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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Corporal Jones tendency

I have already said on this blog that my comment about Leighton Andrews being the "middle class member for Rhondda" was a tad unfair, though a perfectly valid debating point at the time. Leighton however, seems to have taken it to heart and has allegedly spent the last two weeks muttering darkly under his breath about me.

What has apparently added to his anger is an article in the South Wales Evening Post the following week in which the paper's political editor gave a blow-by-blow account of the exchange. The section that gave most offence was the reference to Leighton's wife and to his own financial situation:

Unlike many famous working-class Labour politicians to come out of the Rhondda, Assembly member Leighton Andrews has pots of money. He is reputed to be one of the wealthiest AMs, having sold his PR company, Strategy Wales, for a tidy sum.

And the wife of the former Liberal, Glanamman-born BT Wales director Ann Beynon, is also loaded.

Nobody holds Leighton's wealth against him - until, that is, he starts prevaricating about how opposition parties are pandering to the middle classes.

This was something that the Rhondda AM was anxious to correct, which he did in a letter to the paper last Monday. Although the opinion amongst opposition AMs yesterday was that he protested rather too much, Leighton did make some very clear points:

Your reporter Brian Walters didn't have the courtesy to ring either me or my wife before writing his offensive and inaccurate comment on the Assembly's tuition fees debate. I am not a millionaire, nor do I have "pots of money". My wife is not "loaded". I have never owned a company called Strategy Wales. Along with others, I owned a company that became Strategy Wales some time after its sale.

I grew up in a one-parent family and was not entitled to free school meals. Because of the low income of our family, I qualified for a full grant at university 30 years ago. Someone in that position today would also qualify for the full range of government support. I was unable to point that out in the Assembly chamber because the AM for South West Wales, Peter Black, would not engage me in an intervention.

On Tuesday Kirsty Williams used the Business Statement to have another dig at Leighton's sensitivities:

Kirsty Williams: We also welcome the Business Minister’s understanding of the political realities of the Chamber in agreeing to table a debate on the WDA next Wednesday. She continues to handle the business statement with great skill indeed. She also recognises the importance of this debate, which the middle-class Member from the Rhondda in his blog failed to recognise when he described the WDA as an issue to be debated as being nothing more than a ‘Pontcanna issue’.

This elicited an immediate response:

Leighton Andrews: I am delighted to know that my blog is so well read on that side of the Chamber. However, they clearly did not read it closely enough. I congratulate the Business Minister for tabling a debate on the WDA. What I said was a Pontcanna issue was the scrutiny of the minutiae of what is going on in respect of the WDA. They were not interested in the real issues and in making the WDA more accountable. Those are the issues that we are interested in on this side of the Chamber. We are delighted that the WDA is being abolished and we can debate that properly next week. I congratulate the Business Minister.

Like Leighton I am always pleased to find that somebody is reading my blog. However, his account of what he wrote on it is not entirely accurate, something that I pointed out in a comment to an entry he made recording this exchange. Unfortunately, Leighton has chosen not to post that comment on his blog so I have decided to use this post to make my point instead.

Leighton claims that what he said was that the opposition's request amounted to a scrutiny of minutiae and is of no interest to anyone outside a small group of the chattering classes. However, a re-reading of the relevant entry makes it clear that the 'Pontcanna issue' he was referring to was in fact Andrew Davies's decision to ask for a due diligence review of the WDA.

I am astonished that anybody can possibly claim that a due diligence review amounts to the sort of day to day minutiae in respect to the operation of the WDA that Leighton suggests. It is in fact a fundamental appraisal of how the WDA complies with the rules it operates by and its accountability - matters that go to the heart of the sort of scrutiny the Assembly was set up for. This is no trivial matter and to suggest otherwise is just spin.

Such a review relates to how millions of pounds of public money is being spent and to the way that the Minister is doing his job in ensuring that that expenditure provides value for money. It is true that this is unlikely to be the main talking point in Rhondda pubs but that does not make it any less important nor should it enable national politicians to abdicate their responsibilities to hold the Minister to account on the issue either.
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