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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Having your cake and eating it.

There was a sense of self-denial on the Plaid Cymru side of the Assembly chamber today as they sat there and watched their One Wales Government effectively propose the introduction of top-up tuition fees for Welsh students from 2010. Something that Plaid Cymru have fought against for years.

Instead we are going to get a confused means-tested bursary system and a supposed investigation into student debt. The Government's problem is that, as in England, the bursary system will not prevent poorer debt-averse students being put off going to University by the prospect of paying £3,000 plus annual fees on top of all the other costs. Whilst, it is unlikely the Assembly Government will be able to find their way around European rules that say that if they pay off the debt of Welsh students then they will need to do the same for students from the continent as well. Plaid have sold out and they know it.

Despite this there are some Plaid AMs who like to play games and pretend that somehow they and their party are separate from the Government. Bethan Jenkins is one such Assembly Member. She has posted on her website today a convincing critique of the Government's new policy as if she were a member of the opposition:

I fear that the recommendations of this statement, due to its Anglo-centric paradigm, could undermine this progress in Wales, as it could set a precedent that all future changes in England must result in similar changes in Wales. This has consequences if uncapped top up fees for the top 15 English universities are introduced following the review of the current system in England which will start next year. Will institutions like Cardiff, as part of the Russell group of Universities, insist on charging 5k, 10k, or 15k uncapped fees? Does anyone seriously believe that top up fees will be capped at the current level? The reality is that the acceptance of the key proposal to introduce top up fees could leave Welsh universities and students open to market forces - whereby educational advancement for many may well be determined by ability to pay and not academic ability.

This statement also appears to indicate confusion in the direction of the Welsh Assembly Government. On the one hand universality is promoted in policy areas such as free prescriptions and bus passes for the elderly, yet in the Higher Education sector the government is proposing to end the universality of the current fee grant system, concluding that a larger percentage of Welsh domiciled students will have to pay higher fees after 2011 based on means testing.

Bethan Jenkins really needs to make her mind up. Is she a part of this government or not? Plaid cannot claim credit for all the good things they do in government and disown the bits they do not like. They cannot have their cake and eat it.

Update: Plaid Cymru Chair, John Dixon is another one who is in denial. He even believes that the amount of resource going to student support will remain the same under the new proposals as promised under the One Wales Agreement. This is not the case. In fact £30 million is being taken out of student support to fund the universities themselves.
are you ever going to get anything else in a coalition? (Of whichever two parties). Seriously...
cut university massive lecturers salaries by 50% and fund poor students...
"This statement also appears to indicate confusion in the direction of the Welsh Assembly Government"

It's the "One Wales Government" when they're happy with what they do, "Welsh Assembly Government" when they're not.

Would it not be the case that the whole Cabinet - Labour and Plaid would have hadto agree on this before hutt made the announcement in the senedd today?

Bethan Jenkins attacking her own party - will Ieuan Wyn take that?
Al Iguana, you are either in Government or you are not. You may have to compromise in Government, I know I have been there, but you cannot then disavow your own decisions. The honourable thing is to defend them. Plaid are rapidly losing credibility on this and other issues in which they are trying to have things both ways.
Is she a part of this government or not?

Not. She is a backbencher who happens to be a member of one the parties of government. Surely you can grasp the difference?
Ieuan Wyn Jones would not dare challenge Bethan Jenkins. She was "elected" to her Regional seat after a Plaid Cymru nomination meeting with only single figure numbers of members present. I'm told she became AM on the strength of that Party vote by less than six people. This is the crazy situation with Plaid Cymru today. They grew out of patriotism eighty years ago being led by the likes of great people like Saunders Lewis and Gwynfor Evans and the ghosts of Llewelyn and Glyndwr and Rhys Ap Gethin. Recent decades saw their popularity boosted by the likes of solid Dafydd Wigley. Since they stabbed Wigley in the back, the party has slumped disastrously in calibre and been led by utter non entities like Cynog Dafis and Ieuan Wyn and a Dandy Presiding Officer. Along come the likes of Bethan Jenkins who win a well paid job for life because less than six people voted for her in a sparsely attended Plaid meeting probably held in a telephone kiosk in some obscure village. They will stick in this coalition come what may - or not come for that matter. They love the trappings of Ministerial Salaries and Cars and Allowances just as their Swansea Councillors did with Labour until the electorate wisely booted most of them out in Swansea last May 2008.
Anon 11.17pm: Oh dear we have hit a sore point haven't we? Your argument amounts to the very fine distinction that Plaid Cymru try to make when they seek to distance themselves from unpopular decisions. This is despite the fact that they have spent the last 15 months crowing about how they are a party of government.

Technically, Bethan is not subject to the same collective responsibility as Plaid Cymru Ministers but even by your definition her actions amount to unprecedented disloyalty to those Ministers on a major plank of government policy, trumpeted by Janet Ryder yesterday as squarely within the ambit of the One Wales Agreement.

A more rational person would conclude differently. Plaid Cymru as an Assembly Group and as a Party have signed up to be part of the government and as such they are jointly responsible for all the actions of that government, good and bad. In that sense Bethan Jenkins and John Dixon are trying to have their cake and eat it. You cannot act as an opposition to your own government.
you are either in Government or you are not.

Oh come on Peter. Since when was Bethan "in government" and since when were members of governing parties barred from disagreeing with government policy? You're clutching at straws Peter, clutching at straws.
See my comments above Simon.
I understand that, but... if they agree, they're accused of going against party policy, if they disagree they're accused of rebelling against their own governing party. Damned if they do, damned if they don't, as far as I can see.

If the government is wrong, then it's the duty of people to raise the issue, or rebel if necessary. If that means going against your own party, then so be it. Too many yes-men in politics.

