Archive for July, 2014

Last week of term

Week 13 July to 18 July

Wales

Ok, there are no plans to buy a terraced house and put number eleven on it but the Welsh Government are going to set up a Welsh treasury.  This is part of their announced law making programme for the next year. It will administer the new tax’s laws and the borrowing powers that they now have.

The legislative programme will also include:

  • Details of a planning bill which is designed to reform and simplify the planning process
  • A local government bill to allow councils to merge voluntarily. (The hope is to reduce the number of councils from 22 to 12)
  • A bill to pave the way for the creation of the new body Qualifications Wales
  • Details of a public health consultation, including proposals to restrict the use of e-cigarettes in public places and introduce a minimum price for alcohol of 50 pence per unit.

The last day of the Assembly term before they go off on their summer hols is always a good time to make controversial announcements. True to form the government did just that by announcing £1bn new M4 relief road through Newport’s dockside. If Transport Minister Edwina Hart gets her way it will be completed by the spring of 2022, the project would be the largest capital investment programme ever announced by the Welsh government. The scheme pleases the Tories who have been calling for it for some years. Prime Minister David Cameron has said the new borrowing powers would help the Welsh government make improvements to the M4 which is a “foot on the windpipe of the Welsh economy”. Plaid Cymru and not a few Labour backbenchers are far from happy with the announcement. Some thing that the money would be better used building a Metro rail system for South Wales. So it’s a case of roads, but no rails yet again.

“And I think in Wales there’s a tendency not to complain as much as people ought to complain when something’s wrong. There’s a tendency to feel ‘oh well, we don’t want to upset anybody, we don’t want to bother them”. That was the message delivered by Ann Clwyd to the Welsh assembly health committee. She repeated her call for a Sir Bruce Keogh’s type review in Wales like the one he conducted in England. Previous attempts to call Ms Clwyd before the committee were blocked by Labour AMs who argued that it was “constitutionally inappropriate” for the committee to interview backbench MPs on devolved matters. But last month Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat and Conservative AMs put forward a fresh proposal under a different procedure, which was accepted.

Now that their mentor David Jones has been sacked, it’s safe for Andrew RT Davies to bring back the infamous four Tory rebel AMs  that he sacked from the party’s front bench  in February. Nick Ramsay, Antoinette Sandbach, Mohammad Asghar and Janet Finch-Saunders all get their old portfolio’s back. So it would appear that its hugs all round. It reminds me of the old couplet,  “there never was heard such a terrible curse, but what gave rise, to no little surprise, no one seemed not one penny worth the worse.”

Rest

David Cameron decided to reshuffle his cabinet. He wanted more appealing faces to put before the electorate at next May’s general election. One of those fresh, if bearded face, was that of Stephan Crabb the Preseli Pembrokeshire MPHe takes over as Wwlsh Secretary  from his former boss  David Jones, who was sacked. Crabb will have Alun Cairns as his junior Minister. (see http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/07/out-with-the-old/)

It will be extremely difficult if not close to impossible to hold a legal strike if the Tories get their way. The Conservative Party is to tighten the law on strike ballots if it wins the 2015 election. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the Tory manifesto would include the requirement for at least half of eligible union members to vote in order for a strike to be lawful. There would also be a three-month time limit after the ballot for the action to take place and curbs on picketing. If this was the law for all elections there would  be few councilors, MEPs, Police Commissioners or even some MPs. But its always been one rule for some, usually the rich and an other rule for the rest, usually the poor. Nothing new there then. Even Labour were moved to say it was “desperate stuff by a Conservative Party that has given up any pretence of standing up for working people”.

Polls

Friday

YouGov/Sunday Times           CON 33%, LAB 36%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%.

Thursday

Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor for the Standard  CON 32%(+1), LAB 35%(+1), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 12%(-2), GRN 8%(nc).

