.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All at sea

Still got a huge amount of catching up to do, including writing a FOCUS and shooting over to Porthcawl this afternoon to take part in a demonstration against the possible scaling back or loss of the Chivenor search and rescue helicopter.

This review started under Labour and is continuing under the present administration. The Ministry of Defence claims that replacement cover can come from Culdrose in Cornwall, Anglesey and Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire by using faster helicopters but this will mean longer response times to emergencies across South Wales, putting lives at risk.

There may be a large reduction of cover for South Wales leaving the whole Bristol Channel area vulnerable in the event of an emergency. This includes major tourist destinations along the South Wales Coast.

These helicopter stations already have other duties and will not be able to deal with the hundred plus night emergencies currently covered by Chivenor due to their own commitments. The response time to the Bristol Channel from Culdrose is currently half an hour, Anglesey is an hour away, and Lee-on-Solent is even further away.

The proposal also assumes that one or other of these helicopters will be available for night emergencies in the Chivenor operational area, but there is no provision for a second helicopter and standby crew.

I have already written to the UK and Welsh Governments on this issue and the campaign continues.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

That housing benefit controversy

I cannot say that I am entirely happy with the proposed changes to housing benefit and remain concerned at their impact on disabled people in particular. I do find the hysteria generated by Boris Johnston and Labour MPs hard to follow however.

Rent of £400 a week can get you decent accomodation even in Central London. Official figures show that 96 per cent of 642,200 claimants whose handouts will be reduced will face rent shortfalls of £20 a week or less, and 79 per cent of £10 or less. The proposal does not affect the millions of tenants in social housing.

Rather than lose their tenants, the Government expects the vast majority of private landlords to cover the shortfall by making a small reduction in their rents. Nevertheless, there does need to be a bit of a rethink before I am content the Government has got it right.

But the real hypocrisy appears to lie with the Labour Party, who are throwing personal abuse about like confetti and even make the outrageous claim that changes will lead to the 'cleansing' of poor people from the better parts of London.

Some consistency on their part would go a long way because if you look back at their 2010 manifesto, written by the current Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband we find this:

'Housing Benefit will be reformed so we do not subsidise people to live in private sector accomodation on rents working families couldn't afford'

That is of course the purpose of the Coalition's reforms, so what are Labour on about and how can they square their inflammatory language with their own manifesto commitment?

Now back

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week, I really needed to recharge my batteries in the run-up to the Assembly elections and so took a half term break.

This means of course that I now have to deal with a mountain of paperwork, hundreds of e-mails and quite a few matters of interest to look into that have arisen over the past week and which I may wish to take up in the chamber,

Whilst I was away I was reselected as top of the South Wales West list and now face a tough challenge to hold my seat. I have started planning and fundraising already and the first team meeting for the region is scheduled next week.

I will most probably blog more fulsomely tomorrow but in the meantime I thought it worth while drawing attention to this news item which is causing Labour some angst. Rhondda Cynon Taf Council appear to have followed Neath Port Talbot Council in unilaterally changing the terms and conditions of their employees as part of the savings they need to make for future years.

All Councils face these pressures of course, despite Labour in Swansea pretending otherwise. All Councils are also reviewing what they get for ratepayers money from their work force. So far however, the only Councils to resort to laying off staff in this way, so as to re-employ them on lesser terms and conditions are Labour-run authorities. Others are negotiating change.

Given that the Coalition Government cuts have not yet kicked in, this is a double whammy for Labour. Not only are they demonstrating the impact of their own economic mismanagement on public services but they are doing so with all the finesse of Fred Flintstone.

When Labour politicians accuse Liberal Democrats of being Tories they should look first to their own record. We have moderated Tory extremes and introduced liberal policies and principles into government. Labour not only acted illiberally when they ran the UK but they are continuing to do so in local Councils as well.

It may well be that non-Labour Councils have to take similar action to Rhondda Cynon Taf and no doubt if one of those Councils is Liberal Democrat-led then I will be forced to eat my words, but all the evidence so far is that Liberal Democrat-run Councils are holding back from such action as a last resort. Labour have taken a different approach.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The continuing threat to civil liberties

This morning´s Sunday Telegraph is a timely reminder that it is not just government that poses a threat to our privacy and our civil liberties.

They report that Google has admitted that it downloaded personal data from wireless networks when its fleet of vehicles drove down residential roads taking photographs for its controversial Street View project.

It is bad enough having one´s home pictured on the internet for all to see without this sinister off-shoot. The paper reports for example that individuals could be seen in the photos included a man emerging from a sex shop in London's Soho; children throwing stones at a house in Musselburgh, Scotland; a man vomiting outside a pool hall in east London; and three police officers arresting a man in Camden, north London.

Apparently, the vans had also been gathering information about the location of wireless networks, and as an unintended consequence also harvested entire emails and URLs, as well as passwords from those networks that were not protected by a password.

The lesson is clearly to secure your wireless network but that is not enough. This is a clear breach of British data protection laws and the company should be prosecuted.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fact or fiction - the life of Nadine Dorries

I have to confess I misread this article the first time around and convinced myself that Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshore was a fictional character.

I now find that most of what she told her electorate on her blog was made up, which is a relief. After all no mere mortal could live a life so mind-numbling dull, whilst holding the sort of beliefs she professes to espouse.

In fact it transpires that Nadine's blog was one giant subterfuge (presumably inspired by Spooks or some similar TV programme) to throw her political opponents off the scent:

But she said there was "purpose to it", because she had received "unwanted and inappropriate attention" during the investigation into her expenses and the police had advised her that her blog, which mentioned dates and times of her public engagements, was making her a target.

The police had told her "the best thing to do was try to disguise" her movements, she told PM.

She said the 15 month investigation into her expenses had been a "horrific" ordeal, which had seen her front window smashed, eggs thrown at her house and her daughter bullied, and she was relieved to have been cleared and could now "hold my head up high" again.

She told PM she would continue to write her blog, which is one of the most popular at Westminster, adding: "I have been as honest as any MP can be with my constituents".

Actually, I find that a bit disrespectful. It is perfectly possible to write a political blog without giving away that sort of detail.

I would add that I find the behaviour of anybody who targeted Nadine Dorries in the way she describes to be abhorrent. As political representatives we often put our necks on the line by taking a view that may be unpopular or contrary to the opinion of a particular group. That is free speech and if people disagree with us then they should use the democratic process to do so. Physical violence or intimidation against anybody least of all a politician's family has no place in our society and should attract zero tolerance.

