In England's Green and pleasant land

I don't often write about English politics, but there's always room for an exception. Labour has announced that the by-election for Norwich North will be held on 25 July. Ian Gibson—rather peeved at the way he felt he had been unfairly singled out in the expenses scandal by the Star Chamber—decided to resign straight away rather than wait until the next general election.

He won the seat quite comfortably in 2005 with 44.9% of the vote, the Tories getting 33.2% and LibDems 16.2%. But things might be a little different this time round. Last week, ICM conducted a survey in the constituency. The results were:

Con ... 25%
Lab ... 17%
Green ... 9%
LibDem ... 8%
Other ... 5%
Don't know ... 24%
Refused ... 11%

ICM Survey, June 2009

What is remarkable is the very high percentage of don't knows and refusers.

But one other thing is going to make this an interesting by-election. If you look at the Euro Election results, Norwich was one of the three English areas in which the Greens topped the poll (Brighton and Oxford were the other two) ... and by a very handsome margin. The results were:

Green ... 25.0%
Con ... 17.5%
Lab ... 16.7%
LibDem ... 15.0%
UKIP ... 12.3%
Others ... 13.4%

European Election 2009 (Norwich)

This leads me to think that this might be a much more closely fought contest than pollsters who use the three party model might suggest. I suspect the Tories will win it, not least because of the ward-by-ward figures in the local elections. But I think there's a very real likelihood that the Greens will be their main challengers ... a view that Michael Crick of the BBC seems to share.


This is quite momentous in that the Greens have never got close to being in such a good position in England before. It opens up the possibility of the progressive, left-of-centre vote coalescing behind the Greens in this by-election; drawing support from traditional Labour voters who have every reason to be unhappy with Labour, and from a LibDem party that still hasn't managed to get over any message about what it's meant to be for.

In Wales, we have a left-of-centre party that offers an alternative to Labour. England has not had this ... and it is probably for this very reason that Labour in England has felt that it can move further and further to the right. They took it for granted that anyone who was left of centre would have to vote for them because there was no credible alternative.

In my opinion the Greens stand the best chance of becoming that alternative in England. I hope so. Perhaps it would be too much to hope that they might win, but by-elections are unpredictable things, especially when the number of don't knows and refusers is as high as 35%. So maybe, just maybe, Rupert Read can pull it off.


It might also be worth noting (the Scotsman certainly has) that the Labour party did not move a writ for the Glasgow North East by-election to also be held on 25 July, as had been expected. No prizes for guessing why. On 24 July last year Labour lost Glasgow East to the SNP.

Bookmark and Share

Child Poverty ... what can Wales do about it?

Thanks to Valleys Mam, I downloaded Victoria Winckler's research paper for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on child poverty in Wales.

     What is needed to end child poverty in Wales?

It's a very good piece of work. And as it's only eight pages long, I really would urge people to read it. It says nearly everything I could think of saying about the subject—and a great deal more that I hadn't thought of—far better than I could say it.


If I wanted to add anything, it would be that better public transport is one factor that would help (by no means at the top of the list, but on it somewhere). It is mentioned in the paper, though only once. The big things are getting more people into work and improved childcare.

In London, for example, there has been a scheme for those on Income Support to get half price travel on buses and trams. That was introduced by Ken Livingstone but, more surprisingly, Boris Johnson has extended that scheme to include those on Job Seekers Allowance and the new Employment and Support Allowance. The reason is this:

[The scheme] is designed to help people back to work by making it easier to travel to interviews, and access libraries, job centres, and other amenities.

Mayor of London Press Release, 2 April 2009

We sometimes forget that London has a few devolved powers. So if they can do it, why shouldn't we? It's worth noting that this concession can continue for up to six months after the person gets work. I like that, because it might make all the difference to someone's ability to take a job. There is always some uncertainty in the first few months about how things might work out in a new job.

And I would also add the need to better enforce the minimum wage, as there are many examples of employers flouting the rules, and too few enforcement officers in Wales.


I'd like to widen this discussion. Doing away with child poverty is one thing that must surely unite all of us, no matter what political views we hold. It is shameful, and we must do something about it.

So I'd like to invite people to suggest what we could do in Wales to improve our particular situation. If we are serious about devolving more powers to our Assembly, we are not going to do it simply by arguing in general terms. We need to be able to give specific examples of how the political power to do things differently in Wales will make things better.

I'll start with this. A couple of months ago, I was surprised (although very pleasantly surprised) to read that a 2007 survey had found that a large majority of people in Wales think that the Welsh government should be the body that makes decisions about the benefits system in Wales. I mentioned it on the Syniadau Forums.

Survey respondents were asked about which level of government "ought to make most of the important decisions for Wales" for four key policy areas: Welfare Benefits, the National Health Service, Schools, and Defence and Foreign Affairs. Results are presented in Figure 6.3 below. These show not only clear majority public support for the devolved level of government to have control over areas where they already make many decisions—on schooling and healthcare—but also a similar level of public endorsement for those powers to extend to an area like welfare benefits. The latter is striking, as it is a policy area that currently remains very much reserved to Westminster.


The reply format in a blog is fairly limited, especially in terms of formatting and the ability to include images, etc. So if anyone wants to reply in more depth, you are welcome to respond on a new thread I've opened on the Syniadau Forums.

Bookmark and Share

Vain and Wane

Betsan Powys has been keeping us abreast of the news about a special meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss the Welsh Affairs Select Committee's report on the Language LCO.

Apparently the chair of the WASC, Hywel Francis, was not best pleased that Peter Hain had unilaterally announced the meeting on the Wales Office website without talking to anyone—not least himself—about it first. He's now thrown a wobbly, and it looks like the meeting's off.

Of course if you go to the Wales Office site, you will see a nice picture of the luminaries:


And will see a mention of the unilateral announcement in the box called "Latest News".

However, if your first port of call at Ty Gwydyr just so happens to be the Welsh version you will be left in total ignorance ... even several days after the event.

There must be an explanation. Yes, it's buried in the blurb of their Welsh Language Scheme:

Press Notices

27. We will continue our policy of preparing press notices in the language of the media most likely to use them. This may be Welsh and English, Welsh only or English only.

Yes it's obvious, isn't it? None of us could reasonably expect journalists in BBC Cymru, S4C, Golwg, Daily Post Cymraeg or one of the other Welsh-medium publications to be interested in—let alone be likely to print or broadcast something about—the progress of the Welsh Language LCO. So why should an ordinary visitor to the Welsh version of the website expect it? ... or, for that matter, a Welsh-speaking member of the WASC?

"Continue" the good work, boys. If you keep Yr Wasg in the dark, it's only fair that you keep the WASC in the dark too.

Bookmark and Share

Green ... Green with envy

I want to praise Scotland for the decision they took in Holyrood today over reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They have introduced new tougher targets which are reported here:

     MSPs get power to fine over climate change, The Scotsman


     MSPs pass 'landmark' climate laws, BBC website

There are some very interesting new ideas, because as well as doing the things that we might expect only government can do, the new laws will eventually be able to compel companies and even individuals to improve their energy use by, ultimately, imposing fines for failure to do so.

Not just energy use will be dealt with. The measures could also force reductions in the overuse of packaging, and better recycling targets.

The intermediate target is for a 42% reduction by 2020, and for an 80% reduction by 2050. It is also pleasing to see that the bulk of the reductions must be made in Scotland, with no more than 20% of the target met by offsetting and trading outside the country.

But there will be carrots before sticks, such as £50 reductions in Council Tax.


In the article in the Scotsman one sceptic is reported as saying:

"As far as reducing emissions by 80 per cent, banning the internal combustion engine, and coal-fired power stations from Scotland would not get close to doing it. This is clearly unobtainable."

