Thursday, 3 April 2008

Senedd Circular: Does there happen to be an election in May?

This article appears in The Wardman Wire:

This week, Miss Wagstaff has learnt that while the Assembly is away, the politicians will play. It may still be Assembly Recess (until 8 April 2008), but the build-up to local elections in May have got Labour and Plaid Cymru in a constant state of flux.

Going off tangent for a minute, the website of the National Assembly for Wales states that ‘recess’ is between 17th March to 7th April 2008, inferring that Members are back at work from Tuesday, 8th April 2008. A different set of recess dates was announced earlier in this third term. Shock, horror! Surely this gives AMs an extra day off when they should be back on Monday, 7th April to conduct constituency work [Mondays and Fridays have been allocated for AMs to conduct work in their constituencies]. Just a small matter, but important all the same. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why they don’t like this particular Monday.

Back to this week’s column, which is primarily concerned with political parties kicking off with the run up to the local government elections in May. Surprise, surprise, we’ll see the gloves coming off – some being eagerly ripped off - as apparently local government politics is different from National politics. Let me explain… Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru may be partners in the Assembly, however, Plaid have a way around insulting Labour without it interfering with the coalition. ‘Labour in London’ or ‘Unionist Labour’ is seen as a good description for the ‘old enemy’, and the blame is placed on their weary shoulders when things go wrong, without damaging the friendly image of the handholding red/green coalition in the Bay.

Miss Wagstaff has a solution to Plaid’s problems of potentially upsetting their partner at government and unwelcome mistress at the upcoming local election. Perhaps Welsh Labour in local government will also see themselves tagged by Plaid in a particular way. Not beating around the bush - and it’s not going to cost them much – I offer ‘Local Labour’ or ‘Locality Labour’. I’ll get on to the Patient Office before anyone has any similar ideas. £1 for every mention could make me a very rich woman indeed.

Senedd Snippets:

  • Labour suffering from underexposure.
  • Labour’s campaign calls for last orders.
  • Plaid Conference at New port of call.
  • Hardly Queensberry Rules.

Labour suffering from under exposure

The contest to be the leader of the biggest gang in the building [Welsh Labour] is not exactly boiling over with excitement in the Welsh media. The Western Mail reports that the likely leading contenders for Rhodri Morgan’s Triple Crown [Leader of Welsh Labour, First Minister, and only Privy Counsellor in the Cabinet] are being left trailing by Plaid Cymru in the TV exposure stakes.

The Plaid Cymru party machine has recently released statistical details of TV appearances made by the seven Labour and three Plaid Cabinet members since last May’s election. Unsurprisingly, the First Minister has appeared most frequently – 211 times in total, however, the next three leading positions were taken by Plaid Ministers – Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones (188), Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones (73) and Heritage Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas (59). This reflects the Deputy First Minister’s more prominent position in Welsh politics and the new-found attention brought upon his two acolytes having been in the public eye due to the respective fallout from their roles, namely blue-tongue, foot-and-mouth, and the financial difficulties of the Wales Millennium Centre, and Welsh Language newspaper.

Labour’s Cabinet Ministers come in behind: Leadership hopefuls Counsel General and Leader of the House Carwyn Jones (24), and Finance Minister Andrew Davies (16), which doesn’t look good. Not that this bears any reflection on the future leadership contest and there’s one consolation in that the general public won’t be voting. Rhodri’s successor as Welsh Labour leader will be chosen by a party ballot. Whoever wins the contest will automatically lead the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition, and gain their place as First Minister. Don’t hold your breath though, or even attempt to count the number of future appearances yourself, as our beloved leader isn’t standing down until next year. No doubt their visibility will increase in the run-up to that date.

Labour’s campaign calls for last orders

You may have got the impression by now that there’s an election on the horizon, and to no surprise, you’d be right, with 1260 seats up for the taking in Wales' 22 unitary authorities on 1st May. Labour has launched the beginning of its campaign for the local government elections with a pledge to fight antisocial behaviour throughout Wales, and believes that this early promise to the electorate that future Labour-run councils will be prepared to shut down shops and pubs that persistently sold alcohol to under-18s, will aid those major towns and cities to tackle low-level crime. Labour believes that can oust the Liberal Democrats from Bridgend, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham councils. Hold on one second. Hasn’t Labour been in power in the Assembly since 1999 in one shape or form? Hasn’t Labour been in a major position to influence councils in Wales? And hasn’t antisocial behaviour been a problem since 1999?

