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Choppy waters

Betsan Powys | 10:53 UK time, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

It's a case of luck of the draw as far lobby briefings go.

In a week where very little is rocking the One Wales boat, the Minister whose turn it is to talk to us lobby journalists gets to talk about the issues they want to discuss, get to field questions on subjects they know about and want to hammer home.

And then there's this week. The waters are choppy and Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones wished out loud it had been someone else's turn to man the boat.

As a Plaid Minister did Elin Jones share Adam Price MP's very public concern that the dispute over the future of the Affordable Housing LCO presented the coalition government with "a potential constitutional crisis?"

She didn't. Straight face, straight bat.

Did she think he was exaggerating any potential threat to the coalition and if so, why?

Her answer was that she didn't perhaps, share his view but that didn't mean that she thought he, speaking as a Plaid politician, was wrong. She too, she reminded us, is a Plaid politician but she's also a Government Minister and in that capacity, staunchly held the line until the bitter end that this is not a political matter. It is, she insisted, a matter of government process and one that's being negotiated as we speak.

Does the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, want a constitutional crisis? I doubt it. If I'm right would a man with his long experience in avoiding such a crisis allow one to happen? Not if he can help it.

But that's not to say things won't get choppier and nastier.

One member of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has already written to expert researchers at the House of Commons Library asking for an official definition of the role of the Llywydd. That's not because there's a constitutional Christmas quiz coming up at his local. It is, of course, a none-too-subtle shot across the bows of Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas whose involvement in the row has raised the ire of some MPs on the Welsh Select and re-opened some old wounds.

One thought: does the process allow the Assembly Government to put the Affordable Housing LCO, as it is, to a vote of the whole Assembly? Yes, it does and Elin Jones seemed to have mulled that one over already.

If that happens and if it gets - as the maths dictate it should - the backing of the Assembly as a whole, it would be an LCO stamped even more clearly with 'the will of the Assembly'.

And if that happens, how prepared would the Secretary of State be then to refuse to lay it before both Houses of Parliament?

Update:
[Just noticed that I omitted to type the word 'it' in that last sentence, which conjured up a rather unusual course of action for Paul Murphy ...]

Comments

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  • 1. At 10:54pm on 11 Nov 2008, Notonationalism wrote:

    So at last a member of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has written to ask for an official definition of the role of the Presiding Officer. If "Lord" Dafydd Elis-Thomas' function is meant to be similar to that of the Speaker of the House of Commons, he ought surely to be impartial. He and his fellow Assembly Members should remember that the majority of the people of Wales do not respect the so-called 'will of the Assembly' and we certainly do not appreciate Dafydd Elis-Thomas' nationalist fervour.

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  • 2. At 09:57am on 12 Nov 2008, Snoutsintrough wrote:

    Well said No 1. Welcome but be careful you are straying into dangerous waters by criticising our beloved Assembly and in particular Lord !! Dafydd E-T. The hordes of BBC Wales (your nation/your station) politicos are in awe of this individual and give him much more air time than he warrants as an IMPARTIAL officer of the Assembly. In his last interview which was about the future of Prince of Wales a subject barely discussed by "normal" people who have their own particular concerns he stated " The Secretary of State for Wales" as long as we have one. There is no doubt that the creation of the Assembly has given pipsqueaks like Lord DET,IWJ a platform to push their NATIONALISTIC agenda writ large. They both come from North West Wales so if the good citizens of that area want "freedom" then they should be given it but in the good area of Glamorganshire over our dead bodies.

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  • 3. At 3:11pm on 12 Nov 2008, West-Wales wrote:

    The only supporters of the Assembly seem to be the political activists, who perhaps hope to get on the gravy train, & the journalists who would feel a lot less important and have a lot less to speculate about.

    D E-T intrusion into politics are way out of line given that he is effectively the Speaker.

    His comments about Charles were totally unacceptable - Elis-Thomas has achieved very little for Wales, Charles on the other hand has done a great deal and worked incredibly hard.

    It is time for Wales to be given the chance to review devolution.
    We have to get our politico's back into the real world.
    While we wait for that how about reviewing the Welsh Language Act 1993, and revising the Welsh Language Board's terms of reference.
    It might end up saving mountains of waste paper.


