Thursday, 31 July 2008

Crisis? What crisis?

Leadership crisis or not, I'm off to the seaside. I hope to be back on August 11. Hi di Hi!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Lib Dems counting the pennies

You wouldn't think the Welsh Liberal Democrats were so awash with cash that filing their accounts would be a difficult task.

You'd be wrong - the party is in trouble with the electoral commission for failing to meet its deadline.

The Welsh Lib Dems are now facing a possible fine from the commission, the size of which could depend on how late the accounts are when finally submitted. They were due in May.

The commission said: "Final statements of accounts have yet to be received from the Welsh Liberal Democrats accounting unit. The penalty it faces will depend on how late they are".

Its head in Wales, Kay Jenkins, said: "The regulatory framework put in place by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act is designed to ensure the integrity of our democratic system and is quite clear on the time-frame that must be adhered to. That is why we are fining parties who did not meet the deadline for submitting their accounts."

Commission chief executive Peter Wardle agreed verbatim: "The regulatory framework put in place by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act is designed to ensure the integrity of our democratic system and is quite clear on the time-frame that must be adhered to. That is why we are fining parties who did not meet the deadline for submitting their accounts."

Perhaps when the Welsh Lib Dems have filed their audited accounts they can ask the commission why it needs two people to deliver identical statements.

The Lib Dems say: "We acknowledge that when the accounts were submitted they had not been audited and certified. This process is now taking place. We do not take this fine lightly and are undertaking a thorough review of our present procedures to ensure audited accounts will always be submitted on time in the future"

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Trying to be helpful

Justice Minister David Hanson may be a Blairite but as far as I know he's still loyal to Tony Blair's successor in Downing Street.

So I guess his reaction to last week's by-election disaster - "It's very disappointing but Gordon Brown has got to stay" - shouldn't be taken out of context by mischievous hacks.

Harriet Harman, holding the fort while the PM's away, offered her support with a positive: "I can recognise that I don't think the British people have seen the best of him yet as prime minister."

Perhaps Labour's slogan for their autumn conference in Manchester should be "the best is yet to come"?

Zombies, Margaret Beckett and open doors

It's a story that arrives regularly with the onset of summer: the proposed merger of Whitehall's territorial departments. It fills newspapers and blogs as the silly season approaches and journalists run out of plots or other reshuffle rumours to report.

I first wrote about this at least seven years ago and one day, perhaps soon, it may well come true. The Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland offices may be combined under a "Secretary of State for the Nations".

A red-top Sunday newspaper reported a fortnight ago that Paul Murphy and the Wales Office were not long for this world. The Times wrote about it last Thursday - and predicted a Margaret Beckett comeback here. Wales on Sunday followed up the story on Sunday.

It set the scene for a slightly surreal debate on the Richard Evans show yesterday. A Labour MP argued passionately for the Welsh job to be scrapped; Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader argued equally vehemently for the job to survive.

Paul Flynn says Paul Murphy has nothing to do in a "zombie ministry".

"It’s a mass delusion. The Wales Office and Scotland Office have virtually died. There is an occasional flicker of life but there is no hope that they will ever recover from their deep comas.
Yet politicians happily play the game of the living dead and cling on to the offices of Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland.

"There is a danger that these posts of Secretaries of State will become as meaningless as the Warden of the Cinque Ports. Grand titles, nice uniform but everyone will have forgotten what job they are supposed to be doing."

Elfyn Llwyd argued that scrapping the post now would "slow down the democratic process" - not a view shared by his colleague Adam Price.

Mr Llwyd praised Paul Murphy's work in the job - "his door is always open". Cue this response from Paul Flynn: "Understandable. The poor chap hopes someone will drop in for a chat because he has nothing to do."

Perhaps someone should design a uniform for Mr Murphy before it's too late. As a papal knight, he could always save the taxpayer some cash by borrowing his uniform from that role while carrying out his Welsh duties.

Monday, 28 July 2008

A corner of a "foreign" field......

