Plotters snubbed as Rhodri sticks to familiar faces
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Rhodri Morgan's new cabinet:
First Minister: Rhodri Morgan
Minister for Health and Social Services: Edwina Hart
Minister for Education, Culture and the Welsh Language: Carwyn Jones
Minister for the Economy and Transport: Dr Brian Gibbons
Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development: Jane Davidson
Minister for Social Justice and Public Service Delivery: Andrew Davies
Minister for Budget and Business: Jane Hutt
In addition to the seven Cabinet posts above, the First Minister has appointed Carl Sargeant as Chief Whip and Deputy Business Minister. He will attend all Cabinet meetings. The First Minister will also announce the appointment of new Deputy Ministers shortly.
To be updated...
So, here it is at last. The cabinet which will govern Wales for at least the next fortnight.
Despite earning a reputation as an absolutely gafftastic First Minister, Rhodri Morgan ain't stupid. He's identitified three issues which might cause a flare up between the government and the opposition (thus precipitating a vote of no confidence and a rainbow coalition coup) and put Plaid's best friends in charge of each.
Edwina Hart takes control of health to try and weather the storm over hospital reconfiguration, Jane Hutt will have to negotiate the budget (if indeed we get that far) and Carwyn Jones gets a new super ministry to try and ease fears over education and the Welsh language.
All the signs are, therefore, that Rhodri will make it as difficult as he absolutely can for Ieuan Wyn Jones to overthrow his government. That's why he's left the more hostile Leighton Andrews and Huw Lewis out in the cold (though they may still get Deputy Ministerial posts).
But it's a big risk. If the nationalist wing of the Labour party can't deliver the sort of consensus politics which will keep them in power, the unionist camp would be perfectly placed to take the reins and give the rainbow a damn good kicking from the opposition benches.
This is Rhodri's last throw of the dice. But I'm not convinced Ieuan Wyn Jones is willing to miss his turn. Putting Plaid-friendly faces in the key posts is one thing - keeping them there is going to be almost impossible.
Reaction from Plaid (Rhodri Glyn Thomas): "Rhodri Morgan’s latest cabinet has no change of personnel and therefore there has to be a change of policy and a new sense of urgency if this government is going to make a real difference to lives across Wales.
"We have here the same old tired faces; it is unlikely this cabinet will contain renewed ambition for Wales to go with the new powers of the Assembly."
Reaction from the Conservatives (Nick Bourne): "This has all the hallmarks of the same old Labour pantomime with the same old cast, and the same old lines we've heard for the last eight years.
"This is the cabinet of Labour's Glamorgan mafia. There is no-one west of Swansea, east of Cardiff or north of Pontypridd. So much for governing for the whole of Wales."
Reaction from the Lib Dems: "Umm, who, what, where? Why isn't Mike German in it?"
Ydy Cymru'n gwlad yntai'n genedl? Dyna dw i'n gofyn yn fy ngholofn yn Golwg yr wythnos hon.
Ymhlith yr holl drafodaethau clymbleidio rhwng y pleidiau wedi'r etholiad, mae'n debyg fod y mater hwn wedi dod i'r brig. Yn ol pob son, roedd yna gwrthwynebiad egwyddorol yn y Blaid Lafur ac ymysg y Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol i'r gair 'cenedl' yn nogfen Plaid Cymru. Yn wir, newidiodd y Blaid Lafur yr is-deitl 'Adeiladu Cenedl' yn nogfen Plaid Cymru i 'Gymru Cryfach' yn ei ddogfen ei hun.
Ond beth ar wyneb y ddaear sy’n bod â’r gair 'cenedl'? Wedi’r cyfan, mae’n syniad sydd wedi codi mewn nifer o areithiau amlycaf Gordon Brown.
Dwn i ddim. I fi mae Cymru yn gwlad ac yn genedl. Mae Prydain yn wladwriaeth ac mae Ewrop (ar hyn o bryd) yn gawlach llwyr.
A topic pinched from my column in Golwg this week...
One of the sticking points in the post-election coalition negotiations was over the alleged nationalist rhetoric in Plaid Cymru's proposals.
Members in both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats were apparently unhappy with the subtitle 'Building a nation' in Plaid's negotiation document. Indeed, so unacceptable was this offending phrase that Labour had changed it to 'A Stronger Wales' by the time it came back to the Plaid office.
After all, one of Gordown Brown's favourite soundbites is to talk about the 'Nations and regions of Great Britain', of which Wales is surely one of the former. Is the Unionist/Nationalist split in Cardiff Bay really so infantile as to be quibbling about silly little things like this?
Giggs buggers off
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Just as David Beckham is relaunching his England career, his former teammate Ryan Giggs has decided that Saturday's game against the Czech Republic will be his last for Wales.
The idea of 'retiring' from international football has always struck me as odd. I don't think any self-respecting countryman should give up on the chance to represent his nation.
In truth, Giggs has always been a bit iffy about turning out for Wales. And if he's not keen on carrying on, he should take his hairy little frame back to Manchester for good. He's the captain, for God's sake. What sort of message does that give out? If at first you don't succeed, give up and have a personalitiless sulk with Paul Scholes?
The bailing out culture of modern football has got to stop. These guys are paid astronomical amounts of money and whether they like it or not they are role models to children all over the globe. With John Toshack snubbing experienced pros and experienced pros snubbing John Toshack, there's a real lack of quality in the current Wales camp. Giggs is hanging us out to dry.
Some people just don't get free speech.
I've written many times about the people who abuse it. But back in October (readership: zero) I wrote about the people who try to restrict it. And that's a far worse crime.
Amnesty, though, is on the case.
The worst we have to deal with when we step out of line is Leighton Andrews getting a bit cross. But in China and Egypt people are sent to jail just for having their say. And Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google help to put them there.
There will be a live internet solidarity event on Wednesday 6 June at 18:30. In the meantime, check out their website: irrepressible.info
When Rhodri Morgan announces his cabinet tomorrow, Labour will be left with as many or fewer rank and file assembly members than any of the other political parties except for Trish Law and the six independents formerly known as the Lib Dems.
Quite simply, Labour's twelve backbenchers (I'm not counting the DPO) are going to be stretched. From now on, the assembly isn't a glorified council chamber, it's a would-be government. That means more responsibility for ministers and non-ministers alike.
Tomorrow, Rhodri will form a government of all the talents. And after he's done that, he'll make up the numbers to fill the remaining posts.
I'm not going to go through them one by one, because frankly the Welsh cabinet is much of a muchness with a few notable exceptions. The key questions are:
(1) What will he do with health?
Easy. He sends Brian Gibbons back to Sesame Street and puts a big name in to try and sort it out. This chalice won't just be filled with poison, it will be brimming with all the shit Plaid and the Tories can squeeze into it in an attempt to engineer some 'no confidence' in advance of a rainbow coalition coup. With hospital reconfiguration top of the agenda, this requires careful handling, so expect it to go to
(2) How to deal with the plotters from the valleys?
Hug them close and strangle them with one of Helen Mary Jones' scarves. Huw Lewis for Social Justice Minister and Leighton Andrews for Deputy Somethingorother.
(3) Who will be the token North Walian?
Decided by a Big Brother style contest. Lock them all in a committee room with basic supplies and rolling footage of the Urdd Eisteddfod. See who starts dancing first and give him or her the Culture portfolio. In the meantime, maybe we could help him out with another quick opinion poll:
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
On Saturday afternoon Mike German pulled the Lib Dems back from the brink as they voted overwhelmingly in favour of sharing power with Plaid and the Conservatives. But will he be the Golden Shepherd of this mongrel coalition project? Or will his party kick him out before he gets his hands on that ministerial Mondeo?
The Lib Dem
What's certain is that there are now only eleven months left before there must be a leadership election. If Plaid green light the rainbow coalition, there may be a case for holding the contest before they enter government. After all, they'd be voting for Deputy First Minister as well as party leader.
With that in mind, here's a bit of half-term hwyl. The very first Blamerbell Briefs opinion poll.
It's a resounding victory for Wil Cwac Cwac's mute little brother, Won't. Unusually for a Lib Dem, he won't duck the issue. Oh dear.
First of the serious contenders, though, was Kirsty Williams. Despite the somewhat unscientific nature of this poll it seems she still has her supporters after last week's debacle. Mike German would push her all the way, however, while Jenny Randerson would be in with a shout. Mick Bates is out of it and Peter Black voted for himself 9 times.