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats propose to “end the Labour era”, who’s own launch was in Newport to the rallying cry (which just happens to sound like a supermarket slogan) of Lib-Dem led authorities being "safer, greener" and "better value". Ah well. It’s an election campaign - fair enough. Needs must and all that, and Labour need to desperately hang on to those seats they’ve already got, and the Lib-Dems need to convince the public of their record. Labour will be fighting hard in Newport after the number of Lib-Dem votes at the last Assembly election. Losing Newport would be embarrassing for the party, which leads me nicely into my next story…

Plaid Conference at New port of call

In the run up to Plaid Cymru’s Summer Conference the party launched the first of its policies for the May council elections. Collectively they are known as Innov8 (you see what they’ve done there with the letters and number), and the party intends to focus on new policies in the fields of public health and the environment. As the party puts it, “We are determined not to fall into the trap that other governing parties have suffered, by becoming more concerned about preserving power rather than delivering change.”

In one sentence this means ‘introducing bike sharing schemes in urban areas’ and ‘publicly owned land to be converted to community gardens and allotments’. The remaining Innov8 ideas will be launched over the coming weeks. Let’s hope they get better. Enough said.

Something seems to have stirred inside the Plaid party machine this year by their decision to hold their conference in Newport. The originality of this lies with Plaid wanting (and needing) to broaden their appeal. As Plaid Leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones puts it, “Plaid has gone to Newport to show that it is a party for the whole of Wales”. Meaning that if the North West and West Wales is the heartland and home of Plaid, then Newport must be the opposite. Charming thought if you’re from that area.

Ieuan, a man once described by a colleague and friend [Adam Price MP] as a ‘good country solicitor’ placed himself as preacher, preaching to the converted, but it remains to be seen as to whether they now believe.

He had a lot to defend: the party moving into coalition; Plaid’s performance while in government for the first time; the delivery of Welsh Assembly Government [One Wales] policies - “Wherever you look, in health, education, housing, the environment, childcare, the economy, transport, agriculture, culture, the Welsh language – the fact that Plaid is part of the Government in the Assembly makes a difference and helps improve the quality of life of the people in Wales”. There may have been moves in the right direction in terms of rural affairs, but it must have been hard for the party to stomach his defence of other areas such as transport, heritage, and the referendum to name but a few. Apparently, both he and Rhodri Morgan still intend to honour the agreement and have a referendum before 2011, but now with the added explanation of, “That’s provided, of course, that we’re satisfied that we can win it”.

Ieuan will have to hope that loyal voters understand his new catchphrase, “as a party of government, Plaid now had to make some tough decisions”. Or as a mother might put it – having to say NO to your children for the first time in your relationship.

Good luck to him rallying current supporters and saying the right things to the swinging voters watching the highlights on the Welsh news (Plaid currently has 173 councillors). He’s going to need it. If all else fails the party could predictably copy Labour and warn of a Tory government in Westminster. Looks like they have.

Hardly Queensberry Rules

Whoever said, “All is fair in love and war”, did they forget to include politics?

Plaid Cymru and Labour have this week found themselves embroiled in a row over which party can lay claim to one of Welsh history’s most potent political movements – The Chartist Rising in Newport.

Meanwhile, in the Rhondda, a Plaid Cymru council candidate has been accused by her local Labour MP, Chris Bryant of hating the community she comes from. Bryant’s allegation is based on his reading of an article written by Treorchy Plaid candidate Sera Evans, when she was an Oxford University student six-and-a-half years ago.

Mr Bryant said, “I am amazed that someone who clearly hates the Rhondda so much wants to stand for the council in the Rhondda. Ms Evans defends herself well in the Western Mail, but also leaves the door open for Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood to retaliate further, “I’m not surprised that Chris Bryant is unable to identify with Sera’s account of her experiences in the Rhondda. Maybe he should share his recollections of his private education and his journey to Oxford where he became an active member of the university’s Conservative Association.” OUCH! Play fair ladies and gentlemen.