It must be the only place on earth where Charles and Diana's wedding anniversary is still celebrated.

On the last Friday of July, on every year since 1981, Bushy Park in south-west London fills up with more than 500 runners taking part in what is known as the Wedding Day 7k.

The event is presided over by the sort of priest you won't find in Crockford's Clerical Directory.

He runs by the name of "Father Onn" (there's a clue in there somewhere) and mixes a dog collar with running shorts, a panama hat, striped socks and sandals.

Father Onn (left) would be played in a film by Simon Callow although further investigation reveals that he is in fact Mark Thomas, who hails from Bridgend but is now a leading light in one of London's biggest running clubs.

The Wedding Day 7k may also be the only race outside Wales where a Welsh lovespoon is offered as a prize - to the first couple across the line.
Sadly, there's no prize for weariest middle-aged, sleep-deprived hack recovering from by-election the night before but apparently it's the taking part that counts.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Changing Times

When I was a lad, the Conservatives were in favour of smaller government, lower taxes and reduced public spending.

Things have changed, although earlier this month, the former Welsh Office Minister Lord Roberts suggested to BBC Wales that a future Conservative government should cut spending, although his comments may have been lost during my futile journey to discover Tory policy on devolution.

Today, Welsh Tory leader Nick Bourne has suggested the formula which effectively decides the level of much public spending in Wales should be replaced with "some updated needs-based top up grant". That would presumably increase public spending in Wales, although he doesn't say whether that would be financed by a cut in spending in Scotland or England.

For all the fuss about the formula in Wales, the strongest pressure for a review comes from England, which perhaps should worry politicians west of Offa's Dyke. Check out how the Northern Echo reported an inquiry into the issue for one English perspective. The debate's still raging on the (London) Evening Standard website.

Lord Roberts will have been chuffed to learn that David Cameron has promised to publish his review of devolution policy when he receives the final report (the interim version was submitted recently).

It's slightly confusing to simple hacks like me why the Tories are reviewing their policy on devolution when their MPs have been promised a free vote on the conclusion.

Never mind, let's just hope Mr Cameron didn't leave his copy of the Roberts review on the back of his bike.

The morning after the night before

Another crushing by-election defeat, another government response that includes warm phrases such as "listening and learning" and re-assurances about feeling your pain.

Governments often lose by-elections but last night was a surprise to many of the many Labour MPs - and the media - who had spent time in Glasgow recently.

Gordon Brown tells us he is "getting on with the job" - it's become a familiar refrain after by-election disasters. The post-poll routine has almost become part of the British constitution. There's inevitable speculation about the Prime Minister's future, although so far the rolling news channels have failed to persuade critics other than usual suspects Lord Desai and Graham Stringer to take to the airwaves.

Bob Marshall-Andrews dismissed "listening and learning" as "platitudinous nonsense" but warned that many of the events worrying voters are only under the marginal control of government.

Mr Stringer suggested (as he usually does after by-election defeats) that Cabinet Ministers should visit Mr Brown and tell him the time's up, a Labour equivalent of the Tories' men in grey suits.

Speaking of Tories, I've (finally) been reading Gyles Brandreth's Breaking the Code, an entertaining inside account of the dying days of an accident-prone government led by an unpopular Prime Minister.

We all know how that one finished but if it's any consolation John Major's Conservatives suffered by-election swings of more than 30 per cent.

You could be forgiven for thinking politicians had shelved their holiday plans. Parliament's Welsh affairs committee, as I reported on Wednesday, have been keeping me and the rest of the Welsh media busy during the recess. (For which, many thanks.).

Some members of the committee, which often gives the impression that publicity is an unwanted occupational hazard, appear surprised by the fuss their comments have caused.

The Welsh media are often accused of an obsession with constitutional change. I dare say the minutiae of the legislative process will shift few votes during the next general election, but if it keeps a few political anoraks off the streets I will not have toiled in vain.

