Mutual Backscratching 3

  • Mark Devenport
  • 16 May 07, 04:49 PM

So the timing of Bertie Ahern's speech in the Westminster Royal Gallery was nothing to do with the Irish election. But what then do we make of Tony Blair's appearance, praising Mr Ahern, in Fianna Fail's Party Political Broadcast? It's true that Mr Ahern appeared in a tribute film to Mr Blair shown at the last Labour party conference. But what happened to the convention of not interfering in other countries' elections? And isn't there a Labour party fighting the election south of the border?

Politics and morality

  • Mark Devenport
  • 16 May 07, 04:41 PM

Bertie Ahern had an interesting quote from Daniel O'Connell in his speech to MPs and Lords yesterday. He quoted the champion of Catholic emancipation as saying "there is nothing politically right that is morally wrong.”

I wonder whether people agree that the peace process has followed this dictum, or has been an example of the end justifying the means?

Sheep and Goats

  • Mark Devenport
  • 16 May 07, 04:36 PM

"Parents don't want their children sorted into sheep and goats at the age of eleven". Who said that today? Martin McGuinness? Catriona Ruane? No, it was David Cameron explaining his latest policy shift on grammar schools. The local Tories have put out a statement saying that grammar schools in Northern Ireland work well and they will continue to back academic selection. Their NI Spokesman David Lidington has echoed that view. But could the Cameroonian shift influence the unionist nationalist debate about academic selection?

Crucial forty eight ...

  • Betsan Powys
  • 16 May 07, 03:43 PM

Negotiating teams have been chosen and sent into action. Three of the four sides at least have stopped talking about talking and started talking. Mike German must continue to talk about talking until tomorrow night's National Executive let him and his negotiating team start the real thing.

The Plaid Cymru group had a lengthy meeting this morning and having listened to Ieuan Wyn Jones stressing afterards that Plaid are talking just as intensely to the Lib Dems and the Tories as they are to Labour, it's easier to believe that the rainbow coalition isn't dead after all.

Downstairs a little group is spotted huddled over a copy of the Government of Wales Act: the Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Mike German. Were they looking for wriggle room on dates?

What of the Tories? One - who'd have little interest in a cabinet seat - suggests that the group is hostile to a rainbow coalition. The group dynamic is quite different now, with brand new constituency AMs who've just been fighting strong Plaid candidates at the election and who'd rather keep it that way. Better he thinks to watch Rhodri Morgan strike a deal with Ieuan Wyn Jones and then squeeze Plaid's vote for all it's worth come the next election.

But from others in the group - perhaps with more to gain - the mood music is quite different. A formal agreement? No way. A full on rainbow coalition? Yes but only as long as cabinet seats are involved. They'd be in it to govern. No cabinet seats, no need to apply. no other reason. Are there dissenting voices? Yes but no more than that. The group meets tomorrow.

What next? The Lib Dem Executive meet tomorrow night. The Labour group meets again lunchtime Friday, Plaid any time between Friday and the middle of next week.

No swear box here but there's a fine for using the phrase "crucial forty eight hours!"

The new team

  • Brian Taylor
  • 16 May 07, 12:58 PM

On with government. Alex Salmond, Scotland's new first minister, is in St Andrews House right now, finalising the plans for his team.

He was greeted at the door of executive HQ by Sir John Elvidge, the permanent secretary - who is a decidedly shrewd counsellor.

Mr Salmond will announce a Cabinet of six - plus 10 ministers. They will face a vote of confirmation in parliament tomorrow.

A good day for politics

  • Brian Taylor
  • 16 May 07, 12:00 PM

After the tension of the campaign and the chaos of the count, Holyrood put on its best face for the choice of first minister.

In the second and final round, Alex Salmond was elected by 49 votes (SNP plus Green) to 46 (Labour) with 33 abstentions (Tory/LibDem/Margo).

The speeches were modest, moderate and uniformly gracious.

The new first minister described Scotland as "diverse, not divided" and promised to work entirely in the collective national interest.

Jack McConnell thanked Scotland for the opportunity to serve - and offered well-chosen words of praise to his successor. Both Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen were witty and thoughtful.

It won't last, of course. There will be conflict ahead. How could it be other with a tight, close chamber?

But this was a good day for Holyrood and a good day for decent, democratic politics.

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