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  • 4. At 3:47pm on 12 Nov 2008, brynt41 wrote:

    #1 Notonationalism wrote:

    "Assembly Members should remember that the majority of the people of Wales do not respect the so-called 'will of the Assembly' and we certainly do not appreciate Dafydd Elis-Thomas' nationalist fervour."

    Speaking for the majority, are we? I'd hate to live in state run by you, one who decides what other people think, and then speaks for them.

    There's no doubt that Plaid have put themselves into a corner on this. Even if the Housing LCO is resolved, the underlying causes will not be. IWJ has tied his party's hands by entering the coalition.

    True, the Assembly could put the LCO, as it stands, to a vote. That would require the Labour AMs' assent to get a majority. What have they to gain by doing that? One side would have to back down. In any case, the Welsh Affairs Committee will remain intransigent on future LCOs. Even if the WAC backs down, and the Assembly gets its way on this one, the Labour AMs know that most Welsh Labour MPs will oppose a "Yes" vote in a referendum, whenever it happens, constitutional crisis or not. With a Labour party split in this way, as it was in 1979, a successful outcome would be unlikely, as they would use "spoiling" tactics, as per Kinnock.

    I don't believe that Labour AMs will be prepared to cause that level of disunity in their party, and the electoral consequences which would follow. This, in essence, is the error which IWJ made in deciding to get into bed with Labour. He saw the prospects of a rift between Westminster and Cardiff Bay, but didn't think it through.

    IWJ may (almost certainly will) decide to wait to see what happens at the next general election. He hasn't got Salmond's political skills to go for the Labour jugular. If the Tories win decisively he might hope that it will soften the attitude of the Labour hardliners, Murphy included. I wouldn't hold my breath in that case. The previous coalition didn't do the LibDems any good, either.

    Imo, Ieuan, hell will freeze over first. They don't want to lose their cushy jobs, salaries and pensions, with the advent of a Welsh Parliament, and that's the nub of the matter. They're not the types to lay down their jobs for their country.

    Your problem is what to do now, having led your troops down a cul-de-sac. I think you'll do nothing. Time will tell.

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  • 5. At 6:13pm on 12 Nov 2008, legendaryavocet wrote:

    Well said, notonationalism. The Assembly’s Presiding Officer, in addition to his tendency to involve himself with matters that are outside his brief, his questioning of the relevance of the Prince of Wales’ title to the constitutional development of 21st Century Wales, and his latest pronouncement advocating redefinition of the Assembly’s name, should make us wary of the disproportionate influence that he and his fellow nationalists are having in our society via political coalitions and electoral apathy. Albert Einstein said ‘Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind’. The promised referendum on constitutional issues would appear to be a sensible way of clearing the air, providing of course, the relevant questions are posed on the ballot paper.

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  • 6. At 7:40pm on 12 Nov 2008, Llyn wrote:

    Like those above – Notonationalism, Snoutintrough, West-Wales, etc - I would also define myself as anti nationalist. I vote for Nick Cleggs’ Lib Dems (no one can call them nationalists), but unlike you I believe that Wales should have the power to decide its own education policies, health policies, etc, through its own Parliament. But with some of the extreme and violent language used above, for example, “they both come from North West Wales so if the good citizens of that area want "freedom" then they should be given it but in the good area of Glamorganshire over our dead bodies”, I worry that your anti-nationalist rhetoric hides a rather unsavory reality.

    So I would like to ask you a question. As fellow anti-nationalists would you agree with the statement, no part of which, surely no anti-nationalist would disagree with, including most Conservative party members.

    Would you, the same as me, like to see a bilingual Wales, as part of a multi-cultural UK, playing a central part in a strong European Union and also agree that extreme nationalist parties like the BNP and UKIP should be shunned by the British electorate for their nationalism, intolerance and bigotry?

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  • 7. At 8:06pm on 12 Nov 2008, brynt41 wrote:

    #5 legendaryavocet

    It sounds fantastic doesn't it, being able to quote Einstein?

    What you fail to mention is that Einstein, who was Jewish, did not regard nationalism, and national identity, as one and the same thing.

    His detestation of nationalism was based on his experience of the Third Reich and national socialism. He renounced his German citizenship twice. He took Swiss citizenship, then after Hitler, American citizenship, both democratic states, having self-determination. The Swiss have guarded their right to self-determination jealously for many centuries, to the extent of even not joining the EU or NATO. The US is very proud of its independent national democratic credentials. Einstein also believed that there was an acute need for the Jewish people to have some form of national existence, although he was not a Zionist.

