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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Merger most foul

I suppose that we must all resign ourselves to the fact that most of the political coverage in Wales over the next week will be about the Labour-Plaid coalition deal. Both parties are due to hold their conferences to ratify the deal next weekend after which the emphasis will shift to the governance of Wales itself and the deliverability of the One Wales document.

In the meantime dissenting voices continue to make themselves heard. What is most unexpected however is this piece in the Western Mail in which Hayzell David, an activist in Plaid's women's section, advocates a merger between Labour and Plaid:

Ms David’s paper says that for decades the two popular socialist parties in Wales – Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party – have keenly fought for the same sector of the electorate. “Yet both Plaid strategists and progressive Labour planners realise that the long term aim must be to join forces as a popular socialist movement in a self-governing Wales.

“Political careers and effort are being wasted in inter-party conflict when the ideological enemy – Conservative, Liberal, Ukip, BNP etc – are reaping the rewards. The two majority Welsh parties are not giving best service to Wales if they are intent on mutual destruction. If eventual merger is desirable, and perhaps inevitable, now is the time to start.

“The parties are becoming approximately equal in terms of activists, organisation and [non-union] membership in Wales. The cycle of inter-socialist conflict must be broken. United in effort, the coalition will be the first united socialist front to rule Wales.

“It may be hard for many to bury the hatchet, but the opportunities are well worth it.”

Such a merger would of course involve the separation of Wales Labour from the UK Labour movement but let us not allow niceties to get in the way of a good argument. Quite how such talk will go down with Plaid's rank and file is another matter. It is likely that this particular paper will not secure wide support in either party.

Update: Ceredig suggests that the whole piece was a spoof and offers a convincing argument to back up his proposition. As I pointed out in the comments, blogging about an article in the Western Mail does not amount to endorsing that piece or even believing it, however like others I was prepared to countenance that a very small minority of Plaid activists might advocate such a merger. It was an interesting talking point but ultimately a distraction from the main debate.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Following Gordon Brown's revelation that his school motto was "I will do my utmost", Good Evening Wales ran a feature on the subject.

More out of curiosity than anything else I decided to look up my old school's motto. It is "Sapientia Ianua Vitae", translated as "Wisdom is the gateway to life".

Given that the school has churned out amongst others, a Prime Minister, a Welsh MP, a Welsh Assembly Member, a 'Brookside' actor, an Air Commodore, numerous academics, a comedian, professional footballers, an Olympian and a film director then it must have been doing something right. I suppose it depends how you define success and what you believe makes for a 'good' life.

Resistance is futile

The Western Mail covers a number of elements in Welsh political life who are determined to stoke up opposition to the Red-Green Coalition.

First off is Ron Davies, who presumably never envisaged such a pairing when he first put together the 1998 Government of Wales Act. Ron tells us that Plaid Cymru has been “stitched up” by Labour in agreeing to the One Wales coalition document:

He said, “If you look at the wording of the document, there is no firm commitment to hold a referendum on full lawmaking powers for the Assembly. There is a get-out clause which allows the referendum to be delayed if it is thought it could be lost.”

This is not a view taken by Adam Price, who is positively triumphalist in his blog posting. I have put a comment there responding to some of his more trenchant criticisms.

Meanwhile, some of the Labour dissenters have a beef of their own - the coalition document was altered after the Labour Assembly Group and National Executive agreed it. Labour still have a lot to teach all of us about machiavellian politics.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Shaping History

The Western Mail reports that the voting in the Plaid Cymru group yesterday was 10 AMs in favour of the Labour/Plaid deal and five for the rainbow coalition. Elin Jones, Dai Lloyd, Janet Ryder, Gareth Jones and Chris Franks were the members who voted for the All-Wales Accord.

I was astonished to read on Betsan Powys' blog, and then subsequently in the Western Mail, that Ieuan Wyn Jones told reporters that a major factor in his decision to go with Labour was his uncertainty about whether the Welsh Liberal Democrats would stay the course in a rainbow coalition. Even at this time he does not seem able to take responsibility for his own actions and prefers instead to try and pass the buck. What sort of Minister will that make him?

Ieuan knows that the Welsh Liberal Democrats took a democratic decision to support the Rainbow Coalition and all of our members have accepted that outcome and are committed to working to implement the views of the majority. The party has sustained a difficult coalition in the past and we also lead substantial and diverse groupings of Councillors on three of the biggest local Councils in Wales.

Even if there had been a leadership contest, and that would have been unlikely if Mike German was a Minister, then there was no way that any candidate could reverse that position. There is no doubt that the Welsh Liberal Democrats would have lasted the course, so let us not get carried away in thinking that this is a real or a valid reason for Plaid's decision.

It is also the case of course that both Labour and Plaid have some significant dissenters. Rhodri Morgan is meeting with Labour local government leaders today to try and mollify them, whilst the Welsh group of MPs are in open revolt. Plaid too, have a substantial body of opinion who would have preferred the Rainbow Coalition and there is some nervousness amongst some of their AMs about the outcome of their National Council meeting on 7th July. Nevertheless I will be surprised if either party rejects the deal now.

Meanwhile the paper asks what does all of this mean for the Welsh Liberal Democrats? Their conclusion is that we face a crisis of identity and strategy. They say that there is no sign that Rhodri Morgan is prepared to consider seriously Lib-Dem Assembly leader Michael German’s invitation to discuss building a “stable government” in Wales. That does not surprise me at all.

The newspaper goes on to speculate that we will be out of government, competing with the Conservatives for protest votes and will shortly be plunged into a leadership contest that will involve soul-searching and recrimination.

What they and others do not seem to have factored into this equation is the resilience of the party. The others may be gathering to pick over the carcass but the party is very much alive and kicking. We have responsibility for providing local government services to about a million citizens, we have six talented and experienced Assembly Members, the second largest block of Welsh MPs and a strong message on civil liberties, green issues, open government and trust in politics.

It is true that we face difficult decisions and that we have to conduct a review of where the party goes from here and how we relate our values and policies to a Welsh context but that is a unifying exercise. Equally, we have a good record in holding passionate and intelligent debates on issues and then uniting around whatever consensus emerges. Internal debate does not always equate to splits, but can strengthen a party. That applies too if we have a leadership election.

It seems to me that what faces the Welsh Liberal Democrats are challenges and opportunities. We will now be one of only two opposition parties in the Assembly and will therefore face less competition to get our message across. Our strength is in scrutiny and in policy development. We have a chance to carve a distinctive position that sets us apart from the Tories here. We may not be in government but we are far from down and out.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In camera

Plaid are meeting at the moment in one of the old Committee Rooms. There is a huge number of journalists lurking around the corner. Betsan Powys reports that the meeting was expected to be over by 10am, but 25 minutes later they are still there. I know this because there is a camera on in the room (though no sound) and the meeting can be monitored over the Assembly's internal television system.

Update 10.44am: They have now sussed that they were being watched and have covered the camera with a black cloth.

Update 11.20am: The Plaid Cymru group have voted to recommend to their National Council that the party enter a coalition with Labour. No other option will be available to Plaid members to vote on.

Decision day?

It has been a long journey and it may not yet be over. However there is the possibility of closure this morning as the Plaid Cymru group meet to choose between two programmes for government.

It is unlikely to be policy that decides it. Plaid will be making a political decision on whether to lead a government and break Labour's historic hegemony or to be part of a potential realignment of the nationalist left, as Adam Price would have it. Both programmes have problems with deliverability and no doubt that will influence Plaid AMs in their choice as well.

The Labour group approved the coalition yesterday and were quickly joined by the Wales Laboour Party Executive in their affirmation. Talk in the tearooms suggested that five Labour AMs voted against and there was even a suggestion that these dissidents were summoned to the headmasters office to explain themselves. Rumours also abound that the Labour group imposed some conditions to their approval and that this led to some very long Plaid faces around the Assembly offices. We shall see.