Peter Black's comments about the committee's "world tour" may not go down well with its Liberal Democrat member although not all MPs on the Welsh affairs committee think their inquiry into globalisation has been a terribly productive use of their time.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

MPs swamped

As a parliamentary correspondent, I'm often asked: "David, what do Welsh MPs do now devolution has reduced their role?"

The answer involves legislation - and a committee of Welsh backbenchers is rather worried there's too much of it.

A memo from the Welsh affairs select committee complains about the political system in both Wales and Westminster being "swamped" with legislative requests from the National Assembly for Wales.

It effectively suggests the Assembly should concentrate on quality rather than quantity when it comes to legislation.

The MPs say: "We urge the Assembly and the Wales Office to find ways of giving a proper focus to legislative work, aiming at producing a reasonable number of high-quality Orders {Legislative Orders in Council or LCOs} each year rather than allowing volume to swamp the system here and in the Assembly as seems to be happening at the moment.

"We are convinced that a concentration on quality will enhance the credibility and standing of the LCO process."

MPs on the committee (modestly) say their "constructive contribution" has "helped to significantly improve the quality of those LCOs that have come forward for formal approval to date."

"If the level of LCOs coming forward from the Assembly settles down at something
of the order of the four or five per year originally envisaged, this will enhance scrutiny,
facilitate better planning and avoid the danger that issues over capacity could become
an obstacle to effective working."

Some legislation takes longer to scrutinise than others. Gordon Brown has, it has been widely reported, created 2,823 new laws during his first year in office (the sort of total that will impress those who see law-making as a political virility symbol).

The MPs say there were problems of misunderstandings about scope and intention with some LCOs but these have been overcome with goodwill on both sides.

They raise questions about clarity and say a clause should be added to each LCO making it legally clear "that the power is intended to provide the power that has been
requested and outlined by the Assembly".

An idea unlikely to find favour with their colleagues in Cardiff Bay.

Perhaps the pressure of work explains why the committee has yet to publish the results of its inquiry into globalisation 18 months after it began.

Gardening leave

Gordon Brown managed to un-glue himself from an anti-aviation protester to host a reception for Lobby journalists in Downing Street last night.

The Prime Minister let us have the run of the No 10 garden, which seemed in good shape despite having hosted Labour backbenchers 24 hours earlier.

Mr Brown didn't circulate much among his guests but he seemed more relaxed than most politicians would be after the sort of year he's had.

He gave a short, well-judged speech to mark the departure of Lobby veteran Colin Brown (no relation) of The Independent. Perhaps he can "do human" after all.

Most Labour MPs I've spoken to are rather pleased that the summer recess has arrived. They argue that governments often do better when Parliament's not sitting.

But there's still a resigned despair among many backbenchers, who lack confidence in the PM to turn the polls around.

Mr Brown is fortunate that there is no consensus on any successor. Some backbenchers want David Miliband, others Alan Johnson, some Jack Straw as a caretaker.

One Minister told me that those who wanted Mr Brown out were the same who agitated for Tony Blair's removal. (Not strictly accurate, perhaps, as many of those involved in the September 2006 "coup" were later rewarded with jobs in the Brown Government).

Most Labour MPs and journalists who've spent time in Glasgow think Labour will hold its seat in tomorrow's by-election there. [they were wrong]

Even if they lose, the consensus seems to be that Mr Brown is safe for the summer but MPs could get jittery if the polls don't improve for Labour by September and the conference season.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Snub to England?

Is it 'cos we is Welsh? British embassies abroad are more than twice as likely to celebrate St David's Day as they are to mark England's national day.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, says 13 British embassies held events to mark the Welsh patron saint this year.

Only five embassies held events to mark St George's Day, seven marked St Andrew's Day, and four celebrated St Patrick's Day.

Mr Miliband released the figures in written parliamentary answers to the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price. They were possibly not what Mr Price was expecting.

A snub to England or a slap in the face?

Land of Hope and Murphy

Paul Murphy is this week's cover boy in The House Magazine, the under the headline "Murphy's Law - Welsh Secretary on comebacks, religion and peace talks.