    You are conflating, probably deliberately to suit your own prejudices and purposes, a desire for democratic self-determination by small nations such as Wales and Scotland, dominated by larger ones, with doctrinaire, racist, aggressive, militaristic, and dictatorial regimes. You are thus misusing Einstein's words by quoting them out of context.

    So please, if you are to make glib throwaway quotations, read a little more widely and make intelligent contributions to a debate.

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  • 8. At 8:13pm on 12 Nov 2008, West-Wales wrote:

    Moderation is very sluggish
    Inhibits debate
    Perhaps it's meant too :)

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  • 9. At 8:41pm on 12 Nov 2008, Notonationalism wrote:

    "Speaking for the majority, are we? I'd hate to live in state run by you, one who decides what other people think, and then speaks for them".

    Unfortunately, Brynt 41, this is exactly the sort of state we live in. The nationalists at the Assembly decide every day what we, the people, think. Dafydd E-T and Helen Mary Jones think they speak for the people of Wales when they push us further towards separation from the UK. It is time for the people of Wales to stand up and say a decisive 'no' to any move which would make us £9.1 bn worse off than we already are.

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  • 10. At 9:20pm on 12 Nov 2008, Snoutsintrough wrote:

    With regard to 6 there is nothing unsavoury about my personal views as I have never supported any party/grouping that could be considered as extreme. I'm old enough to remember the "bombers"."arsonists" and general trouble makers of the welsh language/nationalistic fringes. Where are these people now I wonder?.As I said if there are people who want the sort of country you have described then they are entitled to such views and such views receive a far greater prominence in public broadcasting in Wales than their numbers warrant. There is no doubt that the nationalist will not STOP until they get their way or die in the attenpt. As I am totally opposed to such a happening in Wales I am perfectly entitled to hold a diametrically opposed position in seeking to hold on to the status quo. In any society there is a centre of politics and all succesful partiies have to work around that fact and hence the changes in Westminster over a period of time. If we had our own Parliament with all the powers you wish it would be a permanent left of centre government. This would be a disaster as if in England if the UK was Balkanised if the NATS get their wishesthere would be a permant right of centre government which again would be unhealthy. The present structure of representation in Cardiff was created to forestall the problems Ive highlighted and hence the Nationalist/Socialist "government" which is the most unstable "pact" since Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggressiojn pact in 1939.It is intersting that people through this medium can have perfect logical/friendly debates about issues except where nationalism/welsh language policies/job preferment etc come into play.Apparently in Caerphilly Council staff have been told not to refer to "Britain" as an entity just after the recent Armistice commemoration. If true its a bloody disgrace and woul;d be nice to hear some comments from the political "giants" in the Bay if it is true. I agree with all the other posters who are anti the current arrangement and any possibility of "independance" for Wales. The UK has been my families home for centuries through good and bad times however they never sufered the "knock on the door" from Police and were able to get on with their life. plainly there "opinion formers" in the fashionable areas of Cardiff who are almost certainly working for public sector/media etc and is there any vehicle where "ordinary plebs" like myself can observe them going about their considerations.

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  • 11. At 9:46pm on 12 Nov 2008, John Henry wrote:

    Interesting take harri #6

    Your .....

    "parties like the BNP and UKIP should be shunned by the British electorate for their nationalism, intolerance and bigotry"

    Many would add PC to the BNP and UKIP, as intolerant of others.

    I repeat an earlier post ......

    A dissenting minority feels free only when it can impose its will on the majority: what it abominates most is the dissent of the majority.

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  • 12. At 10:23pm on 12 Nov 2008, brynt41 wrote:

    #9 Notonationalism

    They clearly don't decide what you think. Neither do they decide my thoughts. I have an independent mind. As for 'pushing' Wales into separation, I hardly think that's happening soon.

    The Assembly was created by a Labour government, and the 2006 Act similarly. Plaid Cymru had little part in it, although they, somewhat reluctantly, if I remember, supported the 'Yes' campaign in 1997. Plaid was not over-enthusiastic at the weak administrative level of devolution proposed. HMJ belongs to Plaid and has every right to campaign for self-determination, after all, we live in a democracy. Moreover, she was elected by the people of Llanelli.

    As for being worse off by 9 billion. How much worse off are we in Wales than the Republic of Ireland, which has one of the highest living standards and gdp's in western Europe, if not the world? We are worse off than most regions of the EU, simply through belonging to the UK.