All the media are predicting a knife-edge vote and that certainly backs up my instincts. On the assumption that even the merest slight might influence the outcome the Western Mail carries news of a leaked pre-election Labour strategy document in which Plaid Cymru are described as 'a shambles which could not run a cockle stall, let alone a country.' The document sets out the strategy that Labour used during the Assembly election, which in itself could hardly be termed a success. It is unlikely to have much impact on Plaid's decision today.

Radio Wales has just reported that they believe that eight of the 15 strong Plaid group back a coalition with Labour. They have also speculated that Ieuan Wyn Jones will see the way the tide is flowing and jump aboard that particular ship so as to avoid a damaging split in his group. How many more twists and turns can be left in this saga?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Grand entrance

There is nothing like starting a new job with a flourish or leaving on a high and Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have managed to do both today with the announcement that the Conservative MP Quentin Davies has defected to the Labour Party.

Mr. Davies' verdict on his former party is cutting:

In his letter, he wrote: "Under your leadership the Conservative Party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything.

"It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda."

Mr Davies added: "Believe it or not I have no personal animus against you.

"You have always been perfectly courteous in our dealings. You are intelligent and charming.

"As you know, however, I never supported you for the leadership of the party - even when, after my preferred candidate Ken Clarke had been defeated in the first round, it was blindingly obvious that you were going to win."

He also wrote: "Although you have many positive qualities you have three, superficiality, unreliability and an apparent lack of any clear convictions, which in my view ought to exclude you from the position of national leadership to which you aspire and which it is the presumed purpose of the Conservative Party to achieve."

Gordon must be pleased.

In debt

Despite having reached a settlement in the Assembly on Top-up fees that provides some relief for Welsh students attending Welsh Higher Education Institutions there are still external pressures to undo that work.

Today's article in The Times is a case in point. They report that Lord Dearing, who first advocated charging tuition fees ten years ago, is to tell vice-chancellors that universities can only remain globally competitive if they charge “differential fees”. He is also going to suggest that in future students could pay some sort of graduate tax.

It is likely that in 2009 the UK Government will lift the cap on tuition fees in England. This will immediately put pressure on the Welsh Assembly Government to either follow suit or find additional money so that Welsh Colleges can compete.

There is no easy solution to this and the only assistance will come if Gordon Brown maintains the principle of no up-front fees. In this instance there may well be additional government money to fund increased fee grants and a Barnett consequential to Wales. We can but hope.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Enough already!

The Press Association are reporting that the Plaid Cymru group meeting to decide whether to go into coalition with Labour or stick with the Rainbow has been postponed until Wednesday. Apparently it has been delayed to await the outcome of a meeting of Labour's Welsh executive tomorrow night.

Whether Plaid are hoping for more concessions or they just want to be sure that they have Labour on the hook, leaving Rhodri with no chance of re-opening talks with the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I do not know. Either way could they please just get on with it? Please!


Having used their Saturday edition to try and persuade us that the most likely outcome of coalition talks in the National Assembly is a rainbow coalition, the Western Mail now says that the favoured option is a Labour-Plaid Cymru link-up.

Presumably, they have spoken to a substantial number of the Plaid Cymru group to have reached this conclusion. I understand that Ieuan Wyn Jones spent some considerable time during meetings with his members over the weekend seeking to explain that option above all others. If it is the case that the Plaid leader now sees the merits of linking up with Rhodri Morgan then it really is game-over for the rainbow.

All of this is speculation of course. Plaid Cymru have proved themselves to be as adept at keeping us guessing as they are at changing their mind. The party have form on this, as they proved last year when they walked out on the other opposition parties on a pretext, so as to strike a deal with Labour on the budget. Let us hope that they get more from Rhodri Morgan this time than they did then, otherwise they may find themselves on another 'cheap date'.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The tide of history

The relationship between the Wales on Sunday and various internet sites is getting more and more incestuous. It is just that blogs and social networking sites like Facebook are such good sources of stories.

Today for example, the paper catches up with David Davies MP and his blog item on why foreigners should be charged for using the NHS. David concludes that we should insist that absolutely everyone arriving here from outside of the EU, should be in receipt of a verifiable health insurance document which could be checked by immigration officials.

Later on in the paper there is a report on the tongue in cheek Facebook group entitled 'Paul Potts was a Lib Dem Councillor! (Legend!). The founder of the group explains that the singing sensation that is Britain's Got Talent Winner Paul Potts was more than just an employee of Car Phone Warehouse. He was a Lib Dem Councillor on Bristol City Council until he stood down there in 2003.

So this unique group is dedicated not so much to the fact that this humble and yet uber-talented chappy from Port Talbot managed to wow the nation and win after a cracking rendition of Nessun Dorma......no, it's dedicated to the fact that before he hit fame and fortune and worlwide acclaim, he was once a Lib Dem Councillor!

Finally, the Spin Doctor column picks up on a blog report of Lembit Öpik clutching two pints of the House of Commons' guest ale, Top Totty in one of the Houses of Parliament bars. I thought I had read this on Paul Flynn's blog but I cannot find it right now as he does not have a search facility. There is a remarkable and disturbing synchronicity in my web browsing and that of Matt Withers.

The most fascinating piece in the Spin Doctor column however is the lead item on Alun Cairns' Parliamentary ambitions. Matt speculates that 'the popular Mr. Cairns' has a good chance of overturning John Smith's 1,808 majority in the Vale of Glamorgan. If this happens he reports, then Alun will be succeeded in the Assembly by his former researcher, Alex Williams. Really?

I would hate to suggest that there has been some spinning going on here, but it is a fact that the number two on the Conservative list in South Wales West last time was not Alex Williams, but former leader of Porthcawl Town Council, ex-radio talkshow jock and freelance sports journalist, Chris Smart.

Mr. Smart suffered quite badly from a dirty tricks campaign just as the Assembly elections were getting underway and it was widely reported that senior Conservatives did not want him to continue as a candidate. Now it appears that the tide of history has washed him away, except that from my knowledge of Chris Smart he will not be so easily pushed aside.

Is there a story here that has not been revealed? Has the pseudonymous Spin Doctor missed a trick in his reporting of the internal affairs of the Welsh Conservative Party? Perhaps he should pick up the hint from this blog and get us chapter and verse by next Sunday.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A week for decisions

This morning's Western Mail contains a two page spread speculating on what is going to happen next week with regards to the future governance of Wales. All three of the paper's political reporters conclude that the Rainbow Coalition will prevail over Plaid-Labour, albeit for different reasons.

David Williamson says that the opportunity for Plaid Cymru to lead a government may not come again for a generation. He adds that a very different Labour Party will fight the 2011 Welsh elections, and Rhodri Morgan's successor will have spent months courting potential coalition partners. Plaid and the Conservatives know this, and it is one reason why they believe the iron is hot and it is time to strike.

Tomos Livingstone concludes that those who see a Plaid-Labour link-up as an opportunity to realign the Welsh left are in a minority within the Party of Wales. He also believes that Labour does not really want this option either. The rainbow deal, by contrast, is agreed and ready to go, subject to a Plaid special conference. No outcome is flawless and each has its problems, but it looks like the rainbow is going to happen.

Martin Shipton tells us that Plaid fought their election campaign on a pledge to "Kick New Labour into touch". Ieuan Wyn Jones can hardly be surprised therefore, if he meets considerable resistance from Plaid members when seeking to sell them the merits of a deal with Labour. Given the chance to lead a government or play second fiddle in someone else's, the decision will be a 'no-brainer' for most Plaid members.

The paper's analysis of the Welsh Liberal Democrats' options are a bit out of date. They report the fact that the party's NEC has been placed on stand-by to authorise the re-opening of talks with Labour if the Plaid Assembly group backs a coalition deal of their own with Rhodri Morgan. Tomos Livingstone however, suggests that Mike German might have difficulty persuading his own group to agree to this course of action - we did so last Tuesday.

