Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Yo Ho Ho

Best to eat before going to one of Peter Hain's Christmas parties if this parliamentary answer is any guide:

MR ROGER WILLIAMS (BRECON AND RADNORSHIRE): To ask the Secretary of State for Wales, how many Christmas parties his Department plans to host in 2009; what has been budgeted for each such reception; what estimate he has made of the proportion of (a) lamb, (b) beef, (c) chicken, (d) pork, (e) turkey, (f) other meats, (g) vegetables, (h) fruit and (i) alcohol to be served at each such function which is produced in the UK; and if he will make a statement.

MR HAIN: I plan to host a Christmas reception in London and another in Cardiff this year. We will not be serving food, only snacks and drinks will be provided. I would estimate the cost of each reception to be around £250, although the final amount will not be known until after the events are held.

Roger Williams is not one of those MPs who looks short of a good meal, but it looks like he'll be going hungry on this occasion.

For Wales, see Scotland?

Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan once spoke of the pre-devolution perception that there was a "willingness to blame others" in Wales, a perception that may now be less common.

But so long as the Welsh Assembly Government's purse strings are pulled elsewhere, there is always a pantomime villain (Westminster/London) to blame for any cuts a devolved government introduces.

The Scots in the UK Government seem to have cottoned on to this, probably due to the experience of having a nationalist government in Edinburgh.

So today, the Scottish Secretary in Gordon Brown's Government unveiled plans to make the Scottish Parliament responsible for raising more of the taxpayers' money it spends.

The idea is to introduce greater accountability. The Conservatives support the idea, although they say they will unveil their own plans after the General Election (if they win it).

For Scotland, see Wales? There is support in some unexpected quarters for the Assembly to acquire tax-raising powers.

If the Tories in power at UK level, and the Labour/Plaid Assembly Government chooses to blame David Cameron's government for future cuts, expect to see that support for financial powers grow further.

Mind you, there would have to be a(nother?) referendum first before Wales acquired financial powers (Scotland got them in the 1997 vote) And you can't have a referendum without setting up a committee first. I wonder what Sir Emyr Jones Parry is doing with himself these days.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Banking on LCOs

Too much excitement can be bad for you, so let's talk about LCOs. Wales's former First Secretary has given his views on Legislative Competence Orders here.

Old news to readers of Mr Michael's Penarth Times column, I grant you, but interesting nevertheless - who are these Ministers who "spent far too long deliberating over Ann's proposals instead of getting on with it"? Time for the Penarth Times to name and shame.

The LCO Parliament has spent more time debating than any other is the one to give the Assembly the power to legislate over the Welsh language. You can read it here if you don't have a copy handy or have yet to learn it off by heart.

One or two MPs were intrigued by the reference to organisations "engaged in central banking" assuming it to be a reference to the original proposal to include the Bank of England - the only central bank operating in the UK - in the mix.

This puzzled one or two MPs on the Select Commitee for Welsh Affairs who wondered what it could mean.

Bilingual banknotes, perhaps? The MPs wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales. Peter Hain has now told them: "I do not believe the Assembly will be able to legislate on the issue of Welsh banknotes."

A less than emphatic denial, perhaps, but there (probably) goes any plan Cardiff Ministers may have for their own quantitative easing or to put an image of Owain Glyndwr on one side of a tenner note.


Gordon Brown and David Cameron were not the only politicians to get themselves photographed in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, although other politicians managed to get snapped without so much fuss.

Conwy Labour MP Betty Williams was photographed as she planted a cross in memory of the citizens of Conwy who lost their lives in conflicts.

She told her own website: "It was a privilege once more, and for my final time as MP for Conwy, to be able to plant a cross in the Field of Remembrance in the grounds of Westminster Abbey today as an act of remembrance for citizens of Conwy constituency who gave their lives to secure our freedom."

An Abbey spokesman told me: "We don't have a problem with that but if high-profile politicians come we would like a bit of notice".

Monday, 23 November 2009

£800 to be Peter's friend

How much would you pay to have dinner with the Welsh Liberal Democrats? Did I hear fifty quid at the back?

If you have nine mates, why not make a night of it and claim the discounted rate of £450 for a table for 10?

