Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb was hoping to make the grand gesture of introducing the latest proposals on more devolution to Wales but he’s been elbowed out by the big beasts of the cabinet David Cameron and Nick Clegg who made the announcement in the Millennium Stadium. After months of cross-party talks inevitably what is agreed will be the lowest common denominator and Wales is not disappointed. There is a promise of a guaranteed minimum funding for the Welsh government, the so-called Barnett floor. Originally this pledge was to be tied to Welsh Ministers promising to hold a referendum on income tax powers, but this was dropped after serious protests from Welsh Ministers and not least Kirsty Williams Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. So dropped it was. (See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2015/02/want-the-cash-well/). So what’s coming Wales is way? Energy. No not more of it, although god knows, some of the Ministers could do with a boost. No control of energy projects and decisions on such things as fracking and windmills on land and sea. The Assembly is also going to be in charge of assembly elections including how many members there should be. They can also decide to change the name of the Assembly to that of Parliament. Other things include the powers to set national speed limits across Wales and a promise to consider the merits of devolving Air Passenger Duty. Yes, I know, it’s all so underwhelming. But it should really read as what Wales will get if the Conservatives are in power after May. Labour, according to Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference, is promising all of the Silk Commission recommendations “and more.” Well, we’ll see.
Meanwhile both Clegg and Cameron leave the stadium to address their respective parties Welsh conferences. So expect more headlines this weekend on the dire state of the Welsh NHS and other public services.
Bungs dominated this week’s politics. Two ex-Foreign secretaries were caught be a Chanel 4 sting operation. (See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2015/02/a-nice-little-earner/) This provided a platform for Miliband to score his first success in PMQs for the first time for some considerable weeks. He wrong-footed Cameron on the question of limiting the outside earnings of MPs. Sometimes even Miliband can score an open goal.
According to the ONS net migration to Britain was 298,000 last year. This is higher than when the Conservatives came to office. How David Cameron must regret saying “no ifs, no buts” promise to reduce it to the “tens of thousands” by the time of the general election. Well, Mr Cameron the election is here and no doubt you’ll be reminded of this promise, not least by Mr Farage. It shows what a nonsense it is to make immigration a political issue, especially as the real story should be how the economy has benefitted from the influx of these young and eager additions to the countries work force.
Another pledge. This time from young Ed, Miliband not Balls. He intends a cut in the maximum level of university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 in England. And pay for it by potentially raising £2bn a year through the curtailing of pension tax reliefs. What is it about student fees and elections, another attempt to capture the middle-class vote, me thinks
Meanwhile the other Ed was campaigning in Scotland and sought to quash speculation that Labour could strike a formal post-election deal with the SNP. His preference, a Labour minority government to a coalition. The shadow chancellor said a deal with the SNP “is not part of our plan; it’s not what we want.” But Ed politics, just like life doesn’t always give you what you want.
The polls still point to a hung parliament with Labour still the largest party but with 18 short of that elusive majority.
YouGov/Times Con 34% Lab 42% LibDem 8% UKIP 9% Green 6%
YouGov/Sun Con 35% Lab 33% LibDem 6% UKIP 14% Green 7%
Survation/Mirror Con 28%(-3) Lab 34%(+4) LibDem 10%(+3) UKIP 19%(-4) Green 4%(+1)
ComRes/Mail Con 34%(+3) Lab 32%(+2) LibDem 8%(nc) UKIP 13% (-4) Green 8% (+1)
Populus Con 32% Lab 32% LibDem 9% UKIP 11% Green 8%
Ashcroft Con 32%(-2) Lab 36%(+5) LibDem 7%(-2) UKIP 11% (-5) Green 8% (nc)
YouGov/Sun Con 33% Lab 33% LibDem 8% UKIP 13% Green 7%
Opinium/Observer Con 35%(+2) Lab 33%(-2) LibDem 6%(-2) UKIP 15%(+1) Green 7%(+1)
YouGov/Sunday Times Con 33% Lab 34% LibDem 8% UKIP 13% Green 6%
Greater Manchester is going to have a £6bn health and social care budget courtesy of HM Government. It will see NHS England hand spending decisions on regional healthcare to local politicians.