Cerdd Dant Ache
Monday, May 28, 2007
It's that time of year again. S4C shelves the farming programmes for a week and dedicates its entire airtime to that festival of over-exaggerated facial expressions otherwise known as the Urdd Eisteddfod.
Tune in on Monday for seven year-olds straining their cheekbones to convey some hackneyed emotion or other through speech or song.
Tune in on Saturday and all that's changed is the trouser measurements.
But worst of all must be the bloody Cerdd Dant. We Welsh are enormously proud of this unique art form. Unique, that is, because the rest of the world wouldn't go near the idea (except for this website in Japan, which as far as I can make out seems unusually keen on it).
Cerdd Dant is a performance for harp and voice (or voices - equally bad). And this is how it works: The harp plays a 'cainc' - a traditional melody. The voice sings a counter-melody. Literally. This is about as contrary to the notion of melody as you will ever hear.
It is completely musically backwards and about as tuneful as a Lembit Opik and Gabrielle Irminia mouth organ session.
Worse still, the Urdd is somehow of the opinion that eight year-olds are capable of singing it. Well, they aren't.
I've watched that 'gwyl' on TV and I can tell you that those cute little kids can barely hold a normal melody, let alone an upside down and back to front melody with harp non-accompaniment.
Back in the studio they heap on the praise, deliberately ignoring shots of audience members tearing their hair out and stuffing it desperately into their ears. Bloody hell, they've just starting clog dancing. Time to sign out...
Whoppee! It's the Whistun break and our hard-working politicians are enjoying a week in the sun. All except those who've decided to holiday in Wales, that is.
So what's the state of the nation? Well, it's a complete and utter shambles. Good job, bring on the Pina Coladas.
On Friday, Rhodri Morgan became first minister of a minority Labour administration. On Saturday, the Lib Dems voted to pursue a rainbow coalition with Plaid and the Tories which would necessitate his removal.
The ball is now very much in Plaid's court. But rather than smash it down the line for a winner, Ieuan Wyn Jones is hanging on to it for a game of keepie uppies.
The noises coming from the Plaid camp are that they now have time to discuss the rainbow option in earnest. I was on a panel with Rhodri Glyn Thomas the other day and he suggested they wouldn't necessarily need to make a move before the summer. Speaking on yesterday's Maniffesto programme, Ieuan Wyn Jones implied that the party's national council wouldn't even be discussing the proposals until July.
In the meantime, Rhodri Morgan will announce a cabinet and get on with the job. But he is a first minister on probation in charge of a government in paralysis. Plaid should beware, however. The longer he's in charge, the more difficult it will be to remove him.
Mathematically and constitutionally, Plaid can take as long as they like. But realistically, they will need a bloody good reason. We're not used to putsch politics here in Wales. Coups are for chickens, not for Cardiff Bay.
It may be possible for the opposition parties to engineer disquiet over hospital reconfiguration or the budget which would prompt a vote of no confidence. But they would be taking power in very different circumstances then compared to now.
At the moment, the election still isn't too far gone. A cabinet hasn't been named and the machinery of administration is still in cold storage. Moreover, the rainbow is still widely seen as an alternative to Labour rather than a calculated plot to oust the government. People may not look upon the idea so favourably in a few months time.
But while the Lib Dems and the Tories have now played their hand, let's not forget that Plaid have emerged strengthened. For the next couple of weeks, at least, they have the threat of the rainbow to keep Labour on its toes. A red-green deal is not out of the question.
And yet there's still that glint in Ieuan Wyn Jones' eyes which suggests he's keen to govern. If that's so, there's nothing to stop him moving fast. Otherwise, there's every danger the assembly will be a national joke by the time he finally makes his move. This comedy of errors has gone on quite long enough.
Who are you?
Saturday, May 26, 2007
It's Saturday. Everyone's resigned to the fact that we've got a new first minister. And yet the Liberal Democrats are still plugging away.
After ruining both the prospect of a Lib-Lab coalition and a Rainbow Coalition they are now focusing on tearing themsevlves apart. Today, they meet for a special conference. And yet the only remaining chance of a rainbow is in one of Peter Black's increasingly repulsive ties. How many Lib Dem activists, I wonder, would like to tighten that particular knot?
But amidst the recriminations, don't you think we have a right to know who voted against the triple alliance on Wednesday night? I'm told there were 18 people eligible to vote in the national executive ballot which sent the rainbow coalition crashing back to earth. But Lib Dem members never got a chance to have their say. Instead, they were shafted by a bunch of councillors and party stooges.
Here's a list of the Lib Dem national executive:
Treasurer, Welsh Liberal Democrats National Executive Committee
National Executive Committee
National Executive Committee Policy Committe
National Executive Committee
Secretary, Welsh Liberal Democrats National Executive Committee
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly National Executive Committee
Vice Chair, National Executive Committee
Campaigns & Candidates Committee MIDR Cymru National Executive
President, Welsh Liberal Democrats Chair, National Executive Committee
National Executive Committee
Chair, Campaigns & Candidates Committee National Executive Committee
National Executive Committee
Chair, Conference Committee
National Executive Committee
Aled Morris Jones
National Executive Committee
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Federal Vice President
National Executive Committee
National Executive Committee
National Executive Committee
Chair, Policy Committee
Campaigns & Candidates Committee
National Executive Committee
One of these people cast the vote which changed the course of Welsh politics for years to come. Shouldn't we be told who it was and why?
By the way, as I now feel compelled to share every aspect of my life with you, I should tell you I met Labour's David Taylor for the first time last night. He's adamant he wasn't behind that short-lived Arsembly effort. And in the flesh, he's quite an amiable chap. He even lets Leighton Andrews write his own blog sometimes...
UPDATE: The Lib Dem special conference has voted 125-77 in favour of reviving the coalition project they spectacularly shelved on Wednesday night. But Wales has now got a first minister and there doesn't seem to be much appetite from Plaid Cymru to resurrect the rainbow in the short term.
Today was billed as Super Saturday. But the triple alliance now has about as much momentum as Rhodri's static caravan in Mwnt.
It's time, then, to put the feet up, watch the footy and take a break. I don't think there'll be a revolution this weekend after all.
The dawn of an old era
Friday, May 25, 2007
After weeks of haggling, bitching, briefing, capitulating and then recapitulating it's come down to this: another minority Labour government.
Rhodri Morgan will today resume the post of first minister. And he'll do it with only 25 of the 60 available votes.
Despite all the rhetoric of the election campaign, Wales has neither a 'stable government' nor an 'agreed policy programme'. We did our bit - the electorate went to the polls with a slightly increased turnout and gave their verdict. But the politicians have, quite simply, failed to deliver.
So, what next?
Well, fresh from failing to agree even to disagree gracefully, they will now stall and stutter for weeks and months to come. There's a lack of trust and general sense of deflation in Cardiff Bay, which is just what you need at the start of another four year term.
But there's also a great deal of instability and division. Because the men who spectacularly failed to broker a deal last time may not be trusted to do so again. Most of the parties have leadership issues waiting to explode.
So it's back to square zero for the foreseeable future.
On the plus side, a Lib Dem Focus leaflet popped through my letterbox this morning. Glad to see they're sticking to what they do best.
The final twist?
Thursday, May 24, 2007
You never quite know what you're going to get with Lib Dem activists.
Yesterday, their national executive turned its back on a coalition document which would have given them PR in local government and the free toothbrushes they so desperately craved. You can now see that document HERE or you can download your own copy HERE.
But it seems some of them haven't give up the fight. They're hoping to call a special conference on Saturday after all. I'm told activists are collecting signatures to force a meeting.
So could there be a final twist in this post-election political farce?
Maybe. But it will most likely be a twist of the knife in their leader's back - a public stage upon which to to complete the extraordinary self-destruction of the Liberal Democrats over the past three weeks.
UPDATE: Plaid confirm plenary will go ahead tomorrow as planned. Rhodri Morgan will become first minister and the inquest will begin.
UPDATE: Believe it or not I actually have things to do today. But I can't resist dipping into the document now and again to have a peep at what might have been.
The first little gem: "xii. We will keep adult neuro-surgery services in Swansea."
Oh dear. Wasn't that Peter Black's personal crusade during the election campaign?
UPDATE: Conference is on. This from the Lib Dems:
Elgan Morgan, Chair of Conference Committee, said:
"The Chief Executive has today received requests from 20 conference representatives to go ahead with a special conference to discuss the document negotiated with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives in the Assembly. Under the party's rules, it is now up to conference committee to arrange such a conference. Given that Saturday is already in diaries, I have decided that special conference will go ahead this Saturday at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells. Starting at 10.30am."