Well, let's think about it. Our use of energy splits into three chunks: power generation, transport and heating.

• Scotland can easily generate all its electricity and more from renewables. I can virtually guarantee they won't have any-coal fired power stations in 2050.

• I am also sure that the only petrol or diesel internal combustion engines will be found in museums or at vintage car rallies. I'm sure we will still have cars, buses and trucks, but they will be either electric or hydrogen (fuel cell or internal combustion) and that the hydrogen will have been produced using "surplus" power from intermittent renewable sources such as wind.

Those two will achieve a reduction of say 65%. Most of the rest will depend on how we deal with buildings. It's relatively easy to deal with new buildings either through tougher building regulations or through the planning process. The more intractable problem is how to deal with the large stock of existing buildings, many of which have very little insulation. That's where the Scottish model is strong.


I'm envious because we in Wales should be doing the same things. To our credit we have done some clever lateral thinking, but we simply don't have any powers to legislate in this way. We can't even put a 5p tax on plastic bags ... let alone deal with large scale power generation!

The final irony is that what Scotland has done is entirely uncontentious. It had all party support and was passed unanimously ... the only voices of disquiet were from those who would have preferred the targets to be even tougher.

Bookmark and Share

A New Speaker ... the first lesson to learn

I was lucky enough (gosh, that does sound sad) to watch events unfold live on the BBC Parliament channel this afternoon. My first choice would have been Alan Beith, but John Bercow would have been second. I was delighted that Margaret Beckett didn't win. Not for any personal reasons, nor because of any doubts about her ability, but because the Labour Party machine was using the whips to try and push her through ... and narrow party political interests are the last thing anyone with any sense would want to inflict on the House of Commons at this time.

The best party political remark I heard was reported by Labour MP Tom Harris:

A Labour colleague was in the toilet next to the chamber just before the first ballot, when he was joined by David Cameron in the adjacent urinal.

“David, I’m about to vote Tory for the very first time in my life,” said my friend jovially.

“John Bercow doesn’t count!” replied Cameron.

But I actually want to make a more serious point. Riveting though the election was, it perfectly displayed the convoluted farce that the House of Commons has got to work hard to put behind it.

What on earth was the point of what could—if three of the candidates had not had the good sense to withdraw themselves voluntarily—gone to five or six rounds of printing new ballot papers and walking through the lobbies time after time ... after time? They could easily have been there until midnight.

Has none of them heard about listing candidates in order of preference?

This is the one basic principle that we must introduce into our voting system. Voters simply put a 1, 2, 3 etc ... against each candidate. The votes are then counted, the lowest ranking candidates get progressively eliminated, but the second and third (and so on) preferences of those that voted for them get counted until the winner emerges.

That goes under various names according to whether we are electing one person to fill just one position, or whether we are electing a number of people to fill several positions, such as the number of members in a multi-member constituency. If the election is to fill just one position it is called the "alternative vote" or "instant runoff voting" ... if it is to fill a number of positions it is called the "single transferable vote", but the principle is pretty much the same.


As I've said before, I'd much prefer to see STV for all elections to Westminster, the Senedd, Local Councils and the European Parliament. However I think that this might be a step too far for a tired old institution such as Westminster to adopt. There are too many vested interests. But at the very least using this method to elect each individual MP to the same Westminster constituencies that we have at present is an improvement. This is for two reasons:

In the first place it gives the MP greater legitimacy than s/he has at present ... simply because they would have needed to get the support of a majority of the voters in their constituency. In 2005, for example, Ynys Môn was won with only 34.6% of the vote.

Secondly, it would do away with tactical voting. Voters would no longer be put in the invidious position of having to give their one vote to a second or third choice candidate on the grounds that their first choice might have no chance of winning. Preference voting means that there is no danger that their vote would be wasted, and so would lead to more people getting out to vote.

Bercow can't deliver this on his own, but he can do a lot to facilitate it. In my opinion electoral reform is the one big thing that Westminster needs to address. Hopefully they can use the convoluted spectacle of today's vote as the first practical demonstration of why we need to make old, outdated ways of voting fit for today's world.

Bookmark and Share

Anonymous policing

It's good to see a story that would once only have been found in the Guardian has reached the pages of Wales Online.

     Women complain over power station arrests

A complaint against the police has been made by two women. Emily Apple and Val Swain—the latter from Cardiff—because of the way they were treated by police. They maintain that four of the uniformed police officers were either not wearing or had obscured their identification numbers, and when they photographed the one of those officers they were assaulted, manhandled and eventually held in custody for four days without any charges being brought.

The evidence is on video, which you can see for yourselves here:


In general I would give my full support to the police, they do a difficult job on behalf of us all. But in order for public confidence in the police to be maintained, the police need to show that they can control their own officers, and need to discipline them when they fall below the standards we have every right to expect of them.

If this video had not been made available, it would have been all too easy to dismiss this complaint as an exaggerated account of what actually happened. Now we can all see that it isn't. But we should not treat this as an isolated incident. This sort of complaint is all too common, and if the practice of anonymous uniformed policing (plain clothed and undercover work is of course very different from uniformed policing) is to be stamped out, it requires serious disciplinary action to be taken against all officers who abuse their position.

But it is naïve to think that the police would be allowed to behave in this way unless their tactics were—at the very least tacitly, if not specifically—approved by senior officers.

And although politicians in power at the Home Office would fiercely claim that operational decisions are not a political matter, I think that if our politicians were to speak out more strongly to condemn such tactics, such pressure would be the most effective way to help put an end to this sort of abuse.

Bookmark and Share

New Welsh-medium school in Griffithstown

In today's South Wales Argus there's a story about primary school provision in Griffithstown, on the south side of Pontypool.

     Griffithstown school plan gets thumbs up

A couple of years ago the separate infants and junior schools were amalgamated into one primary school, but still remained on their two respective sites only a couple of hundred metres apart. Even so, the total capacity was inadequate (there are a couple of portacabins) so Torfaen's plan is to enlarge the buildings on the junior site (which is bigger and has more space around it room to expand into) to bring together both parts of the school in on one site. This is what was envisaged when the infants and junior schools were combined.

This will leave the old infants school site on Oxford Street to be used as a new Welsh-medium school. It only has a capacity of 140, but this is badly needed as the two other WM primary schools in Torfaen—Cwmbran to the south and Bryn Onnen to the north—will not have enough places to meet the growing parental demand.


This is a win-win situation. The parents of children in the EM schools are happy that they will have more space and not be split across two sites; and the parents who want WM education will not have to travel so far to get it.

Torfaen are to be commended for this. They will now have three WM primary schools for a total population of about 90,000. Two of their immediate neighbours have not responded nearly so well. Newport to the south only has two WM primaries for a population of 138,000. Blaenau Gwent to the west has only one WM primary for a population of 70,000.

Bookmark and Share

One road link, one rail link

Although it won't please Huw Lewis much (it isn't the A465) I was happy to see the announcement that the Porthmadog bypass was finally given the go ahead last week.

The news is here, and the details of what is proposed are here.

If you click the picture it will open at a readable size. The final route follows the red dashed route and the white route. The decision on the alternatives was taken back in 2004, but the scheme was proposed way back in 1993. It has taken all of 16 years to be given the go ahead ... and it will be a couple of years before it's complete.

The cost is £50m, which works out at just over £15m a mile. Roads certainly don't come cheap ... a motorway costs at least £30m a mile.

But in my opinion this scheme is justified on two grounds: because it takes through traffic off town centre streets, which is much safer, and because relieving congestion enables the road to act as an artery for people and goods to move around Wales more easily. There is both a strategic and local benefit.