There is also a belief that if the Plaid group decide to recommend the Labour option on Tuesday then the deal is signed and sealed, game over. That is not necessarily the case. Both parties need to get the endorsement of a party conference before that position is reached and there will be nearly two weeks to fill in which other talks can take place.

Finally, it is true that the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference voted 60-40 (not two to one) in favour of a rainbow coalition. It is also true, as I am quoted as saying, that a sizeable number of that 40% did not want to see a deal with anybody. That however, does not make a 'no' vote inevitable if a further Conference is called to discuss a Lib-Lab Coalition. The dynamics would be very different.

I have to say that just as I believe that the decision of the Plaid Cymru group on Tuesday is too close to call, so would be the outcome of a new Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference on a vote to go into government with Rhodri Morgan. The only thing that seems certain is that we will have a final verdict on the rainbow coalition next week, after that who knows.

In the chamber on Wednesday, Caerphilly Labour AM, Jeff Cuthbert, referred to an event that took place a week before the election. Sitting there, listening, I suddenly thought that this must have happened last year. It hadn't of course, but the feeling underlined the extent of the marathon we are currently crawling through.

On the doorsteps last night people were commenting that the whole process was a shambles. I do not share that view. What we are witnessing are the growing pangs of a democracy, but as with any errant child, sometimes you just wish they would grow up quicker.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tough on Labour

The Western Mail reports on the intervention of 'senior Plaid Cymru figures' in coalition talks between Labour and the Party of Wales.

These 'senior' figures include Dafydd Wigley, who believes that amongst Plaid Cymru's demands should be an additional £500m of match funding from the Treasury to assist with the implementation of convergence funding. Other anonymous figures demand STV for local government, a bigger Assembly elected by the single transferable vote, the active participation of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown in a referendum campaign in favour of more powers and the renaming of the Welsh Assembly Government.

It very much sounds like certain journalists have been doing a ring-round, but whatever the origins of the story the stakes for a Plaid-Labour coalition have been raised and the foundations laid for a very strong argument in favour of a Welsh Liberal Democrat-Plaid-Tory Government at the Plaid National Council on 7th July.

Update: I have been reliably informed that this story did not originate from a ring-round but that key protagonists contacted the journalist in question on their own initiative. This indicates the start of a campaign within Plaid Cymru to secure agreement for the rainbow coalition.

Affordable housing crisis

The Home Builders Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru have identified the need for another 40,000 affordable homes to be built in Wales. They have told the BBC that fewer new homes are being built in Wales than at any time since World War II.

The nub of their criticism is that the planning system is too time-consuming and that not enough land is being made available for development. In particular they are concerned that areas where the demand is greatest are planning a reduction in house building.

In response the Welsh Local Government Association has accused them of taking an over-simplistic approach. They properly point out that some developers resist incorporating affordable housing in their plans whilst the Town and Country Planning Act exists so that there is no indiscriminate building.

The Welsh Assembly Government points to the extra money it has already put into Social Housing and the fact that it is seeking to make Assembly Government owned land available for affordable housing where appropriate.

In many ways both sides of this argument have a point. There clearly is a need to provide more housing in specific areas and local Councils need to accommodate this. However, they also have to make sure that this additional housing contains a good mix of affordable homes to buy and rent. To do this they need to be much more focussed in using the planning and other powers available to them so as to ensure that local people are able to afford to live in these new developments.

The extra money that the Assembly Government is putting into social housing is insufficient in my view. It is also misdirected in many instances. We can for example make more use of Homebuy as part of a specific, stand-alone fund, to create a key workers housing scheme for the whole of Wales, allowing people on low wages to buy existing properties that might otherwise be too expensive for them.

Registered Social Landlords can be given more scope to innovate, both in the provision of housing and in creating developments that regenerate brownfield sites and which introduce new community facilities. We can also do more to bring empty properties back into use and, instead of arguing in the press with house builders and those interested in housing policy, the Government should set up a standing housing advice task group which encompasses all stakeholders and gives them a direct input into government. Such a body already exists in the field of homelessness, why not affordable housing as well?

These are some of initial thoughts on this agenda. I have just been appointed as the Welsh Liberal Democrats Housing Spokesperson once more and I intend to spend the summer meeting with interested bodies so as to catch up on current thinking. Before that happens, we have a debate on Wednesday on this issue. Rhodri Morgan has said that affordable housing is a priority matter for him. Let us see how much his government is prepared to change their approach to make a real difference.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Masih Family

I have been asked to use this blog to highlight the plight of the Masih family. Sarah and Marcus and their 3 children (Matthew, Rose and Mary: aged from 5 to 11) have been living in the UK for approximately 3 years. They left their native Pakistan in fear of their lives because they are Christians.

At present stories coming out of Pakistan indicate that Christians are being murdered and churches bombed. In their time in Swansea, the Masih family have become settled in the community of Port Tennant, in Swansea. The children go to St Illtyd's Roman Catholic Primary school and the whole family are involved with their local church.

Both Marcus and Sarah have attended college to improve their English and therefore their employment prospects in preparation of their asylum application being approved. All they want to do is to be able to bring up their children in safety and to work to provide for them and to pay taxes back to the country that they hope will give them that safety.

At approximately 0800 on Monday 18 June, uniformed officers arrived at the house. The adults were bundled in to a police van and the children into an unmarked car. The family's belongings were removed from the house in plastic bags. One of the local nuns and a local councillor were told by the police that the family were being take to Heathrow to be deported on Friday.

If they do return to Pakistan, it is believed that their lives will be in serious danger because of their religion. It has since been found that the family are being taken to Tinsley House removal Centre awaiting deportation on Friday. Supporters have no way of contacting them. Representations are being made to the Home Secretary by the local community and I know that their MP is involved. I am also writing to the Home Office.


Rhodri Morgan's trip to London last night produced predictable results. The Labour MPs want him to talk to the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

A number of commentators in the blogosphere in the last few days have demanded to know what business it is of Welsh Labour MPs how we arrange ourselves in the Assembly. Tempting as it is to say that the likes of Wayne David should keep their nose out the reality is that they are major stakeholders in this process. The reason for this lies in the flawed passages of the Government of Wales Act Mark II.

On a purely political level of course Labour MPs will find themselves having to defend any arrangement on the front line. They will face re-election before Assembly Members do so naturally they are concerned that their interests are protected. Frankly, that is just hard cheese. All parties face the same dilemma and we will have to live with it and make it work as best as we can.

On a practical level however, the importance of the Welsh Labour MPs is much more significant. The sort of concessions that Rhodri Morgan is being asked to make by Plaid Cymru and, if talks re-open, by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, demand specific additional powers for the Assembly. If Labour MPs are not prepared to vote for a referendum on extra powers then we do not get one. If they oppose a Legislative Competence Order giving us the ability to change electoral arrangements for local government then Rhodri Morgan cannot introduce STV in Council elections.

I have already commented on how Rhodri Morgan has used this legislative road block to get Plaid Cymru back around the conference table. He made it clear that a rainbow coalition would have difficulty in opening doors at Westminster to which he holds the key. Now, he is caught in his own trap. If he is deliver on a deal with Plaid he needs the support of his MPs on the specific measures he is promising. They are however, reluctant coalitionists.

Surely this cannot go on any longer. There really does need to be a resolution very soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Behind the scenes

In the Assembly talks are going on behind closed doors. Labour AMs are far more relaxed after the traumas of last week, whilst Plaid members are walking around looking serious and tight-lipped.

Even the Western Mail cannot find a new angle on the negotiations to form the next Government of Wales. A search of their columns finds only the letters page still focussing on this issue.