As you'd expect from the headline, it's what's known as a wide-ranging interview. He talks of "the challenge" of being a practising Catholic in government.

"People know my views: it is not my business to impose my religious views on other people, but it is important that people understand that my views are coloured by my religious background - after all, it is one of the reasons I jointed the Labour Party.

"I am not saying for one minute that you can't be a Christian if you are a Conservative, a Liberal or anything else. But for me it was the social justice element of Christianity that filled in the Labour Party."
Mr Murphy says the Welsh Secretary's jobs has changed a lot from when he first held the post between 1999 and 2002 - "there is an awful lot more work to do for me".

The Torfaen MP says his most rewarding time in politics was as political development Minister in Northern Ireland from 1997-1999, taking in the Good Friday Agreement.
He finds some warm words for his successor in both Northern Ireland and Wales: "I was very sorry that Peter Hain had to leave the job: he was very good in both the Wales and Northern Ireland jobs, where he brought the culmination of the peace process into being, and that was too quickly forgotten by some people."

Some people? Not apparently a reference to the Prime Minister who judged Mr Hain guilty of "an incompetence" and dispensable but to the media who allegedly forgot his successes in Northern Ireland when reporting his downfall.

Mr Murphy also reveals his passion for classical music. "Elgar is my favourite, perhaps strange for a Welshman, but he helped me switch politics off in breaks from some interminable wrangling in Belfast."

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

An open goal?

Last week a senior Labour MP claimed Plaid Cymru are running rings around his own party in the Welsh Assembly Government coalition.

Don Touhig's name was even mentioned (approvingly) several times at Plaid Cymru's dinner in Cardiff to celebrate the anniversary of their arrival in power.

Plenty of ammunition then, you might think, for Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader to fire at the Prime Minister at Question Time today.

We raised our pens for the inevitable: "Does the Prime Minister agree with his former parliamentary private secretary that Plaid Cymru run rings around Labour in the Welsh Assembly Government?"

Instead we got this exchange, as recorded by Hansard: Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Prime Minister believe that his party’s wilting membership in Wales and my party’s increasing membership in Wales are due to the coalition between Plaid Cymru and Labour in the National Assembly, or to his leadership here in Westminster?

The Prime Minister: The fact that there are 100,000 more jobs in Wales is due to a Labour Government and Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly; the fact that more children have been taken out of poverty in Wales is due to a Labour Government and Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly; and the fact that there are more public services in Wales is due to the funds provided by a Labour Government from here.

Perhaps that feel-good coalition factor combined with an end-of-term feeling to produce a cooling of the Elfynometer?

Practice makes perfect

I've spent far more time than is good for me trying to work out how laws are made these days.

Fortunately, help is at hand from the Ministry of Justice, with this helpful flowchart as part of its devolution guidance notes. If it's a little unclear, you can find an online version here.

The new rules for civil servants state that the devolution settlement is being deepened rather than broadened. A cynic might think that the purpose of this new complicated structure is to make the case for a simplified system - full law-making powers - more powerful.

The guide for officials includes advice on "good practice" and "bad practice". Among the top tips, "face-to-face meetings are often useful" and "ask the experts - your colleagues in devolved adminstrations want to work with you".

What's Occurin'

I won't lie to you. This is a shameless plug for BBC Radio Wales.

Ruth Jones, 'Nessa from Gavin and Stacey (one of those rare shows that makes me feel homesick - it's Barry Island in HD that does it), is starting her own Sunday show on the station from October 5. She'll be on between 10 and midday.

Ruth says: "It'll be like having friends over the house for brunch. We'll go through the papers, have a coffee, maybe a bacon bap or two and a nice chat, y'know, just relaxed and easy, easy like Sunday morning."


Tuesday, 15 July 2008


Gordon Brown's summer holiday last year lasted, we are led to believe, approximately four hours before being interrupted by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

This year, the Browns are heading for Southwold, a charming seaside down in north Suffolk. (With Mr Brown's luck, let's hope other holidaymakers there have packed their brollies).

