I've no idea what anybody's talking about

Don Touhig was always the exemplar of champagne socialism. After twenty years as a Councillor he was rewarded with a safe seat in Westminster, and after a few years made a clear profit of about £200,000 from selling his second home there, a home which had been funded by the taxpayer. Plenty to celebrate.


Don Touhig didn't do a particularly bad job as MP for Islwyn. He was generally competent, a backbencher who touched the fringes of government but was quietly dropped. No different from many other MPs. But he's now decided not to contest the seat again, and he gave his reasons in this interview:


Hold on a moment! Click back to 1:55 and notice how he described his job:

The public at large—if I walk down Blackwood High Street—are more interested in jobs, the economy, health, education, care of their elderly parents ... these are the bread and butter issues that I come here to argue on behalf of the people of Islwyn.

This tells us rather more than he intended about why he never quite made it. He goes to Westminster to represent his constituents on "health, education and care of their elderly parents" does he?

Health, education and pretty much everything to do with care of the elderly are devolved issues. If he really did spend so much of his time trying to get answers on these issues he'd only have been told—politely at first, but more pointedly as the years went on—that it was AMs in the Assembly who had been elected to do that job.

Who knows, perhaps that's why he was so peeved at the creation of the Assembly. It took away his sense of importance. Note the emphasis he put on the word "I" in the quote. Or perhaps he's spent the last eleven years of his parliamentary career in a perpetual state of denial ... refusing to accept that there was an Assembly and going round the departments of Whitehall insisting that ministers with responsibility for things like health and education only in England should treat the residents of Islwyn as a special case.


And the same trademark refusal to accept reality would also explain why, when asked about possible involvement in the referendum campaign, he shook his head and muttered "What No campaign?" followed by a rather too emphatic "I've no idea what anybody's talking about."

Perhaps it is better to leave people with the impression that you are a political dimwit who doesn't have a clue about what is happening in Wales. What's the alternative? You wouldn't want people to think that you were lying through your teeth, would you?

But time will soon tell us whether you were.

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Anonymous said...

This actually raises a serious issue - the English Question - which is likely to become more acute after the next election. Why are we sending Welsh MPs to Westminster to discuss/debate/vote on issues which apply only in England. Ultimately we need independence preceeded by a federal UK - but in the meantime maybe a pseudo-federal approach could be implemented at Westminster with UK wide issues (defence, foreign policy etc dealt with on say Mondays & Tuesdays attended by all UK MPs - with Wednesday to Fridays reserved for English only matters and limited to English MPs.

This of course then raises the question as to what happens to our Welsh MPs for the rest of the week (I have a few suggestions) or how much they should be paid..... It also raises the possibility of having a different Prime Minister at different ends of the week!!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Penddu. The big remaining issue of devolution to be resolved is the question of the two classes of MP it created, and this should also be considered at the same time as any constitutional reform of the voting system and the abolition of the Lords.

The only other problem I can see is that a large number of things decided ostensibly for England alone generally affect Wales sooner rather than later - see university funding for a start - because of the currently limited role of the assembly. This rather blurs the focus of who bears what responsibility. Although it should be partially rectified by law making powers, England will still be a large entity and will probably continue to influence policy in the devolved nations by its sheer economic size.

What we really need is a serious grown up debate on all this. Pity we're lumbered with the House of Commons...

Anonymous said...

I think you are being unfair to the Don, calling him a Champagne Socialist. Apart from your picture, his association with 'Bubbly' is merely apocryphal, and would not stand up in court.

And he certainly wasn't a Socialist in any meaningful sense of the word - collectivist, centralist, unionist, 'muggins turn' Old Labour - yes. More Bevin than Bevan.

And there's me saying 'he was' - it's not over yet! Kinnok launched his career by opposing devolution, and I suspect the wily Don has a similar cunning agenda.

Adam Higgitt said...

"Health, education and pretty much everything to do with care of the elderly are devolved issues."

Not when it comes to primary legislation, something of a specialism of the UK Parliament. MPs have considered a number of bills (I counted 13 in the last Parliamentary session) that fall into those subject areas . Most, if not all would have applied to Islwyn.

MH said...

OK then Adam, give us the list, and we can see just how relevant they are.

MH said...

Adam, I've realized that you might take that as provocative. But I do have a serious point. If so many bills on health, education and care have been passed recently it raises a real question about exactly how devolved these areas are.

As you've counted them, I'd really like to add to my knowledge of quite how much is still decided at Westminster.

Adam Higgitt said...


You alleged that a Welsh MP who claims to be at Westminster to argue on behalf of his constituents in, among others, the issues of "health, education, care of their elderly parents" has been in a "perpetual state of denial". It's incumbent upon you to demonstrate that MPs can no longer do this. It's not up to me to establish the relevance of all such legislation to Wales those fields. That would be quite some adjustment of the bar upwards.

But you might want to have a browse through the very first such bill from the 2008-9 session, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. It has a number of clauses relating exclusively to Wales (e.g allowing FE institutions in Wales to be authorised to award Foundation Degrees) and a number for England and Wales together. The Bill (now Act) actually transfers a number of functions to Welsh Ministers - but of course that couldn't happen without MPs voting for it.

It's worth also noting that DT is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises the effectiveness of public spending in just about every area. A good example I suppose, is the committee's report of September 2009 on "Supporting carers to care". This looked at how effective the benefits system was to those who care for elderly and vulnerable people.