So, as things stand: Rhodri Morgan will become first minister tomorrow. He will lead a minority Labour administration - there is no deal with Plaid Cymru. The Lib Dems will have a special conference on Saturday regardless. But it seems the only thing they've got to discuss is themselves.
It's no secret that the Lib Dems' six AMs don't get on. Now, they've got no friends in any of the other parties either. A week after resoundingly turning their back on Labour, they have dealt a similar blow to the prospect of a Plaid-led rainbow coalition.
This is, quite simply, bizarre. The very same personnel that voted last week to end negotiations with Labour have now chosen opposition over government. This is despite the fact that none of the three groups which made up last night's meeting actually voted against a rainbow coalition.
The negotiating team and the AMs both voted in favour, but the national executive was a dead heat. Without a majority in all three groups, the Lib Dems could not authorise a special conference. In the end, the deal which promised to revolutionise the way politics is conducted in Wales has been scuppered by just one unelected officer on an internal Lib Dem council.
The consequences are enormous. Not only is Mike German's leadership now under severe threat but people will be left wondering, a la Simon Jenkins, what on earth are the Lib Dems for?
They've turned their noses up at the offer of PR in local government, which is the one big thing that set them apart. Now, it seems, they'd rather snipe from the sidelines than implement their own policies. No doubt we'll be hearing very soon what was lined up in the coalition document. It is certain, however, to make their election promise of maximum votes for maximum Lib Dem policies completely redundant.
On hospital reconfiguration, reducing class sizes and making the green switch they've turned down the chance to have it their own way.
Peter Black tells me that "in the end the party did not have the stomach for coalition." The rationale is that they can reinvent in opposition. But it is going to be stupendously difficult.
Because whatever government eventually takes power in Cardiff Bay, the Lib Dems will be coalition partners by proxy. By bailing out, they've left few alternatives and very little time. The government's mistakes will be the Lib Dems' mistakes because they engineered the circumstances which put them there.
They are, quite frankly, knee deep in it. To be an effective opposition, you must be free to criticise the government. But every time the Lib Dems open their mouths, the other parties will be quick to remind them that they had their chance and blew it.
Yesterday afternoon, the rainbow coalition document came back from its civil service going over - as if a sign was needed about how advanced the process had become.
The Plaid-Labour document, by contrast, never made it out of Helen Mary Jones' handbag. By committing to the rainbow route, Ieuan was obviously keen to shed his wobble. But had he adopted the more cautious approach of the 'feisty foursome' the next few hours might not be such a scramble.
It seems pretty clear that a Plaid-Tory deal is a non-starter. I put this to Nick Bourne on Tuesday and he laughed it off.
So, Plaid and Labour are left with barely 48 hours to cobble together a programme of government for Wales. And thanks to Labour, there's a 28-page document sitting there ready to go. Who knows, the politicians might finally find something to agree about.
Will Black spoil the rainbow? UPDATE: Yes!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Two key meetings tonight, both in Llandrindod. The Conservatives' management board are meeting in the
This is much more difficult to call. Even though they voted by 9-3 to suspend talks with Labour last week, a number of Lib Dem legends and Peter Black are thought to be against teaming up with Plaid and the Tories. Activists were out in numbers - thought to be at least 12 - to make their opposition known.
"What do we want?"
"Constitutional reform and the introduction of a single transferable voting system in local government," they shouted.
"When do we want it?"
"After a majority vote in the national executive, a special conference in an unspecified location and even then not really," they cried.
To be updated.
UPDATE: The Lib Dems have voted to halt all talks. That means the end of the rainbow.
Lib Dem leader (for the moment) Mike German said: "We had a very throughtful discussion... it was clear that there was a deep division on this matter and the party decided that it would not be possible to move forward and to recommend this to a special party conference.
"There will be no vote from our party to support a first minister next week."
Whatever happened to more votes, more seats, more power, more influence?
They'd won the PR argument (a huge coup for such a small party). No doubt there were other Lib Dem policies in there too. Perhaps it came down to the toothbrushes...
More details are emerging of the deal Plaid turned down to concentrate solely on forming a rainbow coalition. It is thought Labour were offering a referendum on a Scottish-style parliament, a review of the Barnett formula AND a new Welsh Language Act (in some form).
I also understand that at the time Plaid voted to sever talks with Labour, Rhodri Morgan's team were perusing the very same document on health reconfiguration which had been submitted to the Lib Dems and the Tories. Even though Labour had earlier rejected the idea of a moratorium on the reconfiguration programme, the four AMs who voted against suspending negotiations clearly thought there was still hope of reaching an agreement on this and other key issues.
Nevertheless, the other Plaid AMs decided that talks were not progressing at a sufficient pace. And yet, had this offer been on the table on May 4th, surely they would have snapped it up?
UPDATE: It seems others within Plaid are contesting this version of events. They say that a Welsh Language Act wasn't on the table, only the watered-down promise of a 'Dyfarnydd' which appeared in Labour's manifesto. They also say that Rhodri Morgan was prepared to offer an assembly vote on a referendum, but stopped short of guaranteeing his members would support it.
Problem is, they're both Plaid Cymru.
The decision, yesterday, of the party's assembly group to stop negotiating with Labour and take Wales within touching distance of a rainbow coalition government was far from unanimous. After hours of debate, four women remained unconvinced. They will now make the case for rejecting a deal with the Tories and the Lib Dems in the run up to Saturday's key vote of the National Council, which must authorise any potential alliance.
Helen Mary Jones, Leanne Wood, Bethan Jenkins and Nerys Evans form a feisty female quartet, intent on spilling what they consider to be a rapidly diminishing pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There are two major sticking points.
Firstly, they say: "We fought this election on a platform to deliver a proper Parliament for our nation. A deal with the Conservatives would undermine the chance of delivering that goal."
There's no reference here to Tories actively blocking plans for further devolution. I don't believe they are. Rather, the obstacle to delivering a proper Parliament is the Labour party. They are the ones with the ability to block such a move in Wales and in Westminster. Only a deal with Labour could have made sure that a vote on further powers would make it past the first hurdle.
And yet, we've been led to believe that Labour fell short of offering such a guarantee. Why, then, do the dissenting foursome consider this just cause to vote against a rainbow coalition? Did they wonder if Rhodri was ever pushed far enough? And did they believe there was still time to push him further?
Secondly, they say: "There is a clash of values and principles between Plaid and the Conservatives. That is why we believe an arrangement between us would be unsustainable in the long-run and not deliver the stable government for which we all strive."
It can't be the language issue. It can't be the devolution issue. It can't even be PR in local government. The Tories are already much closer to Plaid than Labour in all these areas. It must, therefore, come down to ideology - tantamount to saying Plaid and the Tories could never work together.
And that's perfectly understandable. After all, it's what almost everyone thought just six months ago. But that wasn't the message of the election campaign. Plaid won 15 seats by saying 'Kick Labour into touch and we'll rustle up something better'.
So which of the much-promoted 7 4 07 is causing such an almighty 'clash of values and principles between Plaid and the Conservatives'?
I'd be surprised if the Tories would veto any of them (except free laptops for journalists - that was ridiculous). Because this isn't an argument about policies - at least the ones put forward in the manifesto. It is, rather, an argument about the social fabric of the people in the constituencies these dissenting AMs represent. The people who vote for Leanne Wood don't teeter pensively above the Conservative box before casting their vote in favour of socialism. If they have to think twice, they'll think about what Labour's done for them recently.
Both the rainbowistas and the rebels want to see Plaid gain a foothold in the valleys to truly challenge Labour as the party of Wales. The former want to do it from government with the help of the Tories. The latter believe Plaid could deliver a winning lottery ticket to every door and still be tarnished by such an association.
So, those four brave women will now attempt in earnest to convince the National Council. They are, in effect, campaigning for a minority Labour government. And if the vote goes their way, Labour would be in the driving seat again. Can Welsh politics really get any weirder?
Happy Birthday Ieuan
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
"It's just what I've always wanted. Thanks Dafydd."
"No problem," said Mr Wigley. "It's a lovely Welsh frame, though that photo of me is quite old now. I'll even sign it if you want, Ieuan."
"That won't be necessary, Dafydd.
"And what's this Helen - a scarf?"
Today, Ieuan Wyn Jones celebrates his birthday. It looks set to be one he'll never forget.
At 3pm, Plaid have their group meeting. They'll be discussing the document that looks set to make him First Minister.
