Thursday, 26 July 2007

Welcome to the silly season (2)

Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan tries out a new approach to party disclipine at a church fete in Amersham. The whack-a-rat stall was apparently rather popular. Further caption suggestions welcome.

Welcome to the silly season

Today is the last day of term at Westminster, quite possibly the official start of the silly season.

Or has it already arrived? Here are a few tell-tale signs gleaned from reading, watching and listening during the past week:

The prime minister's preference for a Labour government rather than a coalition with Plaid Cymru is presented as news.

Sunday newspaper columns blatantly lift diary stories from other papers without checking them.
The Western Mail devotes a whole page to the Barnett formula.

Traffic news replaces real news.

Adam Price says he's "demob-happy" on his Facebook profile.

You don't recognise the bylines in newspapers.

I'm blogging about the leadership of the Welsh Lib Dems.

Other tell-tale signs that the silly season is here gratefully received.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Another cheeky girl

Eleanor Burnham may want to look away now.

Lembit Opik assures me that he won't be stepping down as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats despite his promotion to the business brief at Westminster.

Apparently the Welsh Lib Dems elect their leader after every general election and unless Gordon Brown goes to the polls shortly Opik plans to stay in the job.

This may come as a blow to Burnham, the North Wales AM with leadership ambitions. A brief lapse in vocabulary ("the Japs" episode) is unlikely to destroy those ambitions.

There may yet be an election closer to home - there usually is with the Lib Dems' "hyper-democracy".

The leader of the Lib Dems in the National Assembly is elected within a year of every Welsh Assembly election.

Will the long-serving Mike German, having failed to take his party into government after the May elections, really be up for four years of hard grind as the leader of the Assembly's smallest group?

Would anyone else really fancy the job? Don't all rush at once.

Perhaps Ms Burnham will have to be patient and wait for Opik's retirement.

Perhaps not. He assures me he will stay in the job but four years is a long time in Lib Dem politics.

Time to get the phone lines into campaign HQ> Did I just see Eleanor Burnham ringing BT?

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

A (very) light grilling

Peter Hain is facing his annual grilling before MPs on Parliament's select committee on Welsh affairs.

Not too much to disturb the airwaves yet. The session actually began with the committee chairman congratulating Hain on the Wales Office annual report. Hopefully other members of this scrutiny committee will fulfil the hardcop function.

Members of the Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition in the Welsh Assembly Government won't have enjoyed the Hain advice on their plans to review the way Wales is funded from Westminster.

In brief, the secretary of state views it as "a perilous exercise" that could lead to a cut in its budget.

He told MPs that public spending per head in Wales is 11 per cent higher than in the UK, and 14 per cent higher than in England.

"I don't think there is any guarantee that replacing the Barnett formula would get a better deal for Wales."

He was also cautious about any calls for corporation tax to be reduced in Wales, as EU rules meant that cut would have to be off-set elsewhere - possibly in "a reduced budget for Wales".

The Wales Office's top civil servant also faced a rare public grilling. Alan Cogbill was questioned about a memo leaked to Dragon's Eye that suggested he was less than chuffed with his department's performance on an improvement programme.

In the memo, Cogbill wrote: "I've been disappointed that despite good efforts and some improvements we have not made decisive progress.

"I'd say reasons are weaknesses in priority and direction, communication, co-ordination and response".

On a couple of occasions the media that have gleaned snippets from inside the office and if they just came and asked me straight they'd get their straight story".

(We did ask to speak to him at the time but the Wales Office turned down our request for an interview).

Cogbill told the MPs he thought the department had had "a decent year and done a good job for Ministers and for Wales."

He confirmed that the Wales Office had spent £37,000 on an improvement programme.

Sadly he wasn't asked about another snippet I've gleaned - the external consultants brought in promised civil servants they would be given "Lego-style" bricks so that officials could make their own ideas on restructuring the office "three-dimensional".

Apparently the bricks never arrived, although any link between their non-arrival and the lack of progress with the improvement programme is coincidental.

Monday, 23 July 2007

For Wales, don't see England

Having spent Saturday dodging showers at Lord's, I'm only just catching up on the weekend papers.

Saturday's Western Mail featured an interview with Tory leader David Cameron, who seems determined that the next Conservative manifesto will reflect the consequences of devolution - and reduce the rights of Welsh and Scottish MPs at Westminster.

Cameron has moved with the times, reflecting the changes that have given the Welsh Assembly law-making powers.

