Saturday, 30 June 2007

Lord West of Barry?

Wayne David isn't the only MP involved in last year's coup against Tony Blair to be rewarded with a job in Gordon Brown's new Government.

Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami, who also signed the letter urging the last PM to quit, gets a job as an assistant Government whip, although the Downing Street website says he'll be unpaid - Gordon Brown's commitment to an expansion of volunteering made flesh!

Two of the most senior Welshmen in government stay where they were - David Hanson at the new Ministry of Justice and Kim Howells at the Foreign Office.

Kevin Brennan moves from a silent role as a whip to the new Department for Schools, Children and Families - he's likely to have more influence on schools, children and families in England than he is on his own constituents in Cardiff West, where decisions are taken by the Welsh Assembly Government.

There's a new Welsh voice on the government benches in the Lords.

The former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West GCB DSC (I hope I haven't left anything out) gets an important job as Security Minister - and will get a peerage to go with his first political job.

Let's hope this Barry boy remembers his roots when choosing his title for the House of Lords.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Poacher turned gamekeeper?

Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents" will include at least one MP who did his best to hasten the new prime minister's arrival in Downing Street.

Last September, Caerphilly MP Wayne David was one of several MPs who resigned junior government posts to participate in a coup against Tony Blair - signing a letter urging the then PM to quit.

His reward is promotion to the post of whip, a role that will involve him trying to dissuade unhappy backbenchers from voicing criticisms of the Brown Government.

Mr David is promoted at the specific request of Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, who also asked for Huw Irranca-Davies as a replacement for Nick Ainger.

The new whip has been the public face of Welsh Labour MPs during the last few weeks as their anger over the coalition deal with Plaid Cymru boiled over.

His new job traditionally involves a vow of silence but few MPs are more aware of the feelings of his colleagues - and the need to pacify them - than the outgoing secretary of the 29-strong group of Welsh Labour backbenchers.

Others who signed the letter can now afford to hope that their past involvement in the coup won't be a barrier to promotion. Only the cynical would suggest that it might in retrospect look rather a good career move.

Gorau Arf, Arf Dysg

What a momentous week. People in the know had been speculating for years about whether it would actually take place.

But after all the arguments and the turmoil it really did happen. The Spice Girls are getting back together.

Gordon Brown's arrival in Downing Street also generated a few column inches - as did his reference to his old school motto - "I will do my utmost."

That left a few hacks struggling to remember our old school mottos.

Mine (Stanwell Comprehensive School, Penarth) was Gorau Arf, Arf Dysg, which translates as knowledge the best weapon.

A noble idea - unless, of course, the other guy's weapon is a nuclear device.


I've been doorstepped - by a politician.

There I was, minding my own business on Abingdon Green, when a Government whip strode up to me, camera crew in tow (well his researcher had a digital camera) and started firing questions at me.

The end result has ended up, much to my surprise, on I wish I could say that I'd been quoted out of context, had my privacy invaded or stitched up in the editing but I have no defence.

Fortunately my interviewer, Huw Irranca-Davies MP, is expected to be promoted later today and will presumably have less time in future to wander around Abingdon Green doorstepping innocent members of the media.

Who ordered the veggie burger?

Gordon Brown has summoned his Cabinet Ministers for another meeting in No 10 - the second inside 24 hours.

This time they will be discussing the pulsating issue of constitutional reform. Before Barnett formula fetishists out there miss a heartbeat, I should point that the agenda is slightly wider.

The new Prime Minister wants to restore trust in the Labour Government elected two years ago (and, by the by, win the next election).

Apparently, Ministers were sent a 39-page document to study overnight, not that Gordon will be testing them on the contents later.

Today's meeting will discuss ways of reconnecting the elected with the electors, possibly leading to changes which leave people with "a better sense of what it means to be British and a British citizen".

The new Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, is driving through the constitutional reform agenda a decade after the Government began changing the UK's constitutional architecture.

He told Today on BBC Radio: "It's impotant that we have a great debate about what it means both to be to be Scottish, Welsh, English and Northern Irish as well as being British".

We're also expecting a reshuffle of the middle and lower ministerial ranks as Gordon Brown continues to form his "government of all the talents".

Lord Malloch-Brown, newly-ennobled formerly right-hand man to Kofi Annan at the UN, is not, as far as I know, a Labour Party member.

Those of you who have followed the saga of Assembly coalition politics in Wales will appreciate the irony of the UK Government installing non-Labour Ministers ahead of their arrival in Cardiff Bay.