This morning, I had a chat with Nick Bourne - Deputy First Minister elect. He was in good spirits. Mike German will have to settle for Assistant Deputy First Minister or Deputy Deputy First Minister. Whichever makes him sound less desperate:)
But he will, at least, have something to sell to his members at the Lib Dems' special conference on Saturday. While Peter Black remains "fundamentally opposed" to any kind of coalition, Mike German will be on the verge of delivering the closest thing the party has to a raison d'etre - PR in local government. They may have to settle for local referendums on the issue rather than seeing it rolled out with immediate effect, but at least it's something to shout about.
Labour AMs were in scarce supply today. Their world has been turned upside down. Elsewhere, the Lib Dems (all six of them) were still frantically negotiating and the Tories were practising their swagger.
Plaid are now in a huddle, but they are unlikely to spring any birthday surprises on Ieuan Wyn Jones. Rhodri, meanwhile, is having his cake and eating it.
UPDATE: Face to face talks between Plaid Cymru and Labour. It would have to be an absolutely incredible deal. Even then it's doubtful whether Labour's assembly members would sanction it. After all, when Rhodri is gone, they'll have to live with the consequences.
UPDATE: BBC are reporting that the triple alliance document has been sent to civil servants to take a look at. Are the Plaid-Labour talks an elaborate bluff? If Plaid go ahead with a rainbow coalition, they'll want to make it look like the last resort. That seems to be what they're engineering at the moment.
UPDATE: First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones. You'd better start getting used to the sound of that. Plaid have suspended talks with Labour.
After two years waiting, I have finally watched City of the Lost Children. And I didn't understand a minute of it.
An awful lot of Welsh people probably feel the same way. We went to the polls almost three weeks ago and yet most voters will still be none the wiser as to what's going on.
The film is a sort of dystopian fantasy in which people pull out each other's eyeballs and eat them. Not dissimilar, some Plaid members would say, to life under a rainbow coalition.
By the end of play today, it should be almost certain who'll be forming a government as the next first minister of Wales. Barring a miracle, it'll be Ieuan Wyn Jones.
This will make some Plaid supporters very very cross. Back in December I wrote that "most Plaid AMs would rather cut off their right leg, put it in a mincer and eat it between two slices of certain death than go into coalition with the Tories."
It's still true, of course, it's just that some of them now think that's a price worth paying.
But I wrote those words long before an election campaign which saw Plaid define every inch of themselves as the party that wasn't Labour. While there was hardly an ill word said about the Tories, Plaid spent an awful lot of money telling us to 'Kick Labour into touch' or that Wales was 'Going nowhere fast under Labour'.
The main issue was the health service and the mess Labour was said to be making of it. The buzzword was change. Plaid produced a manifesto full of grinning kids out of the Adams catalogue and everyone thought it was terribly professional. We're ready for government, they hollered. Only if you team up with the Tories, the media hollered tirelessly back.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this is exactly what looks set to happen. The people who are muttering about setting up a breakaway party or cancelling their membership must have spent the entire election campaign on another planet (or at least somewhere east of Shrewsbury). It's about as much of a shock as a Catherine Tate punchline.
The first few weeks will be critical. Plaid must present a united front and start looking like a party capable of governing. There will be a lot of scepticism at first, especially in South Wales where people will be wondering why on earth that lovely old lady who used to be on the council isn't in government anymore.
And if Plaid's own members aren't even behind them, what hope for the valleys man who hates the fact that the automated voice in the post office has to repeat everything in Welsh?
Government is for grown ups. And Plaid will need to learn fast if they aren't going to look like the lost children of Cardiff Bay.
Flash in the arse
Monday, May 21, 2007
He's gone. And so soon after his relaunch too.
I wonder what tipped him over the edge?
Perhaps not quite yet. But soon.
A new administration in Cardiff Bay will need a new opposition. Why should Rhodri hang around for two years to size up against a government he'll never face in an election. Why should Labour AMs let him?
All the signs are that they won't. And Carwyn Jones' status as Leader in waiting has never looked more precarious. He's considered to be far too chummy with the nationalists to provide the bite Labour would require in opposition.
So who might it be then - Jane Davidson, Andrew Davies, Edwina Hart? Or does someone else have their eyes on the prize? Let's see...
Who was straight out of the blocks, doing the tricky interviews in the immediate aftermath of the election?
Who was calling for the Labour party to reflect and change?
Who was quoted in the Western Mail alongside the 'leaked' draft document that Labour proposed, rubbishing it before it got to the table?
Who hates the Tories almost as much as he hates Plaid Cymru?
Sense and responsibility
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Something very strange happened to me yesterday.
I was sitting in the pub watching the FA cup. (not strange)
Drinking coke. (not strange)
My mate shouted "C'mon United, get into those STUPID CHEL-SAY TU-WATS". Very loudly. The pub chuckled. (not strange)
And then, a bunch of replica shirt wearing fellows behind me started discussing coalitions. (very strange)
Would a triple alliance have any legitimacy, they wondered. After all, Labour is by far the largest party.
I can't quite describe how excited I felt. This has never happened before. Up until now, the only people I've ever heard talking about Welsh politics have been geeks or opportunists (otherwise known as the media and political elite).
Whether or not we do eventually get a rainbow coalition government, the prospect of one has certainly made people take a bit more interest in who is proposing to do what with the running of the country.
Cue the scare stories. Paranoid Plaid supporters talk about 'losing the valleys', the Tories' 'privatisation agenda' and their fear of what is sure to be a fierce Labour bark in opposition.
But they must judge whether the benefits of a potential alliance would outweigh the negatives. Let's skip ahead a little and imagine what the criticisms of a Plaid-led government may be: (1)Too much emphasis on the Welsh language and a self-interested pursuit of power and (2) too little emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and economic growth.
Plaid Cymru are very good at the former and not so great at the latter. The answer? Let the other parties take care of them all. A number of people in Plaid secretly admire some of the Conservatives' ideas for promoting business. So, Alun Cairns gets the Enterprise portfolio. As for PR and leading the charge for further devolution, let the Lib Dems take the initial flak. Why not give them Culture too, and the task of bringing in a new Welsh Language Act? These are, after all, policies from the Lib Dem manifesto.
Meanwhile, Plaid is left relatively unfettered to pursue its aims of social justice in health and education. It can take the credit for the other policies when credit is due. But in the meantime it is free to put all its high-profile resources into the public services that will, they hope, win them the valleys and possibly the next election too.
Then, of course, it's a question of whether or not they have the ability to make a difference. If there's fear in the Plaid camp, it shouldn't be about the Tories. Plaid are in a very strong position and have the right to negotiate on their own terms.
No, if there are doubts, they aren't about Nick Bourne. They're about Ieuan Wyn Jones and the other 14 Plaid AMs who will have to fight the 2011 election having proved that they really have delivered a change for the better.
I'm off to enjoy Glyn Davies' shrubbery today. Perhaps we'll do a joint blog if anything interesting comes of the lunchtime politics programmes:)
Friday, May 18, 2007
The reason Ieuan Wyn Jones might just be sworn in as first minister by the end of the month is that there is actually a remarkable amount of overlap between the parties looking to form a rainbow coalition. I know because I read the bloody manifestos. And if the Lib Dems ever dare to produce a document as long and tedious as that again I'll ram it up their letter box:)
Beyond the really important issues, like the free laptops, lightbulbs and toothbrushes, there is agreement (or wiggle room) in a number of key areas. Whether it's a new Welsh language act, moves towards a referendum on further devolution, PR in local government or making the green switch, the parties have much in common. And now that talks are underway, they'll finally be able to stop pretending they are all so incredibly different.
It's the Tories, however, who have most to lose in terms of traditional ideological ground. While Plaid and the Lib Dems may be bargaining on the basis of specific policy commitments, the Conservatives might prefer to negotiate in terms of future influence. The price they could extract in exchange for caving in on PR, for example, is more likely to be a prominent role in cabinet than an equivalent policy initiative.
Nick Bourne said yesterday that the Tories are in this to govern. There's no reason not to believe him.
There's no red in rainbow
Thursday, May 17, 2007
The Lib Dems' National Executive has voted to suspend talks with Labour and concentrate solely on discussions with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives on forming a rainbow coalition.
The Conservatives have also confirmed that they are negotiating with Plaid Cymru with a view to an official agreement which would see Tory AMs joining the cabinet under Ieuan Wyn Jones.
This development gives real momentum to the prospect of a non-Labour government in the assembly for the first time in its history. Labour intend to put forward Rhodri Morgan as first minister whatever the outcome of the other parties' negotiations. But a Plaid deal with the Lib Dems and the Tories would see Ieuan Wyn Jones mirror the achievement of his Scottish counterpart and become Wales' first nationalist leader.
