Sunday, 30 March 2008

Senedd Circular: Easter Recess Catch-up

This article appears in The Wardman Wire:

This week, Pippa Wagstaff writes her first column for the Wardman Wire about events at the National Assembly for Wales (the Senedd) in Cardiff. It has been held over from last week. Usually the column will appear on Thursdays.

Cranking the Starting Handle

The Assembly is currently in the middle of its Easter Recess, so I’ve taken the opportunity to bring us up-to-date on what’s hot on the political agenda at the run up to the Assembly’s return to Cardiff Bay.

You can take it as read that there are more important things to life. In my life, at least, there’s family and a new career opportunity that’s taking up so much of my time at the moment. I’ve recently taken a short break away from blogging – part work, part pleasure, part nightmare! Now I’ve found my way back to Cardiff, and eventually back to what lurks down the bay – Welsh politics, or beneath, in the darker areas - the politics of coalition.

I don’t sleep deeply these days, and this can be partly blamed (in equal proportions) on having ‘a little one’ and having ‘a big one’. The little one is self-explanatory. The big one being ‘Miss Wagstaff Presents’, which has always concerned itself with the Government of Wales being more of a ‘first-to-do’ or ‘freebie’ government, that has become affectionately known as a gimmick government. Whether the cause is good or bad, it’s a government that concerns itself with headlines rather than getting down to the bread and butter issues of devolution. Whether it’s the first to appoint a Children’s Commissioner; an Older People’s Commissioner; the introduction of free NHS prescriptions; or even its recent attempt – capturing the attention of the UK public (and probably for the first time) – in starting the ball rolling for free parking at hospitals. You can always rely on the Welsh Government to grab some attention seeking headlines in the name of progress. More will be made of this in future columns.

Senedd Snippets:

  • Assembly Members trying to buy their way into heaven
  • Senedd proved to be a success
  • Possible referendum rift between the cohabiting coalition partners
  • History in the making and laws for the taking
  • Plaid/Labour coalition – keep your enemies close
Buying a stairway to heaven

There’s rarely an appropriate time to make such an announcement as ‘a more than significant pay rise’, and now is certainly not the best time when we’re all meant to be tightening our belts. This is one to split the opinion of all parties within the Assembly. To the outcry of public sector workers everywhere, Welsh Assembly Members were handed an extra 8.3% in their pay packets (backdated to May 2007). Meant to be endorsed by the Assembly Commission and its membership from all political parties, Plaid Cymru broke ranks, and six members immediately refused to accept the pay rise, which was seen by some as an opportunistic way to buy your way into the hearts of the Welsh public. Their leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, took this further by stating that he will give most of his rise (that above inflation) to charity in the first year. However, Lord Elis-Thomas, the Assembly’s Presiding Officer and chief diplomat in the making, graciously accepted the pay rise as being a “changing differential in pay”. Whether or nor it is seen as a “slap in the face” to public sector workers, the pay rise is here to stay, and this can be seen as easy political manoeuvring for capital of a different kind. When does a person stop giving the excess to charity? Miss Wagstaff will have to remind certain AMs to set up a standing order in future.

Senedd proved to be a success!

No, not this belated column, or my fellow contributor to Miss Wagstaff Presents, ‘Senedd Whip’, but the leaky Senedd building (well, it is Wales) and its construction, that has been proved to be a Welsh success story according to the Auditor General for Wales.

A report recently published concludes that the landmark debating chamber in Cardiff Bay was delivered “on time and on budget”, which is more than can be said in recent reports of financial flaws and inconsistencies in the way last year's Welsh assembly election was run, which have been identified by the Electoral Commission. Its report shows not all of the £4.5m spent on the election was properly accounted for.

We can’t win them all, so better luck next time.

Cohabiting Coalition Cleavage: Referendum Rift

This was always going to be a major issue between coalition partners in government and a bone for other parties in Wales to chew on. Labour has been accused of working to ensure there is not enough time to secure a referendum on a Welsh Parliament before the next Assembly election in 2011. This month we have been told that the All-Wales Convention, which will judge public support for law-making powers, will not report until late 2009. The powers that this Referendum will give the Assembly are already available through Legislative Competence Orders (a request from the Welsh Assembly Government to legislate in a particular area), and will continue to be available even if a referendum is held and lost. The referendum is far more important to Plaid in being seen as the ‘next stage’ towards independence. Once they clear this hurdle, they can then harp on about a totally independent Wales with the right to its own destiny. However, hurdles are a plenty on this further road to devolution. Being part of the ‘One Wales Agreement’ that binds the coalition government in Cardiff, this could possibly be the section that kills the coalition in the end. A yes vote in a referendum will merely make the whole law-making process simpler.