Star letter is from Gareth Williams of Ystrad Mynach who tells us that as an active Labour Party member and an officer of the Caerphilly constituency he will be walking away and doing something else if rank and file members such as himself are 'expected to support this proposed immoral coalition' with Plaid Cymru.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Group met last night and agreed to wait a bit longer so as to allow Plaid Cymru to make up their minds. We were united however in agreeing that Mike German should approach Rhodri Morgan if the so-called rainbow coalition ceased to be an option. An urgent National Executive meeting will be called to endorse this action if necessary.

Yesterday Labour's Jeff Cuthbert stood up in the chamber and made reference to an event that took place a week before the Assembly election. For some reason it felt like a year ago, not the seven or eight weeks it actually was.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Financing the Assembly

The Welsh Liberal Democrats take the debate about how the Assembly is funded into Plenary tomorrow with a motion calling for the creation of an independent commission. In the past such a motion would attract the support of Plaid Cymru but would founder on the rocks of Labour and Conservative opposition.

Wednesday, however, may be different. That is because the very commission that we are calling for is already the subject of negotiations between Labour and Plaid Cymru, with the First Minister having agreed to its establishment. The Commission is also in the rainbow accord document endorsed by the Welsh Conservative Party. Will we get unanimity on this issue for the first time in eight years? We will see.

In many ways the reform of the Barnett formula has become a touchstone issue for a number of politicians. Some will use it at every opportunity to justify why the Assembly cannot deliver a particular policy objective. Others will argue that it is the key to the promised land. In the sense that more money means that we can do more things then they are right, but we must not allow the argument to stymie our agenda or to limit our ambitions. We have to work within the boundaries of the possible and deliver the best possible services on the present settlement until and if we can do better.

We must also be realistic about what a Commission will deliver. Many are assuming that the rational reform of the Barnett formula will deliver more cash for Wales. They may be right. But until we have the evidence, until we have put together a formula that is acceptable to everybody then we cannot be certain.

It may well be that negotiations between Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Treasury on funding formulas are too difficult and that agreement becomes impossible. It could be that we cannot even agree on a federal funding commission similar to that which delivers money to the various federal elements of Australian democracy.

In any debate on funding formulas we have to recognise that there will be winners and losers. In these circumstances it tends to be the losers who dig in their heels. No amount of righteous indignation at the injustice of it all will shift positions if that happens. We may have to keep the Barnett formula after all.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chalk and Cheese

For those who might be puzzled at the reluctance of some Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru members to get into the coalition bed with Cameron's new cuddly Conservative Party, todays Times newspaper may provide some clues.

They tell us that a new survey by Populus about the attitudes of MPs reveals not only deep underlying disagreements between Labour and Conservative MPs on key social values, but also big divisions within the Tory party. David Cameron has failed to persuade a large number of his own backbenchers to accept his liberal views on morality and race:

On several key questions Tory MPs are deeply divided. For instance, against the view of Mr Cameron, just 46 per cent of Tory MPs agree that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples, with 54 per cent disagreeing. For comparison, 83 per cent of Labour MPs and 92 per cent of Lib Dems agree.

Similarly, there is a 52 to 48 per cent split among Tories on whether “the diverse mix of races, cultures and religions now found in our society has improved Britain”. By contrast, 92 per cent of Labour MPs agree, as do all Lib Dems surveyed. And while Labour MPs are virtually unanimous (94 per cent) in agreeing that “one of the things that would most improve life in Britain today is people being more tolerant of different ethnic groups and cultures”, that is the view of only 67 per cent of Tory MPs.

The survey also shows that if you scratch beneath the surface, MPs from the two main parties have very different views on public services. Roughly nine out of ten Labour and Lib Dem MPs agree that “if we were starting with a blank piece of paper and designing a health system for scratch, we would still create something very much like the NHS”, but only two fifths of Conservative members agree.

Private schools appear as a sharp dividing line. More than four fifths of Labour MPs (85 per cent) believe “it would be better for the country if everyone who sends their children to private schools chose to send them to state schools instead”, a view backed by only 7 per cent of Tory MPs.

I have yet to be convinced that the Conservative Assembly Group is much different than their Parliamentary counterparts on such matters.

Hat Tip: Tom Watson

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Keeping their options open

Honestly, I go out to help a friend celebrate their birthday only to return to find people expecting me to be at my computer live-blogging the outcome of the Plaid Cymru Executive meeting. It is not as if the Party of Wales made any surprise decisions. In fact the outcome of the meeting was entirely predictable.

What is not so easy to foresee are the consequences of their decision for Wales and the reaction of the other parties. For the Welsh Liberal Democrats' part I refer readers to yesterday's post.

Blair's war

The extent to which we had the British people and Parliament were deceived over the decision to go to war in Iraq is revealed further this morning with a news item in The Observer. The paper tells us that Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country:

In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House.

He also agreed to commit troops to the conflict even though President George Bush had personally said Britain could help 'some other way'.

The disclosures, in a two-part Channel 4 documentary about Blair's decade in Downing Street, will raise questions about Blair's public assurances at the time of the war in 2003 that he was satisfied with the post-war planning. In one of the most significant interviews in the programme, Peter Mandelson says that the Prime Minister knew the preparations were inadequate but said he was powerless to do more.

At the time of the debate on the war the need for an exit strategy was a very live issue. Our suspicions have now been confirmed that not only were we misled on the existence of weapons of mass destruction but also on the preparations for war and its aftermath.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Tory solution

In most papers today we can read the outcome of Michael Heseltine's review of local government. He has proposed US-style directly elected mayors to run big city councils across England. These mayors will run all top-tier authorities, serving four-year terms, with executive mayors for Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool having powers over regeneration, transport, skills, fire, waste and police services.

The Guardian tells us that Heseltine's proposals go further in the direction of devolving power to local communities than anything offered so far by Labour but already it is facing resistance within the Conservative Party:

Lord Heseltine said local government had been emasculated. Mr Cameron said: "A city, like a nation, needs a single individual at the top, someone everyone knows is ultimately in charge, and who is directly responsible to the citizens for the state of their community."

But the Tory leader in Bradford, Kris Hopkins, said: "I simply do not see the merit in this idea. As the presidential style of the Blair government has vividly demonstrated, the concentration of so much power and influence in the hands of one individual does not make for good decision-making."

Kris Hopkins is right. The Tories do not have a good record on local government reform, introducing the poll tax and lumbering Wales with a number of local councils that are too small to effectively govern their own area. However, their mistakes do not sit alone. Meddling by the current Labour government has seen the creation of cabinet government and directly-elected Mayors, both of which have removed power from local communities and their representatives, undermined effective scrutiny and concentrated influence in too few hands.

Heseltine's and Cameron's vision of a single City boss wielding great power is a further step in this direction. Far from designing a first citizen who everybody 'ultimately knows is in charge', the Tories will be creating a monster that will not only brook no opposition but will also end up rivalling MPs and the Government itself within each City.

It is not stronger government we need but more accountable government. We should be empowering local communities and their representatives and reintroducing transparency and accountability into the system. If the Tories think that directly elected Mayors are the answer to that challenge then they have asked themselves the wrong question.

Civil war or hype?

I am wary about commenting once more on the talks going on in the Assembly after somebody on my previous post accused me of lacking insight. That could be because like many other members I am sitting on the outside looking in. Nevertheless I have a view, which I will continue to give. If you want insight then, for now, look elsewhere.

Today's Western Mail plays up the prospect of civil war within Labour if Rhodri Morgan, with the backing of the Trade Unions, signs them up to campaign for a 'yes' vote in a referendum on more powers. However, one cannot help but get the feeling that this rebellion is not representative of the whole Wales Labour Party. A comment by 'Patriot' on the last post sums it up:

As always in such things the small minority opposed to an idea make far more noise than the majority in favour. The vast majority of active Labour members want to see a centre left government and the Tories kept in the position the bulk of people of Wales want them in, which is opposition.