It's about this time of the year - with the silly season on the horizon - that journalists with papers and airtime to fill risk the wrath of politicians by asking about their holiday plans (they should be grateful we're not asking them about Mr Brown's survival prospects).

I wasn't important enough to be among those BBC staff questioned by the deputy Minister for Social Justice and Public Service Delivery year but I'm happy to reveal all in the interests of transparency.

This year, I'll be spending a week en famille among the redcoats of Bognor Regis.

Hi-de-hi campers!

Impressionable politicians

"Politicians want more power" must be up there with "Tour cyclist fails drugs test" as among the more predictable headlines of the summer.

Perhaps it's testimony to the accuracy of the Ipsos MORI survey that the results were as expected - 80 per cent of Welsh Assembly Members want Scottish Parliament-style powers.

The results of the "most impressive AM" were less predictable, perhaps because most of the 36 AMs interviewed refused to give a preference. The "don't knows" totalled 58 per cent - only 15 named AMs.

Of those who did, 17 per cent opted for Health Minister Edwina Hart, 13 per cent for Plaid Housing Minister Jocelyn Davies and 12 per cent for Tory Jonathan Morgan.

Before Mrs Hart starts ordering telephone lines for her leadership campaign, she might care to glance at the raw figures (the percentages are weighted to make the sample more representative).

She was the choice of 6 AMs; 5 AMs mentioned Jocelyn Davies, 4 Jonathan Morgan, and 2 Ieuan Wyn Jones, Nick Bourne and David Melding.

Among UK politicians, Alex Salmond and Adam Price fared well, helped by a disproportionately high number of "don't knows" among Labour AMs curiously reluctant to endorse Gordon Brown.

The representative sample of 36 AMs were interviewed face-to-face last September and October although the results have only just been published.

Monday, 14 July 2008

By-election fever

My BBC colleague Michael Crick has unearthed something of a scoop. The name of one of the 26 candidates in last week's Haltemprice and Howden by-election was misspelt on the ballot paper.

Walter Sweeney, who may be remembered by voters in the Vale of Glamorgan as their Tory MP between 1992 and 1997, lost an "e" from his surname during the electoral process.

Walter appears to have disappeared on holiday and may not be aware of the howler. As a solicitor himself he won't have far to go for legal advice on his return.

Anyone fancy a repeat by-election in August?

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Holiday reading

It's that time of the year when the Sunday papers highlight the books we should all be reading on holiday.

You know the sort of thing - "This year I'll be re-reading War and Peace. In the original Russian."

As a humble hack, I don't aspire to such lofty, intellectual heights. Indeed, this year I shall be mostly re-reading Everyone Hide From Wibbly Pig or catching up on Igglepiggle's latest adventures.

I occasionally get the chance to catch up on books written for the over-5s. Judith O'Reilly's Wife In The North is a witty and moving collection of her blog posts documenting her family's move from London to Northumberland.

Judith and I used to share bylines, bosses and grievances working for Thomson Regional Newspapers (then publishers of The Journal and the Western Mail) at Westminster. She is now living among her former readers and has made a deserved and enormous success of her blog

The actress reading extracts on Radio 4's Book of the Week sounds nothing like Judith but you do get the feel of the blog brought to life. (you may not be surprised to learn that I'm still waiting for a publisher with a fat cheque to snap up my ramblings on politics).

Judith's Husband In The South would enjoy Guardian sportswriter Daniel Taylor's story of two contrasting seasons in the company of Sir Alex Ferguson. I've read several books on Fergie over the years and this is the one that leaves you with the feeling that you know the man - contradictions and all - as far as anyone can say they know him.

Taylor is frank about the compromises sports reporters make, the trade-offs for access to their subject and the press conference questions that are toned down or bottled for fear of annoying the man facing the questions.

It could never happen in political journalism.......

The bardic steamroller's horns

If the opinion polls are right, within two years David Cameron will enter Downing Street as Prime Minister.