Having said that I can reassure everybody that not only are the contents of this blog my one hundred per cent personal views but that I write it myself and unlike Nadine I do allow comments if they are not abusive and stick to topic.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is the Institute of Fiscal Studies being fair?

Nick Clegg has hit back at the Institute of Fiscal Studies this morning, questioning their view that the Government's economic policies are unfair.

He said that he "fundamentally" disagreed with the IFS analysis that the cuts are "regressive", meaning they would hurt the less well off more than wealthier people, with families with children faring worst of all:

He insisted that "the richest are paying the most", adding: "Those who say otherwise are not being very straight with people and frankly they are frightening people."

In an interview with The Guardian, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "We just fundamentally disagree with the IFS.

"It goes back to a culture of how you measure fairness that took root under Gordon Brown's time, where fairness was seen through one prism and one prism only which was the tax and benefits system.

"It is a complete nonsense to apply that measure, which is a slightly desiccated Treasury measure. People do not live only on the basis of the benefits they receive.

"They also depend on public services, such as childcare and social care. All of those things have been airbrushed out of the picture by the IFS."

Personally, I believe that it is inevitable that any cuts in public services will mean that poorer families suffer, because they are the biggest users of those services. That would have been true of Labour's plans to cut slightly more than the Coalition Government as well.

However, it seems to me that every effort has been made here to spread the pain around and that the biggest losers are the richest 2%. Even the IFS seem to acknoledge that.

I do not believe that the IFS have a political agenda but I do agree with Nick that the basis on which they are making value judgements is skewed. If we based our economy on such a premise then we would value welfare dependency above employment and work. That is not the way to run a successful economy, nor is it the view of the vast majority of people.

Thought for the day - S4C

As Mark Williams says here, if the Government's model is to be adopted on the running of S4C then there must be guarantees on the retention of funding from within the BBC, and on its editorial independence. We have two years to get it right before the new arrangements take effect.

However, if the TV company can afford to take the Government to judicial review instead of engaging with this process then maybe they are over-funded after all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time to move on

Yesterday's Comprehensive Spending Review was a difficult and serious undertaking that will affect us all. I am not happy about it and I am sure that none of the Liberal Democrat Ministers who took part in it, were that happy either. However, even Labour admit that cuts needed to be made to rebalance the economy and as Mark Cole points out on his blog, whereas Labour planned undetailed cuts of 20% (£48 billion), the Coalition Government actually announced cuts of 19% (£47 billion) with details on savings and investments.

What is also clear is that those hit the hardest by the full package of measures are the top 20% in wealth terms. Yes, the benefit cuts will hit the least-well-off too but too many of those are trapped in the dependency culture and at least the Government is now proposing reforms to help them back to work.

I am not going to rehearse once again the reasons why these cuts were necessary. A £109 billion structural deficit speaks for itself. The interest payments alone on Britain's debt are £44 billion a year, three times the Welsh Government's budget. I do though, want to briefly look at the impact on Wales.

Alistair Darling had planned cuts to the Welsh block grant of around £2.8 billion over four years. Yesterday, including capital, the Coalition Government actually imposed cuts of around £1.8 billion in real terms over the same period. In fact in cash terms the Welsh Government will have £200 million more to spend in 2014-15 than it does now.

Wales did better than England and only marginally worse than Northern Ireland and Scotland in terms of the cuts they now have to find. About £400 million less in revenue terms is not chicken feed by any stretch of the imagination and there will be difficult decisions to make, but it is not as bad as Labour led us to believe or indeed as bad as they were planning if they had been re-elected.

The Labour-Plaid Government were planning real term cuts of 5.8% a year. In fact the coalition's settlement for Wales is substantially better than that with real term cuts of less than 2% per year. Considering Labour and Plaid Cymru have been spinning for weeks how devastating these cuts were going to be and how Wales is being singled out, they are absolutely gutted that it has not turned out as bad as they predicted.

That has not stopped Welsh Ministers turning into a cabal of Victor Meldrews. They have taken to the airwaves with a vengance to complain about anything and everything, often reinventing the figures to suit themselves. Now though, is the time for action not whinging.

Our job in the Assembly is to turn this settlement into a budget that protects key services such as health and education. That means that Labour and Plaid Cymru need to get to grips with the waste and inefficiencies in their own budget and take some difficult decisions of their own for a change.

We are still awaiting a statement from the Finance Minister as to what her strategy and priorities are. Now that she knows how much money she has then perhaps she will feel able to tell us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why the Welsh Government close their minds to the vaccination of badgers

Following my question to the Rural Affairs Minister on her latest proposal to cull badgers reported here, I have now had a more detailed reply from her. in her letter she says:

In my last Ministerial questions I said I would look into the questions you raised about the online response form for the Badger Control Order consultation.


One of the questions posed by the consultation relates to vaccination. In my view there is limited scientific evidence available on the effectiveness of the injectible badger vaccination on badgers and even less on its effect in reducing TB in cattle. In my view, vaccination is not currently a viable alternative to culling in reducing TB in cattle in areas where the disease is endemic. However, I am interested in hearing people’s views, and if new evidence becomes available during the consultation period I will of course consider it.

Consultation questions

I have considered your assertion of bias in the consultation questions. However, I do not accept this assertion. The purpose of the consultation exercise is to canvas views of people, whether they support or oppose the proposed course of action, in order to improve the decision-making process.

It is good practice for a consultation exercise not just to ask whether consultees hold a particular view, but also to ask why they do so, and afford them the opportunities to express their reasons. This is especially true if their view is different to my provisional view.

I have read and considered carefully the evidence and come to a provisional decision. I will need to give careful consideration to all the responses that I will have received before making a final decision whether or not to make the draft Order. There is nothing to prevent a consultee who disagrees with my views from simply indicating that they do not support that view without providing any further explanation.

But it would assist me greatly if people gave reasons for their opinions, especially if they do not agree with what I propose. This is why the consultation questions are framed as they are.

The consultation documents makes clear that people can respond in a number of ways,
either online, by post of by email.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Barnett Floor revisited

Tomorrow's Comprehensive Spending Review announcement will inevitably impact on the Welsh Government's budget. It is pointless speculating here as to how much we will lose or even how we will accomodate that until the announcement is made. It is though worth noting that even under Labour's plans the Welsh Government would have lost £2.8 billion over the next four years from the block grant.