But just a couple of days ago, this story came out in the Western Mail about reopening rail lines.

     Watchdog backs call for new railway lines

As any regular readers might have guessed by now, this is one of my hobbyhorses, so my ears pricked up. It was a bit of a false alarm as it related to lines in England only. Not that I have anything against the English doing it ... in fact I'm all in favour. I downloaded the report from the ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) and found that they were basically proposing the same sort of things that we in Wales have been doing (Vale of Glamorgan and Ebbw Vale) and the Scots too (Alloa, Airdrie-Bathgate, Waverley). It's very clearly an idea whose time has come.

I could give you at least a dozen ideas for improving the rail network in Wales, but I'd like to highlight just one, because it just so happens to be a couple of miles away from the Porthmadog bypass.

It's best to show things visually on maps. Click the images to open the full-sized versions if you want to see the detail.


The existing rail lines are in black. The Vale of Conwy line runs from the main North Coast line at Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The line used to extend to Bala (in yellow) but that service was stopped in the Beeching era. However until 1998 the section to Trawsfynydd remained open to serve the now closed nuclear power station. Those tracks are still in place.


The line passes within a few miles of the Cambrian Line from Pwllheli to Aberdyfi, and then to Shrewsbury. My plan (which I'm sure can't be original, though I haven't seen it anywhere else) would be to reinstate only the section of line shown in red, and to join it to the Cambrian Line with a new section of track shown in blue. The reinstated section is 5 miles long and the new section 6 miles long. The terrain is tricky, but I think what I've shown is the most practical route. Comments and suggestions welcome.


In terms of cost, I can't be precise, but reinstating the Ebbw Vale line was a £30m project for 18 miles of track, although it was in operation for freight traffic. The reinstatement of 5 miles of track can't cost more than £12m.

The new section in blue will be more expensive because there is no existing formation for the track. But it's hard to imagine it costing more than £6-7m per mile. So both parts of this rail link would cost less than the £50m the Porthmadog bypass is going to cost.

But all expenditure has got to be justified. I'm not going to pretend that there is going to be very much immediate local benefit. Llan Ffestiniog is more a village than a town. On its own, that doesn't justify the link. The benefit is that this short stretch of new line would link what are currently separate north and mid Wales lines, bringing an economic and social benfit to a much wider area.

As such it stands on its own merit, but of course it also forms a part of a strategic plan to create or reinstate rail links between north and south Wales.


It might also be worth noting that plans have been on the table for some time to upgrade the Conwy Valley line so that it can take slate waste from around Blaenau Ffestiniog to be used as aggregate for building works. New EU environmental directives on sourcing aggregate mean that there is now a viable market for the 370m tonnes that is already there, and the 6m tonnes of waste that are produced each year.

The improvements to the existing line would cost £19m, but Gwynedd Council estimate it would bring an annual benefit of £43m to the local economy.

     Campaign to improve railway link

However it strikes me that there must be some synergy in putting this well-established proposal together with the link I have outlined, so as to create a through route that will link north and mid Wales by rail for the first time in fifty years.

Bookmark and Share

One small step for a Scot ...

As most of us will know, the Calman Commission published its report yesterday. It was no giant leap for Scotland. Here are the links, in ascending order of complexity:

     The Simple Booklet
     The Executive Summary
     The Full Report

As an introduction to the issues, this report and debate from last night's Newsnight Scotland is very informative and balanced:


Now the big question is what we in Wales should make of it. I've been following the process, and my view is that it's at the bottom end of expectations.

Calman was set up by the three Unionist parties in Scotland because they realized that the current devolution settlement in Scotland needed to be extended. They had to reach an agreed compromise on further devolved responsibilities because, if they didn't, the Scots would be more inclined to think that independence was the only other way forward, therefore support for independence would grow.


As for the details, the headline is that Scotland will have it's block grant cut by an amount equivalent to 10p of Income Tax, meaning that it will have to set a rate of Income Tax (of whatever it chooses) to make up for the loss of that part of the block grant.

However, as soon as you look at the detail, you see that things are still slanted in Westminster's favour. If the overall rates were to remain the same as they are now:

20p = 10p Scotland (50%) + 10p RUK (50%)
40p = 10p Scotland (25%) + 30p RUK (75%)
50p = 10p Scotland (20%) + 40p RUK (80%)

So although this has been trumpeted as Scotland getting to keep half the income tax its people pay to Westminster, this is not really the case. And, as I think it is also fairly certain that tax rates will have to rise in future to pay for the UK's huge amount of recent borrowing, the "10p formula" will shift even more in Westminster's favour.

If there was one amendment that I would fight to change (as a logical and reasonable compromise that the Unionist parties would find it difficult to refuse) it would be that taxes in all bands are equally split.


As Alex Salmond said more eloquently than I could, having power to vary only one main tax hardly constitutes any degree of control over the economy. What matters is the balance of taxes ... so that you can maintain a chosen level of expenditure from a range of sources.

But more importantly, taxation could and should be used as a way of developing the economy. Given a choice of which taxes we would most like to control, nearly every financial expert in Plaid would aim for control of business taxes. The general idea would be to lower business taxes to make Wales a more favourable place to do business. That brings more jobs to Wales and, as a direct consequence, increases the tax take because more people are in work, and decreases the amount we have to pay in benefits for those who are out of work. If we get the balance right, the amount the Welsh government loses by reducing business taxes is more than made up for by the increased personal tax take (the number of people paying tax goes up, but the rate of tax remains the same) and the need for social security payments goes down.

By that standard Calman is huge wasted opportunity. But, nonetheless it is a small step towards greater fiscal autonomy ... and a small step is better than nothing. In practical terms I imagine the SNP and Liberals will use this to press ahead with their plan for replacing Council Tax in Scotland with local income tax. The sums didn't quite add up when only 3p was available, but will add up now.


As for other matters, what struck me was the micro-management of areas which could be released from Westminster's control. Instead of any broad policy areas, there were only half a dozen or so little things. This leads me to guess that Calman wants to do the same job over and over again every time another half dozen things get put onto the political agenda.

This report is not designed to be a far-reaching, comprehensive settlement. It smacks of short-termism.


It should also be noted that Calman wants to take some matters back from Holyrood's control to Westminster. The areas suggested include charities, food labelling, heath professionals and insolvencies.

Almost laughable was the Commission's response to calls for broadcasting to be devolved to Holyrood. This was something that the Commission had originally indicated it was prepared to countenance, but has now shied away from. The compromise is that the Scottish Government should be able to nominate one member of the BBC's board of trustees. Wow, that'll make a difference!

But Scotland at least has programmes like their own version of Newsnight, which normally occupies the last 15 minutes of the slot. Wouldn't it be good if the BBC were to give us the same in Wales?


Finally, there was no serious mention in the Executive Summary (I haven't yet read the full report) of North Sea Oil and Gas revenues. This is surprising since a very good sub-report was published only a couple of weeks ago:

     Natural Resource Taxation and Scottish Devolution

In essence there would have been no problem assigning some of these taxes to Holyrood. All that would have been required would be the facility to undertake shorter-term borrowing to iron out the fluctuations, something that was addressed in detail in this accompanying sub-report:

     Should Scottish Ministers be Able to Borrow?

It is in fact a myth to think that North Sea revenues are declining, as this graph shows:

There was a boom period in the early 80s when tax peaked at £28bn a year. But at the start of the 90s it was down to about £2bn and has tended to go upwards since then, fluctuating between £7bn and £12bn in the last five years. What has changed over time is the balance of taxes. Petroleum Revenue Tax is now minimal, with the huge bulk of revenue coming from normal Corporation Tax at 30%, and a special "supplementary charge" which is in effect another 20% rate of Corporation Tax.