Or if you're feeling really flush, two grand will allow you to sponsor the conference dinner as the Welsh Lib Dems gather in Swansea next February.
"Sponsorship includes:

Space to display promotional material (banners, pop-ups, leaflets etc).

10 minutes to address everyone present with a speech.

A thank you from the appropriate party spokesperson for your organisation.

2 tickets to the Conference Dinner on the top table.

2 Observer Passes to Conference.

A full page black & white advert in the Conference Guide.

Your organisation’s logo printed on menus and tickets.

An invitation to the Conference Dinner with your organisation’s logo sent to all party members. We can include an advert for your organisation as well if you wish.

Or, for £1,500 you can sponsor a reception that takes place during the Wales vs England Six Nations match.

At half time, you'll be allowed to make a speech to delegates who will have switched off from the game to want to focus on your policy area.

The Lib Dems promise: "We will supply the first drink for the guests."

Or for a more modest £800 you can sponsor a reception hosted by Peter Black AM. You too could have Peter as a guest at your party for just £800 - are they selling his company too cheap?

You can find out more here.

Many thanks to the Elgan Morgan of the Welsh Lib Dems conference committee for sending me the link to their conference opportunities.

Referendums make you happy

Referendums make you happy. Yes, they really do. This point may not have appeared in last week's report by the All Wales Convention report but it comes from a very reputable source.

The economist Richard Layard reports in his brilliant book Happiness - Lessons from a New Science how citizens are more content where they have a regular say on policy decisions.

This is based on what he calls the "remarkable results" from a study of democracy in Switzerland. "In every Swiss canton (or region) policies are often decided by referendum," he reports. "But in some cantons citizens have more rights to demand referendums than others.

"It turns out that people are much happier where they have more rights to referendums. If we compare those cantons where these rights are the most extensive with those where they are the least extensive, the difference in happiness is as great as if they had double the income."

So what's it to be? Double your money or another referendum? Perhaps these conclusions could be tested by a controlled experiment giving more referendum opportunities in either North or South Wales, and offering cash to citizens in the rest of the country.

We could set up a new committee - call it the Half Wales Convention - to investigate who emerges the happier.

Legal eagles

If you're one of those people who sees law-making powers for devolved assemblies as a virility symbol, or one of those politicians who believes that any problem can be cured by legislation, you may want to look away now.

On The Buses with Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher once reportedly said: "A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."

As someone well over the age of 26, I find myself a failure several times a week. But perhaps I am not alone.

The bus complaint form for Transport for London suggests the vehicles should now be reconsidered an upmarket form of transport.

Besides the conventional Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms, the form allows you to describe youself as, among others, Prof, Sir, Air Cdr, Dame, Cardinal, Baron, Sheikh, Sqn Ldr, Viscount, Viscountess, Imam and Marquess.

There is even a distinction between Baroness and Rt Hon Baroness to appease privy councillors.

It gets better. You can complain as a Prince, Princess, Laird, Dowager Lady, Mayor, Pastor, Rt Revd, Ambassador, Duke, Earl and HRH.

So the day your bus is too full to stop at your stop because it's carrying Prince Charles, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duke of Westminster, Dame Kelly Holmes, Viscount Tenby, Sheikh Mansour and Baroness Thatcher herself is the day you will know she was wrong.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The first XI

I do enjoy these surveys of politicians by politicians. The joys of percentages mean small numbers of people can appear as hugely significant masses of opinion.

So Edwina Hart is the "top performer" chosen by 25 per cent of the 30 people sampled by the pollsters (I make that eight).

Lower down the popularity chain, Nick Bourne, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Jocelyn Davies have the support of four per cent - if my maths is correct that means two AMs each rated them.

The consolation for Professor Bourne, Mr Jones and Ms Davies is that they are twice as popular as Nick Ramsay and Jenny Randerson, who were named by two per cent of those asked - I make that one AM each.

The consolation for Mr Ramsay and Mrs Randerson is that still makes them more popular than 49 other AMs, who didn't make the IPSOS-Mori first eleven.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

History denied

I could see the hand of history coming over the horizon. The Welsh Health Minister - and Labour leadership contender - Edwina Hart was due to make her long-awaited debut before a committee of MPs at Westminster next Thursday.

Alas, this historic event has been cancelled as, according to a spokeswoman, the chairman of the select committee on Welsh Affairs decided this was not a suitable date, denying MPs a first chance to grill Ms Hart during her 10 years as a Minister.