So far Welsh Minister's response has been to call for a Barnett floor to be established so as to protect Wales' share of the UK budget. This measure is designed to prevent convergence in expenditure per head that occurs when spending is increasing overall. It is then singularly inappropriate in the current circumstances though I understand that the UK Government are receptive to the idea nevertheless.

Just to underline the point that a Barnett floor will not assist Wales in mitigating the cuts, here is an exchange with Gerry Hotham, who first suggested the idea, at the Assembly Finance Committee on 30th September:

Peter Black: I have some questions on the comprehensive spending review, which of course is coming up next month. A number of Ministers have suggested that it is crucial to protect Wales because we are looking at £2.8 billion or £3 billion of cuts over the next three years, according to the projections of both the present and the previous Government. Therefore, it is argued that we need the Barnett floor in place to protect us from those cuts. Is that an argument that you would support?

Mr Holtham: That we need the Barnett formula in place to protect us from the cuts?

Peter Black: No, the Barnett floor. This has been said on a number of occasions by Government Ministers.

Mr Holtham: The answer on the Barnett floor is ‘no’, in a word. You must make a distinction between relative expenditures and absolute expenditures. The point is that if public expenditure is growing, the Barnett formula ensures that Welsh public expenditure grows at a lower percentage rate than UK public spending. That is the so-called Barnett squeeze. You probably do not even notice it, because if public expenditure is growing, you are getting more every year, which is nice, but you are not getting quite as much more in percentage terms. Once there are cuts, you get less and it feels horrible, but there is no squeeze then. In fact, your percentage cut is also slightly smaller.

So, the Barnett formula forces convergence on the English expenditure per head when public spending is growing. If public expenditure is falling, there will be a small divergence. So, if Wales is getting a bit more per head than England on average, that bit more will go up a little. The floor, as we conceived it, was an attempt, if they could not get rid of the Barnett formula, to remove its worst effect, which is that, as time goes by and public expenditure, normally, grows, the Welsh relative share goes down. The floor would stop that. I do not think that the floor would make a big contribution in a situation in which public expenditure is falling.

That seems fairly clear.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The big lie?

Talking about propaganda techniques, there is an intriguing letter in this morning's Western Mail from somebody called John Owen from Caerphilly. He claims that the argument that Labour left a terrible financial legacy is being propagated on the basis of Heinrich Himmler's doctine that 'the larger the lie you told, the more likely people were to believe it.'

In fact this expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf. he wrote about a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." According to Wikipedia, Hitler believed the technique was used by Jews to unfairly blame Germany's loss in World War I on German Army officer Erich Ludendorff. It was a technique later adopted by Joseph Goebbels in his many propaganda efforts. But I digress.

In fact it is undeniable that the present government has inherited a terrible financial mess from Labour. There is a £109 billion structural deficit and £800 billion worth of debt. And as I reported here, it is not all down to the banks or to a global recession.

In a little reported interview, former Cabinet Secretary, Andrew Turnbull left us in no doubt as to how we got into that position:

Turnbull said that that excessive borrowing started to be a problem from 2005. “It kind of crept up on us in 2005, 2006, 2007, and we were still expanding public spending at 4.5 percent a year,” he said, arguing that the Treasury should have been putting more money aside. “You might have thought that we should have been giving priority to getting borrowing under better control, putting money aside in the good years – and it didn’t happen,” he commented.

This is of course prior to the recession that Mr. Owen refers to. If anything the big lie that is being propagated is not that Labour are responsible, but the claims by Labour politicians that the current crisis has nothing to do with them.

"My barrage would have been this big!" - Hain

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Wales is not a man who goes in for half measures when he is on the attack. So we should not be surprised when he tells every media outlet who will listen to him that scrapping the Severn barrage plan would be "equally disastrous" for the economy and the environment.

And yet he does not appear to be tapping into a consensus on this matter. Indeed most environmental groups think that he is wrong in arguing that this is a beneficial development, Gordon James from Friends of the Earth for example tells the BBC:

"We have long argued that the Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare Severn barrage would have been too costly in both financial and environmental terms, and that better options exist to harness this important source of clean energy.

"The costs of construction would very likely have risen from the estimated £22bn while it would have caused irreversible damage to wildlife sites that are meant to be protected by law.

"This could have resulted in prolonged legal challenges that would have further delayed a project that would not have delivered the clean energy we so desperately need for over 20 years."

The problem is that we need the electricity now and yet the Barrage scheme would not have produced a single spark until 2030. Smaller schemes in the Severn Estuary can produce energy more quickly, would be less damaging to the ecology of the area and would be better value for money.

As for the economic benefits, it is true that jobs would have been created in the barrage's construction but the impact on ports behind the barrage could have been devastating.

On balance I believe that Peter Hain is wrong on this issue. His belief in a big bang approach cannot command a consensus. On the other hand if he is right in saying that the barrage can be built from private money alone then let us see the proposals. Somehow I don't think they will materialise.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A barrage too far?

The Independent on Sunday speculates that Secretary of State for Energy, Chris Huhne will tomorrow jettison Labour's unfunded Severn Barrage project, rather than make the taxpayer foot an estimated bill of £10bn to £30bn for what many are predicting could be an ecological disaster.

They say that Chris will use a Commons statement to outline details of how the government intends to keep electricity flowing in the next four decades while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050:

"We need to turn our grid from being one of the dirtiest in Europe to being one of the cleanest," a senior Whitehall source said.

Among the measures to be announced will be a firm commitment to generate at least a third of our electricity from renewables by 2020 and to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to reduce the emissions from fossil fuel power stations by as much as 90 per cent. It will be a radical shift from the UK's historic reliance on fossil fuels, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of all electricity generation until the late 1980s.

Mr Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, will also give the go-ahead in principle to nuclear power stations on eight sites in England and Wales near existing reactors, although the issue remains politically contentious for his party.

He will concede that a 10-mile Severn barrage, stretching from Weston-super-Mare in Somerset to Cardiff in south Wales, is financially unviable. The idea of using the Severn to generate electricity on a massive scale dates back to the 1920s. Successive Labour ministers have argued that the project offered a "huge prize" of generating 5 per cent of Britain's needs.

