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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Welsh Labour and those elusive mandates

Maria Pretzler has an excellent blogpost on Welsh Labour proposal to replace the Assembly's semi-proportional voting system with first-past-the-post. As she points out, the effect of this would be to create a permanent Labour majority in Cardiff Bay.

This is how she believes it would impact on Labour in Wales:

■ May 2011 (AMS): 42% of the vote, 50% of the seats (30 of 60)
■ Estimate for double FPTP in May 2011: 42% of the vote, 68% of the seats (41 of 60)

Under the new system, the 55% voting for the other three parties in the assembly would be represented by just 19 seats.

Labour's excuse for this gerrymandering is that any changes to the balance between constituency and regional members as a result of boundary changes has no mandate. A lack of mandate of course has never worried Labour in Government before. After all, where was their mandate for taking us into an illegal war in Iraq, or introducing tuition fees and top-up fees in defiance of promises in their manifesto?

This is a flimsy excuse but even if it weren't, I would argue that a switch to 30:30 as a result of a constituency review has far more of a mandate than the proposed system now being propagated by Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones.

In fact the mandate for the Assembly's voting system lies in the 1997 referendum, when voters supported a partially proportional system of electing AMs, in which the constituency boundaries were tied to those for Westminster. There have been boundary changes since then, which have passed without protest, though of course the total number of constituencies were not reduced. Then again, that has always been a possibility, even on a conventional review. How would Labour have coped then?

What clearly does not have any mandate is a switch to 60 members elected in 30 constituencies by first past the post. If such a system had been put to voters in 1997 then it would have guaranteed a 'no' vote.

Labour are playing with fire in putting their own narrow, sectional interests above those of Wales. They have already fiddled with the system once, in 2006 when they restricted the rights of candidates. Is Peter Hain to lead another attempt to undermine Welsh democracy?
For once in complete agreement with you.

Of course, I'd prefer an Assembly (Senedd) elected entirely by STV, and with a larger number of AMs.

The MPs could be dispensed with entirely, if it was a real Senedd with powers to regenerate Wales after centuries of neglect and stagnation by a long succession of unionist governments of various political shades.
"... with powers to regenerate Wales" The Welsh Government (WG) already has that power even if it is not at full strength and does VERY LITTLE to boost the Welsh economy. It seems the current FM wants to sit back and watch the Welsh ecomony turn into a car wreck so he can, in part, play politics with the coalition government in London.

All the same, the way the WG works is fatally flawed. Its system of restricting the appointment of AMs to the cabinet is a JOKE.

Given the small pot from which to pick ministers to the cabinet it would be far better to have a system akin to that used in the USA, a separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislative Branch so that the First Minister can choose who goes into his/her cabinet.

Right now under the current WG 'system' there are Ministers with briefs that don't make much sense. Like that past minister who had a thing against eating meat and yet was given the agriculture brief.

Now we have a minister with the business brief who has kind of let the cat out of the bag about her views on capitalism.
Anon 2.09

The WG has no fiscal or monetary powers. It cannot change the taxation regime. It has no borrowing powers. It cannot change interest rates.

It has limited spending powers within its devolved budget but those powers are puny in relation to Wales' problems.

Commissions have found that Wales is underfunded too. In addition the WG is facing massive budget cuts over the next four years.

The FM may be playing politics, but he is after all a politician, and that's what they all do.

You can't blame the WG or Assembly for the devolution settlement created by Act of Parliament in 1997 (and amended in 2006) determining the structure of the WG and how cabinet members are appointed.

All the economic levers I listed above are needed by all governments in order to stimulate their economies. The UK government has them, but Wales (and other parts of the UK) has not benefited.

I believe that Wales has no chance to lift itself out of the situation it's in until it gets those powers. That means a lot more power has to be devolved, or that Wales becomes a sovereign state and has them all at its disposal.

I'm not naive enough to believe that gaining those powers will succeed in regenerating the economy, but without them there is absolutely no chance. Not only will things not get better, they will get worse.
On the subject of democracy, or what passes for democracy in Wales, has anyone noticed that the Chief Constable of South Wales Police would like Police Forces in Wales controlled by WG rather than the Home Office.

This is a bit of a worrying development, I'm aware that a large minority of JPs in South Wales are members of the Labour Party although only 10% of the "Bench" should be from one group in society.

Back in May 2006 five members of the BNP were arrested for leafleting; while I find the BNP pretty abominable, they have the right to leaflet just like Labour or any other party. This action by South Wales Police goes against Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

More recently, the Lib Dem candidate for Pontypridd was arrested during his campaign for the Assembly Elections.

Perhaps the South Wales Police & Peter Vaughen want to put thier relationship with Welsh Labour on a more open and official footing??
maen_tramgwydd> who sets business rates in Wales? What entity funds Welsh universities and what is that entity answerable too? Who appoints the head of that entity?

The Welsh Government has 'spending power' vis-à-vis, e.g., HEFCW, and hence has strong influence if it chooses to use it. It largely doesn't. It's one way a Federal power influences state power through 'spending power'; actually an enumerated power in the US Constitution and the Welsh government inherently has it since it has budget power – something that is exercising the Welsh opposition parties as I write this response.

As you seem to agree that the FM is playing politics - then I say to you, this is not the time to play politics, this is the time to pull the levers to get Wales onto the road of economic power building.

Westminster is heading into a bad time, Wales should have taken steps to ameliorate this ahead of time, but the FM has decided to play politics ‘as usual’.
Perhaps I should clarify, the Welsh Government essentially sets the business rate multiplier and it was the Welsh government that decided, for example, that property tax would be paid on new non-domestic construction, so business rates are due, for example, after three or six month exemption periods granted by the WG for non-industrial and industrial properties, respectively. This demonstrates that the WG with its budget power (and hence inherent spending power which can be used to alter how the HEFCW awards grants), and its ability to vary the multiplier plays a crucial role in Welsh economic development (or decline).
Just reported by the BBC, "The Welsh government reveals it will spend an estimated £3.6bn putting students through university over the next four years." Shows the independence of such decisions, e.g., England is not supporting its university students in this way.
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