She had been asked to appear before, some years ago but was apparently reluctant, leading to First Minister Rhodri Morgan stepping in to answer questions on her brief.

Of course, the committee could use its powers to summon witnesses to invite Ms H to Westminster but that is thought unlikely. With the result of the leadership election due within two weeks, this is an encounter that may never happen.

Guto and Madge

One of my Facebook friends put it this way: "In all the excitement about the All Wales Convention I'd almost forgotten about the Queen's Speech."

Not everyone covering politics fell victim to the same amnesia, but those who live on the political treadmill can occasionally miss the odd gem that fails to make the news bulletins.

So I've only just caught up with mixed news for my former BBC colleague Guto Harri, now chief spin doctor for Mayor of London Boris Johnson. As compensation for missing out on the Western Mail's list of 50 sexiest men in Wales, Guto has retained his position in the Evening Standard's list of London's 1000 most influential people.

The Standard says Guto is "Well-liked by his staff due to his ability to sweet-talk and get in a round of drinks, but not afraid to admonish anyone failing to toe the party line. Thought to have turned to Boris after a failed attempt to land the spin doctor job at Number 10. Must tread careful line in tense dealings with Cameroons."

The citation may not win top marks for 100 per cent accuracy, but in Guto's job it's probably better to be on it than off it.

The Mayor's office is also setting new standards for transparency for devolved governments with its register of gifts and hospitality. You can read where Guto has been breaking bread, and with whom, here, along with a list of others whose entertainment he has enjoyed in the line of duty.

Funny that, I never had him down as a Madonna fan.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

"The public are serenely indifferent"

Danny Finkelstein of  The Times offers this splendid wake-up call for all us hacks who occasionally assume that the voters take in any of what we report. The "fog" of confusion isn't confined to Wales and may be bigger than you might think, with the public "serenely indifferent" to much political activity.

Perhaps I should switch to blogging about sport or soaps, as I guess more voters are interested in Rafael Benitez or Roy Cropper's fate than today's developments at Westminster.

The politicians do their best to engage our attention. Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative parliamentary candidate on my adopted manor held a public meeting this week.

He advertised it by hanging green balloons outside the local church hall. My daughter is convinced they are there to mark her third birthday, still one month away. I will let her enjoy her serene indifference to the political process a little longer.

By royal appointment

"My Government will continue to devolve more powers to Wales". Gosh, that was quick. Sir Emyr Jones Parry only published his report at midnight. Fewer than 12 hours later, Her Majesty appears to have announced its delivery.

Well, perhaps not. Before the street bunting goes up amid referendum fever across the land, what the Queen was referring to was the way in which the current system operates, with powers in 45 different areas devolved to the Welsh Assembly during the last three years.

"The Assembly is getting the powers it needs for the people of Wales," says the Wales Office.


History In Our Time

It is indeed an historic day, a landmark moment in time that will be remembered by generations to come.

In future, people will turn to each other and instantly recall exactly where they were when they heard the news - that Peter Hain was "unavailable for comment".

The media-friendly Welsh Secretary has declined an opportunity to appear live on Wales's most-watched news programme, lest he be diverted from a discussion of the Queen's Speech by a cheeky question or two on his views on when there should be a referendum on the National Assembly's law-making powers.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Vote blue, go green?

Meet Greg. He's the man who could decide the fate of thousands of jobs on Anglesey and Wales's energy supply.

Greg (Clark) is the shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Within months, if the polls are right, he will be in charge of Britain's energy policy (well, most of Britain, and most energy policy anyway).

For all the talk of fast-tracking nuclear power planning decisions, by the time of the next election it's unlikely that a planning application to build a new reactor (or two) near the existing ones at Wylfa will have been submitted.

So any application could land on Greg's desk, as the Conservatives have said Labour's Infrastructure Planning Commission is not democratically accountable.

So what will he do? The Conservatives, for whom nuclear power was "a last resort" back in 2006, now see it as a vital part of Britain's energy mix. They wish this week's decision had been made earlier.

So will Wylfa get the same priority as it has under Ed Miliband? Will the Conservatives press ahead with a new plant there?