So, I can hear you all asking, what does this mean for constitutional reform in Wales?

No? Well, I thought I'd ask anyway for a report for tonight's Dragon's Eye.

One of the first decisions a Tory Secretary of State for Wales might have to take is whether to agree to an Assembly request for a referendum to give the Welsh Assembly full law-making powers.

I asked Cheryl Gillan what she'd do if faced with that decision as Secretary of State, (if David Cameron gives her the job):

"I'm not going to speculate. We have got 2 years to run of a Labour government least. We have a general election that I've said that I hope we would win but I don't know we're going to win. At this stage it would be quite wrong of me to speculate on future policy in two or three or four years time.

"It's a free vote and as shadow Secretary of State for Wales at this stage I think it would be quite wrong of me to prejudge that situation. I'm not sitting on the fence, I'm waiting to see when a referendum is called."

So why the need for a free vote? "There is a difference of opinion amongst Assembly Members, there is a difference of opinion amongst party members, in the Labour Party, even in Plaid I think to a certain extend and the Liberal Democrats.

"I am being very honest and open about it and saying in my party we will allow people to have a free vote if there is a referendum."

A free vote opens the possibility of Ministers campaigning on both sides of the argument, as Labour Ministers did in the 1975 European referendum. If there is a free vote, what is the point of the review of devolution policy David Cameron has commissioned from Lord Roberts of Conwy?

Lord (Wyn) Roberts (78 today - penblwydd hapus) has recently completed his interim report, which goes into some detail on the background to devolution in Wales.

He won't tell me what's in it - the full report should be submitted this summer - but he thinks the future lies in a "more co-operative spirit" between Wales and Westminster.

How, I asked, does he get that co-operative spirit within a party where, to generalise, AMs want full law-making parties and MPs would prefer the Assembly didn't exist?

"It is something of a dilemma and I'm on the horns of it just at the moment" said the man known during his ministerial days as the Bardic Steamroller.

* You may wonder - you may not - why none of the Welsh Conservative MPs features in my report. All were unavailable - one's just had a baby, another's in Brussels and the other believes his constituents are more vexed about rising living costs than the Roberts review. He may be right.

Hold the front page

As headlines go, it's probably not going to make it onto anyone's front page.

"WELSH-ENGLISH BORDER MUST NOT HINDER ACCESS TO HIGH QUALITY HEALTH SERVICES, SAY MPS" is today's offering from Parliament's Welsh affairs select committee.

Does anyone know any politician in any party who thinks the border should hinder access to high quality health services?

The bland, some might say bleedin' obvious, headline from the committee's press release relates to an interim report on services across the Wales/England border.

The committee heard evidence that Welsh patients wait longer than English patients for identical treatment in the same hospitals. The Welsh Health Minister has so far declined an invitation to give evidence.

The report was agreed unanimously by MPs from all parties, although they are drawing very different conclusions from its conclusions.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives both believe it exposes the folly of the "Wales-only" approach of the Labour/Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Government - not an analysis shared by the Labour and Plaid members of the committee.

The MPs expect to file a fuller report later this year.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Murphy ready for his close-up

I'm not the only person to have noticed how the taxpayer-funded Wales Office annual report features photographs only of Labour politicians from both Westminster and Cardiff Bay during a chapter labelled Promoting Wales.

Tory MP David Jones raised the issue with Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy today: "I can't help noticing that each and every one of those politicians happens to be a Labour politician.

"I was just wondering maybe next time when the report is produced possibly I and some of my colleagues on this side of the committee room and our colleagues could possibly feature in some of these photographs as well in the interests of equity."

Mr Murphy: "Not a problem - and I'd be more than happy to have a photograph taken with any Welsh member of parliament - the only trouble is of course there happen to be more of ours....

"It's not a trouble really, is it though? Not everybody wants a picture of me, of course...."

Animo et fide, as we say in Sully

The Welsh Assembly's new coat of arms makes its debut today, 17 months after I reported on the search for one. Here it is.

