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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More on those expenses

Today's Western Mail suggests that an attempt was made by the Welsh Conservative Chief Whip to secure a 'gentleman's agreement' aimed at silencing criticism of AMs’ expense claims:

Last night an AM, who preferred not to be named, told the Western Mail: “William Graham [the Tories’ Chief Whip at the National Assembly] was very keen to bury the expenses issue, knowing it was very damaging to the Conservative group. He wanted a gentleman’s agreement under which AMs of all parties would agree not to criticise others over their expense claims.

“I certainly would not have been prepared to go along with such an agreement.”

Mr Graham did not return a detailed message we left for him after a spokesman for the Welsh Conservatives referred us to him.

Glyn Davies has been very vocal on his blog in criticising the timing of the publication of the expenses, suggesting that the decision to publish the expenses on the day after the AMs had left Cardiff Bay on recess was a monumental mistake. He also believes that a conscious decision has been taken by Assembly Members not to face the media to justify claims on taxpayer's money when the expenses were released.

Personally, I would have preferred to publish the expense returns earlier that week but the fact is that they were not ready to be put into the public domain. I am not aware of any conspiracy of silence on the part of Assembly Members. Like Bethan Jenkins I am willing to defend my claims. I have not been asked to do so however.

In fact yesterday's phone-in on Radio Wales had both Nick Bourne and Alun Davies speaking in defense of their expenses. I did not hear it but I understand that at least one of them argued that the system needs to be changed and that the Commission set up by the Assembly under Sir Roger Jones is in the process of making recommendations on that.

There is no doubt that the Tories seem to have come off worse from this latest publication of expenses. This is partly because they have made some unusual claims but also because of the dissatisfaction within the Conservative Group about Nick Bourne's leadership and the fact that some are using his expenses as a stick to beat him with. In the circumstances I would have been surprised if allies of Nick Bourne had not sought to dampen down the controversy.
Peter - is it possible to be 'vocal' on a blog. If you are telling us that the expenses were not ready to be published on Monday, the day we had all been led to expect, and were not ready until the day after AMs had departed for recess, I'm willing to accept that it was a miraculously (un)fortunate coincidence.

On your other points. I would have expected many of the AMs to have been willing to justify their claims - but you know how it works as well as I do. The media rings up the press offices of the parties looking for a spokesperson, and an answer of "We are not putting anyone up" is seen as being made on behalf of all AMs - probably to the fury of some members. I would certainly have been tamping if it had happened to me. And interviews this week are too late. The damage was done over the weekend, because there was no response last Friday. It wasn't as if we weren't expecting it.
Peter, it's not "the system needs to be changed" nor whether the Assembly gets more or less powers or is abolished (the preferred view of many I percieve), it is something beyond our control as a people of Wales or beyond the control of "Authority". What needs to be changed is the selection process of candidature for Assembly Members by political parties. None of us can change this from the outside of these parties. How AMs can be selected in a meeting containing less than a telephone kiosk (Plaid Cymru) or by typical Labour old pals (old boys) bringing forth Parish Councillor types (with a few notable exceptions). The Tories are a pathetic "rump" with very few exceptions, and you know Peter the Lib Dems have their very good and also their less than useful mixture. I'm off to a Community (Parish) Council Meeting now as an observer. It should be more inspiring than the "Parish Council" or "Siop Siarad" at Cardiff Bay!
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