This whole Labour divide line is being played up by selective interviewing by the BBC and Western Mail. How many labour interviews have you seen from constituencies in Cardiff, Bridgend, Newport, Swansea or Wrexham yet? Those of us wanting this alliance have the numbers. Let's see if at any point the BBC want to talk to any of us.

We should not kid ourselves, if Plaid Cymru want this link up with Labour then they will get it. And that is the big ask. I have been told that Plaid's big guns are still pushing for the rainbow coalition and that those 'very senior' members of Plaid who want to go in with Labour lack influence. For my part, I believe that Ieuan Wyn Jones will get whatever it is he decides that he wants. If he goes to his party's executive and National Council seeking a coalition with Labour then it is likely that they will give it to him. If he decides that he wants to be First Minister then he will get that too.

The other possibility of course is that Plaid will have the prize wrested from their hands. It is clear that Labour would much rather do a deal with the Welsh Liberal Democrats, however it is less than transparent whether we want to go into government with them. In the interests of being insightful, I can reveal that some soundings have already been taken within the party as to what we should do if the rainbow fades away.

Some of its strongest advocates are prepared to be pragmatic and accept that a role for the Welsh Liberal Democrats in government, even if it is with Labour, is a way forward. Others take the view that this is a step too far and that opposition would be a more preferable route. For my own part I am undecided.

As a democrat I have agreed to support the majority view of the Conference and back the rainbow coalition and I will continue to do that whilst it remains a possibility. We have though now come too far for me to be able to revert to my original refusnik role. I still think that the party needs to be overhauled and that we must have a debate on what our role is in the four-party Welsh system, however it now seems that this view has been accepted by the vast majority of our members. I believe that there is a clear and distinctive niche for our party within Welsh politics and that we should be refocussing our work and approach to fit into it.

In the meantime however, we do face the prospect of being marginalised by forces outside our control. We cannot allow that to happen. In order to prevent being sidelined we may well need to take control of the agenda and push for our own solution to the governance of Wales.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Triple lock revisited

The coalition bandwagon rolls on with cracks now starting to show in the Labour Party's facade. On Dragon's Eye last night a number of Caerphilly Labour Councillors expressed their deep disquiet at the prospect of getting into bed with Plaid Cymru.

Rather bizarrely, an interview with Rhodri Morgan immediately afterwards had him effectively saying that if he must bring Plaid into government then he will, but he would rather cuddle up to the Welsh Liberal Democrats instead.

In this morning's Western Mail Martin Shipton has got hold of some renegade e-mails in which Labour's Lynne Neagle expresses her own reservations. She is pressing the Labour leadership to re-open talks with the Welsh Liberal Democrats and even indicates that some movement would be possible towards introducing STV in local government.

For the record I do not know how the Welsh Liberal Democrats would react to such approaches. Clearly, there is a conference mandate to pursue a rainbow coalition but if that were to fall by the wayside on Saturday as a result of Plaid Cymru's Executive then there is nothing to stop Mike German coming back to the Welsh Liberal Democrat NEC with a request that they sanction talks with Rhodri Morgan.

Whatever the outcome of such talks they would have to be endorsed by the now-notorious triple-lock process and another special conference. My guess is that there would be quite ferocious resistance to a deal with Labour, but I cannot predict what the final vote would be.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Weather vane

When things get tense the British way is to talk about the weather so I am going to put aside the discussion of coalitions for now and refer to this article in today's Western Mail about one of the consequences of global warming.

The Met Office has predicted that we could see a month’s rainfall over the next two days as the hot humid air bursts into a torrential downpour. North and Mid Wales are likely to be hit the hardest but the entire Welsh coastline may be affected:

Average rainfall for June is around 86mm and forecasters say towns like Wrexham, Rhyl, Llandudno and Aberystwyth could be hit by flooding once the heavens open.

Is this the paradise that Rhodri Morgan predicted we would benefit from as a result of climate change?

Good news on freedom of information

I had a useful message yesterday via one of my many Facebook campaign groups. This one is run by James Graham and relates to the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to exempt MPs from the Act and will prevent the publication of their detailed expense claims.

As of 5pm yestoday, this Bill was been declared dead by the House of Lords authorities. With no-one willing to sponsor it (not a single one of the 700+ peers), it cannot go any further.

"The message goes on to say that of course, in Parliament, no legislation is ever truly dead. Like Friday the 13th films, bad laws have a nasty habit of coming back. In addition, the government is still making noises about its desire to weaken existing FoI legislation in other ways. This has to be stopped."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Momentum builds

On the BBC website Adrian Browne speculates that the rainbow coalition option has not yet faded from Cardiff Bay. He may well be right. However, from conversations I have had today it is becoming clear that the Plaid-Labour coalition is starting to gather momentum within both of those parties.

I have heard that some very senior and influential Plaid Cymru members are promoting the idea of going into government with Labour. Their view is that this is the best chance of getting a referendum on a full Parliament and they intend use that argument to try and sell the deal to more sceptical colleagues. Ieuan Wyn Jones may well give up the chance to be First Minister but he would claim that he is sacrificing personal ambition so as to secure a proper devolution settlement for Wales.

On the Labour side I understand that the prospect of losing power has concentrated minds quite sharply. Detailed talks have been on-going involving Labour AMs who in the past have been the scourge of Plaid Cymru in the chamber and elsewhere. Rhodri Morgan has gone up to Westminster to try and convince the MPs and I have been told that Gordon Brown himself has agreed to push the referendum through Westminster when it is required. He does not fancy the idea of having to deal with three non-Labour First Ministers once he takes over from Tony Blair.

Calls for a special conference are a diversionary tactic. It has already been agreed that this is to happen. No doubt it was considered that to coalesce with Plaid without one would cause too big a row and that a vote of party members would be the best way to settle things down quickly.

All the cards are in Plaid Cymru's hands. Bethan Jenkins has revealed that it is the Plaid Cymru Assembly group, who will ultimately make the decision on the preferred option not the party's executive. However, the meeting on Saturday will be the first indication of how opinion in the party is going. We really do live in interesting times.

Keeping the seat warm

Is Eleanor Burnham considering defecting to Labour so as to assume the leadership of their party? I only ask because of a throwaway line in yesterday's First Minister's questions in which she indicated that Gordon Brown had been keeping the seat warm for her:

Eleanor Burnham: I had the privilege and the pleasure of being one of the first to ride on the Virgin biofuel train from Euston to Llandudno last week; I believe that I was sitting in Gordon Brown’s seat, after he vacated it in Crewe. It was a pleasure and a privilege. [Laughter.]

Whether, it really is a 'pleasure and a privilege' to occupy the same seat as the Prime Minister-elect is a matter for debate but I suppose it beats being photographed outside the door of No. 10 Downing Street.

An insidious Act

As we continue to veer all ways on the journey towards stable government in Wales it is worth reflecting on some words spoken by the First Minister yesterday. He issued what the South Wales Echo described as a veiled threat to any potential rainbow coalition when he told journalists that Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats would struggle to get Welsh laws passed in such an arrangement.

A spokesman for Plaid Cymru put his finger on the issue at stake when he said: “It would be preposterous for any Labour government in Wales to block any legislation passed by a democratically elected National Assembly. It would fly in the face of democracy.” However it seems that the fact that Labour can deliver in Westminster was a deciding factor in Plaid Cymru's decision to re-open negotiations with them last night.

In many ways this incident underlines the main criticisms of the Government of WAles Act. Not only does it turn the Secretary of State into an effective Viceroy of Wales, but it also puts the National Assembly in the position of going cap-in-hand to Westminister for the powers needed to implement manifesto pledges and gives MPs an effective veto over matters that should be devolved to us, irrespective of the mandate associated with them.