Just two examples. But, as I'm sure you'll agree, they contain plenty of scope for someone minded to argue these issues on behalf of his constituents, and others.



MH said...

So it turns out that you can't name the 13 Bills that you claim to have counted, Adam. In fact you can only name ONE Bill. Now, let's see if you can find any evidence of Don Touhig having any influence over the content of that Bill as it affected Wales.

Don Touhig made the claims, I simply pointed out just how shallow they were. If you want to defend what he said, you are going to have to go very much further than saying that a Welsh MP could argue about some narrow aspects of these subjects if he was "minded to".

Adam Higgitt said...


I counted 13 Bills in the 2008-9 session, but you may make your own estimate by going on the UK Parliament website (www.parliament.uk). The point is less about how many such Bills were introduced, and more about whether or not Parliament still legislates in those areas.

You poured scorn on Don Touhig's claims that he went at Westminster to argue on behalf of his constituents in the areas of "health, education [and] care [for the] elderly" because these "are devolved issues" and thus he would have no locus to do so. This is not right, given that the power to make laws in those areas still rests with Westminster.

It is another thing altogether to suggest that he has not argued his constituents' corner adequately (and this would contradict your other assertion that he was "generally competent"). To be credible, such a allegation could not be based on whether the issues were devolved - since law-making is not - but on an analysis of his actual record as a legislator. You have not provided any such analysis.

One final question: If Touhig's claim is so risible, why have you devoted quite so much effort to supporting the case for transferring the powers that he and other MPs have to make laws in those areas to the Assembly?

MH said...

I did look at the Parliament website as soon as I read your assertion, Adam. I couldn't see how you got a figure of 13. That's why I asked you to justify it. After a couple of rounds of beating about the bush, you still can't.

As for my ridicule of what Touhig said, I stand by it completely. What most people understand by "argue on behalf of the people of X" is surely the normal work done by all MPs on behalf of their constituents, namely to take up issues with the departments of government concerned. However there might well be a sense (although a much narrower one, which is why I didn't totally dismiss your point, but asked you to justify the number of Acts concerned so that we could look at Touhig's actual involvement in more detail) in which pursuing some area of legislation, as opposed to policy or the way that policy was implemented, could be said to be arguing on behalf of constituents; but in such cases MPs would hardly limit themselves to their own constituency.

In short, what Touhig said didn't make sense. You might well have a point, but you are making a point that he was not making.

Adam Higgitt said...

Defining "arguing on behalf of.." as taking up issues with departments, while excluding legislating is a reasonable - if somewhat selective - one. I'm not sure many people would be quite as restrictive in interpreting the representative role of MPs thus.

Whatever the case, your analysis overlooks one important detail; MPs take up issues with WAG departments as well as with Whitehall ones. In fact, the Welsh MPs with whom I've discussed such things (including, by co-incidence, Don Touhig himself) attest to dealing routinely with WAG officials on such matters.

So either in terms of legislation, or taking up matters within government, it is not right to say an MP has no locus in pressing his constituents' interests in the areas mentioned.

MH said...

No one doubts that Welsh MPs take up matters with ministers in the Assembly and/or officials. But Touhig said "that I come here to argue ..."

Nice try though.

Adam Higgitt said...

...which is precisely why you have to include also the representative work of MPs at Westminster, as I think most normal people would (you even did this when you suggested that it was "AMs in the Assembly" who are responsible for such matters rather than "the WAG").

And I think you should avoid being pedantic terminology "I come here" is, I suspect mere shorthand for "I serve as an MP". It has more to do with his role as a public representative than his precise physical location.

MH said...

As you just said, I had already made the point you have now made in that first paragraph. The idea is to add to the discussion, Adam, not go round in circles.

And you might well be right, perhaps Touhig did mean something other than what he actually said. But I don't think I need to repeat the last point I made at 21:30. Just go back and repeat the loop as many times as you like.

Adam Higgitt said...

Err, I don't say that Touhig said something other than he meant. I do say that you are being excessively literal in your interpretation, because you have what is now a fairly apparently specious argument to stand up.

Your original post suggested that DT had no locus over health, education and care for the elderly because these were for "AMs in the Assemby" i.e the legislators. When I pointed out that MPs legislate in these fields your argument transformed into one of MPs having no locus because what it meant to "argue on behalf" of was pressing government over specific issues. When I then pointed out that MPs also do this, you claimed that Touhig's use of the phrase "I come here" excluded him from that role!

The blunt fact remains that there are no grounds on which to ridicult DT's claims to be motivated to serve as an MP in order to argue his constituents' behalf over issues such as health, education and care for the elderly other than on actually rooting through his record and demonstrating he has been remiss in doing so. Of course, you haven't actually done this, and in any case have concluded that he is "generally competent" in his duty as an MP.

So yes, we have now reached the end of this discussion. Sadly, but rather predictably, it has ended up in you sticking your fingers in your ears. That's too bad. It would have been far more honourable of you to merely say "I think he's been a crap MP and I disagree with his outlook on devolution" than to try and imagine some fag-paper thin inconsistency in something he said in an interview. Hey ho.

MH said...

Adam, You've now turned to misrepresenting what I've said in order to justify yourself.

Unlike you, I have never felt the need to claim to have won an argument. People reading what we've written are quite capable of deciding for themselves who has got the better of whom in any exchange between us.

Tan y tro nesaf.

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