Labour people should have rebelled when their party changed to "New-Labour" without their consent, except they didn't because they were blinded by the power of being in government. Stick to your principles, first and foremost.

With regards to Bethan, who is being slated in the above replies, she's one of the most active people in Plaid. They're lucky to have her.
Personally I have a lot of time for Bethan. However, the dliemmma you describe is what happens when you go into government. How Plaid handle that will determine their fitness for office in the future and also whether anybody will work with them in government again.
Peter you and jenny completely disagreed on the Lib Dems line on neurosurgery whilst she was health spokesperson. You have always said it was ok to disagree on that? Are you now saying that sort of rule only applies to Lib Dems?

Consistency isn't something to be ashamed of Peter
Jenny's position on neurosurgery was not party policy nor were in government. It is fine to disagree. The difference is that when you are the governing party then on major policy issues you have to take collective responsibility as a party. When we were in government there was only one occasion when I publicly disagreed with a Minister's decision and that was on a constituency issue, which is different. On a number of other matters such as health reorganisation I swallowed hard and went along with it as that was what I was required to do as a team player.
Sorry Peter, I simply cannot agree with you. There's nothing that's dissapointed me more in the 10 years of the Assembly than the idea that many AM's have that parties should always stick together.

It's probably happened because of the size of the place, only 60AM's doesn't give much space for dissenting, but compare it to Westminster where dissenting backbenchers is a huge part of proceedings.

If a backbencher doesn't agree with the Government's policies then I would be extrmeely dissapointed if they shut up about it - what kind of principles is that?

I remember you launched the same criticism when Janet Ryder spoke against St Athan so I assume you're very much in the ideo of showing a "my party right or wrong" face to the public. What's the point in electing individual AM's if that's the line you lot take?
Peter, I do not think you are in a position to lecture on how to be a junior coalition partner.

Your approach seems to have led to your party becoming invisible and irrelevant.

Bethan Jenkins is doing the right thing by challenging Labour policies. She is upholding the most recent Plaid manifesto as far as I know. Surely it is the cabinet members who are rebelling against Plaid, not the other way around.
"Bethan Jenkins really needs to make her mind up. Is she a part of this government or not?"

I think Bethan has made her mind up - she's decided to support Plaid's original position according to teh 2007 manifesto and stand by her principles - this is something that should be admired not attacked.
The Black calling the kettle pot (or something like that)
Peter, you are serially disloyal to your party leader and believe you have a right to do so. I respect that right.
A rival politician stands up for party policy while the One Wales government compromises and is somehow doing something wrong.
Fortunately the Lib Dems are unlikely to get into a situation where they're in government, so you can maintain your holier than thou stance on the sidelines.
Ers pryd mae anghtuno yn anghywir? Byd annemocrataidd iawn fyddai, tasai pawb yn cytuno, neu yn waeth byth yn teimlo dan bwysau i gytuno er mwyn lles edrychiad y parti i'r cyhoedd.

I accept your point that money is being taken out of direct student support and put into university funding, but my interpretation was that this was largely being used to fund bursasries and scholarships, and therefore going into student support in another way.

It's a fine disctinction, but if true it enables the government to claim that they have technically met the requirements of the One Wales agreement.

However, my real point on that specific issue was that this is not the only way of meeting that commitment, and is most definitely not my preferred option for so doing.

"In denial" - I think not. What we have here is a proposal from a coalition government, not a proposal which has been agreed - or even discussed - by Plaid Cymru as yet. We will submit a formal response in due course.
Anon 11.17pm: Oh dear we have hit a sore point haven't we?

Not really. I'm not even a Plaid supporter. I just urged you recognise the difference (which you sweetly refer to as a "very fine disinction") between executive and legislature.

Plaid are a party of government. That is incontestable. But that does not mean that all their AMs are in the government.

Paul Flynn is of the party of government, but nobody accuses him of terrible disloyalty when he votes against the government or publicly criticises it. Can you tell me the difference?

The fact of the matter is that in a grand coalition, the need for AMs from the governing parties to act independently is more, not less, important.
Hen, nobody could accuse me of towing the party line for the sake of it, but (and this answers Illtyd Luke) I have been in the position of being a member of a junior coalition partner and demonnstrated that I and my colleagues are able to deal with the responsibilities associated with that more than adequately. That is something Plaid Cymru cannot do it seems. As for being irrelevant the fact is we help run 13 of Wales 22 Councils and have the second largest group of MPs in Wales. That is very relevant.
Translation of Dwi'm isio:

"Since when is disagreeing wrong? It would be a very undemocratic world if everybody agreed, or even worse, under pressure to agree for the sake of how the party looks to the public."

I think I have already answered that.
seems to me that all bethan jenkins is doing is what any socialist should do - oppose top up fees (unlike so many so called 'socialists' in new labour who accepted so much of new labour's neo-thatcherite policies without so much as a murmur).

So it is heartening to see a socialist am like bethan sticking to her principles and arguing against this reactionary move.
We need more AMs like her.

Sorry Peter, your reply didn't actually explain anything.

This should help - if the Lib Dems were back in government and you were a backbench AM - what would you do if the government proposed a policy you disagreed with and which went against your party's manifesto?

a) shut up and tow the line, or
b) stick to your priniples andf state your opposition to it

Bethan Jenkins chose the latter, which would you (and did you) choose?
Actually I have already answered that in this thread. What I did was to argue my case within the administration rather than embarrassing my own Ministers. Remember I am also a member of a ruling Council coalition and have these dilemmas on a regular basis. When you are in power there are ways of getting things done. Grandstanding is not it.
so a)shut up and tow the line then? Why am I not surprised?
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