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Monday, February 12, 2007

Muddy Red Water

The fascinating thing about this letter from Bob Hart in today's Western Mail, defending the Welsh Assembly Government's record on civil service cuts from a PCS union point of view, is not that he is married to the Social Justice Minister in the Assembly Government, but the way he tries to establish Wales Labour as a completely separate entity from Tony Blair's creation on the other side of Offa's Dyke. Bob writes:

Within the constraints of limited powers and finance, the WAG is working to a philosophy quite different from that of New Labour. Most Labour AMs simply do not share the free market zeal or disdain for working people which characterises Blairism.

For the Wales Labour Party this is not a position that can be justified from a constitutional, financial or regulatory point of view especially when the actions of Tony Blair and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, are threatening the livelihood of thousands of civil servants in Wales. For most people Wales Labour is Tony Blair's Labour, no matter how hard AMs work to distance themselves from Blairism. They either want independence or they do not, they cannot claim a halfway position in which Wales Labour gets all of the plaudits for doing its own thing but none of the brickbats for what its parent body does, especially when the two are indistinguishable as accounting and constitutional units.

Indeed the position of the Welsh Assembly Government on these job losses is far from clear. Whereas, the Finance Minister Sue Essex told a rally in Cardiff on 31 January that the Assembly Government will oppose the job losses, her Government colleagues and the First Minister in particular have been more circumspect.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson told the media that in a meeting with Dawn Primarolo, Rhodri Morgan would press for those job cuts to be offset by new jobs coming as part of the Lyons review. The First Minister was less than clear when pressed on this point in the Assembly last week.

The point is that although Bob Hart has the freedom to put some distance between Wales Labour and his colleagues in Westminster, his wife and other official representatives of the Assembly Government have to be more cautious. They cannot shake off responsibility for the Government's actions in Westminster or their consequences for Wales, because they remain elected representatives of the UK Labour Party. Any attempt to do so will soon be seen through by voters. The way that they run the Assembly is important but so too is the 'disdain for working people' shown by their party.

They are so seperate that they use the national calling centre to call during the Wales-Ireland game and have their leaflets printed in Newcastle.
Hart's letter reflects the problem for Labour party members including his wife who because of their trade union background automatically support the unions. The only problem with this approach is that it isn't that popular with the voters . The reform agenda will continue under Gordon Brown with the public sector including the assembly being expected to find 3% efficiency savings under the new CSR. It's easy to make speeches to a bunch of civil servants. The hard bit is making sure that the millions of pounds of extra money that has been pumped into the public secor is used wisely. At the moment Wales has a bigger public sector than Janos Kadar's Hungary and that is not good for the long term prosperity of the country.
Couldn't resist adding (though it's probably better that you don't publish this!) that I remember Rob Hart when he was a firebrand young member of the Socialist Workers Party (or one of those Trotskyite organisations). He was anti-establishment then, and he certainly regarded the Labour Party as part of the establishment.

Frank Little
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