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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Put up or shut up

Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain, has been at it again. He used a press conference at the Labour Party Conference to announce that next year's Government of Wales Bill will be changed to force the Assembly to draw up a new Code of Conduct to prevent the 20 regional members claiming to represent individual constituencies. He also wants to see a crackdown on the expenses paid to regional AMs.

This must be the most blatant example yet of a Government legislating to interfere in the democratic process for purely party political reasons. These are the actions of a third world dictatorship.

Mr Hain said, 'I'm announcing today that the Wales Bill will ensure that Assembly Members cannot misrepresent their mandate. No more list members dishonestly posing as constituency AMs.

'It is also high time list members stopped abusing taxpayers' money running rival constituency offices to the local members they were defeated by, effectively tax-funded campaign offices. It is an abuse of democracy and the Assembly should act to stamp it out.'

Once more Mr. Hain has failed to come up with any evidence to back up his claims. All public monies spent by AMs on their offices and expenses are audited and subject to strict rules. There are few if any incidences of list AMs masquerading as a constituency representative. What examples there are reside in the fevered imagination of paranoid Labour politicians. The Secretary of State for Wales needs to put up or shut up.

This time though it is personal. In his briefing Mr. Hain went out of his way to name me as an offender. He accused me of falsely describing myself as being the constituency AM for Neath. This is such a ludicrous accusation that it barely deserves an answer. However, for the record I cannot recollect any instance when I have done such a thing.

A glance at my website will reveal that in all instances I describe myself on my press releases as the Welsh Liberal Democrats Assembly Member for South Wales West. My surgery posters carry the same description. I am based in Swansea, which is were I get most of my press coverage and casework from, but I also work in Gower, Neath, Aberavon, Bridgend and Ogmore and hold surgeries throughout my region. Roughly half a million people live in that area. I share those constituents with the other three regional members and their constituency AM. Maybe that is the real problem.

If Mr. Hain believes that I have misrepresented myself then he should provide evidence. If he cannot do so then I expect him to apologise. I am not really holding my breath but aren't these sort of games below the dignity of a UK cabinet minister? Would he not be better off legislating to give the Assembly the powers it needs to improve the lives of the people of Wales instead of fixating on party political jealousies?
During the debate on the Queen’s speech on Tuesday 21st June 2005, you said:

“As a regional member whose constituency includes Neath, it is always a pleasure to see my constituent, the Secretary of State for Wales, in the Chamber.”

Why did you make this self-indulgent statement in the first place? Did that comment “improve the lives of the people of Wales”? You’re always quick to criticise other politicians for making comments which fall below the ‘Peter Black gold standard’, but perhaps you should look at some of the ridiculous comments that emanate from your direction once in a while before you dispense with the criticism.

Later on Peter Hain said in reply to Dai Lloyd AM, MB.Bch, MRCGP, Dip.Ther: “…How can you talk about your constituents in Neath when no-one from Neath elected you? The people of Neath who voted in the Assembly election elected Gwenda Thomas—she is an outstanding representative—and, in the Westminster election, they elected me.” I think that’s pretty much self explanatory.

I don’t think you, or Dai Lloyd AM, MB.Bch, MRCGP, Dip.Ther, Janet Davies or Alun Cairns could ever successfully portray yourselves as the AM for Neath, as the elected AM for Neath, Gwenda Thomas, is highly respected and well known in the Neath constituency, and has achieved more during her time in politics than all the regional AM’s put together.

Plaid Cymru are opening an office in Neath. The rumour is that, apparently, the office is being financed by Janet Davies AM. My understanding is that she already has an office in Bridgend (someone might like to confirm or deny that) and I know for a fact they have an office in St. James Crescent in Swansea. So the question is, why do Plaid Cymru’s two South West Wales AM’s need three offices? I think this is the point Peter Hain is making.

Leanne Wood also frequently describes herself as the “Rhondda based” AM – which is totally misleading, as she is in no way shape or form the AM for the Rhondda.

So, Peter, are you going to take the Alun Cairns route by admitting that he won’t fight a seat, and will instead take the easy ride route back into Cardiff bay via the list, or will you fight a constituency seat?
Peter Hain named me, not Dai Lloyd, not Janet Davies and not Alun Cairns. The speech you quote clearly identifies that I am a regional member and that my region (which is a large constituency in its own right) includes Neath. As such Peter Hain is my constituent. All of these are true facts. At no stage does it say or imply that I am the AM for Neath.

The reason I made the statement was to respond to comments Hain made about regional members earlier in the debate. In the context of that debate it was a reasonable and justifiable contribution. I was illustrating that despite his assertion to the contrary that I was legitimately elected under a system he helped devise and put through the House of Commons and that I have a representative role. If he cannot deal with that then it is time he grew up.

I have no intention or desire to "portray myself as the AM for Neath".
But you didn't say whether you would be standing on the list again in 2007 or whether you would fight a first-past-the-post seat.
Dr Dai Lloyd is of course one of the AMs who was elected by people from Neath. The claim to either Dai or Peter that they were not elected by anyone from Neath is plainly stupid and hardly worth a response. I am not sure if the Neath Plaid Cymru Regional Am's office is to replace or supplement either the Bridgend or Swansea offices. The point of having a series of offices is to make it as easy as possible for people to visit the office of a regional AM. I live in a constituency where the labour AM would struggle to open a paper bag. She is not someone many people would feel confident in approaching to solve a problem. I would rather go to a regional AM ..happil;y we have a very good Plaid one but one of the Tories is also someone...like Peter...who i would trust to take on a case. Why should voters struggle because the AM selected by a local Labour party is niether use nor ornament? There are some Labour Ams who do a good job of constituency work...but others.....

Do you work for Gwenda Thomas in either a paid or voluntary capacity?

Why do you ask?
I read your extravagent praise of her and wondered if you were looking for a pay rise :)
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