Mr Huhne will stress the economic case for investing public funds instead in emerging technologies, such as CCS, that have the potential to be developed and exported, particularly to rapidly developing economies such as China. "If we are going to be incentivising things, there is only one Severn tidal stream," a source said. "You can only do it once. There are not the export opportunities there are with carbon capture, solar or wind."

Although the Severn Barrage has become enormously totemic for some people it has become clear that not only is it unaffordable, even in good economic times, but that the projected investment could be better spent in terms of energy production. There were also justifiable concerns about the environmental impact of the barrage, not just in terms of the local ecology but also in the amount emissions that would be produced by manufacturing so much concrete and the scarring of the countryside in quarrying stone for the project.

If this decision is confirmed I would not shed too many tears. The barrage was always a pipedream in my view, the product of a flawed vision. That does not mean though that we cannot look at other ways of tapping the Severn for energy through tidal lagoons etc. Hopefully, Chris Huhne will leave the door open to that sort of investment in the future.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And so to Conference

It is the first day of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference and I am ensconced in the Castle Hotel in Brecon and about to attend a Community Housing Cymru breakfast.

I don't normally do breakfasts but I have made an exception in this case because they asked nicely and because we are in the run-up to the election and this event will make an important contribution to discussion about the party's manifesto.

The Western Mail also carries coverage of the conference with Kirsty Williams making it clear that the Coalition at a UK level does not apply in this set of elections.

“We will be fighting on all fronts,” she insisted. “We will be taking on the Tories in places like Montgomeryshire.

“We will be taking on Plaid in places like Ceredigion. And we will be taking on the Labour Party in their heartlands in South Wales.”

She continued: “I’m not in coalition with the Conservatives here. There’s no change to our policy.

“We’ll be fighting them as hard as we are fighting the other parties.”

She underlines how united the Assembly Group are under her leadership and says we are ready for the fight of our lives in May. Her speech should be worth listening to later today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Labour's Legacy of failure

The BBC report that children born in Wales this century are more likely to be living below the poverty line than their peers in the rest of the UK. They say that researchers have found that one in three Welsh seven-year-olds live in a family with less than 60% of the UK's average household income.

This is despite the fact that tackling child poverty is a "top priority" of the Welsh Government and was a major focus of the previous Labour UK Government:

The research was carried out by the Institute of Education at the University of London and involved a survey of 14,000 children born between 2000 and 2002 from across the UK.

Overall it found that while the millennium generation of children in Wales do experience a relatively high poverty rate, their parents believe their lives get off to a healthy start.

In Scotland, which has the lowest poverty rate of all four countries, just over one in four of the millennium families (26%) had such a low income.

However, some English regions had higher poverty rates than Wales: the North East (40%), other northern regions (35%) and London (36%).

In light of these figures the Welsh Government's aspiration to end child poverty by 2020 is looking increasingly unattainable. For all their rhetoric about the fairness or otherwise of the Coalition Government's programme and budget, the real failure of the last 13 years has been Labour's who, despite specific programmes and targets, have left Britain as poor as and less equal than they found it.

The second bonfire

We have a lot of experience in Wales of throwing Quangos onto bonfires, however the experience here does not seem to have helped First Minister, Carwyn Jones in forming a considered view on the Coalition Government's plans.

He has accused UK Ministers of rushing through their cull of 192 Quangos, even though his own government's bonfire was equally as rushed and based on the bare minimum of consultation.

He says that his administration were given “limited opportunity” to work out the full implications for Wales of such a wide-ranging reform. This again reflects the Welsh experience at a time when Carwyn was a Minister. But at least the One Wales Government was consulted, a matter that they will not properly acknowledge as it gets in the way of the Labour and Plaid Cymru rhetoric of not being respected.

Well, if they behave like this all the time, I would not be surprised if their opposite numbers at the other end of the M4 hold them in contempt, though there is no evidence to suggest that is the case.

Meanwhile, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Liam Byrne ties himself up in knots by suggesting on one hand that the Coalition Government are simply completing a process begun by the previous Labour government, which had announced plans to axe 123 quangos,accounting for two-thirds of those on the Government’s list, and yet on the other hand criticising the decision as not saving enough money.

He says that whereas Labour’s plan would have saved £500bn by 2013, the Government’s approach could actually lead to increased costs. In turn Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude argues that there will be savings in due course, but the main objective of the cull is to deliver better accountability and transparency.

The Welsh experience indicates that Francis Maude has the better grasp on reality, whilst Liam Byrne is living in cloud cuckoo land if he really believes that Labour's cull could have produced savings of that magnitude. No wonder there was no money left when he left the Treasury.

If this is their idea of responsible opposition then Labour really are condemned to the fringes for some time to come.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The devolution of broadcasting and the future of S4C

Former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has just said on Radio Wales that the Welsh Government were offered responsibility for S4C by the previous Labour Government but turned it down because they did not want to pit its funding against their other responsibilities for health and education.

I am not sure whether this has been publicly admitted before, perhaps others can enlighten me. However, what Rhodri's admission does do is put the current row over the funding of S4C into stark perspective.

Plaid Cymru have been making a lot of fuss in the chamber and in the media over what they see as an assault on the Welsh Language. How will they react now that they know that their coalition allies could have taken action to protect the channel from these cuts and that they did not do so because they knew they would have had to take exactly the same sort of decisions as the UK Culture Minister as to its future funding?

Update: This revelation takes on new significance with the announcement today that the UK government plans to reform the funding mechanism for S4C. They are right that the current arrangements are unsustainable in the current climate but the Welsh Government's protests now sound hollow in the light of the fact that they had an opportunity to take direct control of the channel's future and turned it down.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Liberal Democrat MPs should revolt on Tuiition Fee vote

The Welsh Education Minister was undoubtedly right when he told the Assembly Plenary yesterday that removing the cap on university fees in England ‘could leave Wales in an impossible financial position’

Although policy on this matter is devolved to the National Assembly the cross-border nature of the sector means changes to the system in England will impact on Wales. If English universities are able to charge tuition fees in the region of £7,000 a year, then Welsh colleges have little choice but to follow suit. If they don't then not only would the existing funding gap between English and Welsh institutions widen but the colleges themselves would fall behind in terms of attracting top quality staff, students and research.

Where I do take issue with the Education Minister is in the crocodile tears he shed in the chamber yesterday. He claimed that proposals to remove the cap on tuition fees in England would create a “unsustainable” market-based system that would prize cost over quality. He went on:

“Central to our policy is the principle that access to HE should be on the basis of the individual’s potential to benefit, and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay.