But the principle remains the same as that from the 2005 manifesto (written by D. Cameron).

"Now that exclusively Scottish matters are decided by the Scottish
Parliament in Edinburgh, exclusively Welsh and English matters
should be decided in Westminster without the votes of MPs sitting
for Scottish constituencies who are not accountable to English and
Welsh voters. We will act to ensure that Welsh and English laws
are decided by Welsh and English votes."

Presumably, should a future Conservative Government decide to legislate on Welsh only matters at Westminster (St David's Day, perhaps?) in the interests of consistency it will exclude English MPs from the process.

The Brown formula

Gordon Brown turned in a predictably solid (clunking?) performance at his first Downing Street news conference this morning.

The new PM may lack the smooth PR skills of his predecessor but he still knows how to avoid answering a question he doesn't want to answer.

His body language is less relaxed than Tony Blair's. Brown would periodically put his hand inside his jacket pocket, although he never seemed to find what he was searching for. Students of jokes about less than generous Scotsmen can fill in their own punchline.

Flooding was the top story today, but he also faced questions about Iraq, Turkey, the Middle East, how he's finding his new job - and the Barnett formula.

The Welsh Assembly's review of the way Wales is funded from Westminster does not appear to have appeared on the Brown radar.

The prime minister confirmed that this autumn's comprehensive spending review will be decided on the basis of the formula and he acknowledged that "difficult choices" lie ahead in deciding how cash is divided between different parts of the UK.

He told reporters: "It is a formula that has been well tested and tried. It's been used by all governments of all political colours and I believe that will be the basis on which the public spending settlement will be signed."

Brown did show more evidence that he can think on his feet - and use humour - when asked about his "puritan" instincts in announcing U-turns on gambling and drugs.

The PM said he'd been in London 24 years and the question reminded him of Mark Twain's arrival from a puritanical church-going background in Nevada, a state where he discovered drinking, gambling and womanising going on.

Twain decided: "This was no place for a puritan and I did not long remain one."

Brown's time in London has been rather less colourfully spent.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

The hands of history

Here's living proof that Plaid Cymru have indeed travelled on an extraordinary journey.

Years ago hacks like me would mischievously suggest that the party's vocabulary was confined to condemning the regular "slap in the face for Wales" and the occasional "snub to Wales."

No more. In a change of emphasis likely to produce the first ever negative result on my Elfynometer, Plaid have changed their tune under the leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones, the first Government Minister in the party's 82-year history.

Here's his July 7 analysis of the coalition deal with Labour: "A historic moment in the life of our party, in the life of our politics and the life of our nation".

He said: "Our historic decision today to back the One Wales document will, we believe, deliver a stable government for Wales."

Four days later, accepting the deputy First Minister's job in the Welsh Assembly, he said:
"This is a historic statement for us as a Party and for me personally".

In case we missed the point, he added: "The historic ‘One Wales’ document between Plaid Cymru and Labour offers a new hope for the people of Wales."

On July 16, he stood in for Rhodri Morgan at a British-Irish Council meeting in Stormont. After much thought, Mr Jones decided that the meeting had been, to coin a phrase, "historic".

Today, four Plaid Cymru Ministers including Mr Jones were appointed to the Welsh Assembly Government. The Jones verdict? "This is indeed an historic occasion".

Let's hope the first non-historic day in office, and there may yet be one, doesn't leave Mr Jones lost for words.

Gone to pot

Jacqui Smith's admission that she has used cannabis has left me worrying that I may have had a misspent youth.

I managed to survive three years at university without smoking anything, legal or illegal.

Clearly, I'll never make it to Home Secretary.

By royal appointment

Reshuffles are great fun for journalists, not so much fun for the victims.

Political correspondents work themselves up into a lather about who's up, who's down from a cast of characters barely known outside the Westminster or Cardiff Bay bubble.

We breathlessly report how someone you've never heard of has been sacked from a job you didn't realise he was doing until he was fired.

I do (almost) feel sorry for those Ministers who beaver away in unglamorous roles for years, making the news only when they are appointed and/or sacked.

Like me, you probably haven't been able to sleep for the excitement of waiting to hear Rhodri Morgan's new Labour/Plaid Cymru line-up in the Welsh Assembly.

Apparently, we won't get the names until they've been approved by the Queen. Welsh Ministers are now Ministers of the Crown, which means that, formally at least, they can't be appointed until Buckingham Palace signals its agreement.