There's another interesting appointment at the Department responsible for farmers - yes, vegetarian Hilary Benn is the new Environment Secretary.

The experiment of putting a veggie in charge of farming has been tried before - in Wales - and was not an unqualified success.

Who said Gordon Brown doesn't have a sense of humour?

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Happy Hain

Reports of his political death may have been premature.,,2-2007290123,00.html

Peter Hain has survived the Cabinet reshuffle - and been given a decent job as Work and Pensions Secretary.

He'll remain Secretary of State for Wales - and the Wales Office appears to have survived reports of its own demise or merger with its Scottish and Northern Ireland counterparts. He's understandably delighted after discovering last week that Paddy Ashdown had been offered his Northern Ireland job and finishing fifth in Labour's deputy leadership election.

One appointment to watch for those of us with a disproportionate fondness for Welsh angles is the new Justice Secretary - expected to be Jack Straw.

The Wales Office is currently part of the Ministry of Justice and Mr Straw is expected to get a new constitutional role.

This may ring alarm bells in Cardiff Bay as he played a pivotal role in the dawn of devolution in the first Blair Government, often frustrating demands for the Welsh Assembly to have more powers.

Watch this space.

Radio times

A secret glimpse into the world of the Radio Wales gazebo. Me, Neil Kinnock and Deian Hopkin on Abingdon Green, Westminster, that patch of grass where we gobs on sticks talk at cameras. Yesterday it resembled a cross between a peace camp and a Millets showroom - or Glastonbury without the mud (or the music).
No prizes for guessing what we were talking about. Bethan Rhys Roberts was asking the questions for Good Morning Wales on another day of great political theatre. Today, we should get Gordon Brown's cabinet and we're promised a surprise or two. He's been in office fewer than 24 hours and already the Spice Girls are back together. Not sure if that's what the new Prime Minister meant by a government of all the talents.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Comrades up in arms

Only one story in town for some Welsh MPs today - and it wasn't the one I've been broadcasting about all day.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain briefed Labour backbenchers on the coalition deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru to run the Welsh Assembly Government.

The MPs are not happy, to put it mildly. An "overwhelming majority" of them criticised the coalition deal expressing what Caerphilly MP Wayne David says were "serious concerns" during a "forthright meeting".

Another source told the BBC that former party leader Neil Kinnock had been "absolutely devastating" in attacking the agreement.

The MPs are unhappy about the promise to campaign for the Assembly to have full law-making powers, the agreement to examine the way Wales is funded and a suggestion that the criminal justice system could be reviewed.

The backbenchers are now likely to voice their criticisms at Labour's special conference next week.

If Gordon Brown is contemplating life without a Welsh Secretary he may want to reconsider - there's a busy job to be done just pacifying his backbenchers west of Offa's Dyke.

The signs they are a-changin'

Tony Who? I just walked past Parliament after a couple of TV hits in Downing Street to discover a new sign in Parliament Square: "Arrest Brown".

Political crossroads

Tony Blair may have admitted that he's not "a House of Commons man" but he was given a spontaneous standing ovation (rare and strictly speaking against the rules) by MPs of all parties at the end of question time today.

The outgoing PM looked genuinely moved as he left the Commons. If his wife was equally sentimental about leaving the media behind, she hid it well, telling photographers she didn't think she'd miss them.

Gordon Brown is now inside Number 10, working on his first Cabinet reshuffle. Rumours, some of them wild, many of them conflicting, continue to circulate.

Ministers and ambitious MPs will be praying their phones ring during the next 24 hours or so.

At the Wales Office, some of Peter Hain's staff have been tidying their desks and packing up, ready for a move.

Mr Hain himself is said to be confident that he'll survive the reshuffle and take the Welsh brief into any new job.

Civil servants at the Wales Office don't all share his confidence, and many remain in the dark.

This may be due to the IT policy of their landlords, the Ministry of Justice, who have restricted internet access for staff. Among the banned sites and blogs - this one. So the Wales Office staff cannot read blogs written by Welsh journalists.

Hopefully they'll still be able to listen to Radio Wales, where the Alan Thompson show interrupted an interview with a former Crossroads actress to carry Gordon Brown's arrival in Downing Street live.

History in the making - and Alan was kind enough to test my knowledge of Crossroads during our on-air exchanges. I'm told I passed with flying colours, something I put down to a misspent youth watching Amy Turtle, Benny and co.

