Archive for January, 2014

That was the week

Week 26 to 31 January

Wales

A spat has developed between the Assembly presiding officer Dame Rosemary Butler and Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies. It’s about the Senedd procedures. Davies wants them reviewed Butler says they already been looked at by the business committee in 2010 on which the Conservatives were represented by William Graham AM. Not good enough says the Conservative leader. He wants change, and when does he want it? Now. Dame Rosemary wants change but isn’t going to be pushed into it by what she sees as the political posturing of the Conservative leader.  (See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/01/a-representative-democracy/)

It’s not just the Presiding Officer that the Welsh Conservatives are unhappy with it’s also the government. No not procedure but drugs.  All because Public Health Wales are funding a drug testing service to stop psychoactive substances, or legal highs harming users.. Forget the public health value says the Conservatives “The Welsh Government should be trying to tackle drug dependency and not allowing drug dealers to benchmark the quality of the substances they pedal to vulnerable people in deprived communities of Wales.” So there you have it forget the harm to the kids, it makes a good headline that the government is soft on drugs. Is there any wonder that there is not a rational debate about the subject.

The Welsh government seems to have developed cold feet about introducing a ban on smacking children. An opportunity to make it illegal has arisen when the Social Service and Well Being Bill is discussed next week.  Plaid Cymru AM Lindsay Whittle has put down an amendment seeking to outlaw smacking. But Ministers say ‘no,’ not until after the 2016 election. Why? They fear that our learned friends might say that they don’t have the right to do it. – Passing the law that is, not smacking. The Labour group are  to oppose the amendment. But here’s the rub, AMs have already voted in favour of a ban. Ok it was a symbolic vote. But now what was symbolic can become a reality. How ironic that an issue that Labour AMs have championed is now kicked to touch by their very own party. It was only October 2011 that Julie Morgan and Christine Chapman co-sponsored a motion with Whittle calling for a ban. The question is will they defy the Labour Whip. If they do, they’ll get a right smacking.

A Development bank for Wales to help Welsh businesses was proposed in a review set up by Economy Minister Edwina Hart.  And now in response the Minister is to, guess what, set up a review to see if a Development bank for Wales would work.

Rest

David Cameron and Francois Hollande are holding a UK-France summit. At the meeting the Prime Minister will be pushing his vision for a more ‘flexible Europe.’ Hollande will have none of it; the last thing he wants is a referendum on Europe on a treaty change. Meanwhile the bill for an “in-out” EU referendum in 2017 is in the House of Lords. Although the bill authorising a referendum was approved by MPs earlier this month there are doubts whether the private members bill will make it through the Lords before the end of the current session in April to become law. So a ‘no’ from Hollande and prevarication in the Lords may not do a great deal for Cameron’s blood pressure but Farage will be a bunny.

It’s not only Europe that’s causing Cameron difficulties but also his own MPs are causing him some bovver as well. After failing to get his backbenchers to heel it was left to the Opposition of Labour and Liberal Democrats to vote down a bid by nearly 100 rebel Tory MPs to stop foreign criminals using European human rights law to avoid deportation. Cameron took fright and ordered his ministers to abstain in the face of the rebellion. Another example of the old adage that your opponents are opposite you in the House but your enemies sit behind you.

Mark Carney Governor of the Bank of England went to Edinburgh to tell the Scots that if they wanted to retain the pound they would have to cede some national sovereignty. And the response of the politicians; the SNP welcomed the speech as it recognized the benefits of currency union, whilst Alistair Darling argued the governor’s remarks were “devastating” for the Scottish government’s currency plans. Typical of a Bank manager you never know where you stand after the visit.

According to the Office of National Statisitcs real wages have been falling consistently since 2010, the longest such period since at least 1964.  Miliband will cry crocodile tears deploring the fact; whilst being quietly delighted that it gives his cost of living attack on government more traction.

Polls

Thursday

YouGov/Sun                           CON 32%, LAB 42%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 12%

Tuesday

YouGov/Sun                           CON 34%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%

Monday

ComRes/Independent         CON 32% (nc), LAB 33%(-4), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 14%(+4).

Sunday

YouGov/Sunday Times             CON 32%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%.

Scottish referendum

ICM/Scotland on Sunday 37%(+5) YES 44% (-5) NO

Apparently the swing is strongly concentrated on young people

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A representative democracy

DSC00025The National Assembly of Wales is not working as it should.  That’s the view held by Assembly Members according to the Electoral Reform Society who surveyed their opinion.

Apparently they feel they could use their time better and they feel that government gets away with murder when it comes to scrutiny.  Oh, yes and they’re over worked and more of them are needed.