Somehow I can't imagine Her Majesty pondering a list sent by Rhodri Morgan, checking it for balance and possible future coalition tensions, before sending it back with one or two alterations.

At Westminster, the Queen is often the last to hear reshuffle details which leak (sometimes inaccurately) in the run-up to changes, but the Assembly Government is playing it by the book in respecting the protocols introduced by the latest Government of Wales Act.

Apparently we won't get the names until they've been rubber-stamped by the Palace. Devolution may or may not have weakened the Union but it certainly seems to have strengthened the monarchy's role in Wales.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Read all about it

Alastair Campbell's diaries may have made it to number three in the Amazon best-sellers chart but he may soon have a literary rival from Welsh politics.

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price is writing a book on the events of this year that have led his party to government.

So how nervous should leading figures in Plaid about the prospect that the party's director of elections will reveal sensational details of life behind the scenes in Labour's junior coalition partners?

Probably not that nervous. As of yet, the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP doesn't have a publisher and his tome may end up as half a book (the other half written on Scotland).

Finding a publisher shouldn't be that difficult given Price's closeness to the action during the negotiations that led Plaid to power.

But having warned his party that Gordon Brown could announce a snap general election within the next year, he's unlikely to include enough salacious details in his book to excite Wales on Sunday, let alone the News of the World.

It may not make the best-seller lists but it could be the book every political anorak hopes to find in his or her Christmas stocking.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Swim when you're winning

Readers of The Sun's diary column will already have seen this photograph - as will his friends on Facebook. But that's no excuse for this blog not giving Chris Bryant's fans "another chance to see" this shot from a Commons versus Lords swimming contest - which he won. Your tasteful caption suggestions welcome.

Mind your language

Labour MPs may have had to admit defeat in their battle to block a coalition deal with Plaid Cymru, but they've served notice that they'll carry on the fight by proxy.

Some backbenchers fear the new coalition government's agenda gives too high a priority to the Welsh language.

Now seven MPs have tabled a Commons motion calling for bilingual announcements at railway stations no longer to be made in Welsh first -if most people in the area speak English as their first language.
Chris Bryant
Mr Paul Murphy
Mr Don Touhig
Alun Michael
Ian Lucas
Nick Ainger
* 7

Ann Clwyd
That this House notes that the announcements at all railway stations in Wales are made in Welsh first and then in English; wholly supports the policy of bilingual announcements; but believes that it would be far more sensible and far more convenient for passengers, whether regular commuters or local visitors, if announcements at each station were made first in the language used by the majority of the local population.

Effectively, that would mean English coming first at stations like Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham.

The issue was raised in The Times recently by Matthew Parris, although no-one would accuse him of having a broader agenda.

It's no coincidence that the motion appears shortly after the deal between Plaid and Labour in the Welsh Assembly.

The motion has also been tabled by Chris Bryant and signed by former Welsh Secretaries Paul Murphy and Alun Michael, and former Ministers Don Touhig and Nick Ainger.

Mr Bryant said the Welsh language had its place but if anyone thought his Rhondda constituents were going to be forced to live their life through the Welsh language they were mistaken.

Monday, 16 July 2007

The bigger picture

On a day that the Western Mail takes the BBC to task for allegedly not devoting enough network news to the Welsh Assembly, Nick Robinson eloquently demonstrates an understanding of the changing nature of devolved politics and its impact on UK politics at a time when Britain has a Scottish Prime Minister.

Several Tory MPs are already using question time to highlight the consequences of a Scottish PM dictating policy for his English constituencies that he cannot introduce in his own.

A Google search for "West Lothian question" produced 60,400 results. I'm not a betting man but I'd be prepared to wager a similar search this time next year will produce rather more.

Welsh reject hopes for London job

One of my favourite headlines appeared in the Bristol Evening Post two years ago. No, please do read on.

The Post marked the announcement of the Prince of Wales's wedding plans with the memorable, if tongue-in-cheek: "Tetbury man to wed".

All news is local, and every story has a local angle - see the Welsh angle in the paragraph you've just read!

So how do we in the Welsh media cover the news that Boris Johnson is putting his name forward as a Tory candidate for mayor of London?

Well, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, as he isn't known, did stand in Clwyd South in 1997, coming within 13,810 votes of unseating the Labour MP Martyn Jones.

Not a strong enough Welsh angle for you? Newspapers have commissioned columns on the basis of flimsier Welsh links.