[In a separate incident, a shocked shop owner from Montgomeryshire reported that a former Conservative AM rushed into her store earlier this evening and bought her entire supply of party poppers. Margaret Gilmore, 53, told this blog that she initially feared for her safety as the man, named locally as Glyn Davies, methodically popped each one in turn and shouted "NOW DO YOU BELIEVE ME?"]
UPDATE: Lib Dem leader Mike German has just spoken on Dragon's Eye. He said: "We've given a clear direction here of the direction we'd like to travel. We wish to see if we can formulate a strong and robust three party government for Wales. This is a potential solution to that fresh start that people in Wales want."
There's still plenty of talking to do, of course. But as it stands, Plaid Cymru are in the driving seat. They have a straight choice: to back up Labour in a confidence and supply agreement or form a government themselves. They may never get a better chance.
Time is running out for our plucky AMs. If they can't get behind a first minister by next Friday (Saturday at a push) the whole of the country will grind to a halt instantly and there will be bedlam on the streets.
What's that, you say? Wales has been chugging along quite happily without a government? S4C2 hasn't been inundated with sackfulls of requests to play library footage of plenary sessions? Oh.
But, if the suited and the scarved in Cardiff Bay really need a couple of extra weeks to cut a deal, there is a possible way out.
All they need to do is come up with an evil murderous plot.
Much like the offering of a sacrificial virgin in Russian folklore, all assembly members must do is select one of their own to die for the cause of Welsh politics. First they nominate a first minister, then they kill him. That's because the government of Wales Act allows the assembly 28 days to nominate a first minister in the event that he passes away. Simple.
In fact, they need not even kill the chosen one. According to the legislation, merely rendering him "permanently unable to act" is sufficient enough. A bit like the cast of Belonging then.
Anyway, that's the method. All they need now is a victim...
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
After yesterday's Labour group meeting, Rhodri Morgan conceded that he'd knocked on a few doors but nobody would come out and play.
Meanwhile, Ieuan Wyn Jones might just be fastening his velcro straps in readiness to pounce.
Lib Dem leader Mike German is bouncing around eagerly, waiting to share his limited selection of toys. And Tory chief Nick Bourne is carefully guarding his Transformer set, in case IWJ can supply him with the batteries to fire it up.
Plaid Cymru group meeting: today, 10am.
If Ieuan Wyn Jones wants the top job, he can have it.
By the way, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This new blog doesn't seem to know who it wants to copy:)
Also, I'll be on AM/PM (BBC 2) at lunchtime to talk about
UPDATE: Plaid Cymru will now begin proper negotiations with Labour on the one side and the Lib Dems and the Tories on the other. They'll meet again next week to decide on their preferred option. Meanwhile, a source inside the Conservative party tells me that Ieuan Wyn Jones and Nick Bourne have spoken on a "number of occasions" since the election, and that "with every 24 hours that passes, a non-Labour government becomes more likely."
Presiding officer, Dafydd Elis Thomas, has set Friday May 25 as the deadline for an agreement, so that he can call a plenary session to be held on Wednesday the 30th (as Peter Black points out, that falls somewhat inconveniently before the Lib Dems and Plaid are set to hold meetings to discuss that very same problem!).
There's still 10 days, then, for Ieuan Wyn Jones to decide if he wants to be first minister after all. If the Tories are serious about backing him, they'll agree to PR in local government - a key policy commitment for both Plaid and the Lib Dems and one which they hope will finally loosen Labour's hold on grass-root politics in Wales.
UPDATE II: Mae Rhys Llwyd wedi dechrau iDdeiseb yn galw ar wleidyddion Cymru i sefydlu llywodraeth asap er lles pobl Cymru. Dydy o ddim yn dweud pa fath o lywodraeth, serch hynny. Cewch chi gyd cytuno felly:)
Rhys Llwyd has setup an ePetition calling on assembly members to form a government as soon as possible for the benefit of the people of Wales. He doesn't say which kind of government he'd prefer so if you sign it and then don't like what you get, tough!
When a defeat feels like a defeat
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Remember back before the election, when Rhodri Morgan said he'd "leave the stage" if he thought Labour had suffered a defeat? Then, like spoons to a chocolate fudge cake in fat camp, we all leapt in with wild estimations about what that might constitute.
Most people settled on 24 seats. Yeah, that would be a bad enough result all right.
He didn't say anything about number of seats.
Instead, what he talked about was translating votes into a Labour government: "If they want Labour to continue, then Labour voters have got to come out and vote Labour - that's the key message."
So, could it still be a 'defeat' if the other three parties come together to form a rainbow coalition?
Could it still be a 'defeat' if he can't persuade one of the other parties to join a formal coalition?
Could it still be a 'defeat' if he can only secure 'general support' and not the 'confidence and supply' arrangement which would put the government in a more secure position?
Who knows (apart from Rhodri), 26 seats could be a 'defeat' after all...
Keep a keen eye on airport departure lounges over the next few weeks. The assembly has a further 22 days to elect a first minister, which would take them conveniently into their Whitsun holidays.
In the meantime, nobody except Mike German is returning Rhodri's calls. So Wales goes on without a government. And the longer it goes unresolved, the more people are talking about Labour going it alone with Plaid or the Lib Dems backing them up in a confidence and supply type arrangement.
This, we are endlessly told, is the New Zealand model. They even sent over a cabinet minister to give Rhodri some tips on how it's all supposed to work.
But hang on a minute, why are we taking lessons from a country that's only got one vowel sound?
Their election was won narrowly by the Labour party, but only after what has been described as a "dirty campaign punctuated by threats and bullying". Even then, the auditor general found they overspent by $768,000 and ordered them to pay it back.
Despite the predilection for rugby and sheep farming, New Zealand is not Wales. Neither is their much-lauded governmental agreement necessarily transferable.
For instance, in New Zealand the government is supported by minority parties in exchange for ministers outside of the cabinet. But Welsh legislation wouldn't permit such a deal here.
In the Senedd, it's cabinet or bust. And nobody seems to want to share a table with Brian Gibbons. So, Labour would have to fill the 13 seats themselves. That means means half of Labour's assembly members would end up in government. Bearing in mind that Rosemary Butler is deputy presiding officer, the other 12 would have to spread themselves very thinly indeed across the various scrutiny committees which will be central to the new system.
Martin Shipton will be polishing his axe with relish, because if some of the women in Labour's ranks weren't up to it last time around, they'll find a minority government under the new system even tougher.
In New Zealand, meanwhile, there are 20 members of the ruling party in the government, leaving a further 29 to perform backbench functions.
Neither situation is ideal, but at least down in Mordor there's a somewhat more realistic ratio between ministers and ordinary members within the ruling party.
No doubt some people will use this as an opportunity to call for more assembly members. But that misses the point. The system is designed to work when there are a reasonable amount of people in government. In the end, it might come down to a call from Rhodri to decide whether he considers his 26 members numerous and capable enough to pull it off. As they say in New Zealand, 'He who stands, lives, he who sleeps, dies.'
*lit. 'this is the hairy man'. Line five of the haka, apparently.
Veto or not veto?
Monday, May 14, 2007
Things are hotting up in Cardiff Bay. You could poach an egg with the steam rising from Peter Black's cranked up assault on his own party's leadership. And elsewhere, there are mutterings and counter-mutterings about what sort of shape the next Government of Wales might take. My confident prediction is pear.
Anyway, before we get on to all that, there's a loose end to tidy up. This weekend, I posted on the practical inevitability of a referendum on conferring further legislative powers on the assembly. But there's been some debate in the comments (and also on other blogs) about whether the Welsh Secretary, currently Peter Hain, could veto such a move.
This is what the Government of Wales Act has to say about it:
(3) The Secretary of State must, within the period of 120 days beginning
immediately after the day on which [the referedum request, section 103(1)] is received—
(a) lay a draft of a statutory instrument containing an Order in Council
under section 103(1) before each House of Parliament, or
(b) give notice in writing to the First Minister of the Secretary of State’s
refusal to do so and the reasons for that refusal.
The answer is emphatically, yes!
Let's say, hypothetically, a Plaid-Tory-Lib Dem coalition takes power. After miraculously winning a two thirds majority vote in the Senedd, Ieuan Wyn Jones, as first minister, activates section 103(1) of the act requesting a referendum. It is, you'll recall, a manifesto commitment for Plaid as it is for the Lib Dems. And yet the Secretary of State still has the statutory footing to kick it into touch.
