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Monday, August 02, 2010

The vital role of politicians

This morning's Western Mail article by the new MP for Pontypridd was the worst example of self-serving nonsense that I have read for a long-time.

He gets off to a bad start by demonising some modest proposals to empower parents and NHS staff in England so as to enable them to determine the future of the local services they rely on. Clearly, as far as some Labour MPs are concerned, unless the state has its tentacles in everything and is running a command and control public sector economy then we are in meltdown and heading to Armageddon. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And let us be under no illusions as to why some difficult decisions have had to be taken with the size of the state in the first place. It is because Labour left us with a huge structural deficit and an £800 billion debt. Even they recognised that there would have to be fundamental cuts after the general election but were less than honest about this fact, as were all the parties to be fair.

Still, to describe the bloated, over-centralising, ideologically-straight-jacketed One Wales coalition as 'genuinely progressive' does stretch credibility quite a lot. In fact the current Welsh government is quite conservative both in its approach to public finance and to services, an approach that may well cause it problems as the public spending squeeze starts to bite.

The worst part of this article though is its defence of Labour's past gerrymandering of Parliamentary constituencies. They forget that one of the demands of the Chartists was to have constituencies of equal size and yet for the past 13 years they have presided over a situation where smaller urban constituencies have returned a disproportionate number of Labour MPs. No wonder they are mad, but their cry of foul play does not wash on me or on the electorate who already believe rightly that we have too many politicians and could do with fewer.

And then there is the red herring of the supposedly disenfranchised non-registered 3 million voters who, they say will not be taken account of in this exercise. It is a fair point, but where have Labour been for the last 13 years? Did they not preside over previous boundary reviews which also failed to take this into account? Decisions are taken by those who take part and if people opt out of the system then they do so knowing that they have forsaken their right to participate in electing the next government. By all means get the Electoral Commission to address this issue but let us not pretend that it is a major obstacle to reform, it is not.

Before I get to the role of MPs as the 'mouthpiece for a confident Welsh voice', I think it is worth mentioning the AV referendum. For both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives this is a compromise. Neither party is comfortable with it but in our case at least, it is a vital reform, an important step forward. Labour were the only party to have this policy in their manifesto and yet they now want to oppose the bill that will give people a say on this issue and are even indicating in some quarters that they will campaign for a 'no' vote, because they want to derail the coalition.

Well, let nobody ever accuse Labour of having a principled bone in its body corporate ever again. They are hypocrites and charlatans, whose only interest in reform is one of getting themselves re-elected. This is a test for Labour. Can they be trusted with government again? It was bad enough when they were in power, engaging in an illegal war, breaking manifesto policies on student fees and actually widening the gap between rich and poor, not to mention nearly bankrupting the country in the process. If they break this promise how can we believe anything they say again.

And so we come to the 'Welsh voice', our brave band of 40 MPs who spend every breath in every day fighting for Wales. Who knew they were so homogeneous? In case the new MP for Pontypridd has not noticed there is a Welsh Assembly now and a referendum in March next year on whether it should have full-law making powers within its 22 areas of competence. MPs are no longer so important in Wales.

Yes, we are part of the British state and should remain so but the laws that matter will be made in Cardiff Bay and that means that MPs will need to find a wider role. This is not just about equalising out Welsh representation so that it matches the rest of the UK, it is about ensuring that we have appropriate representation at the right levels. In other words, when we have 60 Assembly Members passing laws and running the country's services, we do not need so many MPs.

My advice to Owen Smith therefore is to put your self-regarding hysteria to one side and start engaging with some real issues. This self-indulgence is doing you no favours.
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