This development changes the shape of local government in England in a way that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. Alas not the kind of offer being made to councils in Wales, but that’s another story.
By taking control of the entire NHS budget, the area’s 10 councils, and ultimately the elected mayor, will be able to join up health and social care in a way that’s never been possible before.
In addition to control of the £2bn of budgets agreed last year for skills and training, transport and planning, the £6bn that comes with this deal means local politicians will decide how more than a quarter of government money is spent in their area.
Meaningful devolution of powers from the centre to the northwest. It’s certainly a policy to be commended. What’s more, it’s all happened without a need for a referendum. Politicians doing what they’re paid for, taking decisions.
Contrast this with what’s rumoured to be happening in Wales.
Wales is disadvantaged under the formula that distributes funds from the centre to the regions and countries of these fair islands. The Scots are getting more than their fair share. It’s the price of keeping them in the Union. In keeping them in, Wales suffers. Wales gets less whilst the Scots get more.
Politicians in the Bay have been banging on about the unfairness of it, almost since Adam left the garden.
Now even those who control the purse strings in London have got the message. Miliband in his speech to Welsh Labour said that the issue of fair funding to Wales would be addressed if he became Prime Minister.
Not to be outdone the Tories have come up with a cunning little wheeze. They’ll sort out the funding gap if, there’s always an ‘if’ when it comes to politicians, the Welsh Government holds a referendum on income tax.
Well, in politics, just as in life, there’s nowt for nowt. You want the cash then you’ll have to do this.
Conservatives have always taken the view that the Welsh government should take responsibility for raising more of the money it spends. Fine and dandy but to try to get their way in such a clumsy way is inept.
Now quite why a referendum is needed on tax varying powers is a mystery. Surely, if it makes sense to give the Welsh Government powers over taxation, then it should happen.
Politicians are paid handsomely, despite Rifkins protest, for taking such decisions. If the cost of the referendum was deducted from their collective pay, they might be less ready to pass the buck to the voter.
There’s a name for offering bungs. It’s called bribery. Has public policy come to this?
“When will they ever learn.” MPs, that is. Their snouts are still in the trough.
This time it’s two former foreign secretaries, namely Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Snouts up for hire. Mind you they’re not cheap. It seems the going rate is at least £5000 a day.
A sting operation organized by the Daily Telegraph and the Chanel 4 Dispatches programme caught the two attempting to fill their pockets.
The two ex Foreign Secretaries offered to use their positions as politicians on behalf of a fictitious Chinese company in return for cash. Cash for access.
Straw boasted that he used is influence to change EU rules “under the radar.” Apparently he used his influence with the Ukrainian prime minister to change rules in that country to the advantage of a firm that employed him.
Sir Malcolm, who oversees Britain’s intelligence agencies on behalf of Parliament, said he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world because of his status.
Both tried to defend themselves on the Today programme Shaw by saying he was setting things up for himself for when he leaves the Commons in May. Rifkin by saying it was impossible to live on an MPs salary. To live on £65,738 a year is so difficult,eh.
Don’t feel too sorry for them having to slum it on an MP’s salary. Last year Straw earned £112,777 from his outside business activities.
Rifkin’s registered earnings was £69,610 for 43 hours work, an hourly rate of £1618. Not a bad little earner, you’d agree.
And it’s just not them. According to the Members Declaration of Earning register in the last year alone almost half the MPs declared earnings of more than £7.4 million from outside work and second jobs. Some making more than £1,600 per hour. A living wage for sure.
Their respective parties have now suspended both Rifkin and Shaw and the two of them have referred themselves to Parliament’s standards watchdog. Well, they had little choice.
But Rifkin still chairs the intelligence and security committee (ISC). What do we make of a man that is clearly up for hire being in charge of such a sensitive committee? Shouldn’t warning bells be ringing when he was approached to help a Chinese firm. But clearly the prospect of money in the pocket deafened those bells.
David Cameron promised five years ago to tighten the rules on lobbying. At the time he said it was the “next big Scandal”. He was right, it is. He promised to tighten the rules, clearly, he failed.
Little wonder that many voters are moving away from supporting the big parties, they just don’t trust politicians to behave responsibly. How often is it said on the doorstep “they’re all in it for themselves.” Today’s news makes it hard to disagree with such sentiments.