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Monday, May 28, 2007

Back in circulation

I have just returned home after spending the weekend at the Hay on Wye Festival. I went up there on Friday and, apart from a brief sojourn in Llandrindod Wells on Saturday for the Welsh Liberal Democrats Special Conference, spent the next three days enjoying talks and performances by number of artists and writers including Seth Lakeman, Ian Rankin, Marcus Brigstocke, Antonia Frasier and Nick Cohen.

During that time I found myself completely out of contact with the outside world, no mobile phone signal and no access to the internet. It was actually quite pleasant. I had better not get too used to it.

As I ease my way back into blogging I thought I might start with three memorable quotations from the weekend:

"My grandmother died at the age of 97 awaiting the second coming of David Lloyd George" Councillor Aled Roberts, Leader of Wrexham Council at the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference.

"Rainbows only last as long as the sun shines", Mark Williams MP at the same conference.

"Gordon Brown's parents gave him a moral compass. David Cameron had a moral Sat Nav - 'drive to the end of the road and then see which way the wind is blowing'", Marcus Brigstocke at Hay.

Obviously, the vote in Llandrindod Wells has put the rainbow coalition back on the agenda. When that opportunity is taken up depends on a number of circumstances and I cannot say that I have any insight or inside information on a way forward. My guess is that it will not happen before the summer recess. That of course gives the Welsh Liberal Democrats an opportunity to sort out their own problems and issues.

Chief amongst those issues is the direction and purpose of our party. At a UK level we have a distinctive agenda based on civil liberties, freedom and the environment. Although we have tried to carry that agenda over into a Welsh context we have failed to make an impact. That is something we need to address. We also need to look at how we campaign and how we make ourselves more relevant to voters across Wales.

I do not believe that the debate we have had over coalition has left us divided. Within any democratic body frank and open discussion is both necessary and healthy. As democrats we must accept the outcome and work with it. That does not mean that people will come around automatically, there must be a distinct effort to include them and bring them along with the majority. Despite the vote in favour, nearly 40% of the representatives remained unconvinced and they will need nurturing and persuading.

We must take advantage of the time we have to bring people together and to re-examine our purpose and direction. That will take leadership and a willingness to be open and honest about what has gone wrong and what is going right.

I do not accept that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are in crisis. Irrespective of the result on 3rd May the party remains strong on the ground especially where we have a record of success. We lead four Councils where we have a good record of action and we remain the second largest parliamentary grouping in Wales. Although we fell back slightly in the Assembly elections and failed to increase our number of AMs, we still polled well in those areas of strength and fully expect to consolidate and improve on our position next May. The best way to guarantee that is to start the process of rebuilding now.
As always an interesting post. The problem it seems to me for the Lib Dems in Wales is the lack of a clear politcal identity in the minds of voters. It seems a particular problem in European and Assembly elections, less so when it comes to Westminster and local government. I know many Lib Dems find the Simonon Jenkins question "what are the Lib Dems for?" insulting but it's worth asking. Speaking for myself I know what the Lib Dems are for at Westminster. They are for my civil rights. I'm not sure what they are for in Cardiff Bay. I guess that's the question that needs to be answered.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats are in crisis because of what happened *after* the 3rd May.
Welcome back Peter! I actually believe that the process that was conducted in Llandrindod on Saturday will make us stronger and more united as a party. A true democratic process was carried out and a majority vote was concluded. I was one of the 77 who voted against BUT the democratic will of the party has spoken and I for one will now not only back this document but sell it on the doorsteps and in the pubs and clubs. Thats what sets us Liberal Democrats apart from the rest. We have our say and debate but ultimately, we unite behind the collective will of the party.

As Bob Humphrys said on Saturday:

"We enter this debate as Liberal Democrats, we leave this debate as Liberal Democrats united in purpose - whatever the outcome."

-Richie Northcote
Ah, so that's why he wasn't presenting the sport this weekend.
You mention that the Liberal Democrats run some Councils.

