.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, May 22, 2006

Spinning history

Hot on the heels of the Presiding Officer's views on the future of the Assembly, we now have former First Secretary Alun Michael expressing his views on why he lost his job in the Assembly. In an interview with The House Magazine, Mr. Michael re-opens an old row with Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas by suggesting the PO ignored legal advice.

'Lord Elis-Thomas's actions paved the way for "endless challenges", says Mr Michael. He had been under pressure in the Assembly over European funding and had been trying to operate without an overall majority.

The Cardiff South and Penarth MP writes, "In the new Assembly, the three opposition parties effectively talked themselves into a position where they couldn't step back from total confrontation.

"There was real immaturity among the opposition parties and the Liberals were an unexpectedly fragile and disappointing group. It seemed that the need for stability in government had not been recognised in the way the Assembly had been designed, so it was a very fragile system."

He says the decision to resign as first secretary, as the post was then known, less than a year after the Assembly had come into being, was "very painful".

"The problem was that the presiding officer - Dafydd Elis-Thomas - made it clear that he would take further motions to challenge me if the first one failed," he says. "That went against the legal advice and opened the way to endless challenges and votes of confidence, so it threatened the integrity of the Assembly as an institution. I felt I had to resign to prevent a descent into farce."

Whereas I would agree with Alun Michael that the Liberal Democrat group at that time was 'fragile', I do not think that was really a valid consideration. His view of the Liberal Democrats did not stop him actively seeking a coalition at the last minute. The problem was that the group were split down the middle even on the idea of going into coalition and could see no reason why they should talk to Alun Michael and Paul Murphy when there was nothing on the table regarding structural funds and no way that a proper policy agreement could be put together in the time available.

When we actually did go into coalition the experience really pulled the group together and we started working much better as a team. I strongly believe however that we made the right decision that night in going for a curry rather than sharing some cheap plonk with the First Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales on the fifth floor.

As for Alun Michael claiming that he could have held on if the Presiding Officer had followed government legal advice, I really believe that he is in denial. His problems lay in the way that he had been elected in the first place, as Tony Blair's man-in-Wales, in the way he ran the government and in the way that the two combined to corner him on structural funds. I do not believe that the legal advice that Mr. Michael had was politically defensible nor relevant in the circumstances. The Presiding Officer did the right thing in getting his own advice and refusing to be brow-beaten into ignoring the majority view in the chamber.

What Alun Michael describes as immaturity, I would characterise as the Assembly asserting itself as an independent voice for Wales. By casting off Tony Blair's man in Wales they sent a message to Westminster. It was unfortunate for Alun Michael that he was the victim in all of this.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?