“We do not wish to see the development of a market in HE where institutions compete on price and students choose their courses or institutions on the basis of relative cost."

He added that the cost to Wales of the additional fees could be as much as £70 million a year.

There are many in the sector who would argue that this £70 million a year represents the amount that Labour and Plaid Cymru were underfunding the sector anyway, so I am not going to join the Minister in bemoaning that expenditure. However, his condemnation of a market economy in higher education just takes the biscuit.

After all it was Labour who first introduced a market economy in higher education through the introduction of variable tuition fees, which has already led to many courses closing because they are not economic. The latest subject under threat is modern languages at Swansea University because, as the Pro Vice Chancellor told me in a letter I received today, it is 'financially unsustainable'.

I agree with the Minister when he says that a £7,000 a year tuition fee will hit students hard but that does not mean I have to put up with rank hypocrisy as well.

Having said all that, I do acknowledge that the Liberal Democrats are in a difficult position. Of all the parties we have consistently opposed tuition fees and argued for a free education system. We now find a Liberal Democrat Minister proposing to lift the cap on fees on the basis of a review commissioned by the previous Labour Government, despite the party arguing at the election that we would not do so.

No doubt, Vince is following the logic of the economic position both for the HE sector and the UK as a whole, but there comes a time in government when you have to make a stand and just be downright unreasonable so as to assert your principles and your policy position. This is that time.

I would urge therefore that every Liberal Democrat MP should follow the party's conscience and vote against this change. With luck and a following wind we can defeat the doubling of tuition fees. The proposal deserves to sink without trace and the government sent back to the drawing board. Let us ensure that it is the Liberal Democrats who make that happen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuition Fees and the Liberal Democrats

With the publication of the Browne Review report into student finance, there are many who are already speculating that its proposals are the settled view of the UK Coalition Government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I believe that up to 30 Liberal Democrat MPs have already said they will vote against the lifting of the cap on tuition fees. If that is correct then more power to their elbow. However, as the Independent makes clear today, this report is in no way the last word on the matter.

They record that the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes says that all Liberal Democrat MPs are "very conscious" of the position they took on tuition fees and of the party's policy of campaigning against fees in the last general election.

In a statement, Mr Hughes said: "All Liberal Democrat MPs are very conscious of the positions we have taken on higher education and the policies we campaigned for at the last election.

"We all have a duty to read and consider fully Lord Browne's proposals and the Government's response.

"Today will not be the last word on policy for funding higher education in England.

"All MPs should now engage constructively in questions, answers and debate in Parliament. We must also listen to the considered responses of our constituents and the wider public before we come to take our final personal and collective decisions on the best way forward."

The current "unfair" fee system needs to be changed, Mr Hughes acknowledged, but he added: "Parliament should only support a progressive system which takes into account future earnings and makes sure that those who benefit most financially from a university education contribute the most."

We have yet to see the Government response to this report but it is clear already that there is no obvious way forward for the Government whilst the Liberal Democrats remain in open revolt.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Who polices the Police?

Interesting article in this morning's Daily Telegraph in which Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson claims that money is being wasted fighting speculative law suits by civilians alleging brutality or wrongful arrest. He has also urged the Home Secretary to load higher costs onto officers and other staff suing police forces at employment tribunals over claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.

In addition, the Commissioner wants members of the public to be charged a fee for making Freedom of Information requests, which he says are burdening police forces with unmanageable levels of paperwork.

Quite why the Police should be exempt from these important rights is difficult to understand. After all their recent record in terms of policing demonstrations, misinterpreting the law on civil liberties and in employment terms suggests that they above any other body need to be subject to legal remedy. If the government stacks the odds in favour of the police then I believe that these abuses will multiply.

As James Welch, of the civil rights group Liberty, says: "The ability to challenge police misconduct in court is a vital constitutional safeguard against abuse of power. Under current rules, if you lose a case in the civil courts you can expect to be ordered to pay your successful opponent's legal costs."

"A service bound to uphold the rule of law should not attempt to carve out an exception for itself."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Unfounded fuss on Cable's e-mail

The problem with the internet and sites like Twitter is that when people get an idea into their head there is no shaking them back to a more rational point of view. That is true of the newspapers as well of course, but at least you can use them to wrap up your fish and chips.

Thus the spin about Vince Cable's e-mail to party members yesterday was not just over-the-top but downright judgemental about something that has not been decided on and was not even in the e-mail. In his missive, Vince explains why he is not considering a Graduate Tax to replace tuition fees. He says:

There are a number of objections to such a tax – which is why the Labour government rejected it – including:

First, since a graduate tax is open-ended, some graduates would unfairly find themselves paying many times the cost of their course. This is not fair.

Second, foreign students could end up paying less than some UK graduates, because taxes cannot be collected from people living in other countries. This is not fair either.

Third, a graduate tax would do nothing to reduce the deficit over the next five years. Indeed, it would add many billions to public spending, meaning that further cuts would be needed in other areas of government spending. We have looked hard at possible ways of bringing forward tax revenue from graduate tax revenues – but they don’t work.

Some people are treating that as a betrayal of Liberal Democrat policy. It is not. The Liberal Democrats have never advocated a Graduate Tax and certainly did not include it in our manifesto. In fact as Andrew Hinton says here, Vince did not advocate such a solution either, so this is hardly a u-turn on his part.

The media and much of the internet have interpreted the rejection of a graduate tax as an acceptance of tuition fees and the expected doubling of that charge once the Browne Review reports and yet Vince neither said he would do that nor did he even hint at it. What he did say is:

'As I have said on previous occasions, I am entirely committed to a progressive system of graduate contributions, the details of which we will be able to confirm shortly. And I have been open-minded about the possibility of a pure graduate tax. But it is clearly not the right vehicle. We can do better – and we will.'

In other words the Government has not made up its mind on what system of student finance to adopt, it will consider the outcome of the Browne Review in its own time and will hopefully come up with something better than the present tuition fee system that is fairer and proportionate, and takes account of how much graduates earn.

That falls far short of the sort of betrayal that the Liberal Democrats are being accused of by Labour hacks in the NUS and elsewhere and actually may produce a solution that comes within the spirit of the Liberal Democrats' manifesto commitment, if not the letter.