The fact that the First Minister can use that deliberate design flaw as a bargaining tool is, I suppose, realpolitik but it is not a comfortable reality nor is it a very principled one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rhodri makes his move

The BBC is reporting tonight that Labour have made a formal offer to Plaid Cymru to come into a coalition government with them. I understand that the offer involves a minimum of three cabinet seats and the guarantee of a referendum on full assembly powers.

Plaid AMs will discuss the offer on tonight, and according to the BBC a senior party member said it was an "odds-on certainty" they will support further discussion.

Responding to these events Mike German said that they bear an uncanny resemblance to what happened with Alun Michael in 2000. "When the Labour Party are hanging over the cliff edge, hanging on by their fingertips, they shout for help. Back then Alun Michael made a similar last ditch offer to us. We rejected it because at that time we felt people had rejected Alun Michael's Labour government."

As I recall events the Welsh Liberal Democrat group spurned a glass of wine with the then First Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales and went for a curry instead. Plaid have already had one curry moment in 2003, when they forced the resignation of Ieuan Wyn Jones as Party President. Will they go for a curry this time? I think that it is unlikely but what the eventual outcome will be is difficult to predict.

The question Plaid have to answer now is whether they want to hold the position of First Minister and directly run the Welsh Government in partnership with the other parties or play second fiddle to Rhodri Morgan? Whatever the outcome, let us hope that they accept that their destiny is entirely in their own hands. We should not expect finger-pointing at others for decisions that are their responsibility alone.

Great Welshmen

My attention has been drawn to the Cardiff University Magazine for Spring 2007 and an interesting article on the economic role of universities by Mark Alexander. The article starts with the words: "The great Welshman and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said universities should be places of light".

A quick check on google confirms that the great man was born on 21 December 1804 in London, England and remained throughout his life very English. Oops! More light needed perhaps.

Feeling our way

Betsan Powys has the full contents of Ieuan Wyn Jones' response to Rhodri Morgan on her blog here. It is very much as expected, with a demand for more concessions if the First Minister is serious about drawing Plaid Cymru into supporting his government. Betsan reports later that there were also talks today between the two parties but no indication has yet emerged of what was agreed if anything.

My money is still on the 'Rainbow Coalition' if only because I cannot see the vast majority of Labour AMs and members stomaching a formal deal with Plaid Cymru that makes Ieuan Wyn Jones Deputy First Minister. I may be wrong on this, I have been before, but we will see.

What I found most interesting about Ieuan Wyn Jones letter is the reference in the Health section to specific talks between the Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister and Edwina Hart. In the Welsh Liberal Democrats we have been asked not to undermine the 'rainbow spirit' by going off on our own and stitching up deals with Labour Ministers. That restriction does not seem to apply to Plaid Cymru. Perhaps they are not so keen on working with the other opposition parties after all.

Mike German has tried to chivvy the deal on a bit with an extensive item in the Western Mail based on the Welsh Liberal Democrats' press conference yesterday, however this article is just the journalistic equivalent of treading water. The next momentous event is the Plaid Cymru National Executive on Saturday and there is only an outside chance of Rhodri Morgan upsetting the rainbow apple cart.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Thomas Cook

Although I am not a Welsh-speaker, I find the decision of travel agents, Thomas Cook, to ban its staff from speaking Welsh at work to be both incomprehensible and unacceptable. The travel agents have told staff in their Bangor office - one of the strongest Welsh-speaking areas - that they must hold work-related conversations in English.

On Radio Wales this morning the very valid point was made that customers have the power to change the direction of businesses in the use of Welsh. Although, this is no substitute for effective government action in protecting the rights of workers and customers, it is something that Welsh speakers should consider if they do not do this already.

Personally, I will not be using Thomas Cook's services at all whilst they maintain this policy. I suspect that others will be doing the same.

An easy ride

The former Conservative Assembly Member Glyn Davies has used his blog to announce that he will be seeking his party's nomination to challenge incumbent Welsh Liberal Democrat MP, Lembit Őpik in Montgomeryshire at the next General Election. Since he lost his seat, Glyn has had a bit of an easy ride in the media and on the blogosphere.

There is no doubt that Lembit has upset many influential people in finishing his relationship with Sian Lloyd and taking up with a cheeky girl. Friends of Sian have combined with our political enemies to wish Lembit ill and to pray for his comeuppance.

Glyn is of course, a very affable person who was popular with nearly everybody in the Assembly. Nobody can take that away from him. However, he is also a politician and a mainstream conservative and we should not allow sentiment to dull our critical faculties. If Glyn re-enters the political fray then I hope that commentators apply the same level of scrutiny to him as they do to all other politicians. I am sure he would not want it any other way.

Pressure to succeed

Despite the revolution instigated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, governments in the UK still quite rightly believe that it is their role to intervene in the economy whenever possible, to try to kick-start growth and create jobs. Such activity inevitably puts pressure on government to deliver. Two reports in the news today highlight the dangers and risks of such an approach.

Firstly, in the Western Mail a leaked report suggests that the former Conservative-controlled Welsh Office provided misleading figures to the European Commission in order to ensure that massive state backing for the ill-fated LG project at Newport could go ahead. The project was expected to create 6,100 jobs however, at its peak, LG provided 2,200 jobs before the cathode ray tube plant closed in 2003 and the monitor assembly plant closed in 2006.

The report alleges that the misleading figures have compromised the Assembly Government's ability to recover public money that was put into the project. An agreed settlement led to the Assembly Government and the WDA reclaiming £71m of the £131m paid to LG.

The second story relates to the Assembly Government's ground-breaking Communities First project. Last night BBC Wales told us that their research had revealed that over £6m of Communities First funds was returned to the Government unused over the last two years. There are of course many reasons why money may not spent in such a large programme, especially when it is dispersed across so many small projects, however two very relevant points have emerged from this issue.

The first of these is raised by Professor Dave Adamson. He said that a shortage of trained workers and relatively high turnover was to blame. The need to train up people to help run these projects was highlighted some years ago in an Assembly Committee report. I believe that it is perfectly legitimate to question whether the recommendations of that Committee report were implemented and if not what was the impact of that failure on the underspend.

The second point is raised by Leanne Wood. She points out that seven years into a 10-year programme, Communities First has failed to cut poverty. In fact a report published today confirms that Wales has the highest incidence of child poverty in the UK.

How Communities First is evaluated was also the subject of Committee reports. I have never been entirely satisfied that the mechanisms are in place to properly satisfy ourselves that the £136m we have invested so far is being spent effectively and is producing results. In fact all the evidence is that this money is making little difference.

I am not advocating the abandonment of Communities First, I still believe that it is our best chance of making a difference. However, we need to put the tools in place to ensure that the money is spent where it is needed and that it makes a real measurable difference. That is going to be the first challenge for the new Social Justice Minister.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

More on Hain

Wales on Sunday columnist, Matt Withers, and I are Facebook friends. As part of the ritual involved in such a pairing you are requested to state how you met. In this section Matt has written: "Matt routinely steals stories from Peter's blog and attempts to pass it off as his own work." I am now going to return the compliment.

In his column today Matt notes that
Peter Hain spent most of the Assembly Election campaign warning of the dangers of letting the Tories into government if people didn’t vote Labour:

He told his party’s conference that a non-Labour vote would lead to “a Tory first minister in Wales in 2007 - aided and abetted by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid”. He told the House of Commons that not voting for Labour would guarantee “a Tory-led coalition running our schools and hospitals”. He wrote on his website that “a vote for Plaid Cymru or for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to put the Tories back in power in Wales”.

And indeed, prior to the 2005 General Election he told the Scotsman newspaper that voting Liberal Democrat in marginal seats would let in the Conservatives “by the back door”.

Yet looking forward to the next general election he writes in this week’s New Statesman: “Scaring progressive voters with the image of David Cameron crossing the threshold of No 10 won’t win Labour the next election.”