Still not convinced? Ok. Johnson's biographer Andrew Gimson records how the Henley MP was once related by marriage (through his first wife Allegra Mostyn-Owen) to Owain Glyndwr.

Not a lot of people known that.

p.s. the headline on this post was tongue-in-cheek.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

This post doesn't have a Welsh angle

Much excitement down our way this weekend - the local Tesco Express was briefly closed on police advice.

Not only that but it also hosted a live report on the national news. Barnes was one of 14 stores shut after a series of threats. Police have launched a criminal investigation but say they do not believe there is a link to extremism.

Fortunately (?) in our corner of south west London many of the inhabitants drive the sort of 4 x 4 vehicle built to survive a nuclear attack (and keep little Jemima and Jocasta safe in the back seat) let alone a threat not linked to extremism. Even the pushchairs pushed by mothers and nannies appear to be four-wheel drive.

Despite the threat to Tesco Express, plucky Barnesonians went about their normal business, quaffing pints of Pimm's while listening to jazz in St Mary's churchyard as the Barnes Fair got into its swing.

Barnes is one of those London suburbs that likes to think it's a village, and I can't deny it's a great place to spend your middle age.

Indeed, for many Barnes residents the greatest threat to our way of life appears not to be al-Qaeda but the plan by Sainsbury's to open a small store in White Hart Lane.

If Osama Bin Laden really wanted to scare people in this part of the world - and threaten their way of life - his most efficient weapon would be a planning application for a supermarket.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Welsh patient

Let's hope Peter Hain isn't the squeamish kind. The Welsh Secretary had a telephone chat with Rhodri Morgan this morning and enquired after the First Minister's health after his heart operation.

"He was on bullish form", reports Mr Hain, "telling me all the details about his operation with his encyclopedic ability to remember every tiny detail, including the exact diameter of the stems that were inserted into his arteries, which was absolutely fascinating."

Mr Morgan may have been less cheered by what Mr Hain had to say about the prospect of the Welsh Assembly gaining full law-making powers within four years.

The Labour coalition agreement with Plaid Cymru talks of holding a referendum "as soon as practicable, at or before the end of the assembly term (in 2011)".

But Mr Hain has re-assured his party's MPs that may not happen.

"I don't think we would win a referendum in the immediate future - the conditions are not right for that."

He added: "I am rather doubtful about whether it could be achieved."

He was equally sceptical about plans by AMs to re-open the issue of how the Welsh Assembly is funded - the so-called Barnett formula.

"Public spending per head is £1,000 higher than in England and English MPs are aware of that. I think that this is a potential Pandora's box for the Welsh budget and it has to be approached with a lot of care.

"We have got no plans as a Government to change the Barnett formula."

Mind you, he did rule out a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition last March.

"I was very happy with what I said then," he told reporters today.

Spice up your life

Advance warning. Today's Dailly Mirror reports that the first new single from the Spice Girls will be performed live for Children in Need on November 16.

Too bad, I think I'm washing my hair that night. You may wish to make a donation - and alternative arrangements.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Is one bovvered?

If you want or need to know how much has changed in British politics during the last 10 years then take a look at today's statement by Gordon Brown.

Not only does this break new ground in previewing new laws that are likely to be included in the Queen's Speech this autumn, the priorities he chose demonstrate how power has been devolved under Labour.

So MPs had to listen to a Scottish MP revealing plans for health, education and housing - in England. Scottish schoolchildren, unlike their English counterparts, won't be forced to stay in education or training until the age of 18.

As David Cameron pointed out, none of Mr Brown's constituents will be affected by much of what he said today. The anomaly of a Scottish MP dictating the shape of public services in England while having little say over health and education in his own constituency becomes more stark by the week.

For Wales, see Scotland. Welsh Secretary Peter Hain claimed the statement was "of huge significance" to Wales.

But its significance is unlikely to be felt immediately by parents, students, patients or first-time buyers. Instead, as each law is passed at Westminster so more power in similar areas is likely to be transferred to Cardiff Bay.

The Queen has yet to reveal her views on Mr Brown's decision to trail her speech months before she is due to deliver it at the state opening of Parliament this autumn.

But if Her Majesty was tuned in to BBC Parliament to watch his statement she could be forgiven for deciding there's little point in her turning up to re-announce the programme in November.

Eton trifles

Lord Glentoran is an old Etonian hereditary peer who admits he knows nothing about Welsh politics.

So who better for (old Etonian) David Cameron to appoint as an opposition spokesman on Wales in the House of Lords?