Of course, the most obvious reason to do so would be that the proposition failed to jump through one of the myriad legislative hoops set out in the act. But with a brand spanking new Counsel General waiting in the wings to advise the new executive, that would be unlikely.
If Peter Hain were to use the veto, then, it would cause an almighty stir.
This may be fantasy politics, but it does point to a potentially sticky situation in which the collective will of the elected representatives of Wales is quashed by one man in Westminster. If he wouldn't use it, why is it there?
Please sir, can we have some more?
Saturday, May 12, 2007
If you read the Government of Wales Act, really read it, you get the sense that the evolution of the assembly into a law-making body is a practical inevitability.
In fact, you get the sense that the legislative purgatory in which the institution currently finds itself is ludicrously arbitrary. When a child begs and begs for an ice cream, you don't snatch it away before it gets a chance to eat the cone.
Much depends, of course, on how the assembly deals with its present extension in powers. But given the cross-party will for an assembly which creates proper 'acts', and which does so independently of the Secretary of State, I would be surprised if this wasn't put to a referendum before the next full term begins.
If anything, the debate over independence in Scotland has made people realise quite how limited our devolved agreement is. Even Northern Ireland out-powers us (though it must be said that ill-feeling in the province is nothing compared to the troubled relationship between certain Plaid Cymru and Labour members). And so, Welsh pride takes another beating. The question 'Are we somehow lesser people than the Scots?' was wondered aloud frequently during the pre-election debate programmes.
I think it will be difficult to resist activating the referendum clause in the Government of Wales Act (though it first requires a two-thirds majority in the Senedd and in parliament). After all, you wouldn't buy yourself tickets to see Madonna and then leave them on the shelf.
The question, then, is when? And there are plenty of options. We could nip it in the bud and have it at the same time as the local elections next year or even the European elections the year after. Or we could have it at the same time as the next general election to encourage maximum participation or at the same time as the next assembly election, for the sake of convenience.
Whatever happens, I don't think it will be long before the assembly is making decisions without Peter Hain's approval. Which is why Plaid Cymru shouldn't sell their soul to win a referendum in the current coalition/agreement negotiations. By 2011, it will be almost impossible for the government to deny Welsh people a say on the way forward. And I believe they will say yes, providing the politicians don't cock it up in the meantime.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Thought I'd do a bit of post-election spring cleaning. There's been movement in the sidebar, with some candidate blogs moving up to become AM blogs (OK, just the one) and others disappearing altogether.
I think it's unfortunate, incidentally, that certain candidates and ejected AMs have decided to delete their blogs. Blogging is, after all, a conversation. And when you're having a chat with someone and it doesn't go your way, you don't punch their lights out and tell them to forgot everything you've ever told them. I would have preferred to see those blogs preserved as relics of the 2007 election campaign. They might have made interesting reading in twenty years time.
Never mind, we are never short of new blogs entering the fray. I am now linking to Thoughts of Oscar, Glas, New Welsh Right, Matt Wardman, Llanelli Political Journal, Cascittuni, Mynydd Llwydiarth and View from the Glen. As ever, if you're not on the list, do get in touch. Good luck with it.
There are no new Labour blogs, by the way. And I don't mean no 'New Labour' blogs (only elected representatives seem bold enough to write those), I mean that there are no new blogs from Labour supporters at all.
Ten years ago, when Blair became prime minister, Labour was the 18-30 party. The man was chillin' out with Oasis for God's sake. But what struck me during my own time at university was the relative weakness of the Labour youth movement compared to the Tories and the Lib Dems. So, when commentators such as Simon Jenkins write off the Lib Dems, I think they're being a little premature. They have phenomenal support among the current generation of students and recent graduates. And these chaps may well mature into loyal Lib Dem voters if the party can get the right leader.
Labour, on the other hand, has been tarnished by Iraq and tuition fees. Students like to indulge their radical streak. They like to shout about injustices and societal wrongs. They aren't terribly keen on defending what all their pseudo-intellectual chums are calling the indefensible. A change of leadership is probably just what the Labour party needs to make young people feel a little bit less embarrassed about supporting it. Who knows, they may even start blogging.
PLAID BRACED FOR DIFFICULT RYDER
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Plaid Cymru activists are plotting to remove the party's only list representative in North Wales to pave the way for Dafydd Wigley to return to the assembly. Despite polling over 50,000 votes on the regional list and taking four of the 13 seats available in the region, many were dissappointed by the way the campaign was conducted.
A former Plaid Cymru candidate who stood for election in a North Wales constituency on May 3rd has told this blog that Ms Ryder "will be asked by senior party members in North Wales to stand aside in favour of Wigley." The candidate, who did not wish to be named said: "If she chooses not to she may face an internal party investigation into her conduct in the period before the election and afterwards. It will be made clear to her she does not command the support of the party membership or of the senior activists she needs to be able to do her job properly."
The controversy centers upon what Ms Ryder is alleged to have told activists in Rhuthun, part of the marginal Clwyd West constituency. According to today's edition of Golwg, Plaid's candidate, Phil Edwards, said: "Four or five members of the Rhuthun branch have spoken to me since the election. They claim that Janet Ryder led them to believe that it would be more difficult to get Dafydd Wigley elected if they voted for me in Clwyd West."
Plaid's official line during the election campaign was to urge people to 'Vote Plaid Twice', but a number of people in North Wales have voiced concerns that Ms Ryder was only interested in protecting her own seat. Ms Ryder was the principal beneficiary of what is being called the 'Wigley effect', a swing to Plaid in North Wales attributed to the candidacy of Dafydd Wigley. Ironically, this secured Ms Ryder's return to the assembly, but it fell far short of the number of votes required to bring about the election of the former Plaid leader.
In a further twist, it appears that members of the Wigley camp are central to the plot to oust Ms Ryder, though there is no suggestion that he is implicated. If Ms Ryder were to stand down, however, as the second list candidate Mr Wigley would be set for a sensational return to frontline politics.
Ms Ryder declined to comment when Golwg contacted her before going to press.
Read more on this story along with the first of my columns in today's edition of GOLWG.
UPDATE: Tony Blair has announced that he is standing down as Prime Minister. Thank God Desperate Housewives was squeezed in last night before the inevitable colonisation of the airwaves.
Erthygl 10 o'r Confensiwn Ewropeaidd ar Hawliau Dynol (wedi addasu ar gyfer y we):
"Mae gan bawb yr hawl i ryddid mynegiant (Ar wahan i bobl sydd am wneud sylw ar maes-e). Bydd yr hawl hon yn cynnwys rhyddid i gael barn ac i gael a rhoi gwybodaeth a syniadau heb ymyriad gan awdurdod cyhoeddus (Ar wahan i'r bobl sy'n rheolu mae-e) a heb ystyried ffiniau (Ar wahan i ffiniau maes-e). Ni fydd yr Erthygl hon yn atal Gwledydd rhag pennu gofyniad i drwyddedu mentrau darlledu, teledu neu sinema."
Dim ond eisiau mynegi barn ydw i...
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
In case any of you have ever wondered what I got up to last year, here's a clue:
It shouldn't take you long to spot me:)
While there's little chance of a scoreline like that in football at the moment, we are at least pushing ahead with the business of running our country.
Seems that the chaps up north are too busy arguing over the size of each other's cabers to get on with electing a presiding officer, so they've postponed it until next week.
In the Senedd, this afternoon, Dafydd Elis Thomas will win the top job, with Labour's Rosemary Butler set to be his deputy.
I'm off to witness the mêlée and to see if I can detect any hints from the body language of the party leaders. It's rumoured that Mike German will sacrifice his usual seat on the right side of the chamber to sit on Rhodri Morgan's lap instead.
UPDATE: Just back from the Senedd. Rosemary Butler was elected Deptuty Presiding Officer, as expected. She received a hearty round of applause and even a couple of requests to sing. This opens up a potential can of worms in the event of a Plaid-Labour agreement, which you can read about HERE.
I was there today as brother of one of the newly elected AMs. We have a very small family and I was the only one who could make it. It's a daunting place to have to be for a first day at work so it's important that somebody was there. I won't, therefore, report on anything I saw or heard outside what could be seen publicly.
For me, though, what was notable was how the Lib Dems marched off and left the rebellious Peter Black alone at the end of the session. It seems that all is not well in the golden camp.