Bearing in mind what I said before about control of business taxes being more useful than control of income tax, I would have thought it right that Scotland should control the rate of Corporation Tax on all businesses, including those operating in its waters.


But there is a silver lining for Wales in this. If I were Scottish I would still be livid at the UK continuing to claim all the tax money from the Scottish part of the North Sea as "British". But the precedent that has now been set (since Gordon Brown seems certain to implement the bulk of the Calman recommendations) will in fact work just as well for Wales as it does for Scotland, because it is not complicated by the issue of North Sea oil and gas.

The measure of fiscal autonomy proposed for Scotland is so limited that there would be no real problem applying exactly the same tax setting formula to Wales as well. Our own Holtham Commission is due to report its Stage 1 findings and conclusions sometime in "summer 2009" ... so we shouldn't have long to wait.

Any thoughts about what it might recommend?

Bookmark and Share

Analysis and Strategy - The Assembly

In my last post I looked at what the results of the recent European election might mean for Plaid in Westminster, so now it is time to turn to see what they might mean for the Assembly elections in 2011.

I'll start with an uncomfortable set of figures. If the same votes were cast in the Assembly election as were just cast in the European elections—and if people's second votes were all cast in the same way as their first votes—it would give this result:

Labour ... 20 (16 FPTP, 4 regional)
Conservative ... 17 (16 FPTP, 1 regional)
Plaid ... 11 (7 FPTP, 4 regional)
UKIP ... 6 (0 FPTP, 6 regional)
LibDem ... 6 (1 FPTP, 5 regional)

It is interesting to note that Labour, despite being second in the poll, would still be the largest party. This is a result of Wales not having enough regional seats to correct the distortion caused by the FPTP element of the voting system. This shouldn't be a surprise, because Labour set the system up to give them this advantage.

And of course it's also true to say that people won't necessarily vote the same way in the Assembly elections as they do in other elections. But even so the news doesn't look good for Plaid. And that means we have to do some serious thinking if we are to hold on to, let alone improve on, our current tally of fifteen seats.

I want to look at three things in particular: UKIP and the anti-vote, Plaid's own targets and strategies, and electoral alliances.

1. UKIP and the anti-vote

It's very easy for the other parties to say that UKIP only did well as a protest vote, especially because of the expense scandal at Westminster. But that, in my opinion, is only a very small factor. UKIP in fact has a far worse record than other parties on financial irregularities: one of their MEPs was jailed for making false claims and another is facing fraud charges.

It is more realistic to say that UKIP did as well as they did simply because of their policy position, rather than because of the expenses scandal. In fact UKIP in the UK as a whole got just about the same share of the vote in 2009 as they did in 2004. 16.5% as opposed to 16.2%.

To my mind UKIP's appeal is the simplicity of its position. On the subject of the EU, they know full well that people are so little informed about the EU that the European elections cannot be fought on the ground of policies in Europe ... it can only be fought on the black-and-white contrast of whether we should be in the EU or out of it. All the other big parties want us to remain part of the EU, so UKIP has a "unique selling point" which it can take full advantage of.

It also demonstrates that it's a lot easier to be against something than for it. An opposition party that has no chance of being in government can promise the earth, but knows it will never have to deliver anything.


So the question is whether UKIP might be able to play the same game in Wales. The answer is yes, but this time on devolution. All the big parties are now in favour of devolution and want to keep the National Assembly. UKIP wants to abolish it and have MPs to the job instead, so UKIP has a similar "unique selling point" ... it has another way of attracting the "anti-vote".

It's pointless looking at the statistics that show that an overwhelming majority of people in Wales want devolution. UKIP simply don't need overwhelming majorities, they only need to pick up the votes of those that are opposed to devolution. These are the results of the last four surveys to ask the question:

February 2009 (BBC/ICM)

13% ... Independence (5% outside EU, 8% inside EU)
34% ... Parliament with tax-setting powers
10% ... Parliament with primary law-making powers
21% ... Status quo
19% ... Abolish the Assembly
04% ... Other/don't know

December 2008, published March 2009 (AWC/GfKNOP)

06% ... Independence
37% ... Parliament with tax-setting powers
36% ... Parliament with limited law-making powers
11% ... Abolish the Assembly
10% ... Don't know

June/July 2008 (AWC/GfKNOP)

10% ... Independence
39% ... Parliament with tax-setting powers
31% ... Status quo
15% ... Abolish the Assembly
06% ... Don't know

February 2008 (BBC/ICM)

13% ... Independence (5% outside EU, 8% inside EU)
37% ... Parliament with tax-setting powers
26% ... Status quo
20% ... Abolish the Assembly
03% ... Other/don't know

If 11-20% of people in Wales want to abolish the Assembly, then there will be quite a lot of potential votes for UKIP if they are the only party to campaign on such a platform.

Of course not all of those anti-Assembly votes will go to UKIP, because most of the anti-devolutionists will probably accept that trying to turn the clock back on devolution is a lost cause and so will vote on the issues that matter: health, education and the like. UKIP just don't have a position on these issues.

I don't want to over-inflate UKIP's chances of doing well. In the last Assembly elections they only got 3.95% of the vote. But it would not take very much of an increase to get a regional seat. 6.4% is enough in some regions, 8.5% would get a seat in all five regions.

However I would note that a lot will depend on the Tories. While the Tories were lukewarm about devolution, they could hope to pick up most of the no-to-devolution-at-all-costs vote. The more they move towards a pro-more-devolution position, the more likely it is that UKIP will pick up the no-to-devolution-at-all-costs vote. This might well be the reason why the Tories have point-blank refused to publish the Roberts Report.

2. Plaid's own targets and strategies

My first point was about a potential threat, but the second point I want to make about the Assembly elections is much more concrete. Plaid has good reason to be confident about the seven FPTP seats we hold in the Assembly, however any further FPTP seats that we win are likely to reduce the number of regional seats we win, thus giving us no overall advantage.

In the last post, I said that Neath, the Rhondda and Caerffili were possibilities (no more than that) in the Westminster election. In the Assembly elections these become very much more winnable, simply because Plaid tend to do better in Assembly elections.

In addition to those three, the only other realistic possibilities are Clwyd West, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, Preseli Pembrokeshire, Aberafan, Cynon, Pontypridd and Islwyn. Thus we have a total of maybe ten FPTP targets, although it has to be said that some of these are remote possibilities.


However the problem is that for every one of these seats we win, we lose a regional seat. This has important implications for the way we campaign.

The normal way elections work is for parties to concentrate resources on the seats they hope to win, or those which they fear they might lose. As I've said many times before, Westminster elections are decided on the outcome of less than a hundred marginal seats, and parties put all their effort into those ... ignoring the others at a local level and relying almost entirely on national media coverage.

Plaid are no exception, and we will certainly have to do that for the Westminster elections. But the big mistake would be for us to rely on the same tactic for the Assembly elections. At best it would only mean that we hold our ground ... it would be impossible for us to get more Assembly seats than we currently have by employing it. In order to form a Welsh government, or to be the lead partner in a coalition government, we need to think differently.


Because any new FPTP seat that we win will result in us losing a regional seat, the only way we can improve our position is to increase the percentage of the vote throughout each region as opposed to concentrating on the winnable constituency seats. This is particularly true in the three South Wales regions.

Of course that doesn't mean that we don't aim to win the FPTP seats, it simply means that we mustn't concentrate on them at the expense of the less winnable constituencies. Increasing our share of the vote by say 5 or 6% overall is going to count for more than increasing the share of the vote by 10% in a winnable constituency but getting only a small increase in the others.