Lord Glentoran succeeds Lord Roberts of Conwy as the party's Welsh affairs spokesman.

"As far as the politics of Wales is concerned," he told reporters today, "as of 48 hours ago I knew absolutely nothing. I now know nothing, plus a bit."

He added: "I know nothing about the politics but I know quite a lot about the geography, having climbed most of the mountains."

He is also an Olympic champion, having won gold in the 1964 Winter Games. He came first in bobsleigh, but I'll resist the temptation to make any cracks about politicians knowing what it's like to go downhill fast.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Is this the face of the 11th Dr Who?

Er, no. David Tennant can breathe easily - BBC Wales may be casting its talent net wide for the next Dr Who series - but not this wide. Anyway, I'd only do it if Billie Piper promises to return

Alternative but publishable captions welcome.

A government of all the talents

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones is likely to be appointed deputy First Minister tomorrow - a remarkable development in Welsh politics.

He'll join Rhodri Morgan's cabinet and is unlikely to run out of things to talk about with his new colleagues.

Back in March, Mr Jones described Mr Morgan's administration as one that "is devoid of ideas and has run out of steam. Across all policy fields we are witnessing an administration that is happy to meander from crisis to crisis."

Rhodri Glyn Thomas may join the cabinet. This is his view of his probable new colleagues, expressed as recently as May 31: "We have here the same old tired faces; it is unlikely this cabinet will contain renewed ambition for Wales to go with the new powers of the Assembly." Presumably life will change once Mr Thomas's youthful, fresh visage joins the "same old tired faces" around the cabinet table.

And this is the assessment of Plaid president Dafydd Iwan on his party's new coalition partners:
“The real choice facing the people of Wales on May the 3rd is a straight choice between a weak, narrow minded, and centralist Labour Party which has run out of steam; or a forward looking Plaid with a vision to build a modern and successful nation."

Having denounced "8 years of incompetence by Labour in Cardiff", Mr Iwan called for "an end to twenty-eight years of right wing rule.”

Here's a headline from an Adam Price press release in February: "Plaid Accuse Labour of Basing Election Campaign on Lies, Smear and Innuendo."

One of the consequences of Plaid's move into government is that the Conservatives become the official opposition, with their leader Nick Bourne netting a 40k pay rise in the process.
Judging by the above material he won't have to work too hard for his money.

Ieuan Wyn Jones told reporters today that he didn't expect there to be a full cabinet meeting before the autumn.

Perhaps that's just as well.

Monday, 9 July 2007

"Whingeing Jock journos"

I'm still working my way through Alastair Campbell's diaries. Here's an entry from 1995 when Tony Blair was leader of the opposition.

"We spent a lot of the day doing Scottish media, which was always risky because when it came to the Scottish press, TB and I were both hopeless at hiding our irritation at them."

Campbell believes the Scottish media found him and Blair irritating because despite their Scottish heritage (Blair was born in Edinburgh) they were viewed as ultra-English by Scottish hacks.

He adds: "There is a 'culture of grievance' element to all the media, but the Jocks have it with knobs on. GB (Gordon Brown) called and TB said to him he'd had a day full of whingeing Jock journos saying they wanted devolution and they wanted no tax and they wanted Scotland to get more money and they wanted to win the World Cup and why was I stopping them?"

No news yet on whether that culture of grievance is confined to Celtic hacks in one part of the UK, but I do still have a few hundred pages to get through.

Ruling nothing in, ruling nothing out

It's hard keeping up with Welsh politics. It seems only last March (it was only last March) when Peter Hain was telling MPs there was no prospect of a coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru.

"I am ruling it out," he said. "There is no prospect of that at all. It is a matter for Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour Assembly Members, but I do not think that Welsh Labour would accept it."

During the Welsh Assembly election campaign he even spoke out to condemn what he saw as BBC Wales nationalist tendencies revealed by our suggestion that Labour might consider a deal with Plaid Cymru after polling day.

I've just heard the same Peter Hain explaining to Radio 4 listeners how Welsh Labour found itself caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place, forced to do a deal with Plaid Cymru (or "the nationalists" as he still calls Labour's new comrades in government).

Mr Hain could not have sounded less enthusiastic for the deal had he been despatched to the Big Brother House with only a copy of Alistair Campbell's diaries for company.

Perhaps he remembers Plaid's poster from the Welsh Assembly election campaign - shown above.

Now Plaid, far from kicking Labour into touch, are about to get into government with members of a party led until recently by someone they consider a war criminal who sold honours.