And finally…

The NHS has always been one to stir-up passion in Wales. Last week the Assembly Government rejected the idea of following England to offer staff working in Welsh hospitals extra legal protection from violence and abuse. The decision not to get Wales covered seems like a bit of a public and staff relations cock-up, as it cannot be right that NHS workers in Wales have any less protection than those in England, just because there may be a ‘Welsh’ option on the agenda. This appears to represent devolution at its worst.

In a week that has brought in the start of free parking at Welsh hospitals, it does seem to have taken the public’s mind off the once controversial story [on 1st April] of three new NHS Trusts becoming operational after the merger of seven Trusts, and the newly proposed health map of Wales.

Makes you want to take a deep breath in the world of NHS management and wait for the world to stop spinning.


Anonymous 3 April 2008 at 14:28  

Referring to transport, Glyn Davies reports on his blog that there are 200,000 potholes in Wales.

Anonymous 3 April 2008 at 14:54  

Voters will vote for more powers for the Assembly if they are convinced that it will lead to better services. The end.

Jenny 3 April 2008 at 15:00  

A referendum before 2011 is dead in the water. IWJ is paving the way before he has to break the bad news.

labour man 3 April 2008 at 15:03  

You have to question whether this sham distance between Plaid and Labour will work at all at the local elections. The voting public will need short term memories to fall for that one.

dT 3 April 2008 at 15:10  

I hope that Edwina Hart will have proposals to implement very soon otherwise the Conservatives will be on her back again.

James 3 April 2008 at 18:12  

Constituency work on a Monday and Friday. Don't you mean work for their staff, not themselves on a Monday and Friday?

Anonymous 4 April 2008 at 16:57  

Innov8 latest

Car-u Cymru
Plaid-run Councils will support local car-sharing schemes in which vehicles are provided for communal use on a pre-booked basis benefiting both the environment and the motorist with cheaper, accessible carefree driving.

A laugh a minute

Glyn 4 April 2008 at 18:57  

The Conservatives are facing more of an electoral test than any other party. If that can't capitalise on the coalition in Cardiff Bay now, they never will in the near future.

Anonymous 4 April 2008 at 19:01  

I see Rhodri on the news again sending his good luck message to Cardiff City. The man's an arse. We don't want, need, or even desire his best wishes.

Smiling and crying at the same time 4 April 2008 at 19:10  

Plaid Cymru run Local Authorities will lead by example in tackling the climate change challenge. We will install intensive green roofs onto all newly built, flat roof, council owned properties and retro-fit selected buildings with extensive green roofs. We will also install water harvesting devices to reduce the amount of water and money wasted.

Jimbo 4 April 2008 at 20:49  

Have you seen Daniel davies' post on the NHS

A possible insight today into why the Assembly Government has prohibited PFI in the NHS while it continues in the rest of the public sector. Put simply, ministers have less control from the centre over PFIs. About 120 of Wales's 130 hospital sites scrapped car park charges today. Some have private contracts to honour and cannot act immediately. By May 2011, only four will still charge.
But one hospital, Neath Port Talbot, will continue to charge until 2032. Guess how the gleaming NPT was financed.

David Taylor's ghost 4 April 2008 at 20:54  

Leighton Andrews AM has just announced that he's using Twitter. Is there a point to this twit? Have you seen his blog?

Anonymous 7 April 2008 at 10:54  

Looking at the lists of possible candidates in many local authorities suggest that once again the election will resemble the election of the residents committee in any Home for the Aged in Wales. It seems that having afree bus pass and qualifying for winter fuel allowance is a key qualification for standing for the local council. In Powys it seems that 16 have already qulaified unopposed for the councillor's allowance which allows them such a comfortable retirement coared to other oaps in the county.

funky 14 April 2008 at 16:04  

I see that Gibbons’ is threatening to cut number of councils in Wales

art 17 April 2008 at 22:29  

What Plaid have tried to do is to come up with ideas that are possible within a 4 year period of Local Governing.

BBC UK Politics

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