This isn't as implausible as it might at first seem. A few years ago people would have laughed at Plaid getting a decent share of the vote in many places in the eastern half of Wales. But these are some of the more surprising comparisons between the percentage of the vote we got in the last Assembly elections and what we just got in the European election:

Alyn & Deeside ... up from 6.63% to 9.32%
Wrexham ... up from 9.60% to 13.83%
Brecon & Radnor ... up from 5.47% to 8.00%
Blaenau Gwent ... up from 4.80% to 15.09%
Merthyr ... up from 12.00% to 15.21%
Cardiff North ... up from 7.39% to 9.01%

None of these is a winnable seat, but that's not the point. The aim is to make these sort of previously unlikely gains in our share of the vote across each region, so that we can win another regional seat in order to make up for the one we would otherwise lose by gaining a constituency seat.


This also has implications at local level. Quite simply it is not going to be enough for each branch to concentrate its resources only in its own constituency. The stronger branches are going to have to help (in terms of both manpower and money) in those constituencies where our support is less strong. This will require a change of attitude that might be hard, but I'm sure it is the only way that Plaid can get more seats than the fifteen we already have.

3. Electoral alliances

The previous point covered what Plaid can, and I believe should, do as a party. But there is one other way by which we can change the political landscape: by making electoral alliances with other parties and independents.

This will only work in very specific circumstances, but bear with me and I'll explain what these are.

Plaid has very strong support in Caerffili. Perhaps enough to win the seat, perhaps not. I mentioned before that Ron Davies' position has evolved to the point where his views are closer to ours in Plaid than they are to those of any other party. The only big point of difference is independence, which will not be on the agenda for the next ten years.

If he stands and wins as a Plaid candidate, Plaid will lose a regional seat. However if he stands as an independent, but unopposed by Plaid, the chances are that he'll win easily ... and that Plaid will not lose a regional seat.

At first glance this might appear to be electorally dubious, but it isn't. In fact it's exactly what he and John Marek did in 2007. They stood as independents, but Forward Wales stood as a party on the regional lists, so that they would not loose out as a party if either of the two men won a constituency seat. In the end it didn't make any difference, but their thinking was exactly right.

The second situation where an electoral alliance would work is in a region where Plaid has a high number of FPTP seats ... and therefore are unlikely to win an additional seat, or could at most expect to win one additional seat.

Let me explain what I mean by using Mid & West Wales as an example: Plaid are in all probability going to win 4 of the 8 constituency seats, and might just win a fifth or sixth in Preseli Pembrokeshire or Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Therefore it would be impossible for us to pick up more than 1 regional seat.

But Plaid share a lot of common values with the Green Party, and the Greens on their own are stronger in MWW than in any other region, polling 6.46% a fortnight ago. If we formed an electoral alliance with the Green Party, we would in essence forgo our chance of winning a regional seat, but would see them win (if all those who cast their second vote for Plaid in 2007 gave their second vote to the Greens instead) three of the four regional seats.

The same would be true of the North Wales region. Plaid would not win the one regional seat they got in 2007, but the Greens would again win three of the four regional seats.


Now this again might sound rather dubious, but isn't. There would probably be no way that Plaid could avoid putting up regional candidates in MWW and NW, therefore the success of this strategy would depend entirely on getting different messages across to our supporters in different regions. That is a tremendous challenge.

But if anyone said this strategy was in some way unfair, I would simply point out that the Labour Party set up the system we currently have precisely because it gave them an electoral advantage. In a region like South Wales West, they won 63.63% of the seats (seven out of eleven seats) with only 41.48% of the vote. I would call it redressing the balance ... and of course if we had STV there would be no need to vote tactically.

4. Conclusions

The bottom line is that we want Plaid to either form the next Welsh government or to be the largest party in the next Assembly. But I must warn our leaders and supporters that if we just drift into the election without doing this sort of strategic thinking now we will be lucky to end up with the fifteen seats we currently have, let alone increase them.

To increase our own seats, we need to focus our resources to increase our general share of the vote so that we can win additional FPTP seats without losing regional seats in the three South Wales regions.

However if we form strategic electoral alliances with Ron Davies as an independent, we retain a regional seat that we would otherwise lose. And if we forgo the chance of winning one regional seat in each of MWW and NW regions, the Green party could win up to three seats in each.

We therefore (as the Plaid/Green/Davies group) stand to make a net gain of five seats if we pursue these electoral alliances. There is also a lot of political kudos to be gained by setting this up before the election, so that it affects the way people vote in them, rather than negotiating everything afterwards.

If we want to be the largest party in the next Assembly, we have to think outside the box. I hope my analysis will stimulate debate both within Plaid and with those whose political viewpoint is broadly similar to ours.

Bookmark and Share

Analysis and Strategy - Westminster

This is the first of two posts in which I'll give my analysis of what the European results might mean for Plaid and, in particular, how this should shape the way we approach the next elections. This post will concentrate on the next general election, the second will focus on the Assembly election in 2011.

1. The seats Plaid already hold

The three seats we already hold are very secure. In Caernarfon we have more than four times the vote of any other party. In Meirionnydd Nant Conwy it is two-and-a-half times, and almost that much in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

2. Plaid's target seats

These comprise the four seats that, even before the political turmoils of the last month or so over expenses, we would have a reasonable expectation of either winning or being very close to winning.

In Ceredigion we are more than 3,000 ahead, and it seems almost certain that we will retake this seat.

In Ynys Môn we are just over 2,000 ahead of the Tories, and over 3,500 ahead of Labour who currently hold the seat. So this also looks secure.

In Llanelli we are just under 2,000 ahead of Labour. We must expect Labour's vote to recover over the next year, but perhaps by not all that much. That's because Labour now look likely to limp on at Westminster under the same old leadership. A new leader could have invigorated them, but the PLP has chosen to stick with what they've got. Therefore the general dissatisfaction with Labour is bound to continue. So Llanelli is very winnable.

Our fourth target is Aberconwy, which we hold at Assembly level with the new boundaries. This was a very close contest between Plaid and the Tories:

Plaid 4,236 ... Tories 4,228 ... Labour 2,453 ... LibDem 1,467 ... UKIP 1,951

On one level, it's easy to imagine that those who voted UKIP will vote for the Tories, which would make it easy for the Tories to win in a general election. But I think that's a false assumption. UKIP (if we leave aside the BNP) is essentially the only anti-EU party. There is a lot of anti-EU sentiment at large, which is shared every bit as much by people who vote for other parties on the usual domestic political issues: the economy, jobs, law and order and public services.

So Aberconwy is still winnable for Plaid, especially if we take steps to win over the 953 who voted Green. But it is the hardest of the four main target seats for us to win.

3. The new possibilities

Turning to other seats, I had not thought we stood much chance of gaining any seats at Westminster outside these seven. But thanks to Labour's demise and the expectation that anti-Labour feeling will only grow greater as they limp on for another year, I believe we stand an outside chance in Neath, the Rhondda and Caerffili.

In Neath Plaid were the second placed party in the last Westminster, Assembly and Euro elections. In each the margin has been getting closer. Up until now, the fact that Peter Hain was the highest profile MP representing a Welsh constituency counted very much in his favour. But that is now the very factor that is most likely to count against him.

Reactions to his return to the Cabinet have been mixed. Looked at from one direction, he's better than Paul Murphy ... but that's not saying much. The fact is that Peter Hain is tainted with financial irregularities on a scale much larger than most of those who have been exposed in the current expenses scandal. Not only that, but he appears to have his own starring role in the expenses scandal too.

However the thing that we should exploit to the fullest extent is that Peter Hain does not consider Neath to be where his main home is. The place he calls home is London. He was parachuted into Neath because it was a safe seat. In my view his Neath constituency should deselect him, but he has built up too much of a career to be moved now. Therefore he is a sitting target, an electoral liability.