As those philosophers Jimmy Greaves and Margaret Thatcher put it, it's a funny old world.

Good for trade for us hacks, though? I'm not ruling it out.

Letting the cat out of the bag

The former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies may be among those less than chuffed to find themselves in Alastair Campbell's diaries.

Campbell makes clear that Davies blamed Tony Blair for forcing him to resign after his "moment of madness" on Clapham Common.

Davies resigned from Blair's Cabinet but tried to hang on as Welsh Labour leader and Labour's candidate to become Wales's first First Secretary (as it then was).

Campbell writes: "TB eventually spoke to him and it was a difficult conversation. There was a hint of menace in Ron's voice now. He said he felt the wrong decision was taken. He had gone along with "your" strategy but the Welsh party will not dance to the London media tune."

Blair asked Davies to assure him there would be no other stories coming out about his private life and that the Welsh party genuinely wanted him to stay.

Davies told him: "If we stand for anything, we stand for justice and fairness. The Welsh party elected me and London cannot force me out."

Within 48 hours later, he had quit as Labour's candidate.

Campbell reveals how he and Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, were both "anxious about the inconsistencies emerging, not least in me saying we knew nothing else and that the police had not been in contact."

It had been Scotland Yard that initially alerted the Government to Davies's encounter on the Common - two days earlier.

Later in the week, President Carlos Menem of Argentina invited Blair to Patagonia, where Welsh is spoken. Blair's response: "Wales is very much on my mind at the moment, as you may have read in our papers."

Campbell adds: "Menem laughed, too loud."

Historians of Wales may not glean that much more from the diaries - there's no mention of the bitter battle between Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan to succeed Ron Davies, Blair's desperate attempts to stop Rhodri Morgan leading Welsh Labour - or Michael's resignation.

Indeed, on first reading, Humphrey the Downing Street cat features in the book more prominently than the first leader of Wales's devolved government.


Much excitement today - Alastair Campbell's diaries are out. Many inhabitants of the Westminster village are as excited about this event as a primary school class on the eve of publication of the latest Harry Potter.

Some politicians will be a little nervous about what Tony Blair's former spin doctor has to say about them. Some may ease the anxiety with the thought that the only thing worse than being mentioned in the book is not being mentioned in it.

I'm off to buy my copy and hope to feature on this blog a few of the angles uncovered elsewhere once I've dipped into the 794 pages later today.

Friday, 6 July 2007

A peer at the opera

I've wasted hours of my life standing in an oak-panelled committee corridor trying to find out what Welsh Labour MPs get up to behind closed doors.

Now Paul Flynn has succeeded where I failed and lifted the lid on the "acrid with bitterness and ginger resentment" atmosphere at this week's meeting of the Welsh PLP.

The Newport West MP accuses Lord Kinnock of "an operatic rant" against the coalition deal with Plaid Cymru and suggests peers such as the former Labour leader may not even be eligible to speak at the group's meetings.

Whatever the result of today's special conference in Cardiff, the divisions in Welsh Labour opened up by the deal with Plaid are unlikely to heal overnight.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Thought provoking

Some provocative thoughts on what Welsh MPs do these days from a refugee from Peter Hain's Wales Office.

The former Wales Office Minister, Don Touhig, for whom Andrew Neilson once acted as spokesman, gives his views on the potential coalition here -

I'm not giving too much away when I reveal that the words"suicide" and "trap" feature in the interview.

A leaked memo (are there any other sort?) suggests Conwy MP Betty Williams has also suggested she's less than keen on a deal with Plaid.

We had hoped to interview her on Good Evening Wales but her office said she was unable to travel to our studio opposite Parliament because it looks as if it's going to rain. (Her office did offer a telephone interview but most radio stations prefer broadcast quality).

The next 72 hours will be billed as momentous ones in the history of 21st century Wales.

I'll be taking a few days off to catch up with the Tour de France and run the Regents Park 10k but you can satisfy your appetite for coalition shenanigans at

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

No time off for good behaviour

Just been catching up on some reshuffle reaction in the blogosphere.

Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn - whose outspoken blog can be found here - condemns the "inexplicable" sacking of Nick Ainger and clearly isn't chuffed that "Blair sycophant" Huw Irranca-Davies has replaced him.

Here's the Flynn verdict on his new whip Wayne David: ".He is an active Commons presence and political career is distinguished as the only Parliamentary Labour Candidate to lose the Rhondda."

