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Friday, July 22, 2005

Labour power-grab

Summer madness took over Welsh politics yesterday, overshadowed only by far more serious events in London.

Peter Hain has now officially lost the plot with his latest rant against regional assembly members. His assertion that the expenses system for regional Assembly Members is being "widely and systematically abused" is not backed up with any evidence whatsoever, other than the general insecurities of Labour constituency members who do not like sharing their patch with anybody.

Even the claim that regional members use their allowances to "poke their noses into constituency members' affairs" and target key seats for party advantage is just hearsay based on the fact that some regional members have worked and stood for constituencies. The reality is that because the list, which we depend on to get elected, is decided by the party, then regional members cannot afford to favour one area of their region over another. Their members quite rightly expect them to work uniformly hard across the whole region.

And can Mr. Hain and others seriously put their hand on their heart and say that constituency members do not sometimes pick and choose what issues they can exploit for party advantage. If the behaviour of the two Swansea Labour Assembly Members over the proposed closure of Dylan Thomas School is anything to go by then it is clear that some issues become more important for them too, because they provide an opportunity to attack the opposition.

Fortunately, we have Labour AM, Huw Lewis, to thank for revealing his party's real agenda. In a letter to the Western Mail today he quite rightly castigates Leanne Wood for her comments but then goes on to argue for a reform of the Assembly voting system that would effectively abolish the list seats altogether and produce an Assembly consisting of just the 40 constituency members.

We should not forget that the reason why the inadequate voting system we use for Assembly elections was introduced was to build a consensus in favour of devolution. Not only were people concerned that the Assembly would become an unrepresentative Labour dominated citadel, but there were also worries about adequate representation from rural and north Wales as well. Under Huw Lewis' scheme Labour would have 30 of the 40 seats on less than 40% of the vote. North Wales and Mid and West Wales would be largely disenfranchised and the other parties would be massively under-represented.

Furthermore, at a time when the Assembly is acquiring new powers and responsibilities and when we are struggling to cope with the workload we have due to the inadequate three weekly committee cycle imposed by Labour, a reduction in the number of AMs to 40 flies in the face of commonsense (and the Richard Commission proposals).

Huw Lewis' agenda (and it seems that of Peter Hain) is one in which Labour dominate Welsh politics unchallenged by any other party, effectively a one-party state. That is not democracy nor is it sustainable in a devolved settlement that is meant to empower all of the people of Wales, not just those who vote Labour!
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