The coat of arms was unveiled as the first piece of Welsh legislation for more than a thousand years is signed off by the Queen - the NHS Redress Measure. Garter King of Arms himself has been involved in its design.

I can't claim such a pedigree for my own coat of arms, although at £6.70 online for the colour version it probably cost slightly less than the Assembly version.

Stability is sexy

Tony Blair's spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, once spun a line that "stability is sexy" and then laughed at all the newspapers who fell for it and dutifully ran the line the next day.

He was talking about the economy but a Welsh Alastair Campbell (Ali Ap Spin?) would probably be spinning the same line today in the political sense.

Even critics of the Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition government in Cardiff acknowledge that it has brought stability. At times it seems rather more stable than a Gordon Brown administration with an overall majority of 65.

But for one of the arch critics of the deal, stability isn't the point. Don Touhig, MP for Islwyn and former UK Government Minister, told me:

"I haven't been invited to the party, you might be surprised.....there's no doubt the coalition has brought a degree of stability in terms of the administration but so far as the Labour Party is concerned I warned a year ago that if we went into coalition with the nationalists they'd have their greatest advance in 50 years. That is what they have had.

"They've practically run rings around us politically. They've been very skilled, much more skilled at it than we have. They've exploited their position in the Assembly very well to make sure that the people believe that advances and changes and benefits to Wales are coming from them and not from the Labour Party. We're too dull, we haven't done that."

First Minister Rhodri Morgan says that's a million miles from reality. Mr Touhig says Plaid have been given jobs where they can spend cash and open railway lines funded by Labour (I paraphrase slightly), while Labour Ministers have the "bed of nails" portfolios of health and education.

This was a familiar complaint during the first coalition government in Cardiff, between Labour and the Lib Dems - that the junior partner took the credit for things that went right and blamed the bigger partner for things that went wrong.

Those nostalgic for the days when Lib Dems were in government (hello, Mike) can remind themselves of a previous first anniversary here.

I'm off to the Cabinet War Rooms to try to evoke even older memories of coalitions from days gone by. I'll try to keep the wartime metaphors to a minimum.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Flying the flag

Plaid Cymru have launched an online party political broadcast to highlight their year in power.

Their ppb announces that in 2007 Plaid "formed the government of Wales" for the first time (they're in coalition with Labour in the Welsh Assembly Government).

Apparently, I'm not the only one trying to work out why they used such a tatty flag in their own otherwise fairly slick broadcast.......

Small world

Members of the committee set up to gauge opinion on whether the Welsh Assembly should gain full law-making powers have been unveiled.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said: “We have been seeking a cross section of Welsh life and Welsh opinion who can tap into the views of ordinary Welsh people. I believe we have achieved that balance."

Those chosen from open competition include Joan Asby, chief officer of the Pembrokeshire Local Action Network for Enterprise and Development (PLANED).

She has 30 years experience of supporting community engagement in local regeneration. The Welsh Assembly Government says she has served on its rural partnership for Wales, social enterprise joint working group and 2020 stakeholder group.

If Joan has any queries about the operation of the Government of Wales Act that paves the way for more powers she could always consult the civil servant who managed the team of officials on the Bill as it went through Parliament.

His name is Rhodri - and they share a surname. He knows her better as "Mum".

Thursday, 3 July 2008

LCO and out

Labour have picked up the suggestion by a Tory frontbencher, highlighted here 48 hours ago, that debating the transfer of powers to the Welsh Assembly isn't as exciting as you might think.

Gwenda Thomas, the Assembly Government's deputy social services Minister, said:

"I’m deeply concerned that a Conservative front bench spokesperson on Welsh Affairs is saying that the parliamentary scrutiny process of a vitally important piece of legislation is ‘tedious’.

"The aim of this LCO is to devolve the relevant powers to the National Assembly for Wales, which will allow the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government to legislate to achieve a fairer and more consistent approach to charging for all adult recipients of non-residential social services across Wales."