Those in the red-green coalition are all positive about the prospect of pulling this one off; the rift appears to be in Westminster. However, it has to be said, that this way is the only one, where Labour and Plaid can manage to argue party politics these days and still remain willing partners in Cardiff – hunky-dory in Cardiff Bay and a bit of a kerfuffle in Westminster. Even former Secretary and yes-vote supreme, Peter Hain MP, is getting in on the act: “I set up the Yes For Wales campaign in 1997, but I do not believe the time is right for a further referendum in this Assembly term”. This is much to the annoyance of unofficial Plaid leader and part-time philosopher, Adam Price MP, “Some people in the Labour Party thought Christmas had come early when we agreed to join them in a red/green coalition. But we were very clear-minded and hard-edged in our thinking. If anyone thinks the Labour Party can walk away from an agreement it has signed up to, they are not living in the real political world.”

Someone is going to be disappointed, but not today.

History in the making. Laws for the taking

The word historical is a common one that is widely used in the stages of Welsh devolution. For the first time since May 2007, MPs have debated a Legislative Competence Order, which quietly slipped into the history books. The National Assembly for Wales Legislative Competence (Education and Training) Order 2008 was cleared by Committee and the House of Commons, and is on its way for final approval by Privy Council.

It’s been a long time coming, but the Assembly should be able to legislate in this area before Summer Recess - but don’t hold your breath. Some Welsh politicians were optimistic about the number of Assembly Measures that will be able to be passed in an Assembly term; those original figures now look as believable as a children’s fairy story. The process is time consuming and inefficient when it comes to getting the job done. Many fear that this will play into the hands of the Nationalists who will cry out, “the current devolution settlement isn’t working”. Unionists, on the other hand, need to get the process changed and not wait for the inevitable backlash.

Plaid/Labour coalition. Keep your enemies close

Assembly Government insiders have been suggesting that members of First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s team are trying to undermine Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones.

One allegation is that the Plaid Cymru leader’s diary is being overloaded with engagements, so he is left with no time to think - “There are days when he is working from 8am until 10pm. It seems there could be a subtle game going on, with an attempt to make sure Ieuan gets bogged down in a top-heavy schedule of engagements while having little time to reflect.”

Welsh politicos with long-term memories should remember the fuss that was made when the Deputy First Minister was appointed as he then went on to appoint one of his own political support staff to the civil servant position of Diary Secretary. Sounds like she was also kept too busy to notice what was going on, as surely most political types would’ve seen this coming a long time ago.

And finally…

I’ll have to end it there for a first column article, and as I haven’t even mentioned the upcoming local government election that is on our doorstep, it would be wise of me to make a customer service announcement at this point.

If this doesn’t demonstrate to future would-be councillors the harsh reality of politics, then nothing will… One of Welsh Labour’s rising stars has failed to secure selection as a candidate for his council seat – despite being on a shortlist of one.

Heads down and let’s brace ourselves in anticipation for the build up to May.


Anonymous 30 March 2008 at 18:15  

Strewth! Could you make it shorter next time. Only kidding. :)

Plaid hopeful 30 March 2008 at 18:28  

Adam Price a part-time philosopher! In his dreams. He the clever elected one in the party and fortunately for him, has little competition.

Anonymous 30 March 2008 at 18:48  

This talk of a pay rise has dies down in the press. I hope someone is keeping an eye on the promises of Plaid and making sure they donate to charity.

Miss Wagstaff 1 April 2008 at 17:26  

It was my first column, so I got a little excited and carried away ;)

Anonymous 1 April 2008 at 20:52  

His political Diary Secretary's temporary position must now be coming to an end. Any news of a civil servant appointment?

Julia Powell 2 April 2008 at 10:37  

The Government and Welsh Assembly do not live in the real world. They put up Council Taxes, fuel,food etc., but their disposable income is increased so they can afford it. Most people are not on the wages that they are or are having the pay rises that they have so how can the normal person afford all of these increases. They talk about using public transport, that's all very well if you live in a town or city that has the infastructure to provide the like. But living in rural Wales, that facility is not provided, and we therefore are required to use vehicles, why are we being penalised for transporting our children, earning a living and living our lives. Most of us would like to be earning the amount of money that our MP's, AM's are earning, but what are they actually achieving for us rate payers - nothing at all. I think it is time that they actually did something for the people instead of lining their own pockets!

Anonymous 3 April 2008 at 10:13  

That leaves public sector pay rises looking even more like chicken-feed than they did before.

Dave from Penarth 3 April 2008 at 10:30  

Most came out in favour of pocketing the 8.3%, and all of them have kept quiet over the extra 1.9% they were getting anyway.

Plain Jane 3 April 2008 at 10:46  

Like most people I agree that the timing of the pay rise issue was unfortunate and may have played into the hands of those who oppose Wales and the Assembly.

Miss Wagstaff 3 April 2008 at 11:08  

And finally...update...

Welsh Labour have stepped in to ensure that Vaughan Gething is selected as a candidate after the selection meeting was split down the middle.

(Mr Gething has been touted as a future Labour MP and last year became the youngest and first black vice-president of the Wales TUC).

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