Monday

Populus          CON 34%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%

Ashcroft         CON 32%,(+5) LAB 36%,(+2) LDEM 7%(-4),  UKIP 14%(-1)

ICM/Guardian CON 34%(+3), LAB 33%(+1), LDEM 12%(+2), UKIP 9%(-7)

Sunday

YouGov/Sunday Times           CON 33%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%.

Scottish referendum

ICM/Scotland on Sunday          YES 34%(-2), NO 45%(+2). Without don’t knows, it becomes YES 43(-2), NO 57%(+2).

 

This Almanac intends breaking up for the summer apart from some additions to the constituency profiles. Although I shall be working on a documentary for the BBC, so rest for the wicked. 

 

 

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Out with the old

David-Jones-Bio-pic4After only two years in the job David Jones has been given the boot from his job as Secretary of State for Wales. A move widely welcomed by the politicians in Cardiff Bay.

Now it might be expected that the Welsh Government would welcome his departure, after all they are opponents from two very different political parties.

But the majority of Conservative Assembly members are even more cock-a-hoop that Jones has been shown the exit door by Cameron.

The two Jones’s were at loggerheads on a range of issues, most tied to the well-known antipathy that Tory Jones had to the whole devolution project. Their disagreements were all based on policy.  Labour Jones felt that Tory Jones’s default position was to stop as many powers coming down to Wales as he could.

One of the ironies of politics is that it’s his name that will forever associated with the Wales bill that gives tax and borrowing powers to the Assembly. In truth it was his predecessor Cheryl Gillan that set up the Silk Commission. The Commission  reported back on Jones’s watch and he had little choice but to see it enacted.

The relationship between most of the Tories in the Bay and David Jones was a much more vitriolic affair, as most rows by members of the same family often are.

It was in many ways personal rather than political. Both Jones and Davies saw themselves as top Tory dogs in Wales.

Andrew RT Davies described himself as leader of the Welsh Conservatives with Jones putting it about that he was simply the Leader of the Conservative group in the Assembly. Trivial, yes, but never underestimate the ego of a politician.

But there was one major policy difference between the two, and that was on income tax powers.

The Welsh Conservatives under Andrew RT Davies wanted to reduce the rate of income tax to high earners. A policy he launched with much gusto in the Wales’s Millennium centre. Indeed it was the way to regenerate the Welsh economy, and also he hoped regenerate the Tory prospects in future elections.

Attracting high earning businessmen and women to Wales apparently would be a tonic to the economy. Ok not the panacea that many would go for, but it was a Tory Made in Wales policy.  The Conservative Assembly Members were deeply attached to the proposals.

But this keynote policy that was scuppered, stopped dead in its tracks, by none other than the Secretary of State.

Jones was  of the view that devolved income tax powers should be an all or nothing affair. The Assembly could lower, or increase, income tax as a whole, not play around with various bands. Knowing full well, that it was highly unlikely that any government in the Bay would do either.

Indeed so toxic was the issue that Andrew RT Davies lost five from his front-bench team for agreeing with David Jones and voting accordingly.  A real low point for the Conservatives in the bay and the finger firmly pointed at David Jones for mischief making

Gone but not missed will be the epitaph to David Jones’s by politicians in Cardiff Bay, if they’re honest. Of course, they’re not, so look out for kind but insincere words been said.

Messrs Crabb and Cairns may personally pleased with their elevation, but none more pleased than the leader of the Opposition of the National Assembly

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An exciting week in Welsh politics

Week 14 June to 20 June

Wales

Oh how a week’s a long time in politics. For it was only last week the Almanac carried the story that despite Alun Davies the environment minister breaking guidelines on how a minister should act the First Minister Carwyn Jones decided not to sack him. And now Davies has gone.  The reason he was sacked, trying to find out about the farm subsidy payments given to opposition AMs with farming interests. Davies lost his environment post after it emerged that he had repeatedly asked civil servants for details of opposition AMs’ subsidies, despite being told the information was private and not publically available. This left Mr Jones with little choice but to sack him. (see http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/07/alun-davies-sacked-as-minister/)