Like Matt, I believe that there is some kind of contradiction that for the time being eludes us.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The problems with campaigning

It must be very difficult to fight an anti-establishment campaign from within the cabinet. Some might say that it is well-nigh impossible and that could well be why Peter Hain is making so little progress in his bid to become Deputy Leader. His problem is that the very left wing activists can often find it difficult to distinguish between his actions and comments and those of the cabinet.

Please do not misinterpret what I am saying here. I happen to think that Peter Hain has had a good ten years as a Minister. Above all else he is competent and a safe pair of hands, and that is why I believe that he has survived the few occasions that he has gone off-piste in his public utterances.

This time it is different however. He is trying to carve out a niche for himself to win votes and in the process he has upset a number of his cabinet colleagues. The latest Minister to get the hump with Mr. Hain is Home Secretary, John Reid. He has accused the Welsh Secretary of creating a row over new anti-terrorism measures to further his ambitions to become Labour's deputy leader:

In a letter to Tony Blair, Mr Reid condemned the Northern Ireland secretary's behaviour over proposals to give the police stop-and-question powers.

He accused Mr Hain of pressing for an extension of powers used in Northern Ireland and then protesting to the prime minister when Mr Reid in turn proposed them. The protest helped ensure they were dropped from a package of measures put to the Commons on Thursday.

"I must admit to being perplexed at the correspondence on this issue from Peter, given that this was a power which he himself had specifically pressed you for," Mr Reid said, in a letter passed to the London Evening Standard.

Peter Hain is of course right in saying that there is "a grave risk that the new power will act as a recruiting sergeant for extremism". However, Mr Reid told the Prime Minister that Mr Hain "was the only proposer of this measure" on stop-and-question leaving doubts as to why the matter had been raised in the first place.

Mr. Hain says that his criticism was not on the substance of the powers but the way in which they were portrayed as tough and warlike in a Sunday newspaper. I wonder how the activists will see it.

Update: Hain responds by accusing the Home Secretary of 'fanning' the row: Asked if he had supported similar powers in the past, he said: "What you've seen in the papers is actually not true. That's all I'm going to say about it". It is war!

The 'nasty party'

The former Welsh Conservative Chairman, Sir Eric Howells, goes into print this morning to hit back at his former party for their lack of gratitude.

Sir Eric was thrown out of the Tories for two years after he complained that his local association had been “gatecrashed” by anti-hunt protesters and suggested in a TV interview that an Independent Conservative candidate could stand and would receive widespread backing:

In a letter to the Western Mail, Sir Eric said, “[There was] no ‘thank you very much’ for what I had done for the party over the years. The only reference to my contribution was ‘it is with particular regret that the panel made the decision as it recognises your past service to the party’. Big Brother has taken over from central office. The party chairman Theresa May, when addressing the party conference a few years ago, referred to the Conservative Party as the nasty party. My experience confirms that as a very true statement.”

His views have been noted.

Friday, June 08, 2007

In the pink

Fans of Big Brother may already be familiar with the concept. Pink is the new black, as is illustrated by the launch of Fly Pink, a "boutique airline designed especially for women" which plans to operate from Liverpool's John Lennon airport.

The airline will offer flights to Paris for "shopping breaks" in customised pink planes, and, to complete the experience, will also provide pink champagne and complementary manicures before take-off.

The Guardian tells us that it is now possible for women to experience their entire day in pink. You can work out with a pink yoga mat and weights; adorn your windscreen wipers with pink wiper wings; cook dinner on a pink George Foreman grill and style your hair with hot-pink hair straighteners. You can even see off would-be attackers with a powder-pink Taser gun.

It seems that the world is being redesigned to accomodate the Big Brother twins. If they are lost for something to do when they leave the house they can always apply to work for Fly Pink.


Suddenly everybody wants to get in on the act of who should form the Welsh Assembly Government and none of them are AMs.

I reported yesterday on Adam Price's preference for a formal coalition government between Plaid Cymru and Labour, that has now been welcomed by Health Minister, Edwina Hart, who told Dragon's Eye last night that she would be happy to sit at the same cabinet table as Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones. Are formal talks to be resumed? Rhodri Morgan's door is apparently open. All that it needs is for the Plaid Cymru leader to walk through it, though I suspect that such an act will cause much anguish on both sides.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Local Government Association is holding itself up as an exemplar of how things should be done. Its leader, Derek Vaughan, has urged AMs to follow his organisation's example and work together on a cross-party basis. That is certainly possible and it is a position I advocated prior to my party's vote on a rainbow coalition, however we should not kid ourselves that it will prove to be as painless as Councillor Vaughan suggests. His is essentially a lobbying organisation, the Assembly Government has to govern.

Finally, another MP jumps in with both feet. I will be in Swansea with Lembit Őpik and, I understand, both Cheeky Girls tonight at the Swansea Film Festival, so no doubt we will have a brief discussion about how things are going. However, if he really thinks that Rhodri Morgan will just stand aside to allow a rainbow coalition to assume control of the Welsh Government, then he is being naive.

It would be nice of course for any coup to be bloodless but there is some way to go before we even get to that point. Judging by the activity going on behind the scenes, some of which is making the news, the rainbow coalition remains the favourite but a number of other runners are catching up fast on its blind side.

N.B. Now that I have found Adam Price's infrequent but high quality blog I have put a link to it on my sidebar. I have also updated the list to take account of various changes and newcomers to the field. If there are Welsh political blogs I have missed please let me know.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Those letters

Rhodri Morgan told Good Morning Wales this morning that he was seeking to form a cross-party consensus on reconfiguration in the National Health Service.

This consensus does not appear to include the Tories, who, along with Plaid and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, were very critical of the process during the election. Such selectiveness on the part of Labour means that what they are actually looking for is a political fix. That is all very well but it would help if they said so.

Labour's attempts to peel off Plaid and the Welsh Liberal Democrats from the rainbow coalition may prove more difficult than they think. Within minutes of receiving their letters from Rhodri Morgan yesterday, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Mike German had shared their contents with Nick Bourne. We have all been told that if we are approached by a Labour Minister to talk about a particular proposal then we should insist that our opposite numbers in Plaid and the Tories are included in these discussions as well. Interesting times!

Cold feet?

Is Plaid Cymru backing off the idea of a rainbow coalition? Adam Price, who was the party's main negotiator in the tripartite talks last week has now told the Western Mail that he prefers the idea of working with Labour to a three way Plaid-Tory-Lib Dem coalition, but will support that second option if no deal with Labour is forthcoming.

His doubts seem to be reflected in Ieuan Wyn Jones' remarks earlier this week that the chances of Labour being ousted in the next six weeks and replaced with the “rainbow” coalition – led by himself – were 50-50. On Radio Wales yesterday Alun Ffred Jones was equally as cautious.

Obviously, Plaid Cymru have their own democratic processes to go through and nobody can blame their leaders for being circumspect on the way forward before their National Council meeting in July. However, the voices against a deal with the Tories in Plaid continue to be heard more loudly than those with a contrary view, and in Adam Price they have won a major convert. It ain't over until it is over.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Making laws

The First Minister is going to be coming to Plenary today with an initial list of the new Welsh laws his minority government want to pass. Unfortunately, they have not consulted the other three parties as to what is on that list.

If they were still in a majority then I would not expect Labour to initiate such a consultation. After all it is not traditionally how majority Labour Administrations operate. However, this government is meant to be part of a 'left-of-centre consensus' and we were promised by the First Minister that he would be doing things differently from now on.

The Business Minister told Radio Wales this morning that Labour would be consulting the opposition parties on the details of the legislation once the programme had been published. That is hardly sufficient. Perhaps Labour have accepted that a rainbow government is an inevitability after all and they are past caring. I don't know but it looks that way from where I am sitting.