Forgive all the questions; I put a few of them to Greg's shadow cabinet colleague, Cheryl Gillan, this afternoon.

She devoted her contributions to Welsh Questions in the Commons to highlighting Labour's "mixed signals" over nuclear power - although the opposition comes in the main from politicians would would not have the final say on the issue.

I asked whether a Conservative government would press ahead with Wylfa Will a Conservative government press ahead with Wylfa. "I hope so" was the response.

Perhaps it is the effect of 12 and a half years in opposition that has left the Conservatives so focused on attacking the Government that is has lost sight of the imminence of the general election.

So we don't know for sure whether the Conservatives would carry forward Labour's energy plans, or, for that matter, press ahead with plans to locate the defence training centre at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Conservatives questioned the Government's prison-building plans in the Commons today. So would a Tory government build a prison in the north?

I suppose it's asking too much this close to the election to enquire after a Tory government's plans for the Barnett formula and a bank holiday on St David's Day.

Speaking of which, I wandered along to the unveiling of Plaid Cymru's alternative Queen's Speech this lunchtime. The traditional St David's Day (Bank Holiday) Bill was missing.

I'll leave you to decide whether this is a "snub to Wales" or "a slap in the face".

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

She shoots, she scores

As a parliamentary correspondent, I'm sometimes asked: "David, what do MPs do all day now that many day-to-day decisions are taken in Cardiff Bay not Westminster?"

Of course, MPs do still find time to debate issues such as nuclear power, the economy and foreign affairs. Many of them were so busy last week that they could not find the time to discuss proposed reforms to their expenses regime.

More evidence of what some of them get up to can be found on the Commons order paper. The re-naming of St James' Park (the one in Newcastle, not the one near Parliament) has been condemned by 22 MPs in a Commons motion.

Among the signatories is the Labour MP for Conwy, Betty Williams, who also found time in her busy schedule to sign another motion praising the decision to televise the England versus Australia Rugby League match.

She has also registered her approval for another motion praising Blackpool Football Club's "It's a Goal" initiative.

As the sports broadcasting legend Alan Partridge would say, "Back of the net!"

Friday, 6 November 2009

Letting the people decide

Bit of a headache for Welsh political hacks this one. We're now going to have to think of another question to ask David Cameron's people in Wales now he is confirming that a Conservative government would not block a request from the Welsh Assembly to hold a referendum on its powers.*

When Cheryl Gillan told us at the Tory conference in Manchester "we will let the people decide" she really did mean what we thought she said. As Secretary of State for Wales, she would avoid the trap of rejecting a request for a vote - the trap of an unpopular Conservative government fuelling demands for more freedom from Westminster.

There are still questions for Ms Gillan to answer. We still don't know which way she would vote in any referendum but that in one sense is academic as she wouldn't have a vote - unless Lord Garel-Jones's idea of enfranchising the expats takes off. (Perhaps my own ballot paper is in the post)

So insoluble are Tory divisions on the subject that the party's MPs would be given a free vote on the issue, a licence to campaign on either side of the argument. It could be the sort of campaign that pitches the party's MPs against the party's AMs, undermining Cheryl Gillan's plans to create harmony between Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

So now everyone is committed to letting the people decide, why wait for a change of government? Sir Emyr Jones Parry's report later this month is expected to fuel enthusiasm for a referendum among those keen for the Assembly to acquire full law-making powers and consign LCOs to the Welsh political archive.

The worrying thing for enthusiasts is that the strongest shout for a referendum (I paraphrase but "bring it on now" was the tone) I've heard this week came from the Conservative MP for Monmouth, David Davies. He may be a former Assembly Member, but there's no mystery about which way he would vote - or his motive for calling an early poll.

*If there are any other Welsh questions you'd like Team Cameron to be asked, do let us know. Would the Tories go ahead with the defence training college at St Athan springs to mind. Would a Cameron government committed to making devolution work really have a Secretary of State based in Buckinghamshire?

I'd hate to have to fall back on whether Prime Minister Cameron would implement Tory AMs' demands for St David's Day to be made a public holiday.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Voting early and often

One of the affiliated groups taking part in the Welsh Labour leadership election has more than ten times as many votes as members.

The Co-operative Party has "somewhere under 1,000" members in Wales, but will have 10,000 votes in the electoral college that will choose Rhodri Morgan's successor.