The same is true of the Rhondda. It is another constituency where Plaid are clearly the only party that can challenge Labour. He is one of the batch of New Labour acolytes, parachuted into a safe seat with which he had no previous connexion. He is a blatant political opportunist who has and will change direction whenever it suits his political career. He started off by being a Tory, then was unashamedly Blairite, then put the knife into Blair when he thought he could get something better from Brown. He too thinks that London is his main home.

If his local Labour party had any sense they would deselect him, but they won't. Therefore the only choice left is for him to be voted out instead. I must however admit that I do very much admire him for his work with teenage pregnancy and teenage mothers. But he could do that work just as well as an MP for a constituency he had more connexion with ... or indeed if he were no longer an MP at all.

In Caerffili things are likely to centre around Ron Davies. When he was part of the Labour party he represented the face of Labour that was most receptive to devolution, and without him we might not have got the Assembly at all. But Labour have now moved on from there, even though the people of Caerffili have now elected Plaid in enough numbers in 1999 and 2008 for us to run the council.

I don't see Ron Davies being particularly inclined to return to Westminster, but I could imagine him in the Senedd. If some practical way could be found of combining the votes he received as an independent with Plaid's vote, Labour would be toast. The question is whether that partnership could be made in time for the Westminster election. If it could, the Westminster seat is there for the taking.

Some of my friends think that Ron Daves is very close to crossing over to Plaid. That maybe true, but I think that there might be more to be gained from him not joining Plaid. Our aim is independence, and Ron Davies probably isn't able to go that far. But that doesn't mean to say that he doesn't share our ambition for a Senedd not only with the primary lawmaking powers that we'll vote for in a referendum, but also for us to have responsibility over other matters such as taxation or the welfare and benefits system.

Therefore we have to see if there's a way of working with those who want (to use the Scottish expression) a "devolution max" constitutional settlement for Wales, coupled of course with the same day-to-day priorities of government for the economy, education, the NHS, transport and the environment. If there is, we can travel in the same direction for the ten years or so it will take us to get there ... and only then do we need to part company.

4. Conclusions

Things look very good for Plaid at the next election. You would put your mortgage on Plaid returning five MPs, and there is every indication that we will return six or seven.

We also have a slim chance in another three. And even if we don't win these for Westminster, we increase our chances of winning them at the next Assembly election in 2011.

In the meantime I don't want to be negative about any of the other seats in Wales. Unfortunately the first-past-the-post means that even if our level of support doubles in many other seats, it still won't make any difference to the outcome. Nonetheless there is important work to do; the spadework done now might make all the difference in the future, especially if constitutional reform at Westminster gives us some form of PR.

I'll write about the Assembly elections later. Surprisingly, my analysis is that things are not looking so good for Plaid in the Senedd, and therefore that we will need to do some serious work to improve on our fifteen seats there.

Bookmark and Share

European Parliament results in detail

If anyone is interested, I have put together a spreadsheet of the European election results for Wales, with percentages for each Welsh constituency and percentages for the five electoral regions. Plus overall comparisons with 2004.

It can be downloaded as either an .xls or .csv file


Also, as an update to yesterday's post, the Green-EFA group are now standing at 53 seats in the European Parliament, even though the BBC website still shows them at 50 seats.

Bookmark and Share

A very good night for the Green-EFA group

Of course I'm very disappointed that Plaid didn't top the poll in Wales. I didn't make my earlier predictions out of hype, I genuinely believed we could do it. But we've kept our one seat, and increased our share of the vote ... so we've certainly gone forwards rather than backwards.

However some of the things I predicted did prove to be accurate.

The first is that the three main parties were very close together in share of vote. Tories 21.21%, Labour 20.28%, Plaid 18.51% ... only 2.7 percentage points apart.

The second is that I was right about the Green share of the vote in Wales. I said 5 or 6%, they got 5.57%. If, as I had hoped, only half of those who voted Green had voted tactically for Plaid, our vote would have been 126,702 + 19,080 = 145,782. We would have just beaten the Tories and topped the poll. Unfortunately it wouldn't have won us the fourth seat because of UKIP's share of the vote ... but it would have felt good.

This is worth bearing in mind for the next European election. I would like to see Plaid and the Greens joining forces and fighting on a Green-EFA platform. Not for all elections, just for the European parliament. It would also be a very positive move for us to be seen to be fighting the next European election not simply on domestic issues, but on the wider European issues.

From Plaid's point of view it would have to mean putting a Green candidate second on our list. That of course is a sacrifice but, to counter that, the Green Party in Wales seems very receptive to supporting independence for Wales (as indeed the Scottish Greens do for Scotland). I'd be interested to know if others in Plaid or the Green Party feel the same way ... especially bearing in mind what happened in Ceredigion.

I'm delighted that the Green Party increased their share of the vote everywhere else in the UK, but sad that they still ended up with only two seats.


Turning to the overall European situation, we can celebrate the fact that the Green-EFA group has done very well. We previously had 41 seats, we now have 50, an increase of 22%. It is also possible that the EFA could pick up some more seats from newly elected parties that the BBC wouldn't have associated with stateless nations in Europe.



As you can see from the graphics on the BBC website (2009 on top, 2004 below) none of the bigger groups has improved. The PES (Party of European Socialists) are down from 203 to 184, the EPP (European Peoples Party) down from 282 to 263, and the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) down from 86 to 83. The EPP's drop reflects the Tories' withdrawal from that group.

That is good news for European politics, which—believe it or not—is what this election should have been about.

Bookmark and Share

Sticking with One Wales commitments on road improvements

Earlier this week, the Western Mail carried a story by David Williamson which was ostensibly about forcing Ieuan Wyn Jones, whose responsibilities include transport, to publish the advice he was given when he formulated the new road building/improvement strategy last year.

In essence the new strategy revised the previous priorities for road building in Wales. It moved up eight improvement schemes for north-south links, and it moved down six improvement for east-west routes. The question being asked was why IWJ chose to do this.

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones may be forced to reveal the advice he was given to formulate his road-building strategy.

Mr Jones’ changes to the priorities of the Assembly Government’s road-building programme have been controversial. The CBI business organisation warned in a statement on May 7 that: “From an economic perspective, the 2008 reprioritisation of the trunk road forward programme (moving up eight North-South schemes and moving down six East-West schemes) is a step in the wrong direction. We believe the Deputy First Minister is mistaken in making the top priority of this new programme to ‘provide better links between strategic centres of population.’

“Faced with a global economic recession, the need to invest in roads that will deliver an economic dividend is more important than ever. Redirecting finite road building resources to connecting communities within Wales—instead of improving economically vital east-west road links—will see our infrastructure punching below its economic weight.”

... Labour’s Mr Lewis said: “We can’t get an answer from the minister as to why he has done this ... He has upended the Assembly Government trunk road programme.”

Western Mail, 2 June 2009

Now of course I can fully understand that people will have different opinions on which projects should be given priority. Very clearly the CBI disagrees with the new priorities, and they're quite entitled to.

But Huw Lewis is an entirely different case.


Instead of just disagreeing (which is perfectly reasonable) he tries to make out that he has no idea whatsoever about why the Welsh Government has changed the old priorities. He has even made a couple of posts on the subject in his blog recently, here and here. In the second he claims that:

It is this report which has apparently led to a huge reshaping and reorganisation of WAG's road building policy.

This made me smile, because he has now shifted from feigned ignorance about why the decision was made, to trying to plant the suggestion that it was this advice that led to the change of priority. Sneaky.

