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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Party politics

Perhaps because it is still Conference season and Assembly Members have had other outlets for their views Plenary has not yet descended into the party political free-all that it became in 2003 and which we are all expecting it to become as the elections draw closer. However, First Minister's questions yesterday gave us a hint of things to come:

Q2 Jonathan Morgan: Has the Welsh Assembly Government set a date by which Wales will no longer need European aid? OAQ1863(FM)

The First Minister: This is a curious question, Jonathan, as it recalls the era when John Redwood was Secretary of State for Wales and refused to apply for European aid. We all remember that. We took a different view—the former Secretary of State, Ron Davies, said that we should apply for European aid if we can get it. John Redwood could have done exactly the same but choose not to do so, because of his visceral dislike of Europe or whatever, and missed out on probably £1-billion-worth in assistance for Wales. We will not go down that road; I give you my guarantee that if we think that we are eligible for European aid, we will go out and grab it. Having seen John Redwood on the television last night, I do not think that anyone in Wales wants him back.

Jonathan Morgan: I am grateful to the First Minister for the lack of a succinct answer to the question. Perhaps we could try something different, Rhodri. Last week we discussed the priorities and themes for the convergence programme, which is due to come in shortly, and I raised at the time my concerns about how European structural funds money, particularly under priority 3, could be spent. As you know from our discussions last week, an aspect of that convergence programme aims to ensure that money can be spent on delivering the ‘Making the Connections’ strategy, which is a Labour Welsh Assembly Government strategy. Do you accept that there could be much concern, not just within the Chamber but outside it, about the appropriateness of using European structural funds to deliver what is, essentially, an Assembly Government strategy to try to make public services more accessible? Many outside the Chamber may feel that the money spent on that strategy should come from the Assembly Government, and not the European structural funds.

The First Minister: My answer is the same as previously. You did not like the answer, because it referred to John Redwood, but I am not the one who brought him back—David Cameron did. Similarly, we did not put this category into the European aids schemes, Europe did. John Redwood said, ‘No, we do not want that European aid’, but if Europe puts that in, we are going to apply for it. Can you not get it into your head that our job is to grab whatever European aid we are entitled to, and see whether we can use it constructively for the benefit of Wales? That is what we are doing, and what we did in 1997-98, and what the Irish Government has done. If the money is there, we will use it constructively to build up the economy.

Having seen the First Minister start the sniping others then joined in:

Jeff Cuthbert: Given that David Cameron was a special adviser to Norman Lamont at the time of Black Wednesday, which led to a £3 billion deficit in the British economy—interestingly, the same sum that we have invested in Wales during the first round of Objective 1—and given that it was the Conservative Government that brought the economy of Wales to the situation whereby it qualified for Objective 1 status in the first place, are you thinking what I am thinking? [Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’] If the Conservatives had a stake in the Government of Wales, Wales might qualify for European aid for a long time to come.

The First Minister: Indeed. You can tell from the noises off, Jeff, that the Conservatives’ proposals for Wales rely upon the people of Wales having a short memory. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the people of Wales have a long memory. They remember only too well that if you go back just 20 years, unemployment was four times higher than it is today. If you take the average during the 18 years of the last Conservative Government, unemployment was three times higher than it is today. We are recreating a full employment society—we are not there yet, as I said earlier, but we are getting there, through the net 126,000 jobs that we have managed to create in Wales since the Assembly came into existence.

However, some are better at this game than others. Alun Cairn's contribution later on for example was a triumph of spin over substance and the First Minister saw through it straight away:

Alun Cairns: The Assembly has a statutory duty for sustainability, and controlling carbon emissions is extremely important in that regard. However, do you not accept that your Government has played with policies to reduce carbon emissions—as is demonstrated by the figures—rather than really getting to grips with the issue as David Cameron and the Welsh Conservative Party are?

The First Minister: Oh dear: that was how to play politics with an issue laid bare, I think it is fair to say. It is true that the figures for Wales compared to the figures for 1990 do not look as good as those in Scotland or England. The reason for that is simple: the decline of the manufacturing industry in Scotland has been more rapid than in Wales. At other times, you have accused us of overseeing a rapid decline in the manufacturing industry, but it is precisely because the manufacturing industry has not declined as rapidly as it has in Scotland that our figures look worse than those for Scotland, because we still have more industry left than it does pro-rata to the size of our economy. It is true that the figures for England look better, but that is due to North sea oil and gas, which we would like to have off the Welsh coast but do not. There has been a bigger switch from coal-fired electricity generation to gas-fired generation in England, which was much slower in coming to Wales because the gas is on the wrong side of the country. It is a very simple geographical reason.

I thought Rhodri let the Tories off lightly on the lack of any meaningful proposals from them on green issues, especially given the differences that exist between Alun Cairns and David Cameron on wind farms.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

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