    However, I essentially support self-determination not on economic grounds, but simply because I'm Welsh. I don't feel British or want to be British. I don't really know what it means, but history has shown what it stands for. For me, it has associations of imperialism, colonialism, militarism, conquest and war. It has a royal family, an anthem and a flag which I think of as being someone else's. Its legislative and legal institutions are all based in another country. All the major decisions which affect my life are taken there. I don't want that. I want those decisions taken by my fellow countrymen, here in Wales, for better or worse.

    I think 'Britain' is an artificial construct devised to persuade us to belong to an entity which deprives us of our natural dignity, and in which we are in a permanent minority, which has led to domination, subjugation and exploitation over centuries.

    That is my view, and I recognise that many here will not share it, but I would be less than honest if I denied what is fundamental to me.

    What price freedom? Is it to be measured in pounds sterling? If it were possible to ask the founding fathers of the United States (some of whom were of Welsh extraction, and who left Britain to attain that very freedom) I'm sure that they wouldn't have measured their independence in monetary terms. Read their Constitution, its a breath of fresh air, compared to the principles which underlie the class-ridden society which runs the UK.

    We think on entirely different levels, my fellow-Welshman, if you do call yourself that.

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  • 13. At 10:46pm on 12 Nov 2008, Notonationalism wrote:

    Harri - I would add the WNP to your list of extremist parties which should be shunned by the electorate.

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  • 14. At 10:49pm on 12 Nov 2008, West-Wales wrote:

    Harri
    The EU, Multi culturalism, Bilingual Wales. Surely these issues should be decided by the people. Not foisted on us by small very aggressive groups of activists.

    Linking UKIP with the BNP is a bit over the top!
    Loss of sovereignty is a serious matter and we have to decide do we want a Federal Europe run from Brussels or the Common Market we signed up to.
    At least UKIP are pointing out the issues.

    The BNP only get support where the indigenous culture is put second to foreign imported cultures.
    Simply when in Rome .....

    The current negative and punitive approach of the Welsh Language Board is doing terrible damage to the promotion of the language here in West Wales - enacting an expensive bilingual policy on small town and community councils in areas where Welsh is not spoken is creating an strong anti welsh language reaction.

    Personally while Welsh first - I'm also very proud to be British.
    We don't need the Assembly, stay with Westminster's legislation, and for those special Welsh issues - a grand committee of Welsh MP's with a Chair elected by the people.
    Think of all those AM's salaries and expenses that could be ploughed back into the Welsh economy and services.


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  • 15. At 08:25am on 13 Nov 2008, Llyn wrote:

    As I thought their stated positions are just smokescreens for extreme nationalist views. A good example being – The EU, Multi culturalism, Bilingual Wales. Surely these issues should be decided by the people. Not foisted on us by small very aggressive groups of activists – a fine example of the bigoted extreme right wing nationalist conspiracy theory.

    And as for those comparing PC an internationalist party has members of all communities of Wales (including as Assembly members) with the BNP set up by a man who dressed up as Hitler on the old man’s birthday and is now lead by someone who was convicted of GBH, well that just shows how way out your views are.

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  • 16. At 08:33am on 13 Nov 2008, brynt41 wrote:

    #4

    What I predicted is happening. This morning its coming to light that Rhodri Morgan is preparing to back down, and is unilaterally preparing to rat on his Plaid partners in the sham Welsh government in Cardiff Bay. This entire issue is laying bare the farcical pretence of devolution. Its now made public that the Secretary of State also has a veto on any LCO application which the Assembly makes. The WAC and the entirely unelected House of Lords also have a veto. (Where are the three Plaid 'nominees' for the Lords -read the runes, Ieuan, they're treating you with contempt).

    "There's no doubt that Plaid have put themselves into a corner on this. Even if the Housing LCO is resolved, the underlying causes will not be. IWJ has tied his party's hands by entering the coalition."

    "I don't believe that Labour AMs will be prepared to cause that level of disunity in their party, and the electoral consequences which would follow. This, in essence, is the error which IWJ made in deciding to get into bed with Labour. He saw the prospects of a rift between Westminster and Cardiff Bay, but didn't think it through."

