%(-1).

Tuesday        

YouGov/Sun          CON 36%, LAB 38%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 11%.

 Sunday

Opinium/Observer          CON 30%(+2), LAB 37%(+2), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 16%(-3)

 ComRes/Indy on Sunday         CON 29%(nc), LAB 36%(+1), LDEM 8%(-2), UKIP 18%(+1)

YouGov/Sunday Times          CON 32%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%

 

The almanac wishes its many readers a happy Christmas, Nadolig Llawen.

Back with more politics in the New Year.

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Its the economy

Picture of moneyDavid Cameron had a good PMQ yesterday. He was able to point to the unemployment figures and show that the austerity programme had worked. The unemployment rate fell to 7.4%, its lowest rate in the UK since the February-to-April period in 2009.

Although the Welsh Government were quick to claim credit for the fall in unemployment figures in Wales. The figures now put Wales on a par with England, both with unemployment rates of 7.4%.

Whatever the Welsh Government says, it’s Cameron and Osborne that will get the credit.

In a recent YouGov poll more people thought spending cuts were good for the economy rather than bad.  The Westminster government think they’ve won the argument and Cameron was certainly crowing about it in the House yesterday.

Although this “good” news hasn’t translating into a poll lead, yet.  Why? Many people are no better off.

Miliband is mining a rich vein when he goes on about the cost of living. But it’s not all about costs going up. It’s also about wages and income.

Whilst yesterday’s employment figures show that the economy is back into growth pay packets are not growing. Workers’ average wages are down £364 on a year ago and over £1,500 lower than at the general election.

Yesterday’s news would be good tidings indeed if it was linked to a decent job, unfortunately this is seldom the case.

Everyone who signs up to work experience or a “training” course, no matter how threadbare, is regarded as in employment. But what they receive in their pockets cannot be described as a wage.

The same goes for people pressed to accept part-time work or zero-hours contracts even though they would far prefer full-time employment. Even most “real” new jobs offer little better than the official minimum wage.

The TUC has said we’re living through the longest wage squeeze since the 1870s and according to analysis by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the real wage of the average worker will not be restored to its pre-recession level until 2018.

The political argument should not just about growth and the cost of living, it should be a much wider debate about the state and shape of the Britain’s economy, and whether it delivers for the ordinary worker.

It should be about delivering a living wage. What kind of economy is the country aspiring to, what kind of jobs are being created.

Yesterday’s knockabout in the Commons was entertaining but totally irrelevant. Only a party that addresses the economy in a serious and meaningful way deserves the support of the voter.

 

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Tax cuts for all

 

photo

“The two most senior Conservatives in Wales, David Jones and Andrew RT Davies, have today confirmed their commitment to a low-tax Welsh economy.” So there you have it two leading Conservatives agreeing with one another. Its only news in the context that it doesn’t happen too often.

But hold on, do they really agree.?

It was only last February that the leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies announced his party’s policy on tax. It was that higher earners should get a temporary income tax cut. It was the party’s view that cutting the 40p tax rate – paid by around 120,000 people in Wales – would encourage enterprise.

A 1p cut in the 40p rate would cost between £12m and £16m a year. The rate was to apply to taxable earnings over £34,370 a year.

Speaking at the time Mr Davies said  “Tax is one of the most important levers that any government has at its disposal. And with income tax being the most important, its devolution as recommended by an independent commission is a real game changer. If some elements of income tax are devolved, it would in my view be necessary to look at a period of reduced taxation for the entrepreneurial, whether private or public sector – those paying the 40% tax rate. This would not only send out a strong sign to business in competing regions of the UK, but it would spell out that Wales is well and truly open for business.”

But when David Jones, the Secretary of State calls for tax cuts he means a cut for every taxpayer. Now this might suit him but it certainly not what Andrew RT Davies wants.

He wants the ability to vary the rates in the different bands as both the Holtham and the Silk Commission recommended.

The reason he wants this flexibility is that he knows that reducing income tax in Wales by a 1p would mean £200 million less going into the Welsh Treasury.

This would mean more cuts on the cuts already embarked on by the Westminster government. Add to that figure another £300 million that Wales’s is underfunded under the Barnett formula then you’re talking serious money.

Davies knows going to the Welsh electorate with a manifesto promising such cuts in their public services is not likely to endear the party to the Welsh public. In this Davies is right and has a better feel for the pulse of the Welsh people than David Jones. That’s why Davies is Welsh leader and Jones is merely Cameron’s or, as in this case, Osborne’s bag carrier in Wales.

So back to today’s announcement from Jones and Davies, they may want a referendum but when it comes to the tax cut agenda both are not singing from the same hymn sheet.

 

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