Clearly, whilst the Liberal Democrats fail on their own account to command a majority in the House of Commons they are not in a position to put into effect their manifesto pledges without agreement from other parties. In this respect compromise is inevitable. However, the coalition agreement is itself vague on a way forward on this issue and so there is room for negotiation.

If at the end of the day the Government does promote a straight forward doubling of tuition fees without any attempt to change and improve the system so as to tackle the fundamental weaknesses inherent in it, then I will be one of the first to condemn it and expect Liberal Democrat MPs to honour their pledge to vote against it. However, we are not at that point yet, far from it, and so we still need to give the government the benefit of the doubt. Let's judge them by what they do, not by what their enemies claim they will do.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The wrong choice

Yesterday's revelation that the Home Office are consulting on closing down the Newport Passport Office came as a bit of a shock.

It was not that there are proposals to make cuts, that was expected. After all, the coalition government has inherited a huge financial mess off Labour and need to bring public spending under control. I think everybody knew that this would involve difficult decisions and that job losses would follow.

I also do not buy Labour's crocodile tears over this issue. After all they were responsible whilst in government for the loss of hundreds of civil service jobs in Wales and the closure of local offices, chiefly in HMRC but also in the Land Registry, DVLA and the Employment services. A lot of the outrage currently on the front pages of our newspapers from Labour politicians needs to be viewed in that context.

However, even though a decision has not yet been taken and consultation is underway, it is already clear that this is the wrong move for two main reasons:

Firstly, this is not some regional sub-office. Wales is a country in its own right and though we rightly form part of the United Kingdom in terms of Home Affairs and Foreign Relations, there is a great deal of sense in having a passport office based here, both for employment reasons and prestige. The fact that Wales will become the only country in Europe without a fully-fledged passport office is actually very significant.

Secondly, if the Home Office is trying to save money by reducing the number of local offices then they have chosen the wrong target. Everybody knows that civil service offices in London are difficult to sustain. The over-heating economy in the South East makes it hard to attract staff due to the relatively poor wages civil servants get, the rent, rates and general overhead costs of keeping offices in London are massively more expensive than elsewhere, and the rationale for keeping an office in the UK capital tends to rest on prestige rather than sound economics.

The logical alternative would be to close the London Passport Office and relocate the head office functions elsewhere. That would save far more money and ensure that the job losses occurred in an area where there are at least alternative jobs. It would also enhance the Newport Office as it would then become the nearest passport office to the Southern international airports albeit with good transport links along the M4 and on the main train line.

The Government seem to be arguing that people from South Wales and the South West of England can travel to London to get their passport. I say, let those in the South East of England come here instead.

Bizarre Marketing claims

Whilst I was doing a surgery in my local library in Swansea last night I picked up a 'What's On' magazine. I was startled to find, in an advert for a Mumbles hotel, the claim that they are just 50 minutes drive from the Ryder Cup Golf course.

I live half an hour's drive closer to Cardiff than that hotel and it takes me an hour to travel from my front door to the Welsh Assembly. I would be lucky to make the Celtic Manor in the same time frame.

I am not sure what exactly people will be driving to get from Mumbles to the Vale of Usk in 50 minutes or even what speed, but I am sure that it will not be anything that has to use the local roads or the M4. A speed boat or a helicopter might have a better chance.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The missing Welsh

The outcome of the Shadow Cabinet elections has led to unfortunate consequences for Welsh Labour. Having spent the last four or five months banging on about the Secretary of State for Wales not representing a Welsh constituency they now find themselves in the position of relying on Ed Miliband's largesse to put up a Welsh Shadow to her.

This result is a particular snub to Peter Hain, who was not so long ago a Deputy Leadership contender but now appears to be yesterday's man. The excuses being trailed around TV and radio studios by Welsh Labour MPs do not hold water either. After all each MP had 13 votes they could have cast for one of the eight Welsh contenders under the rather bizarre first past the post system Labour uses. It was not a split vote. The fact is that the 'most sophisticated electorate' in the UK considered the candidates from Wales and did not like what they saw.

Even more damning is the verdict of Jack Straw in this morning's Telegraph. His claim that a third of the newly elected Shadow Cabinet 'would not be “capable” of serving in government' is quite extraordinary:

He said: “I survived and prospered under this system for 10 years, but I just tell you, it is barking mad, for arithmetical reasons as well, it is a daft system.

“And what it means is that of the 18 or 19 people in shadow cabinet, probably a dozen [are] capable of being in the Cabinet, half a dozen are not, and if and when we have a Labour government some of those who thought this is a meal ticket in to the proper cabinet will be sorely disappointed.”

Has Ed Miliband's honeymoon period as Opposition Leader disappeared already under the weight of the such telling verdicts and missed opportunities?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Questions on the proposed Welsh badger cull

Here is the transcript of my question to the Rural Affairs Minister yesterday on her new plans for a badger cull in North Pembrokeshire and the consultation she has initiated:

Peter Black: Will the Minister make a statement on her strategy to tackle bovine TB. OAQ(3)1150(RAF)

Elin Jones: We are continuing with our comprehensive approach to eradicate bovine TB. This approach was accepted by the European Commission in our TB eradication plan for 2010. My most recent announcementshave concerned a consultation on TB in non bovines and the culling of badgers in an intensive action area in west Wales. I will continue to provide updates as the programme develops.

Peter Black: As that consultation is ongoing in terms of the intensive action area why, as part of that consultation, did you not provide options to people responding to it in terms of vaccination of badgers? Also, when you come to completing the online consultation form, it is easy to type 'yes’, but if you want to type 'no’, you have to write an essay. Do you not think that that consultation is slightly biased in favour of the outcome that you want?

Elin Jones: Your question is presuming what outcome I want. I am not aware of the mechanism of responding to the consultation on the internet—I do not intend to use it myself—but I will look at that issue, and if I consider it to be unfair, I will change it.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Minister, do you agree that it is odd that a Liberal Democrat Assembly Member is doing his best to oppose the pilot badger cull while his party at Westminster is trying to promote a similar pilot scheme in England? Can you also explain the propaganda that is being presented by the Badger Trust with figures showing a reduction in bovine TB, when it is my understanding that the increase shown over 10 years is still evident?

Elin Jones: I agree with you, Rhodri Glyn—it is odd. On the upward trend for TB, that is still true in Wales and is particularly true in the area that we have designated for the badger cull. That is why we are now looking at having to take those steps to eradicate the disease, not only from cattle in that area but also in wildlife, so that we can ultimately eradicate the disease in its entirety.

