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Thursday, October 26, 2006


I have already had at least one phone call asking why I have not yet posted on the latest offering from rent-a-gob MP, Peter Hain. The answer is that I have been busy, but also that I don't know whether I can really be bothered. However, here I am so I might as well join in the discussion.

Peter Hain really has no idea what a Regional Assembly Member does. The question that has to be asked therefore is why does he parade his ignorance at every opportunity. If he actually believes that we are merely add-ons then why did he not use the recent Government of Wales Bill to abolish us? The fact is that he is trying to unpick the political consensus that defined the make-up of the Assembly back in 1997 by stealth. That is something he cannot be allowed to do.

I have argued in the past that as Regional Assembly Members have to cover an area seven or eight times larger than a constituency member then this more than makes up for any difference in workload and justifies the equity of treatment they receive on allowances. Equally, you cannot write rules to protect your own Assembly Members from being challenged politically. You might as well abolish elections altogether or, if you wished to be more subtle, build an electoral advantage into incumbency as they have done in America.

MPs already have that advantage with very generous allowances and much greater latitude in how they use them than Assembly Members. Peter Hain himself spends a great deal on postage, but when you put in a Freedom of Information request to find out where the money has gone you hit a brick wall. I know, I have tried. I have appealed and am awaiting the outcome of that appeal.

As a Regional Member I actually do a great deal of casework and I hold surgeries. In fact I am holding two surgeries in Peter Hain's constituency tomorrow afternoon. Interestingly, a lot of the referrals I get from Neath are from people who have been to their MP and have been dissatisfied at the response they had. In one case, I ascertained that Mr. Hain had written to the wrong person and as a result had not been able to give the assurances his constituent sought. When I wrote to the right authority I managed to resolve the issue within a few weeks.

As for the powers of the Assembly, Mr. Hain's stance is just outrageous. He is demonstrating all the control-freakery that lost Labour votes in 1999, but which they were supposed to have left behind them. What he is effectively saying is that MPs will block a legislative request from a freshly mandated government that does not fit into Labours agenda. So much for devolution.

In just a few sentences the Secretary of State for Wales has underlined all that is wrong with the Government of Wales Act. It effectively appoints him as the Viceroy of Wales and he will use that power to only let the Assembly do what he is comfortable with. Far from empowering the Assembly the Act has recast Wales as Peter Hain's personal colony.

Nowwhere is this better illustrated than in the announcement yesterday that the Assembly will in future be able to reshape local government without seeking parliamentary approval. In itself the legislation that is proposed for England will undermine democratic accountability still further by concentrating power in the hands of a few individuals. Scrutiny and transparency have been sacrificed in pursuit of 'strong' government.

Thank goodness the Welsh Assembly will be able to do its own thing. However, the very pointed exclusion of electoral reform for local Councils from the powers that are to be transferred is meant to send a message to the two parties who believe that this is necessary and who may have a significant say in the next Welsh government. Labour are effectively saying that they will block any request from the Assembly to implement such a change. In doing so they are hoping to dictate the terms of any future coalition. What they may get instead is a constitutional crisis and unstable government as Labour are left to govern alone with even fewer seats than they have at present. Where will Peter Hain be then?
But it IS hard to see the purpose of regional members. I suppose a Lib Dem finds it acceptable that members should be elected by PR but most people don't.

You have twice been rejected by the eletorate and drubbed very badly. Do you honestly feel it is right you should be there? Don't you feel the tiniest bit second class?
On the contrary I have twice been elected on a top up list. There is nothing wrong with PR however the system used in the Assembly elections is hardly PR. It is a hybrid system that is not really proportionate and which creates two different classes of Assembly Member.

We have had to create our own role but most of us have done so by looking upon our regions as large constituencies and in doing so seem to have met the expectations of our constituents.

It is not for Peter Hain to try to redefine that role but if he is so concerned he could change the system so that all 60 members are elected on a comparable basis using a properly proportional system.
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