In the blue camp, they're still hoping to be part of coalition negotiations. A spot quizz on the names of the new Tory intake caught the press officer unaware. The name of the new AM for Clwyd West momentarily escaped him. I expect, however, that we'll all be hearing a lot more about Darren Millar in the coming weeks and months.
As for Labour and Plaid, both looked jolly. One thing I noticed: Carl Sargeant was sitting on the front bench... surely not?
Without doubt, the most common criticism of politicians is that they allow torrents of unmitigated tosh to spew forth from their mouths at every available opportunity. Normal people can tell that they are talking complete rubbish. For some strange reason, politicians cannot.
This election campaign was no different.
Here's my handy guide to what they said, as opposed to what actually happened:
Rhodri Morgan (Labour)
"If we don’t get our vote out and the three minor parties do, a Tory-led coalition will trundle Wales backwards as a country at a rate of knots.
This election is the choice between a return to a grim Tory past and a bright Labour future.
This election is about that stark choice between seeing the dole queues continue to get shorter and shorter under Labour or risking a return to 120,000 people on the dole in Wales, with the Tories in charge."
Imagine my disappointment when I woke up on May 4th and, despite there being no Labour majority, Wales wasn't hurtling backwards at a rate of knots outside my window. Neither was there any kind of Tory-led coalition to speak of. Nor a 120,000-long dole queue snaking down the street. The only queue was for the ice cream van down the road, and I don't think any of those people had even bothered to vote.
Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid)
"We can win five seats in North Wales. Me as the First Minister elected from Anglesey (if the party does well in the rest of Wales) and Dafydd Wigley on the list aswell with Janet Ryder”"
Number of seats won by Plaid in North Wales: 4
Number of votes between Dafydd Wigley and a return to Welsh politics: 6,644
Nick Bourne (Conservative)
"Plaid Cymru's vague aspirations and wild spending plans will not fool voters. They are a clear indication that the nationalists are neither responsible nor a serious political party."
Number of seats won by Plaid Cymru: 15 (+3)
Number of seats won by the Conservatives: 12 (+1)
Conclusion: Voters were 'fooled' by Plaid Cymru's 'vague aspirations and wild spending plans'. Idiots.
Mike German (Lib Dems)
"The more votes we get, the more seats we win, the more influence we will have in the new Assembly government.
Our party has great hopes on the regional lists. But I have to tell you the regional list is more misunderstood than Richard Brunstrom in a room full of Labour MPs.
We can win extra seats in every part of Wales."
Number of extra seats won in every party of Wales: 0
Number of extra seats won in any part of Wales: 0
Lib Dem share of the regional vote in 2003: 12.7%
Lib Dem share of the regional vote in 2007: 11.8%
Number of leaflets delivered by Lib Dem activists: 4,367,892,562,099,454,235,861...
As stable as a unicyclist with a flat tyre
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
At the moment, all the talk coming from the leaders of the four parties is about securing a stable government.
But, let's be frank. It ain't going to happen.
Take the prospect of a Lab-Lib pact. Rhodri says it's an 'inedible' choice. Great start - like telling your date she's a minger before you've even got to the main course. Meanwhile, a 'senior Labour source' says, "we should try to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats. Our philosophy towards them should be, ‘hug them close and strangle them slowly’." There is something very disturbing about that philosophy, and it does not bode well for a future stable government.
Take the prospect of a Plaid-Labour pact. Rhodri says it's an 'unpalatable' choice. But is it really? Incest or perhaps even watching golf are unpalatable choices. Rhodri is simply talking about forming a responsible government for Wales.
Never mind, Plaid Cymru would prefer to sacrifice their best ever chance of power, with Ieuan Wyn Jones as first minister in a rainbow coalition, because they aren't confident enough they could make a difference.
You know what they always say about Iraq - there was no exit strategy. Well, you could say the same about this election. The biggest lie of all was that 'the people of Wales will decide the composition of the next assembly government', spouted by politicians from all directions. That's simply not true. Some people voted Plaid on the understanding they'd stay in opposition, others on the presumption they'd work with Labour and others on the offchance they'd team up with the Tories. Despite constant pushing from the media, it was never clear where their preference lay. They certainly didn't say they'd prefer to stay in opposition, which is what Deputy Leader Rhodri Glyn Thomas has said today.
So, in the end, the politicians will decide the composition of the next assembly government. And the people might not be best pleased.
UPDATE: May I welcome readers from The Times. I must warn you, though, that there's rather a lot of talk about Welsh stuff here. We're the country to the left of Shrewsbury - adopted homeland of your next Deputy Prime Minister:)
The new Welsh assembly meets for the first time tomorrow, and Dafydd Elis Thomas is a cert for the Presiding Officer's chair. Frankly, the chances of him surrendering that seat are about as likely as Charlotte Church naming her baby 'Christian'.
But the race for the position of Deputy Presiding Officer is much more open. I've heard the names Jenny Randerson, Gwenda Thomas and Lorraine Barrett floated, though for comedy value I'd like to see Carl Sargeant rise to the challenge.
This time around, however, the assembly can't elect a PO and DPO from the same political group. They also can't elect a PO and DPO from different political groups where both or neither have an executive role. In other words, unlike for the last eight years, one of the presiding officer roles has to be taken by someone from the ruling party/coalition.
Problem is, I doubt very much there will be a ruling coalition by tomorrow. At the moment, the situation in the assembly is like a primary school classroom when the teacher has nipped out for a crafty pee. Nobody knows who's in charge.
But the identity of the Deputy Presiding Officer might at least give us a clue about how coalition talks are going. My hunch is that a Labour bod will be put forward this time around as Rhodri Morgan flutters his eyelashes in Ieuan Wyn Jones' direction. If, however, we see the Lib Dems' Jenny Randerson in the chair, we'll know that Mike German has been warming Rhodri's bed, with Kirsty Williams squeezed in beside them.
It is quite likely, however, that a PO and DPO could be elected who later turn out to be on the same side of the political divide. That means they'll have to resign unless someone proposes a motion for them to stay. How convenient that there's such a get out clause enshrined in the standing orders. Sums up Welsh government, really, doesn't it? 'Right, so either you stay and I go, or I stay and you go, or we both go, or... we activate the loophole and keep our extra £40,000 a year.'
Anyway, for what it's worth, many politicians now believe it's Labour's turn to take one of the vote-nullifying administrative roles. If they can find someone who is happy and content to break bread with Dafydd El, then they should put them forward. After all, £72,000 a year just for sipping spring water and telling Rhodri Glyn Thomas to shut his trap isn't such a bad deal.
You, my friends, signify nothing
Monday, May 07, 2007
I'm so sorry to have to tell you this... But you, my friends, signify nothing.
That's the message from Rhondda AM Leighton Andrews. Returning to his normal blog, the man who is now in possession of one of the largest Labour majorities in Wales has given the following appraisal of the Welsh political blogosphere:
I wasn't that impressed with the so-called 'Welsh blogosphere' during the campaign...
Too many blogs, including this one, seemed more interested in gossip and rumour. When that spreads to the BBC, it's bad news. The Beeb should apply the same standards to its blogs as to the rest of its news coverage. I do agree with this one that the absence of competition in the Welsh news media gives more opportunity for bloggers, but having now caught up with some of the blogging from election night itself, it seems to have been largely based on rumours which were being broadcast on the mainstream media anyway. Welsh bloggers need better sources if they are going to make waves...
To me, this seems like an odd analysis of the contribution blogs have made to the election, and one which is at odds with everything I've heard from other notable personalities and plenty of ordinary Joes too.
So, I posted this reply:
Leighton, you appear to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the blogosphere.
If it's to break stories, well then, that's news to me:)
Its most significant contribution has been to provide a platform for analysis and debate. To allow people, no matter if they're a mam from Merthyr, a politician experimenting with being honest or a pensioner from North Wales, to have their say. If it's interesting enough, people will read it.
It is, after all, a meritocracy out there...
To my surprise, Mr Andrews responded almost instantly:
Yes, I thought my comments would upset you.
Having blogged for two and a half years, I'm afraid my conclusion is that the Welsh so-called blogosphere is a self-referential realm, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Having a blog has improved the hit rate on my web presence ten-fold; it's been a useful platform for some of my campaigns; but its influence on Welsh politics - and overall, the Welsh media - is zilch.
By the way, were you born pompous?
Well, no, I replied, assuming that Mr Andrews was joking. (Huw Edwards, by the way, was definitely joking, we cleared that one up!)
Also, I can't speak for you lot, but this blog is devoid of any 'fury'. The only time I've got worked up is in support of my beloved Cardiff City. And as a fellow bluebird, I'm sure Mr Andrews would understand.
