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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Politics with a twist

Welsh politics has taken a rather bizarre turn in recent days, Labour Assembly Ministers have started to campaign against and criticise their own Government.

Firstly, there was the admission by Economic Development Minister, Andrew Davies, yesterday, that the Welsh Development Agency, which he is responsible for, is performing badly. Wales has slumped to ninth in the UK inward investment league for 2005 after topping the list the previous year. The number of new jobs created in Wales by overseas investors fell 36% over the 2004-2005 period, while the UK total rose 31% to a new record level.

Incredibly, Mr. Davies told the Assembly that he was not aware of this failure and then went on to pass all the blame onto the quango even though he is the accountable Minister. He went further by suggesting that the WDA's failure justified bringing it into the Assembly. That may well be so, but he should not forget that it is his failure too and the fact that he was not aware of what was going on raises questions about his own tentative grasp of the economic development portfolio.

Secondly, there was the equally strange scenario of three Swansea Labour AMs (including two Ministers) slamming the management and performance of the Swansea NHS Trust, even though the Chair and Board of that Trust were appointed by the Assembly and they are directly answerable to the Labour Assembly Health Minister for their actions. Such a public attack on the competence of a Cabinet colleague must be unprecedented in British politics.

The same thing has happened with schools. Here Government Ministers have protested against school closures and even stood on picket lines when the proposals have emerged as a result of Labour Assembly policy in relation to funding and surplus places.

What seems to be happening is that having tried to put clear red water between themselves and the UK Government, Labour are now seeking new ways to distance themselves from an unpopular Government, even when it is the one in which they serve. They are counting on the public not to associate the actions of quangos with Ministers and they are choosing public servants as targets, safe in the knowledge that they cannot answer back. In this way they can pose as champions of the public even though they are accountable for the failures they are criticising. It is at times like this that Abraham Lincoln comes into his own.
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