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Friday, July 08, 2005

Spontaneity and the First Minister

A number of Assembly Members used Wednesday's debate on the First Minister's Annual Report to practise their one-liners. It is a dying art but if any institution can breath new life into it then the Welsh Assembly can. First up was Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Mike German:

Your annual report gives us a moment to reflect on your actions over the preceding 12 months. The piecemeal populism that defines your Government is ticking along. You like to tell us about the progress that you have made on the feel-good pledges that you wheeled out for the 2003 election, but, as far as I can see, there is little to show for your set of intentions. Your top-ten pledges are still there. Most are still not enacted beyond a pilot scheme here and there. You have more pilots than a top-gun academy, but few of your ideas have yet taken off.

He was swiftly followed by another Welsh Liberal Democrat AM:

Jenny Randerson: This is a very thin document on very thick paper. If you strip out the spin, and take away the achievements that date back to the partnership Government, what do you have? Not very much. There have been two years of treading water by this Labour Assembly Government, and two years of dog paddling around in a circle—there are no Olympic swimmers in that Cabinet.

It was all good stuff but then the debate developed its own story-arc. It all started with an intervention by Neath Labour AM, Gwenda Thomas:

Gwenda Thomas: Are you aware that at the end of the last week’s first meeting of the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister, the public, of which there were quite a few present, burst into spontaneous applause? I have not experienced that since the onset of the Assembly. Do you agree, therefore, that that shows how in tune with the people of Wales the First Minister is, and that his appeal to the people of Wales far exceeds that of other leaders in the Assembly?

Having been at the Committee Gwenda refers to I would have been surprised if the spontaneous applause had been for the First Minister, his policies or his enunciation of them. It was a new Committee experimenting in a different kind of scrutiny and there was an audience who had a particular interest in the subject under discussion. The two hours of intensive questioning that constituted its first meeting was compelling entertainment in its own way and no doubt it was that which attracted the applause.

Nevertheless, the first thought that came into my head was that perhaps spontaneous combustion might be a more appropriate response to the First Minister. Others questioned whether it would now be compulsory to react in this way whenever Rhodri Morgan entered the room. This was a point taken up by Tory AM, Glyn Davies:

Mrs Gwenda Thomas talks about the bursting out of spontaneous applause when the First Minister appears. That sort of practice is an honourable tradition in one-party states; it is a bit unusual in Wales.

By that time however, Rhodri Morgan had somehow lost his sense of humour.

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