What he appears not to understand, however, is the contribution YOU have made to this election by insisting on having your say, whether in your own blogs (and there are new ones every day) or in the comments section of others.
The overwhelming political sentiments of recent times are apathy and an erosion of trust in our elected politicians. The blogosphere, used appropriately, is a partial remedy to both. Surely, something is better than nothing?
Sunday lunch coalition update
Sunday, May 06, 2007
We've just learnt a lot more about what sort of shape the government of Wales might take. Thanks to the BBC, of course.
Liberal Democrats aren't keen on a coalition with Labour (no matter what their leader thinks). Back at you, say Labour, who aren't keen on a coalition with the Liberal Democrats either. Neither are the unionist wing of the party sold on a deal with Plaid. Merthyr AM Huw Lewis said he was personally opposed to any outcome which involved Plaid ministers in cabinet.
Step forward Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas with yet another option: an 'agreement' between Plaid and Labour in which Plaid AMs abstain on key votes to stop the government from collapsing. What Dafydd-El didn't say was that Plaid would demand a big prize in exchange for sanctioning such a deal. A referendum on further devolution by 2011 springs to mind.
Bloody hell, he's only gone and read this blog between finishing the Politics Show and appearing on S4C's Maniffesto programme. Speaking in Welsh, he said that for him, the dealbreaker would be a referendum on Scottish style powers to further the cause of devolution. I suspect other Plaid AMs think the same.
So, that's the carrot for Plaid supporters. However, the stick would inevitably be used to prop Labour up, which is exactly what they said they wouldn't do.
I am no Peter Snow. But I shall now use simple statistics to demonstrate how Mike German has fared as Liberal Democrat leader since 1999. His days
1999 6 seats
2003 6 (=)
2007 6 (=)
On a graph, that performance would look something like this: -------------------------------------------------------------------
It bears more than a passing resemblance to a flat line. That's why we call it flatlining.
In general, politicians like this line to go up. That means they are making progress. If the line doesn't go up, that means they are not making progress. If they are not making progress, people start looking around for alternatives. For the Welsh Lib Dems, the search has begun.
As you can tell from the numbers above, the Lib Dems only have six assembly members. Three of them are agitating for a change of leader, one of them is keeping quiet (because she's the person they are agitating on behalf), another is staying loyal to Mike German and the last one is Mike German. If that's an endorsement, it's ringing about as loudly as a lonely castanet. The message is, as the photo suggests, that the Lib Dems under Mike German are a little bit lost.
One of the agitators, Peter Black, has admitted that he "questioned Mike German's leadership in the AM Group and the National Executive." It is his wish that these objections are now on the record in public. He has also quoted uncritically on his blog from an article which states that "after three campaigns at the helm, Mike German can’t avoid responsibility."
Indeed, in three campaigns, Mike German has tallied 666. The omens are not good. At this rate, I'd be surprised if he survives the lunchtime politics programmes.
1240 UPDATE: Peter Black has just called for a leadership contest. Speaking on the BBC's Politics Show (reinforced by a blog post on the same subject) he said that if Mike German wants to take the party forward he'd have to win a vote. He also stated that he wanted the Lib Dems to be in opposition for the next assembly term, the precise opposite of what Mike German has been saying for the past weeks and months.
101 ways to prop up a 'failed Labour administration'*
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Peter Black, newly re-elected Lib Dem AM for South Wales West, knows exactly what he is doing.
Yesterday's blog post got the ball rolling. 'It is clear that we now need a fresh approach and a radical re-think,' he wrote. For 'radical re-think' read 'leadership contest,' I responded. He had opportunities to deny this both on my blog and on Radio Wales. He chose not to do so.
And today, he's at it again: 'My instincts are that the Welsh Liberal Democrats do not have to be the deal-makers in this process. We have our own issues to sort out first around where we are going as a party and what sort of image we project to the Welsh public.'
It's now acknowledged that the leaders of Lib Dem councils are not keen on a Lab-Lib pact. Their long-term strategy is based on undermining Labour, not propping it up. In addition, one third of the Lib Dem assembly group have now spoken out against a Labour coalition. OK, so that only adds Eleanor Burnham to the mix (so far), but that's the Lib Dems' fault for only getting six assembly members. When the numbers are this small the fractions are more significant.
These prominent dissenting voices make a coalition with Labour increasingly unlikely. It was also the least preferred option of people quizzed in the little-reported BBC election night poll.
So, where does that leave Welsh governance? Heading towards either a rainbow coalition or a Plaid/Labour agreement, I guess. And as I trawled through the archived articles of the election period, I came across this quotation from Plaid, time and time again: 'We would not go into coalition under a Conservative First Minister and we would not prop up a Labour Government either.'
Only once did a caveat pop up. And it popped up as Ieuan Wyn Jones and Matt Withers were licking the froth off their coffee spoons in Cardiff Bay. 'We wouldn't prop up a Labour government simply by agreeing on minor issues,' said IWJ as a spot of cappucino foam inadvertantly perched itself on the end of his nose.
I would've thought, then, that working out what constitutes a major issue would have been a priority for the new Plaid group as it met for the first time yesterday.
FINAL SCORE: Winners and losers
Friday, May 04, 2007
Bugger. You just knew it was going to happen, didn't you? After all that hype about it being the most closely fought election ever, it was inevitable that the result itself would conspire to be as clear as mud (mixed up with a bit of boot polish for good measure).
Lib Dems: The big losers of the night. Sure, they consolidated in certain areas and have a few second-placed platforms to build on for next time. But for this strategy to work, it had to be accompanied by list gains. It wasn't. To win no additional seats has to be seen as a failure. South Wales West AM Peter Black has already written on his blog that "it is clear we now need a fresh approach and a radical re-think as to where we are going and how we sell ourselves, our policies and our philosophy to the Welsh electorate."
Sounds to me like the prelude to a leadership contest. In which case, Brecon AM Kirsty Williams would surely be favourite. Crucially, a change of hands at the top would make a Lab-Lib coalition easier to stomach for Lib Dem activists. Alternatively, Kirsty might sever the ties with what she's consistently called a 'failing Labour administration' and shake things up by entering a rainbow coalition. Either way, if they need a "fresh approach", they know they've got one ready and waiting.
1830 UPDATE: I've just spoken on Radio Wales about this very issue. Next up for interview was Peter Black. It was notable, I think, that he sounded distinctly unimpressed by the prospect of a Lab-Lib coalition and he fell way short of giving his leader, Mike German, a vote of confidence.
Labour: People keep saying this has been a bitter sweet night for Labour. Would Rhodri have resigned on 24 seats? We'll never know. What's certain is that a return of 26 seats and a loss of five consituency seats is a significant erosion of Labour's power base. Depending on the shape of our politics for the next four years, this election may have laid down the ground for further missions into Labour territory in places like Vale of Clwyd, Newport East & West, Delyn, Vale of Glamorgan, Neath and even Caerphilly.
The overall picture is more complicated than the final tally of seats will probably suggest. It's impossible to spin this as any kind of victory. For Labour to be on the ropes like this in so many parts of Wales is a wake up call. If this result it to be 'spun', perhaps it can be done in such a way that the people of Wales are under the impression that its government has learned a few lessons.
Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives: I know you're going to have a go at me for clumping these two together.
OK. I'll say it. Just this once. You've only got to look at the final figures to see that Plaid were the biggest winners in this election. They ran the most professional campaign and they had the most memorable policies (whether you agree with them or not, especially on student fee repayment apartheid:). We'll have to wait and see if Ieuan Wyn Jones will seize on this momentum to take Plaid into government in Wales for the first time in its history.
*Just spoken to a source at the count. It looks like Plaid have hung on to the second list seat putting them on 15 (+3) to the Tories' 12 (+1).
1647 UPDATE: Plaid take two seat in South West Wales, Tories 1, Lib Dems 1.
1830 UPDATE: I'm told Ieuan Wyn Jones is backtracking on what constitutes 'propping up a failed Labour administration'. In fact, I was told live on Good Evening Wales and was somewhat stumped by it. IWJ is now saying he wouldn't want a day-to-day agreement - so he's hinting at something more permanent. A coalition, then? After the campaign Plaid have fought, I'm shocked that they appear to be considering such an option so soon after the result. They need time to reflect, and time to work out what 'propping up' really means.
THE FINAL RESULT IS AS FOLLOWS:
LAB 26 (-3)
PC 15 (+3)
CON 12 (+1)
LD 6 (=)
IND 1 (-1)