Mr Davies has now apologised to the five AMs. Here’s a copy.photo

The Supreme Court backed the Welsh Assembly’s right to pass a law to help protect the wages of farm hands. It comes after a dispute over whether Wales had the power to set minimum wages, or if that right laid with the UK government. (see http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/07/judges-back-assembly/)

The Funky Dragon’s flame may be extinguished. It’s lost its funding from the Welsh Government. It’s a charity  that lets kids have their say on Welsh politics. The Youth Assembly for Wales or Funky Dragon as its better known includes youngsters elected from each local council area to discuss issues like health and education. It received its core funding from the Welsh government since it was created in 2002 and last financial year, got £418,000 from the Welsh government, as well as EU funding of £326,000 and smaller amounts from other sources. This year its application for cash from the Welsh Government was turned down. It may have to close down as early as October unless other sources of income can be found.

Politicians may generate a great deal of hot air but useful wind seems to be a no, no. Take the government offices in Aberystwyth for instance, there a wind turbine was installed costing us the taxpayer £48,000. But it only  generated an average of just £5 worth of electricity per month. At the time the manufacturers said that it was placed in the wrong place. It appeared that the government wanted it outside its offices to give out the right “on-message” that it was an eco-friendly government, despite the fact that it hardly produced any electricity. Now it’s being is being removed, ‘cos it’s broken, clearly not through over work. The manufacturers that built it have since gone into liquidation. Green no, red faces all round, yes.

Mark Drakeford the Health Minister announced that the salaries of the lowest paid NHS staff would be increased to the level of the living wage, at least £7.65 an hour from September. But he’s refusing to offer consultants a general pay rise of 1% a figure that a review body suggested. The minister said that the rise would only go to consultants at the top of their pay grades, who do not automatically receive an increase for progressing in their jobs. The minister is of the view that those with “the broadest shoulders” – should  share the burden of the financial squeeze facing the health service. It’s not the way the BMA Welsh Secretary Dr Richard Lewis sees it. He says it could worsen the recruitment and retention crisis already facing the Welsh NHS.

Rest

If you think that the cost of buying a stamp is a rip-off think how much you’ve been ripped-off  as a Taxpayers when Royal Mail was privatized. According to the House of Commons’s Business, Innovation and Skills select committee the taxpayer lost out on about £1bn from the undervaluing of Royal Mail. Apparently the fear of failure  drove the government  to  act on bad advice over the Royal Mail stock market flotation. Strange eh the Business Secretary Vince Cable doesn’t accept the criticism He said: “We sold at a price that was regarded as the best that could be achieved in the context in which we sold it.The point we have stressed, and I’ve stressed over and again, that the price of shares is very, very volatile – these things go up and down and we’ve seen in the last few weeks the price of Royal Mail shares actually falling like a stone.” Hmmm, me thinks you protest to much Mr Cable.

Oh dear, another bill being rushed through at the last minute  before Parliament breaks for their holidays. Experience shows to act in haste means repenting at leisure. This time it’s a bill to deal with emergency powers to ensure police and security services can continue to access our phone and internet records. Prime Minister David Cameron says he needs to take urgent action to protect us,  the public, from “criminals and terrorists.”  So it’s to protect us. Well, that’s all right then. Why is it I don’t feel re-assured. Might it have something to do with Mr Snowden’s revelations as to how much the snoopers are snooping on us.

Polls 

Friday

Scottish referendum

Survation/Daily Record          YES 41%, NO 46%, Don’t Know 13%.

Monday

Populus          CON 31%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%

Ashcroft         CON 27%,(-4) LAB 34%,(+3) LDEM 11%(+2),  UKIP 15%(nc)

Sunday

YouGov/Sunday Times           CON 34%, LAB 36%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%.

Opinium/Observer                  CON 29%(-2), LAB 35(nc), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 18%(+1).

Scottish referendum

TNS/BMRB         YES 32%(+2), NO 46%(+4). Without don’t knows, it becomes YES 41, NO 59%

 

 

 

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