On the back burner

So the new First Minister has today announced that a debate on the Referendum Order has been scheduled for 9 February. At one level this is looks like good news, for it is inconceivable that Labour would bring this up without having decided that they will vote in favour of the request.


But there is a lot about this announcement that seems strange, especially went considered against the very tight timetable that I outlined in this post. The RO request must either be approved in Parliament before it is dissolved prior a general election or it must be laid before Parliament all over again by whoever is the Secretary of State for Wales after the general election. There is no half way house.

OK, it is not absolutely impossible to get it through before the Easter recess if the Assembly votes to formally request the RO on 9 February, but it is unlikely. If there was any real intention of doing so it is rather profligate to waste a whole fortnight for no good reason. Ostensibly, the delay is to allow time to discuss the issue with the LibDems and the Tories. As if! There isn't all that much to discuss that couldn't be agreed in the couple of weeks between now and 26 January ... so why would anyone need or want the additional fortnight? The LibDems have made their position on this issue clear for the last year at least and Nick Bourne has already said that most, if not all, Tory AMs would vote in favour. So why put it on the back burner?


There are three possible explanations:

•  that the Referendum Order is something that has been so precisely choreographed in its passage through the Assembly and Westminster that it isn't going to need so much time

•  that it's a matter of just going through the motions without any real intention to get the RO through while the matter is in Labour's hands

•  that Carwyn Jones is simply bumbling his way through the process relying more on optimism rather than hard-headed reality

So which is it? Is he being positive, disingenuous or incompetent?

Whether he likes it or not, Carwyn Jones has gained a reputation for having a somewhat languorous style ... and even though his last job as Counsellor General was not the sort of position where it was possible to be proactive, the idea was that this would change when he became Labour leader. I'm sorry to say that he didn't do anything to shake off his old image in his first exposure to First Minister's Questions this afternoon.

As it happens, the question that illustrated this was also about gas. He was asked whether Wales would introduce something similar to England's Boiler Scrappage Scheme. His answer was that he didn't know yet because he didn't know whether the scheme in England was going to be financed through existing departmental budgets or by additional money from the Treasury. If it's the latter, then Wales would be entitled to a proportionate share of additional money as a Barnett incremental; if not, the Welsh Government would have to find money to implement a similar scheme in Wales from our existing budgets ... with the fairly obvious implication that there wouldn't be the money to do it.

As we probably remember, the scheme was first announced on 9 December, and came into effect last week. So while Carwyn might be excused for not knowing where the money would come from immediately after the announcement last year, he has absolutely no excuse for not knowing how it is going to be paid for now that the scheme has already been put into effect. The UK government cannot pay out this money without taking it from a particular pot. Of course, they may not yet have published this in any official figures, but Carwyn Jones is a Labour First Minister who is very happy to be portrayed as a confidant of the Labour leadership in Westminster ... and who therefore should know.

Is he so dozy that he hasn't even bothered to ask his own colleagues only 130 miles down the M4? Or did he ask, only to be fobbed-off by an evasive answer from the Treasury. Either way, it doesn't look good, because if two sides of the same party can't liase and exchange information over something as simple as the Boiler Scrappage Scheme, what hope is there of them doing it over the Referendum Order?


So although there is a possibility that Carwyn Jones is not simply going through the motions, it seems to me that it is much more likely that this is all he is in fact doing. His refusal to answer a direct question about whether the vote on 9 February would be a formal vote to request the referendum or merely some sort of intermediate step on the way certainly tends to confirm it.

He wants to give out the impression of a united Labour Party, but that's probably true only insofar as Labour AMs are concerned. By leaving everything until it's too late, he is simply giving Labour MPs the opportunity to claim that they won't have time to consider it or make a decision when called upon to do so. And if they can avoid making a decision, they can then sit back on the opposition benches (the ones who are still MPs after the election, that is) and blame the Tories for delaying it, introducing new conditions, or voting it down in the free vote that David Cameron has said he is going to give MPs in the Commons. Labour seems to have forgotten that the Tories have not given any commitment that a Tory Government would vote to pass the Referendum Order ... a free vote means that they can simply stand to one side and let the obvious anti-devolution instincts of their MPs carry the day.

If Carwyn Jones wanted to engender any sort of confidence in his ability to lead, he needed to start by being a lot more positive and proactive than he has shown himself to be today.

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Anonymous said...

I wrote much the same about whether Carwyn would be his own man on this or be scared off by elements in Labour like Rhodri Morgan so often was, it still Party unity before anything else even with a new leader.

David Llewellyn said...

It feels as though Labour MPs at Westminster are the ones who are laissez-faire about the issue of the referendum... and would just assume to sit on their hands as backbenchers rather then table the issue in parliament before the general election. Why should they? It doesn’t benefit Westminster MPs weather or not Wales has a full law making legislature. So for them, it’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind. They have a general election to gear up for to lose. I believe Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour are privately aghast at the indifference of the government, and that he set the date for the possibility to win them over (to prove to them the solidarity of Welsh Labour for the referendum) before the 9 February Assembly vote.

Of coarse, Carwyn Jones does need to be far more proactive on the issue without being precipitous and I believe he should have set the date for the first week of February rather then the second week

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