    Labour is a party which has a long history of reneging on its promises and principles. It has long turned its back on its working class origins and supporters and is now a party only concerned with getting and keeping power. It will promise anything to do so. Blair ratted on his agreement with Brown, who repeatedly stabbed Blair in the back from behind the scenes.

    Plaid has made a major error soiling their hands by getting involved with an unprincipled party. The height of naivety on IWJ's part. Imo, he will continue with a head in the sand mentality and deny that there is a fundamental issue here.

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  • 17. At 09:23am on 13 Nov 2008, Lyn David Thomas wrote:

    Plaid's decision to enter government with Labour was a move based on principle. It was to ensure that Wales had stable government and to ensure that Wales got the best deal with the strongest National Assembly that could be obtained. The Rainbow Coalition was rejected because the Lib Dems had shown themselves to be unreliable and there were doubts that the referendum could have been won without the active support of the Labour Party. Plaid rejected the extra power that the party could have had by holding the First Minister's position in favour of what was best for Wales. That was a courageous decision and one that has to be applauded.

    They took the second fiddle position to Labour based on Labour's promise to advance the cause of devolution and to give a period of settled government. It looks as if Labour is reneging on that commitment. As ever Labour is putting party above country, despite what ever Alun Michael says this is a power grab by Westminster, a desire to control and dictate to the Government of Wales what it may or may not do in future - this is outwith their powers and in this case Mike German is quite correct.

    This LCO sets a precedent. The National Assembly will be confined to passing anodyne legislation that no one objects to and/or policies pre approved by the majority of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. This is not devolution its remote control.

    The time in now for those elements in Labour who support devolution - real devolution that is - to stand up and be counted.

    Plaid has some hard thinking to do, they need reassurances that the deal is still on and working. Having the First Minister unilaterally backing down does not bode well.

    The government is not yet broken, but there is work to do to convince that the project is still worthwhile.

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  • 18. At 10:28am on 13 Nov 2008, brynt41 wrote:

    #17 Lyn_Thomas wrote:

    "Plaid has some hard thinking to do, they need reassurances that the deal is still on and working. Having the First Minister unilaterally backing down does not bode well.

    The government is not yet broken, but there is work to do to convince that the project is still worthwhile."

    I'm afraid that I'm less optimistic.

    Regarding the 'project' as you call it. The essence of a coalition is the dependence of both partners on each other. Its now apparent that the devolution settlement itself is "not what it says on the tin" to use Alun Michael's phrase. Cardiff Bay can only do what its Labour masters approve. Plaid is being used to make the process easier for them. It will go on for as long as Plaid is willing to be duped.

    If Plaid pull out of the coalition, they will have lost all credibility. Labour is calling their bluff and showing that they are dispensable. Rhodri will either carry on with a minority administration, or will turn to the LibDems again, if they're daft enough to have another go.

    This was a likely if not predictable scenario from the outset. IWJ should have had more political nouse. I understand that there were those within Plaid who told him so in no uncertain terms.

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  • 19. At 10:40am on 13 Nov 2008, Snoutsintrough wrote:

    The Welsh Nats agenda for "independance" has got to be a joke or if they are prepared to pay the price i.e.poverty and irrelevance then they should own up. The obsession with Ireland does not stand up to scrutiny as before they joined the EEC after GB did it was a third world economy. The Irish received as Norman Lamont said "obscene"levels of subsidies from Europe (In effect English/German money) and good luck to them as they have used it wisely along with private sector investment from USA. There has been since Ireland became independant a continuing drift of young and able people to UK and elsewhere. With regard to wales how could it possibly survive as an economic entity without the help and support of rest of UK (Mainly England). Why would the private sector provide Wales with the capital necessary for investment with the inherent structual imbalances we have at present. The public sector is swallowing an alarming amount of public sector finance in "jobs" rather than proper investment in housing/roads/nuclear power stations etc. The subsidies to keep welsh language "going" would be responsibility of welsh tax payers only. In view of the facts that the children from "poorer" area of Wales areleaving school with extremely bad educational attainment in basic skills is a disgrace. In conclusion what do we want either a) A welsh language society for "upper classes" in WAG etc or b)cut budgets to welsh language including S4C and other "worthy" causes and transfer to the educating the bottom end of society to be able live and perhaps even work in the modern world.

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  • 20. At 05:50am on 27 Dec 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Betsan:
    Thanks for the excellent topic blog; and also, for updating us regarding your lacking a word at one of the sentences....

    ~Dennis Junior~

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