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Betsan Powys | 14:27 UK time, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Tonight, before I come back in to look the Dragon in the Eye, I'll be going to a school nativity play and looking out for one particular angel in her supermarket wings and borrowed halo. There will be good will to all mums and dads. That is when I'll know that I've left Cardiff Bay for the day, where there is very, very little goodwill to be found these days.

AMs are angry. They watched last week as Sir Roger Jones, Chairman of the Independent Review Panel into their future pay and expenses, suggested on Dragon's Eye that some of them don't offer "value for money". They listened to his assessment of their work, too bound up by constituency work, not effective enough in scrutinising the assembly government, not getting stuck in where it really matters. Six out of ten was the gist of it.

And they're crying foul - loudly. How are we to have faith in an "independent" chair asks one when it's clear he's made up his mind long before the panel has finished taking evidence, let alone report back next Spring?

Another, from another party, has been to see the Chief Executive and Clerk to the Assembly, Claire Clancy. She heads the staff of the Assembly Commission who make sure the Assembly and Assembly Members can do their jobs. In this instance her job was to face an AM who put it pretty bluntly: he has lost confidence in the independent panel and in the process.

Another, from yet another party, believes the Assembly Commission itself, chaired by the Presiding Officer and made up of the PO and four AMs, one from each party, is "politically out of control". The review, she believes, is simply a case of the Presiding Officer wanting to make a stance and create headlines where none are needed or warranted.

Not that Sir Roger Jones will mind very much. I remember first meeting him over twenty years ago. He ran a pharmaceuticals business in Tredegar that manufactured thalidomide. He was open about it, prepared to be interviewed about it and speak plainly-in Welsh at that. If the message is getting out there that he's determined to "ensure value for money for the people of Wales" and shake things up a bit, he'll feel he's doing his job.

And tomorrow - before recess but on a Friday when all is quiet in the Assembly - another tranche of AMs' expenses so far will be made public.

Last time a £2000 sofa, a £1,000 surround-sound TV and a £2 Pyrex bowl left AMs looking out of touch with the people they represent. I have no doubt that there will be more sofas, more bathroom refits, more expensive, top of the range televisions this time around along with the couple-of-quid claims to which members are perfectly entitled but that do little to enhance their reputations.

One name keeps cropping up: that of Nick Bourne's. He leads a Conservative group that is not a happy one. It is not a united one. There are rumours of an expensive I-Pod and expensive taps that in themselves amount to little more than those headlines politicians ride out. The significance this time is that the rumours are rife, almost urgent, frantic. They come at a time when his authority in the group has already been severely undermined by the dodgy birthday dossier aimed at Rhodri Morgan and - we eventually learned - signed off by Mr Bourne. Last month I was told, not by a member of the group or of his staff incidentally, that he was "hanging on by his fingernails".

Goodwill is lacking. Mr Bourne is well aware of that with the Christmas recess approaching fast. What he really needs to know is whether the will to do something about it, the will to strike alliances that would oust him, is lacking too.


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