The answer is very simple ... and one that I'm sure Huw Lewis is very well aware of. However if he still claims ignorance all he needs to do is remind himself of what it says in the One Wales Agreement:

• We envisage a Wales where travelling between communities in different parts of Wales is both easy and sustainable. We are firmly committed to creating better transport links, both road and rail, between the North and the West of Wales and the South.

• We will develop and implement a programme for improved North-South links, including travel by road and rail.

• We will press ahead with improvements to major road links between the North, the West and the South of Wales, investing over £50 million for this purpose over the four year Assembly term.

One Wales Agreement, 27 June 2007

If you read through the whole document you will see there is no specific mention of other road schemes in the OWA. So the simple fact is that the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru agreed to make improving north-south links the main road transport priority. This, by definition, must mean "re-prioritizing" the previous administration's road programme.


Now it's no secret that Huw wasn't too pleased about the One Wales Agreement, and that is probably why he doesn't hold any ministerial position in the One Wales Government. Sticking with your principles is something that should be commended. And as the local AM of course he should be concerned about the stretch of road that passes through his own patch. That too is commendable ... although there are 59 other AMs who have just as much right to be concerned about the roads that serve all the other parts of Wales.

But what is very definitely not commendable is trying to blame Ieuan Wyn Jones for going ahead and delivering on the agreed One Wales programme of government ... especially by trying to pretend that what prompted the re-prioritization was some advisory report. That is cheap and disingenuous.


Politics is about making decisions ... tough decisions. In my opinion one of the most disturbing trends in politics over the past decade or so is for politicians to use so-called expert advice as a way of distancing themselves from the decision making process; conveniently hiding the fact that the terms of reference which they set for such reports usually pre-determine what the resulting advice will be. It seems to me to be a very New Labour trait.

Improving north-south road links is a political decision. A black-and-white commitment that both Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party signed up to when they came into coalition.

Plaid are simply sticking with that agreement. As I said in response to Huw on his blog:

I'm sure you wouldn't want to be seen to be undermining or reneging on your own party's commitments, Huw. Is delivering on commitments so hard a principle for you to understand?

Bookmark and Share

Language LCO ... Nowhere near good enough

This is a busy weekend, the election results are exciting, not to say astounding. I can't wait for the Sunday night finale. But in all this (and thanks to Vaughan Roderick for the reminder) the Assembly's Committee Report on the Welsh Language LCO was published today.

     Press release on National Assembly website
     Full Report

It's a long document, so I wouldn't blame anyone for not reading it all the way through. I've only skimmed it. The best way in is probably the summary of recommendations on pages 2-4.

In essence it says that the LCO doesn't go anywhere near far enough and suggests that, in effect, the Assembly should have powers to legislate on virtually everything to do with Welsh without restriction.

We therefore recommend that the Welsh Government replaces Matter 20.1 as follows:

Promoting or facilitating the use of the Welsh language; and the treatment of the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality.

This matter does not include the use of the Welsh language in the courts.

The use of Welsh in courts is a specific exclusion in Schedule 7 of the GoWA 2006. Therefore it is legally impossible to transfer legislative responsibility for this to the Assembly by means of an LCO. However in practice, the only serious outstanding issue is bilingual juries, as mentioned here.

The committee has a fallback position: that if the current draft LCO is not rewritten so radically, it should be strengthened to include:

• all organizations that receive public money on the basis of the service they provide
• all energy services
• all public transport and associated facilities
• all large providers of financial services to the public
• and to enshrine the freedom of people to use Welsh or English

The main sector that strikes me as missing is large supermarkets and retail chains.

This report has been prepared by a committee with members from all parties in the Assembly. Therefore the big question to be asked is why the draft LCO was so watered-down. One answer is that it also has to receive the approval of both Houses at Westminster ... but the indications are that they also want the LCO to be more wide-ranging.

So who does that leave? Only the man in the middle, who was of course:


No draft LCO can be published unless it has been agreed with the Secretary of State for Wales and his officials in the Wales Office first. He has an absolute veto. If he doesn't like what's in it, he can simply refuse to lay the draft LCO before Parliament.

Paul Murphy appears to have pursued his own narrow agenda on this language LCO ... misreading the political mood of both the Assembly and Parliament. Perhaps this is the main reason why he was sacked from the Cabinet today. If not, the coincidence has a delicious poetic justice.

Bookmark and Share

Deselecting dinosaurs

Of course I'm glad to see the demise of Paul Murphy as Secretary of State for Wales. He's a decent enough person, but a definite anti-devolutionist at the time when the mood of people in Wales—and especially his corner of Wales—has markedly changed in favour of more devolution. Without wanting to be rude, he's a political dinosaur. He just isn't able to change his views to suit the way Wales has changed since 1999.

But Peter Hain? In the middle of an expenses scandal? When he mis-declared £103,000 for his personal election campaign? When £25,000 in donations and a £25,000 loan were channelled through a highly dubious research group called the Progressive Policy Forum ... whose sole purpose seems to have been to progress Mr Hain's own political career?

If the details have become fuzzy with time, here's a reminder.


At least Hain claims to favour more devolution for Wales. But I have grave doubts over his sincerity. I suspect that his usual one liner, "I really do want more devolution, but not yet" is just a diversionary way of saying he will do all he can to stop it for as long as he is in a position to do so.

But then again, what alternatives do Labour have left? Gordon Brown has played out all his cards ... so he is now being forced to snatch the old ones back off the table and replay them over and over again. Some opponents of the Assembly like to talk about the poor calibre of AMs, but Westminster's unfair voting system gave Labour 29 of the 40 Welsh MPs ... yet it's patently obvious that none of the rest of them was thought to be of sufficient calibre to get the job.

That, more than anything, shows how bankrupt Welsh Labour is in terms of talent at Westminster. If Labour ever hopes to regain the political initiative in Wales, they need to quietly deselect their dinosaurs in favour of candidates who have a more positive attitude towards greater self-government for Wales.

Bookmark and Share

Never mind, Purnell can still be airbrushed in

I don't think Gordon Brown will be all that worried about James Purnell leaving his cabinet.

I'm quite sure he can just have him airbrushed into the official pictures of his reshuffled cabinet and tell the world that it was proof that the so-called resignation letter in the media was an obvious fake designed to undermine his authority as Prime Minister.


For those who've forgotten, James Purnell got himself airbrushed into a photograph back in 2007 to make it look like he was somewhere he wasn't.


You can remind yourselves of the story here.

Bookmark and Share

We're waiting for the slap down, Nick

“Frankly, it would be a disaster if our leadership in the Assembly doesn’t slap this down immediately. Even if it was a question of flying a kite, it is deeply disturbing. The first I knew about this was from the Western Mail – and I believe it’s the first Nick knew of it too.

“It raises serious questions about whether Cheryl Gillan and David Jones are the right people to be shadowing on Welsh affairs at Westminster. To imagine that you can suggest such a controversial proposal to a group of Welsh vice-chancellors and expect it to remain under Chatham House rules [where what is said remains confidential] is extremely naive – it wasn’t an internal party meeting with a group of enthusiastic PhD students, after all.

“There is now a very real prospect of electing a Conservative Government. We can’t take the electorate for granted, but it is very likely that will happen.

Nick has to make it absolutely clear that there is no question of any of the Assembly’s powers being taken back to Westminster.”

Western Mail, 4 June 2009

Those are the words of what the Western Mail chooses to call a "senior Tory" in response to the shadow Secretary of State for Wales' proposal to transfer powers over universities from the National Assembly back to Westminster.

And these are the words of another, taken from the same article:

“This sends out a disastrous message. The Welsh Conservative Party has made great strides in recent years by embracing devolution and presenting itself as a truly Welsh party, rather than simply as an offshoot of the English Conservative Party.