Mr Flynn may not be able to count on too many nights off from Westminster in the near future.

One more curious point about the reshuffle: if the Government's really keen on an elected element to the House of Lords, why has Gordon Brown appointed several non-elected politicians to ministerial jobs with accompanying peerages?

A "government of all the talents" will be harder to create when elections intrude on the process.

Formula one

Breaking news, of a sort, on the anoraks' favourite subject, the Barnett formula.

The news is that there's no news, and that the Government is sticking to its public line that the formula, which effectively decides how much the Welsh Assembly Government can spend on public services, won't be changed.

Scotland on Sunday, a newspaper, had reported that the Treasury would be reviewing the formula under pressure from English MPs miffed by higher public spending in Wales and Scotland.

Now a member of Gordon Brown's Cabinet, leader of the Lords Baroness Ashton, says Ministers have no plans to review the Barnett formula, which was introduced as a temporary measure in the 1970s.

She told peers this afternoon: "It's interesting how many things that have been brought in for a year or two actually survive the course and we believe this has survived the course and have no plans to review".

Before self-appointed members of "civic society" take to the streets of Cardiff, we should acknowledge that the words used, almost a formula in themselves, would allow the Government to change its plans.

Some MPs are rather perplexed by demands from Cardiff Bay for a review of the formula, as they fear it could lead to a cut in Welsh spending rather than an increase.

Suits me, sir

You can now watch, should you be so minded, my Wales Today feature on tailor to the PM, Timothy Everest. Click on the link and follow it to click on "watch" under video and audio news.

Rainbows keep falling on my head

The clunking great fist appeared a little shaky at times as Gordon Brown enjoyed a nervous first question time as Prime Minister.

At one stage he even explained that he'd only been in the job five days - a remark that did little to win sympathy from his opponents.

Some commentators scored it a draw, I'd probably give it to David Cameron on points as he appeared to wrongfoot the new PM on the Government's failure to ban an extremist group it had promised to outlaw two years ago.

Welsh Questions preceded it and was an altogether quieter affair, as you might expect from parliamentary questions to Ministers with very few executive responsibilities.

Huw Irranca-Davies made a solid debut in his new role as Peter Hain's deputy. Half the questions appeared to be taken up by tributes to those leaving the stage (Nick Ainger, Lord Roberts of Conwy), congratulations for those staying put (Cheryl Gillan, Peter Hain) and those sort of moving on (Lembit Opik, Peter Hain).

Tory Stephen Crabb did disrupt the cosiness by pointing out that Peter Hain had previously ruled out a Plaid-Labour coalition to run the Welsh Assembly Government.

Remember this from March 1 when he was asked about the prospect of a deal with Plaid? "I'm ruling it out. There is no prospect of that at all. This is a matter for Rhodri Morgan and his fellow Welsh Labour Assembly Members. But I don't think Welsh Labour would accept that."


Stephen Crabb used a question to Mr Hain today to denounce the "grubby deal" between Labour and Plaid.

Presumably the deal done between his own party in the Assembly, with Plaid and the Liberal Democrats was squeaky clean and not at all grubby.

The three Welsh Tory MPs were not impressed by the deal struck by their Assembly leader Nick Bourne in Cardiff Bay, although Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan did tell us today: "It was a shame that what had appeared to be a good deal on the rainbow alliance was rejected by one of the other parties."

Christmas comes early

Christmas has come early for constitutional anoraks. There's enough in Gordon Brown's statement to Parliament and The Governance of Britain green paper to keep policy wonks happy for years.

The new Prime Minister is proposing wide-ranging reforms - but he's already ruled out one idea consistently floated by his opponents since devolution - stopping Welsh and Scottish MPs from voting on English issues at Westminster.

Gordon Brown told MPs: "But while we will listen to all proposals to improve our constitution in the light of devolution, we do not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of Members of Parliament—some entitled to vote on all issues, some invited to vote on only some. We will do nothing to put at risk the Union."

Tory leader David Cameron said: ""We already have two classes of MP. Is it not the case that the only effective way to solve that problem is to give MPs in English constituencies the decisive say in the House on issues that affect only England?"

Gordon Brown's solution to the West Lothian question is to create English regional Ministers and regional select committees. Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said in a statement: “The changes in the UK constitution, including regional select committees, would create a closer symmetry with Wales and would dispel any calls from opposition members for an England-only parliament or a two-tier system of MPs.”