OK they didn’t quiet put it like that, but you get the message.

Some Westminster commentators have said the debates in nthe Assembly are “boring” and “grim to watch.”

As an old Westminster hack myself there’s many a debate in Westminster that would answer to that description as well. Many a time I’ve witnessed an almost empty chamber with some non-entity droning on and on.

When will people realise that as a breed politicians are quite boring. But politics is not part of the entertaining industry they don’t have to be interesting but they do need to be effective.

The National Assembly itself has to important functions to pass laws and hold the government to account. How effective are they at doing the job?

It’s early days yet for the Assembly as a law making body. It has only had real law making powers since 2011. Not many laws have been passed by the place, yet.

The test of the legislature’s effectiveness will be how many lawyers make fat fees challenging alleged defects in the laws it has passed.

Holding the government to account, well that’s a totally different kettle of fish. The Assembly has been up an running since 1999 and should by now have developed effective ways of making sure that Carwyn Jones and his merry little band account for their actions.

Oral questions to the First Minister are not very edifying. Indeed it’s an occasion that most sane people would want to avoid.  All to often they degenerate into party fun and games, lots of heat and very little light. It fails either because the questioner hasn’t mastered the art of the supplementary or the question is not forensic enough or quiet often Carwyn Jones just doesn’t seem mindful to answer answer.

On every level it fails, its not theatre like the Commons and it certainly is not scrutiny.

But some of the standing committees do succeed in their job of scrutiny. These have been effective forums to holding not only government ministers to account but also many other Welsh institutions as well.

But as new laws head their weary way towards  the statutory book, the standing committees have their work cut out to scrutinise all of these. Undoubtedly, they’ll have less and less time to hold the government to account in other areas. This is why many including the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler are calling for more Assembly Members.

Yes a critical mass is needed to do the job properly, but its not just a question of numbers, there is a question of quality.

Wales’s political parties need to ensure that they choose candidates of quality. Looking around the current Chamber you’d be hard pressed to argue that the parties have not exercised due diligence.

Things need to change. Yes it is a representative democracy, but it seems that the institution has more than its fair share of the inadequate.

 

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Tax and spend

photoThere never did seem such a terrible row as that generated by Ed Balls declaration that he would raise the tax on higher earners to 50p. The so called captains of industry were howling that this would kill off growth, industry would stay away from the UK and all the good talent would leave. Twenty-four of them even wrote a letter to the Telegraph to protest, gosh is this the capitalist equivalent of manning the barricades. Clearly the policy has some traction if it’s likely to hit them where it hurts, in their pockets.

There never seems to be enough for this group. Over the last three decades the UK’s top 1% has moved from taking 6% to 14% of national income. That is more than twice as much. While others have seen their pay packets fall.

There is a growing gap between rich and poor, the top fifth takes 60% of income, the bottom fifth a hundred times less. The moves by Ed Ball hardly address the issue.

People want much more than he’s offering. Polls over the weekend indicate that that a clear majority including Tories support raising tax on the richest. It would seem that Miliband and Balls are again moving with the grain of the country and it’s the government tit would seems that have been wrong footed and seen as out of touch with the majority of voters.

Superficially the recent news on the economy would seem to support the government that times they are achanging for the better. But Miliband is right the economy isn’t working for ordinary people. Low wages are widespread, the inequality gap is widening, business investment is low and the country’s exports are weak. Not good news at all for the real economy.

The ‘good news’ about the economy is again based on a feel good factor based on house prices. It could all end in tiers as soon as the Bank of England raise interest rates, as they surely will to stop the housing bubble going wildly out of control.

The Chancellor was busy milking the good news of last week’s jobs figures, and undoubtedly will do the same with today’s growth figures, which are the best since 2007.

But as the Chancellor crows enter stage left the Business Secretary, Vince Cable who rains on the Chancellor’s parade. It’s the wrong sort of economic recovery according to him. He highlighted weak exports and a hoarding of cash by businesses meant, “the shape of the recovery has not been all that we might have hoped for”. He issued a warning that the UK should avoid another damaging boom-bust in the housing market by building more homes. He even went further and said that he his party did not agree with Osborne on future cuts.

All in all a position a great deal closer to the shadow Chancellor  than that of the Chancellor

What none of the parties will say is not only do we need to raise taxes on the better off, but a broad base of taxes need to go up if the country is to sustain the public services. With an ageing population there will be an increase strain on public services. No government can protect the NHS and expect other departments to take the strain. It does not add up.

To close the countries financial deficit is the declared policy of all the parties. It just won’t happen on cuts alone, taxes have to go up. But don’t expect any of them to be honest about it this side of the general election.

 

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