David Jones will doubtless reconsider his views and agree that the whole process is absolutely fascinating.

Spinning and blogging

Not only does Elfyn Llwyd now have his own blog, his spin doctor has also started sharing her thoughts with the world.

It's largely on-message stuff but with an edge. Lembit Opik won't thank Heledd for drawing her readers' attention to his latest on camera capers.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

If you can't stand the heat

The Conservative commitment to making devolution work doesn't extend to making it interesting for some of their leading MPs.

David Jones, the party's Welsh affairs spokesman, was less than enthralled to spend a sunny evening discussing powers to give the Welsh Assembly the power to legislate on domicillary care.

It was, reports the Clwyd West MP, "particularly tedious". This may surprise you but he said he'd rather be outside in the park enjoying the sun than debating a draft legislative competence order.

The Clwyd West MP wrote on his blog: "Gloriously warm day in London, the sort that makes you wish you were outside enjoying the sun in St James's Park, rather than indoors debating a particularly tedious draft Order in Council."

Mr Jones must hope this doesn't harm his promotion prospects for the next Tory frontbench reshuffle.

A high boredom threshold, an inexhaustible love of constitutional reform jargon ("Barnett consequentials" to choose one phrase offered in reaction to today's Tory plans) and an ability to contemplate one's own navel at length are as essential for any ambitious Welsh politician as a heat-resistant anorak.

It has been a long, intense day. What a treat it is when the only "third reading" around involves another instalment of Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. As Sir Derek Jacobi would doubtless put it, isn't that a pip?

Bringing Order to Chaos Stateside

The Western Mail brings news of "public relations guru" Steve Morgan, who famously helped "bring order to chaos" during Peter Hain's deputy leadership campaign.

Mr Morgan is heading to the States to work for Barack Obama. Besides Mr Hain's campaign, he previously worked for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore.

The Western Mail reports that he hopes the Obama campaign will be a case of third time lucky.

Confused of Westminster

I woke up this morning clear in my mind about Conservative plans to increase the role of English MPs in passing new laws that affect England alone.

Then I made the mistake of going to a Tory press conference on the subject.

The report of a taskforce led by the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke is clear. Bills that are certified as "English" would be voted on by all MPs at their second reading, when the principles of the new law are discussed.

Line-by-line-scrutiny at committee stage "would be undertaken by English MPs only" and report stage - when committee amendments are considered would be "voted on by English Members only".


Mr Clarke was charming, engaging - and confused. He told the news conference the new rules excluding Welsh MPs would apply only in the (limited but growing) areas where the Welsh Assembly had already acquired full law-making powers.

So Welsh MPs would be able to vote on an England only Health Bill unless it concerned the areas of health where the Assembly could make its own laws?

Er, possibly. Mr Clarke himself had to ask the shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan (more of her later) whether the Assembly had any primary law-making powers. Welsh devolution, he said, was "a moving feast" and Mr Clarke gives the impression of being someone who wouldn't say no to a feast.

After the news conference, the Tories "clarified" things. It's as you were. Any English-only law in a devolved area (legislative or administrative) would see the role of non-English MPs limited during its parliamentary passage.

Mr Clarke said his report had been finished some time ago. Some reporters were convinced that the man who famously didn't read the Maastricht Treaty had not read the document since then.

Conservative governments have previously used the votes of English Tory MPs to drive through Wales-only legislation. So would a future Conservative Government exclude English backbenchers from key stages of Welsh legislation? An academic question, but I thought it was worth asking.

The Tories are laying great stress on the accountability of politicians to their constituents on issues that affect them.

I did ask how voters in Wales could hold the shadow Welsh Secretary to account when she answered to constituents in Chesham and Amersham.

Mr Clarke insists his rules will strengthen the Union and not inhibit the right of any MP to fill any Cabinet job.

He did point out that there is a history of non-Welsh MPs representing Wales in the UK Cabinet.

Perhaps the question brought back memories of his brief double act with John Redwood during ons of several Tory leadership elections of the past decade.