William Graham: Minister, I restate the Conservative benches’ support for the policy that you have tried to implement so well, and I trust that the pilot scheme will be entirely effective and provide the necessary evidence to carry through the effective eradication of this appalling disease.

Elin Jones: Thank you for your support on this matter, and for your consistency as a political party in that support.

Plaid's language woe

One of the problems with being a campaigning party, in opposition for eighty years is that when you acquire power expectations are often too high to meet. No doubt the Liberal Democrats will reach that stage at some point, but in the meantime Plaid Cymru are almost certainly there now on the Welsh Language Measure.

Despite publishing over 100 amendments yesterday, they have still not satisfied Welsh Langauge campaigners, who have formed part of their core vote for decades, or the opposition for that matter, that they have delivered everything required of them.

According to the Western Mail, there is much grumbling in the ranks:

Cardiff-based lawyer Emyr Lewis said: “There are 140 proposed amendments which will need to be looked at carefully and in detail. My first impressions on two important issues are: One, the Legislation Committee showed that there was all-party support to having a statement in the Measure that Welsh and English are the official languages of Wales and have equal status.

“It is a shame that the Government has not adopted this approach. It is an opportunity missed. Instead, there is a declaration that Welsh is an official language, followed by some complex wording which is intended, as far as I can see, to ensure that that apparently bold declaration has no independent force in law.

“Two, there has been much criticism of the fact that the complex enforcement system of the new language standards gives very little space to the citizen who has been let down, and no right of appeal to the citizen against decisions of the language Commissioner.

“While the citizen is given a bit more space by the proposed changes, there is still no formal role for the citizen, and no right of appeal. This contrasts with the extensive rights of appeal given to the bodies who are subject to decisions by the Commissioner. This seems inequitable, and unnecessarily distances citizens from processes designed to protect their interests.”

Will the Minister go back to the drawing board again? We will have to see.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A science-led approach to tackling bTB

I had a question to the Rural Affairs Minister today in which I challenged her as to why she was not consulting on the vaccination of badgers in the Intensive Control Area in North Pembrokeshire and also on the format of the on-line consultation. I will publish here the record of that exchange when it become available tomorrow.

Following my question Rhodri Glyn Thomas stood up and referred to the position of the Liberal Democrats on this issue in the UK Government. However, judging by this article by Andrew George, who leads for the party in the House of Commons on rural affairs, things are not so straightforward.

He writes: The Liberal Democrats have always taken a pragmatic and evidence based science approach to these very difficult matters. As the Lead for the Party in the House of Commons on Defra matters, I support the Coalition Agreement that any response to this ongoing and worsening problem is science-led and not based on sentimentality towards either cattle or badgers. Whatever decisions are ultimately taken, both in terms of the tools available to the Government and the individual decisions to grant licences for either the use of vaccine or, if it is approved, badger control, the Government must not make the situation worse.

I am no less sentimental about cattle than I am about badgers. An effective TB control policy will be good news for both. Failure to control this will continue to result in a growing and avoidable cattle and wildlife body count in our countryside. It is having a disastrous impact on many livestock farms.

The largest wildlife experiment conducted by a UK Government (i.e. the Krebs Trials) recently concluded that licensing farmers to cull badgers “would entail a substantial risk of increasing the incidence of cattle TB and spreading the disease”. At the same time, the remaining trail of a new badger vaccine continues.

Bovine TB is a massive challenge for Government and for the farming community. Above all, we must not make matters worse.

I am massively encouraged by that conclusion.

More on the nanny state

Having blogged yesterday on proposals by the Chief Medical Officer to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol, I was not really surprised to see him carry on the theme today with a proposal to extend the smoking ban to the home and private cars so as to protect children from second-hand smoke.

Clearly, the intentions are laudable but the practicalities of such a ban must be insurmountable, whilst the philosophy behind it is unacceptable. There has to be limits on the amount of influence the state has on one's private life. Otherwise we will all be under surveillance 24 hours a day, 1984-style. Visions of Winston Smith exercising his varicose vein in front of a two-way TV monitor as part of a compulsory exercise regime come to mind.

The other question is whether this suggestion is Welsh Government policy or not? Do they really want to act like Big Brother in the homes and vehicles of every smoker in Wales? What penalties will be invoked? Will defiance be grounds to take children into care? If so how will they meet the burgeoning cost of looked after children.

Dr Jewell is right when he says that the number of deaths from smoking in Wales is still too high at about 5,650 a year. He is also right that smoking costs the Welsh NHS around £386m a year, equivalent to £129 per person or 7% of total healthcare expenditure and that we need to reduce that expenditure and secure a healthier population. However, just because people "know that smoking is a dangerous habit, but choose to ignore the facts" is no reason to impose draconian and illiberal laws on them.

There are signs that education and other anti-smoking measures are starting to have an effect. We need to step up that work, especially in relation to the impact of second habnd smoke on children. What we do not need is the state in our living room and cars telling people how to live their lives.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Minimum pricing and the drinking culture

I was going to going to have a rant this morning on the Chief Medical Officer's latest outpourings on the minimum pricing of alcohol but note that I already did so not so long ago.

Dr Tony Jewell is all over the Welsh media today backing Health Minister Edwina Hart's call for the assembly government to have powers over alcohol licensing. He says too many people in Wales still drank too much and he is right. However, his assertion that one of the most effective things we can do to control alcohol abuse is to increase pricing is not backed up by any evidence.

The fact that prices have fallen since 1980 may well be true but that does not mean that there is a link between that and binge drinking. The abuse of alcohol, mostly by young people on certain nights of the week has been with us long before then and can be better attributed to cultural and economic factors rather than a straight supply and demand calculation.

By all means ask for the licensing powers for Wales but if you are going to use them to legislate in this direction then I think we need to have more evidence than simple assertion.

As I said in January, this sort of nanny-statism does not work and amounts to the adoption of easy solutions to make it look like government is doing something, instead of making hard choices and tackling the real underlying social problems.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Even the Tories prefer Nick

Today's Independent reports on one of those bizarre surveys that ConHome conducts every now again amongst the on-line Tory membership and supporters.

The headline is that Tory activists prefer Clegg to most of their own Cabinet ministers but in actual fact the real story is Conservative unease at how the Liberal Democrats have grabbed the government agenda and made it their own in so many areas.