Co-op deputy general secretary Karen Wilkie said: "In terms of the Labour Party, the Co-operative Party has always affiliated on behalf of the wider co-operative movement; our voting strength reflects this rather than our actual number of party activists."

Labour - whose 11,000 Welsh members have one third of the votes - said organisations decide the numbers to affiliate and their voting strength is decided accordingly.
Voting will take longer for some than others. By my reckoning, the former First Secretary, Alun Michael, has at least five votes - as an MP, a party member, a member of the Co-op party, the GMB union and the Fabian Society.


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader.

Elfyn Llwyd reveals to readers of Total Politics magazine that the literary character he would most like to be is: "Superman - for obvious reasons."

So if you spot the Meirionnydd Nant Conwy flying through the air with his underpants over his trousers you'll know this is a dream come true.

It will at least make up for his disappointment at the magazine's (snub to Wales?)  failure to include him in its list of top 10 politicians with facial hair.

David Lloyd George is the sole Welsh representative in a top 10 that includes Bob Ainsworth, Ken Livingstone and Peter Mandelson.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Wedding hitch

My suspicions proved correct and yesterday's newspaper headlines were premature. Parliament may need to change the law before Chris Bryant can celebrate his civil partnership in the House of Commons.

As things stand, the Commons is not licensed for civil weddings or partnerships. If it were to obtain a licence, as the law stands, then the venue would have to be available to ordinary members of the public for a certain time. (The Prince Charles/Windsor Castle problem)

The Speaker is keen on opening up his State Rooms for ceremonies for MPs but is not convinced Parliament should go into the mass wedding and civil partnership business.

So it will be up to Parliament to decide whether or not to change the law to allow private ceremonies in the same way only parliamentarians and senior officers can tie the knot in the Chapel of St Mary's Undercroft.

Either way, Chris Bryant and his partner might be advised to sound out an alternative venue or two if they hope to marry next March.

Monday, 2 November 2009

A not so fresh start

You have to sympathise with political parties. There's only so many slogans in the political lexicon, most of them promising to put Britain first, take it forward, win, or be positive. Strangely, slogans promising to put Britain last, take it backwards, lose or be negative have yet to catch on.

Even so, why have the Lib Dems ended up with one pioneered during William Hague's (admittedly successful) Tory leadership campaign of 1997?

Having stolen William Hague's campaign slogan, can it be long before Nick Clegg changes his headgear?

Derry Irvine spills the beans

One of the annual rituals of Cabinet reshuffle speculation is the reporting by newspapers of plans to scrap the Wales Office and other territorial departments and create a Ministry of the Nations.

One day it may come true and, as Lee Waters points out, it very nearly did six years ago during perhaps the most botched reshuffle of Tony Blair's decade in power.

You can read Lord Irvine's evidence in full here. The Wales Office - and its Secretary of State - survived to fight another day. Given David Cameron's commitment to cutting the cost of government, it will be interesting to see how long, if he wins power, he retains a full-time Secretary of State.

Wedding Bells

Is Parliament about to host its first civil partnership ceremony? Readers of today's Independent may have rushed out to buy a hat in anticipation of Chris Bryant's nuptials.

Congratulations are due to the Rhondda MP and his partner Jared Cranney. Mr Bryant told the paper: "Jared and I are engaged and we hope to have a civil partnership – or a marriage is what it feels like – in March of next year. "We'd like to do it in Parliament if possible."

I checked with the Speaker's office to see how far he had gone down the road of obtaining a licence to hold civil ceremonies in his official residence.

"It is something the Speaker is keen on," confirmed a spokeswoman. "Discussions are under way."

Obtaining a licence for a traditional wedding is not always straightforward. You may recall how the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles had to switch their venue from Windsor Castle to the local Guildhall.

The reason? Any licence for the castle would allow the public to marry there for at least three years.

There's no news yet on whether Mr Bercow would be happy to open up Speaker's House to punters although it could prove a nice little earner to defer the cost of MPs' expenses and would certainly cement his reputation as a modernising Speaker.

Should a Westminster wedding prove problematic, Chris and Jared could marry closer to home. Several Rhondda venues now host civil partnerships and with a March date in mind guests could fit in some pre-election canvassing after the ceremony.