Is it any wonder that Ieuan Wyn Jones is hinting at a takeover within the next six weeks? At this rate he will not even have to manufacture an excuse.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Idle chitchat

One of the things that Bethan and Leanne missed out on today was the opportunity to spend some time with their fellow AMs in a social situation and find out some interesting facts about them. Here are three examples, suitably anonymised:

1. Which AM told me that he did not write his own blog and had only realised a few days ago that he has one?

2. Which AM was once arrested for trying to strangle Sir Keith Joseph?

3. Which AM has an ancestor who is recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church?

My lips are sealed.

Update: Nobody has come close with the second two and my lips are still sealed. The saint in question by the way was Richard Gwyn.


Whilst two of our more Republican Assembly Members were visiting homeless projects in Swansea, the rest of us were in Cardif to see the Queen. As they were obviously feeling a bit vulnerable Leanne and Bethan had lined up a whole host of celebrities to validate their position. These included Benjamin Zephaniah, Polly Toynbee, Peter Tatchell and Claire Raynor. All of them are entitled to their point of view and to express their republicanism in a way that they believe is appropriate.

I am also a republican but I believe in upholding the constitution no matter how flawed it might be, so I came to the Assembly and even shook the Queen's hand. I believe that is common courtesy but I am not going to judge others for their actions. In this instance, that is not my place.

Although the Western Mail went big on this issue and it has also featured on various blogs as well the more important news was the determination by a committee of MPs as to how many Orders in Council they believe can be processed in a year.

I heard this on the television news this morning and have not been able to find a link to the item, but the gist is that we are expected to ask for no more than four or five orders each year and it is likely to take between three and six months to process each one. Given that an order in Council could be as short as 30 words this seems a bit excessive and a severe restriction on the operation of the Assembly. Yet another way of keeping the Welsh in check perhaps.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tortuous and demeaning

Despite my little rant a few days ago about the separation of church and state, I believe that the Archbishop of Wales was absolutely right to publish his views on the Government of Wales Act this morning, and I am not saying that because I agree with him.

There is of course a huge difference in a senior cleric expressing a view on a matter of public interest on one hand and seeking to influence the actions of individual politicians by the use of intimidation on the other. It is perfectly legitimate for churchmen and women to have a view and to use their position to get an airing for it. It is not legitimate in my view to effectively try and place the church between a politician and their vote by implying that an MP's religion should come before the interests of his or her constituents.

Having clarified my position I fully endorse the views of the Most Rev. Dr. Barry Morgan on the powers of the Assembly. That Wales should remain in an inferior position to Scotland in the powers it can exercise is ridiculous. That we need to go cap in hand to the Viceroy of Wales, Peter Hain every time we want to draw down powers is just absurd.

The new system does indeed look clumsy and cumbersome but we will need to wait and see how it operates before coming to a complete judgement. I suspect that it will be easier to operate with a minority Labour Government than with the inevitable rainbow coalition.

One of my concerns about the All-Wales Accord was whether Peter Hain would let us actually implement most of it, particularly those clauses on a fairer voting system for local government, but other measures as well. I suspect that the first real test of the Government of Wales Act will be when Ieuan Wyn Jones assumes the mantle of First Minister. Let us hope that it is not found wanting.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brave New World

Reports in today's papers indicate that Gordon Brown's brave new world is not actually going to be that new after all. Firstly, the Observer tells us that hardline anti-terror laws are to be proposed by Gordon Brown - including an extension of the 28-day limit on detention without charge.

This is the Chancellor's way of saying that he is going to be even more forceful than Tony Blair. It is also a signal that he is going to take on his party's left wing head on, particularly deputy leadership candidate, Peter Hain, who has described such measures as 'macho posturing'. He should be careful though, these sorts of confrontations with your own party can backfire, as David Cameron can testify all too well.

Later in the same paper we learn that the Treasury is launching a High Court appeal against a decision instructing it to release information about the cost of ID cards. This contrasts sharply with Brown's pledge earlier this year of a new era of transparent government. He told potential voters in the Labour leadership battle that 'Government must be more open and more accountable to Parliament.'

It seems that regime change on 27 June will just yield more of the same from a politician who has been fully immersed in Blairism and New Labour from the start and who will have a great deal of difficulty shedding that baggage, if he wants to at all.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Church and State

The Archbishop of Cardiff has joined with the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland to try and break down the longstanding separation of Church and State. In an apparent attempt to intimidate catholic politicians into voting for the Vatican's position on abortion, these clerics are now suggesting that those who do not do so should absent themselves from communion:

Archbishop Smith rejected arguments that MPs had to represent a larger constituency, including people whose views on abortion were at odds with the Catholic Church.

"A politician in these circumstances has a real difficulty, which I can appreciate," he said.

"But I would say that, because at the end of the day this is a question of a fundamental human right to life - which we all have and on which all other rights are based - if a politician said 'I must go along with the majority view of my constituents' then he ought to consider his position both as a Catholic and a politician."

There are many practising catholics who do not support the church's position on abortion. Whether they continue to attend mass and take communion is of course a matter for them. However, it is not for the church to try to influence the way that elected officials vote on complex matters of public policy. The next thing they will be suggesting that catholic MPs should vote to ban contraception (another catholic position).

Politicians have a responsibility to all their constituents and to the general public good. They cannot allow any church or religion to interfere with that duty. That is why the church was separated from the state in the first place. Senior churchmen should not seek to subvert the democratic process by undermining that constitutional settlement.


Oh, for the joys of new technology. The Assembly intranet site has been down for a week, meaning that I cannot access the agenda for next week's Plenary other than through the main internet and am barred from a whole host of other information and forms I need to do my job as an Assembly Member. The idea that the process of separating Executive and Parliament should be painless has obviously fallen down already.

In addition to that my Assembly e-mail account has been bombarded with over 2,000 messages overnight telling me that e-mails I did not send could not be delivered, and these messages are still arriving as I type.

Finally, I find that I cannot access my internet banking service and have been told that it is a problem affecting all the clearing banks. How? Do they all use the same computer? Something is wrong with that explanation but I do not have the knowledge to question it properly.

Luckily, we do not rely on this new technology to conduct our everyday lives or I might well have taken action of a Luddite nature by now.

Postscript: If I were a conspiracy theorist then I might consider that all the above events were linked and that the arrest of Robert Alan Soloway also had something to do with it. Fortunately, I am not that person.

Friday, June 01, 2007


I note that the media has been fairly neutral towards Rhodri Morgan's new cabinet. They could have branded it the 'magnificent seven' or the 'seven samurai' but they didnt because neither description would have been appropriate. They could equally have used the sobriquet 'seven dwarfs' but this gathering is a long way from being as politically lightweight as such a description would imply.

In fact the overriding feeling that this reshuffle engenders is one of anti-climax, a mood underscored by the choice of Deputy Ministers. For all the changes in portfolios and the claims of a new start one cannot help but feel that nothing much has changed and that all the promises of a better way are going to come to nought. The Cabinet just needed some fresh faces.

Of course the vote at the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference last Saturday means that this line-up is very much a temporary one anyway. I am not convinced that putting devolution friendly Ministers into key jobs will persuade Plaid and the other parties to stay the execution longer than they need to as some commentators are suggesting.

Certainly, I would expect Edwina Hart to make a better fist of health than either of her two predecessors but I cannot see much progress being made on finding new ways to tackle affordable housing or homelessness under the reshuffled regime. I could be proved wrong on that one, but we will see.

I am intriqued by the decision to give Jane Davidson the environment portfolio and also by Brian Gibbons' new lease of life at Economic Affairs. I suspect that their performance will be very closely scrutinised. Carwyn Jones in Education, Culture and the Welsh Language seems like a good move both for him and those areas of work. Meanwhile, Rhodri is relying more than ever on Jane Hutt to hold it all together for him and to help fend off the inevitable coup.

Could it be that this cabinet will have more significance for the Labour leadership battle that will ensue in Wales within the next 12 to 18 months than it does for the future direction of the Country?

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