The paper says that although Tory activists believe the Coalition is a good thing for Britain, they warned of trouble ahead on Europe, human rights, sentencing, university funding and taxation, all areas where Tory and Liberal Democrat policies are at odds:

The survey of 1,727 party members, carried out by the ConservativeHome website, revealed six out of 10 believe Mr Cameron is making too many concessions to the Liberal Democrats. Some 71 per cent regard as "not acceptable" the Coalition's decision to drop Tory proposals to repatriate powers from the European Union, while 64 per cent want a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU.
Related articles

On other likely concessions to the Liberal Democrats, two out of three (64 per cent) of Tory members say it is not acceptable to water down their party's plans to reform the Human Rights Act and 51 cent oppose the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's plans to make less use of prison for offenders. A similar proportion object to the introduction of a graduate tax, a move favoured by senior Liberal Democrats.

Some 46 per cent of Tory members say a looser cap on immigration would not be acceptable, while 43 per cent object to the decision to delay Tory plans to reward marriage in the tax system and 40 per cent to the shelving of inheritance tax cuts.

Being in coalition is not easy for either party of course but if anything this survey shows that the Labour claim that it is the Tories who are calling the shots is just plain wrong. If anything the Government has a distinctive Liberal Democrat flavour and has embraced many of our policies and principles.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

It is good and honourable...

You have to be fair, it is refreshing sometimes to have a government capable of raising the level of political and cultural discourse in this country. In this case, I refer to the discussions that have been sparked off by David Cameron's choice of Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est' for National Poetry Day on Thursday.

The Prime Minister says that this is his favourite poem which, as Harry Ricketts says in the Independent on Sunday is surprising:

He is, after all, Prime Minister of a country involved in a protracted, much-debated war, and Owen's mind- and stomach-churning account of a gas attack hardly underplays the horrors of combat.

Though the most surprising thing for me is that a Conservative might endorse the sentiment that dying for your country is not necessarily good and honourable. How things move on.

Personally, I share Cameron's admiration for Owen, though I would choose another poem as his best, both for its poignancy and the way it embodies the rest of his work. Strange Meeting is, in my view, by far one of the profoundest poems to emerge from the First World War:

'Strange friend,' I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said that other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

However, if I were to choose a poet of that era as my favourite I would have to plump for W.B. Yeats. His An Irish Airman forsees his Death captures the futility of the conflict from a more neutral perspective, whilst his Easter 1916 is a classic:

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmer name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.

At the end the poem rises to the eerily prophetic:

And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse--
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That is my nomination for National Poetry Day, a repeat from my October 2005 nomination I note.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Voters call for Red Ed to set out his alternative

The Independent reports on the outcome of a ComRes Survey which shows that the overwhelming majority of voters believe that Ed Miliband, the new Labour leader, should be more explicit over where he would cut public spending.

Although I do not take any notice of single opinion polls, especially this far out from an election, in this case the snapshot that this poll provides is worth recording because it sets out the starting point for the Miliband leadership, and the task ahead of him.

It shows that Ed has failed to achieve the opinion poll bounce often enjoyed by parties after their annual conference, with the Tories slightly increasing their lead over Labour and underlines the obstacles he has to overcome to project a voter-friendly image. Only one-quarter of people regard him as a good choice as leader and one-third believe he would be too heavily influenced by the trade unions:

But there are also opportunities for the Miliband team, with large numbers of voters yet to make up their mind about his merits.

One of the earliest challenges for his leadership is to respond to the spending cuts due to be announced by George Osborne in 18 days' time. The early signs are that Mr Miliband might not produce a detailed alternative to the Chancellor's plans beyond arguing that the Coalition is cutting too heavily and too early.

However, the danger of taking too vague an approach was underlined in the ComRes poll, with 82 per cent agreeing that Labour needed to spell out more clearly where it would cut spending to tackle the national deficit, with only 5 per cent disagreeing.

The public gives a guarded approval to the Coalition Government's strategy of starting to cut spending this year rather than waiting until 2011-12. More than half (57 per cent) believe David Cameron and Nick Clegg have adopted the right approach, with 26 per cent taking the opposite view.

However, the public also sounds a note of caution, with 45 per cent saying the Government is risking the economic recovery by cutting "too far, too fast".

The poll reports that enthusiasm for Mr Miliband is even muted among Labour supporters, with only 50 per cent regarding him as a good choice to take over.

These things are only ephemeral of course. There is a great deal of work still to be done by both the Coalition Government and the new Labour Leader to sell their positions to the public in the months ahead.

In my view, we will not have any clear view of public reaction until some time after the Comprehensive Spending Review, when all the speculation has been overtaken by hard facts and the public have had a chance to digest the Government's actual plans.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Clegg visits Wales

Nick Clegg was in Cardiff yesterday and it seems all journalists wanted to ask him was whether he had a blind spot for Wales. The Deputy Prime Minister's answer was spot on:

Not at all, he said. At least he was in the Assembly on an official visit which was more than Gordon Brown had managed when he was PM. The coalition in London was very supportive of this Assembly he said, and Wales as a whole.

Nick also answered those who had doubts about the coalition government by highlighting some of our successes:

“We have done more in five months to protect civil liberties than the Labour Government did in 13 years.” He added that the Budget had lifted 900,000 people out of paying income tax.

There is a lot more in this video:

In fact as the Liberal Democrats find their feet within government, things are starting to look more promising for Wales. We will still be faced with cuts of the order of about £3 billion over the next three years of course, though we should not forget that Labour had planned to chop the Welsh block by £2.8 billion over the same period. But we also have to put these things in context.

The Government will still be spending more in 2014 that it is now, whilst the coalition remain committed to some strategic capital projects that we could benefit from if the Welsh Government play their cards right and stop acting like a naughty schoolchild that has had its toys confiscated.

I am also pleased to see from the Times that Iain Duncan Smith may well have won his battle with the Treasury to radically reform benefits. His plan is to simplify the system so that there is a guarantee that anyone in work will be better off than someone on the dole. Claimants will be allowed to keep more of their benefits when they take a job or increase their hours.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have been talking with Government Ministers and their advisors over the last few months to make the case for Wales. Now it seems that Nick Clegg cannot keep away from the place, and we expect other Minsters to follow him. Far from having a blind spot, the Deputy Prime Minister appears to have developed an affection for our country.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?