“Something like this risks putting back whatever progress we have made for a generation. Nick Bourne must show strong leadership and insist there must be no question at all of any powers being taken back by Westminster.

“David Cameron needs to make it absolutely clear that, if the Assembly carries a motion calling for a referendum on primary lawmaking powers, a future Conservative Government would not seek to block such a referendum. He hasn’t made such a commitment yet, but it’s essential that he does so.”

Well, Nick Bourne, this is your chance to act as leader of your party in Wales. What are you waiting for?


The polls have now closed. You can speak your mind without the, quite legitimate, excuse of being preoccupied with the European election.

But bear in mind that your party colleagues have been much quicker to leap in, even in the middle of an election campaign. David TC Davies wasted no time in saying what he thinks:

“I fully support the idea of taking powers over higher education back to Westminster.

“In exactly the same way as the Assembly Government takes powers away from local authorities if they fail to deliver a quality service, the same should apply to the Assembly itself.

“On that basis, I would support Westminster taking back powers over aspects of the NHS.”

At the other end of the Conservative spectrum, the "devo-friendly" Dylan Jones-Evans and Glyn Davies have also just started talking about taking powers from the Assembly and giving them to local authorities ... even though there is even less support for that in Wales than for keeping powers at Westminster, as I noted here.

It sounds like a pincer movement to me. In my opinion being a Tory is rather like being on the rungs of a political ladder descending into the abyss. But when those whose heads are just about in fresh air start agreeing with those whose heels are very definitely being licked by the flames, the rest of us have every reason to be afraid ... very afraid.

So come on Nick Bourne. It's not just the rest of us, senior members in your own party are urging you to do it. Let's see you press for this "essential commitment" from David Cameron. And let's see you "slap down" your shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

Bookmark and Share

On direct action

This is a video about the Greenpeace group who shut down Kingsnorth power station in Kent. A coal fired plant that pumps out 9 million tons of CO2 a year.


I think protesters who take direct action on matters like these deserve our respect. There are very few of us who are prepared to put our freedom on the line for the things we believe to be important. But there are certain basic rules that apply:

• the action should be done openly
• the reasons for taking the action should be explained clearly
• the people involved should not run away or avoid arrest
• there should be no violence

We have a fine tradition of people who have been prepared to take such action over things like motorway building, airport expansion, the unfairness of the Poll Tax, votes for women, trades union rights, civil rights, nuclear weapons and other military instalations ... and the Welsh language too. It was very heartening that a recent survey had found that most people in Wales agree or strongly agree that protecting the language is as important as protecting the environment ... 55% in total with only 26% disagreeing, a margin of 29%


Yes, of course I think that it is always best to use democratic means and peaceful protest to the fullest extend. But I would not condemn anyone who in good conscience decided that they needed to go further in order to make a point that was important to them. They do so in the clear knowledge that if they break the law they must accept the full consequences of doing it. In fact being fined or going to prison is perhaps the most eloquent and persuasive way of showing how much the issue matters to you.

Right or wrong is a matter of morality and judgement. It is most certainly not the same as lawful or unlawful. For example, are the rights or wrongs of say foxhunting decided by what the law says about it? Hunting with dogs was made unlawful because enough of our legislators thought it was wrong. Not the other way round. Nobody would say that it suddenly became "wrong" at the moment the law against it was passed ... it merely became unlawful. We should be very wary of anybody who defines right and wrong solely by what is or is not lawful. Most especially politicians. After all, one of the main jobs of a legislature to make and change laws.


Anyway, the other factor which prompted me to write this post was the news that Ffred Ffransis was sent to prison for five days for refusing to pay a fine imposed on him some years ago. The action taken by Cymdeithas in 2001 fully fitted the criteria I outlined above.


Unlike a few people whose views I have read on the case, I do not condemn the fact that he was either fined or eventually sent to prison for refusing to pay that fine. The law is important, and it is important that the law takes its course. If I were the magistrate hearing the case I would have sent him to prison too. I would probably have been inclined to make the sentence longer. It is important for any society that the law is upheld and that people who break the law accept the consequences of their actions. Those principles have now been satisfied ... and Ffred Ffransis has had his say. Justice has been done.


But who comes out with more? Well, I have no doubt that it is Ffred Ffrancis and the cause he wanted to highlight by taking the direct action in the first place. In fact the long delay in justice only serves to re-emphasize the point he and Cymdeithas were originally making ... because nothing has changed in the past eight years. That is shameful.

We still do not have a new Welsh Language Act (or now Measure) despite the political assurances that we would. As anyone who was concerned about the issue at the time will remember, Labour were highly critical of the 1993 Act passed by the Tories, and said they would pass an improved Act when they were elected. They were elected in 1997 ... and have had all of twelve years to make good on that promise.


Also, too many public bodies (or firms to whom the work of public bodies is contracted-out) have simply paid lip service to the requirements of the 1993 Act. The NHS is a good example: even now, sixteen years after the Act, the chances of being able to go to a hospital in many parts of Wales and get your consultation or treatment from NHS staff that speak Welsh are very, very remote indeed.

And so too, as Ffred Ffransis has now been able to highlight, is the prison service. As reported here the largest prison in Wales had no bilingual official forms, no bilingual signs and notices ... not even a Welsh bible.

So again, who comes out with more? These revelations are an embarrassment only to the National Offender Management Service and the government in general, not to Mr Ffransis. It is a supreme irony that the prison authorities have now been shown to have failed to comply with the requirements of the law. I think Ffred Ffransis will smile and say that this alone was well worth the price of admission.


We talk about a broken political system. But one of the main complaints is that politicians all too often fail to take any notice of what those who elected them elected them to do. For as long as that continues, protest and direct action have important parts to play in building and maintaining a healthy society.

Bookmark and Share

Fixed-term Parliaments ... So simple, so why re-invent the wheel?

Here is a clip of David Cameron being interviewed on the Politics Show yesterday.


He seemed to be very confused about fixed-term parliaments, saying that there were problems to be "worked through"

• that he thought there should be a fresh election when there is a change of Prime Minister
• that a parliament unable to form a stable government should not be forced to limp on for a four year term without provision for an early election to break the deadlock

I've got very little time for the first argument. Let's say that Cameron is UK Prime Minister after the next election (that's not too hard to imagine) but that he gets killed by a stray javelin in the 2012 Olympics. Is he seriously saying that all the half-finished legislation should be ditched for a new general election ... especially in mid-term, when nearly all governments are at their most unpopular? Of course not.


As for the second, this is a much more serious concern. But Cameron (quite remarkably, since he's apparently been thinking about it for three years) once again shows an astounding ignorance of what is already the case in the UK outside England. Both our National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament are elected for fixed terms. However that does not preclude a vote of no confidence leading to an attempt to agree on a new First Minister ... nor does it stop them going to the electorate early in order to resolve a situation in which it proves impossible for the currently elected AMs or MSPs to agree on a First Minister.

The proviso is that if an early general election is called, the new Assembly or Parliament only lasts for the remainder of the original four year term ... except when it has less than six months to run, in which case the new Assembly or Parliament will run for four-and-a-bit years. This is for obvious reasons: namely that a government could otherwise call a contrived vote of no confidence in itself, fully expecting to be elected for a fresh four-year term.


Once again (for it's the same story with expenses) if only David Cameron realized that Westminster already has two good models to emulate in the Senedd and Holyrood, he wouldn't have any excuse to procrastinate in the way he did in this interview, pretending that he needs to re-invent the wheel.

Well, it's either that ... or that the Conservative Party is being less than honest by sounding positive about something they don't really intend to deliver once they are in power. If you look at the interview again, it strikes me that all he really seems interested in is having a general election as soon as possible.

Bookmark and Share