There's little chance of the new settlement dispelling calls for an England-only parliament and some would argue we already have two classes of MPs - there are clear limits to the influence of Welsh MPs in their local schools and hospitals.

It will be interesting to see whether the Tories practise the principle they preach. Will Conservative MPs abstain the next time the Welsh Assembly Government makes a request for law-making powers.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Ming dynasty

Make that three come along at once.

Sir Menzies Campbell has also reshuffled his pack. You will soon be able to find all the details on the BBC website, but here's something that caught my eye.

Lembit Opik, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, will no longer be a spokesman on Welsh issues at Westminster. He's been moved to the new portfolio of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

He's been replaced by Roger Williams as "Shadow Welsh Secretary". The Lib Dems do like bigging up their MPs by using the shadow tag formerly used only by the official opposition - Ministers now have more shadows than Cliff Richard.

Shuffling packs and hacks

You wait months for a reshuffle, then two come along at once.

Gordon Brown has won plaudits for his reshuffle from a media well used to the great Blairite British tradition of botched reshuffles. ("Peter will be known as Minister for Wales, no hang on the job's not being abolished, he'll still be Secretary of State" to summarise one government briefing a few years ago).

Mr Peter, as it turned out, is one of only two Ministers to keep his old brief in the new Brown cabinet, although he swapped his Northern Ireland role for Work and Pensions. Des Browne keeps Defence but adds Scotland, a move which has upset what's known as "the defence family" (lobby?) and some Scots.

David Cameron also reshuffled his pack. Cheryl Gillan keeps Wales (funny how the Tories bang on about a Scotsman running England but then put an MP for an English seat in charge of their Welsh brief).

We're still waiting to hear what presents the three Welsh Tory MPs get from their leader. Perhaps it is the dampening of expectations although none of the three expects to win promotion (David Jones is already on the front bench as Cheryl Gillan's deputy).

Friends of David Jones, David Davies and Stephen Crabb fear they may have blotted their copybook with their leader by opposing attempts to take the Tories into a coalition government with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Asssembly. I'm told that a few weeks ago the three were so concerned about this prospect they demanded - and got - a meeting with Mr Cameron to make their views clear.

As I write, Gordon Brown is preparing to make a statement to MPs on constitutional reform. There's talk of some form of written constitution and/or a bill of rights.

Perhaps this could incorporate the new traditions of 21st century Britain, such as the election date being announced first in The Sun. It is perhaps time to codify other institutions, such as reshuffle speculation.

As a young hack I once got my fingers burnt predicting on what I thought was good authority the demise of Peter Walker as Welsh Secretary.

I was proved wrong within weeks (I won't use the line "it was true at the time"), and I've been more cautious about reshuffle predictions - and e ever since.

Under the new constitution, every reshuffle should automatically be preceded by a bout of feverish, ill-informed and often contradictory speculation about the creation of a new Secretary of State for the Nations and Regions, merging the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Offices.

If I had a pound for every time I'd heard or read this rumour and speculation presented as fact I'd be able to buy a Timothy Everest suit on the proceeds.

Of course, all that speculation doesn't mean it won't come true one day.....

Monday, 2 July 2007

Suits you, sir

What have Gordon Brown and David Cameron got in common?

The answer, apparently, is their tailor. Both get their suits from Timothy Everest, tailor to Hollywood stars and the England football team, among others.

Timothy Everest works out of a beautiful old (built 1724) three-storey house in Spitalfields, east London. He also has a shop in Mayfair and more than a dozen stores in Japan.

The Welsh angle? I knew you'd ask. He spent his teenage years in Wales, and worked at Hepworths (a forerunner of Next for those of you too young to remember) in Milford Haven before moving to London to work for the legendary Tommy Nutter.

I was slightly surprised to learn that Gordon Brown was a customer as the new Prime Minister is not known for prioritising fashion. I was wrong, apparently. Timothy tells me that Mr Brown knows rather more about clothes than you might think and doesn't just stick to the "New Labour uniform" of navy suit, white shirt and red tie.

My own style is more Primark than prime ministerial so I asked the great tailor for a few tips. You can find out how I got on by listening to Good Morning Wales tomorrow or turning in to Wales Today on BBC1 Wales - or from 6.30pm tomorrow.

Without giving too much away, I did persuade Timothy to say "suits you, sir!" for the cameras, which apparently was "very Hepworths" although I imagine he doesn't say it when Gordon Brown is in his fitting room.

For more on the man who dresses the PM, check out