They don't have a majority in Cardif, and rely informally on the Tories support. They have had a horrendous three years - disasterous schools organisation plan, the absurd Controlled Parking Zone Scheme (CPZ's) and the projected overspend in Social Services - the list is endless.
Running a Council is not easy, difficult decisions have to be taken, factors outside your control have to be dealt with. It was cheering therefore to see our vote in Cardiff hold up well in the wards we already hold.
You Lib Dems are truly unbelievable. You win council seats and take control precisely because in your leaflets you give the impression that running a council is easy. The thing you do not do when in opposition is make clear what you would do if you were in control, only what you are against. You claim all that is needed are Lib Dem councillors to ride to the rescue. When you take power you spend 4 years shattering the illusion you created in the minds of your voters. That's not a very honest or positive contribution to make is it?
The liberal democrats have made a monumental error in orchestrating a centre right alliance that potentially brings the Tories back into office. To quote Mike German:

They remain a wolf, however many layers of sheep's clothing they put on.
And however soft their woolly cloak, Wales will never forget how sharp were the wolf's teeth bit in Wales in the 1980s.

Wales has never been a Conservative country.
And it never will. '

Well not unless you vote liberal democrat. Be interesting to see how many Lib Dem council seats are safe now the true blue colours of the party are clear for all to see.
Anon 10.37am: if that were a true representation then I would agree with you, but it is not how we operate at all.
I remember Cardiff under Labour, facing 12% increases in Council Tax, mostly going to councillors allowances. The Libs have had a tough time but have done pretty well, especially in comparison to the previous rabble.
Patriot said:
"Wales has never been a Conservative country.
And it never will. '"

Well, I'm not a Tory but 22% of the Welsh electorate voted for them. Exactly the same percentage as voted for Plaid. Much more than the Lib/Dem.

So a big section of Wales is Tory.
1 in 5 people are Tory in Wales. 4 out of 5 people voted for what they believed to be left of centre parties. They will now see they have been deceived by the Lib Dems and Plaid. It will be very interesting to see what the opinion polls say about the 'rainbow' right of centre coalition when the 80% who didn't ask for it are polled. The last poll in the Western Mail showed 18%. The least popular of all options. The same poll showed that more than half Plaid voters preferred to see Rhodri Morgan as First Minister. Even they know Ieuan isn't up to it. The allegation that Wales has moved to the right is just a delusion of the Lib Dems and Plaid prepared to sacrifice any principle for a sniff of power.
The amazing thing is that there is not one Thatcherite measure in the All-Wales Accord.

- Frank Little
In line with the democratic principles governming the party, you have said, and rightly so, that you accept whatever decision is made. Now that the conference has voted in favour of coalition, does that mean that you would feel compeled yourself to vote with the coalition on bills in the assemblyeven if you felt that a certain bill was making too much of a concesion to the other party or was in general against your LibDem principles?
What is in the accord is irrelevant and shows the naivety of a party that has no experience of government. The conservatives have right wing ideaology, strangely enough thats why they joined the conservative party. As ministers thats what will drive them when they make the hundreds of decisions which are outside the so called accord and do not require legislation. For example does the accord prevent the introduction of PFI, foundation trusts and payment by results in the NHS? It is silent on this and therefore does not prevent such actions being adopted once actually in power. Wales did not vote for devolution to put Tories in power but to keep them out. Within the next year it will be interesting to watch the |Lib Dems and Plaid pay the price at the ballot box for having let the Welsh people down in this way. Of course there has to be coalition politics but the idealologies of the Lib Dems and Plaid and the electoral arithmatic showed it should have been centre left not right. Implying the 'rainbow' is the only coalition option is a well crafted deceit. It will be interesting to see if the people of Wales swallow it.
I have said that I will abide with the decision of the majority in my party but I continue to represent my constituents and will not vote for something that I consider to be contrary to their interests or my principles.

Patriot: I just felt it was worth pointing out that the Welsh Liberal Democrats do have experience of government here. That is why some of us were sceptical about this document and its omissions.
Lets test it then Peter. Would you vote for foundation trusts and the introduction of a market in the NHS?
I dont think there is anything to be gained from this sort of speculation. These proposals are not on the table. However, as foundation trusts are not in the Accord I would not feel obliged to vote for them, if the new procedures allowed such a vote.

There is already a market in the NHS of course and it has been continued by the Labour Party both in Wales and England. You would have to be a lot more specific as to what you are asking me to vote for but I can see no point in continuing such crystal ball gazing.
We shall see how speculative it is after your party has put Tory ministers in government. It will be a closely watched space and I will be happy to come back to you when the first 'test'of this nature arises.

Incidently there is no market in the NHS in Wales. We have not introduced any of the English financial mechanisms to enable it. So if you want one your 'rainbow' will need to introduce it. The Blairities in London will be ever so grateful to you if you do.........
It depends how you define market, which was my point.
The amazing thing is that there is not one Thatcherite measure in the All-Wales Accord.

- Frank Little

Spot on Frank.
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