Funtime with Gordo

We're asking all the big questions on Radio Wales today. Here's one prompted by someone who knows Gordon Brown well.

"Gordon is fun", says Don Touhig, the new prime minister's former parliamentary aide.

Mr Touhig does offer the occasional anecdote to back up the assertion, although "fun" is not normally the first word that springs to mind when you think of the man who's been in charge of the nation's finances for the past decade.

Other guests included the Welsh and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain. He told listeners that Gordon Brown had spoken to him last night about the forthcoming reshuffle.

Mr Hain, famously "relaxed" at times of political trouble, says he is "comfortable" about the changes ahead. I'll be spending my off-air time today trying to find out the reasons why the Neath MP has suddenly entered the comfort zone.

Daft O'Clock

An early start today - what's known in the trade as daft o'clock.

As someone once said, this is not a time for soundbites, but I can feel the hand of history on our shoulders.

Thanks to the Radio Wales gazebo on the green at Westminster, we can't feel the rather cool June weather on our shoulders as Good Morning Wales broadcasts live from its makeshift camp studio.

This is the first time in 17 years that a British Prime Minister has stepped down without an election (I was here then as well when Margaret Thatcher handed over to John Major).

This time it looks as if Tony Blair won't be hanging around as a "back seat driver" to test his successor. He'll quit as an MP if appointed an international envoy to the Middle East.

I've just reviewed the papers on the programme. It's slightly re-assuring to see that very few of them have concrete stories about the shape of Brown's Government - most seem to be as much in the dark as the rest of us who've spent the week badgering contacts to try to pin down the latest speculation.

The Guardian suggests Peter Hain is on his way down and may lose Northern Ireland but keep Wales. We'll see.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Constitutional change sponsored by Argos

The scaffolding is up, the gazebos are on the lawn. College Green is starting to look like the camping section from the Argos catalogue.

The circus is in town as the world's media descend on Westminster for the departure of Tony Blair and the arrival of Gordon Brown. Election or not, this is the nearest thing to a change of government at UK level since 1997.

There's wildly conflicting speculation about the members of Brown's first Cabinet. It won't include Paddy Ashdown after the former Lib Dem leader turned down one of Peter Hain's jobs as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Which reminds me - the Welsh angle. Will there be one? A lot depends on who you talk to. Colleagues in the Scottish press were briefed that a full-time Scottish Secretary would be restored - partly to "mark" SNP First Minister Alex Salmond and partly because there are a few old Brownites the new PM will need to reward.

Others believe that Wales will be lumped in with Scotland in a new department of the nations, to be joined by Northern Ireland next year - perhaps to be run by a new Secretary of State for the Nations and Regions?

Or that Scotland and Wales could join English regions in the Department for Communities and Local Government, currently headed by Ruth Kelly. That would allow Gordon Brown to demonstrate his inclusive commitment to Britishness.

Or there's the status quo - with the Wales Office part of the Ministry of Justice, probably to be run by Jack Straw and given a significant role in fleshing out a new constitutional settlement.

You've probably worked out by now that I don't know what's going on - but I'm not alone. Government Whips and Ministers are as much in the dark on this as I am.

The Sun has reported that Peter Hain will be sacked altogether after his less than successful deputy leadership campaign.

If The Sun is right, and the Welsh Secretary's job remains distinct from other territories in the cabinet, then a new Welsh voice will be needed.

There are only two Welsh MPs working as Ministers of State - Kim Howells in the Foreign Office and David Hanson at the Ministry of Justice. Dr Howells has previously shown a lack of enthusiasm for the Welsh Secretary's role (although his previous views on devolution would make his appointment to that role great fun for the media). David Hanson has only been doing his current job for a few weeks.

So will Gordon Brown need to bring back a former stalwart? Don Touhig has taken a couple of bullets for his old friend politically. Some feel Paul Murphy was unfairly sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary.

But then politics is unfair - weeks ago Peter Hain could claim the credit for a major role in the restoration of devolution to Northern Ireland. Now he reads in what has been a New Labour newspaper of record that he's going to be sacked.

The Neath MP remains hopeful that he'll stay in Gordon Brown's Cabinet, perhaps moving to International Development.

An ally explains to today's Western Mail: "If you look at the first round of voting, Peter took a sixth of the vote in a six-way contest."

Isn't it nice to know that the age of spin is dead?