BBC BLOGS - Betsan's Blog
« Previous | Main | Next »


Betsan Powys | 10:51 UK time, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

As headlines go, it's not exactly punchy.

"Civil war threatens to rip Plaid Cymru to pieces" is - all the same - strong stuff from the Western Mail. And it's not exactly "Gotcha" from Adam Price MP either, more of a "I hope I've gotcha" delivered to a coalition government that's set to scrap non-means tested student subsidy in 2010.

It was advised to do so by a Task and Finish group who argued the money ring-fenced by the One Wales Agreement's pledge to "maintain the current level of resource throughout the four year Assembly term" could be better spent. They advised Education Minister Jane Hutt to target the money at those who really need it. In other words scrap subsidy for all, make most Welsh students studying in Wales pay up but give more money to those who couldn't afford to.

So how is he hoping to 'get' them?

By calling for a judicial review of the Minister's decision, the Cabinet's decision, to adopt the recommendations made by Merfyn Jones and his review group.

In brief Adam Price's argument is this: that the decision to hold a review of student fees was flawed from the start, that the consultation process itself was incomplete, rushed, fundamentally flawed and that the decision to bring in top-up fees is "based on a combination of inaccurate assertions, a rushed and incomplete policy review and a deeply flawed consultation".

Adam Price knows how to choose and hit his targets. His call for a public inquiry into a government-backed loan made to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal proved that. He was named the Spectator Magazine's Parliamentary Inquisitor of the Year and earned his spurs with Welsh steel workers.

His choice of weapon against Tony Blair and his conduct in the lead-up to the Iraq war was impeachment. At the time he said that "If nothing else comes out of this, people will realise impeachment is still an active part of parliamentary law and a minister who misleads and refuses to resign, can be removed by Parliament through impeachment."

Nothing did come of it of course but that's not to say the target wasn't hit.

This time Adam Price is threatening legal action against a government in which his own party is a partner, a government that wouldn't have come into being without the role he played in drawing up the agreement which binds it together.

So why is he doing it?

Perhaps he's trying it on. Perhaps he gauges that in the long run it'll do Plaid no harm to have noises-off on this issue. There are plenty who take that view.

Then again today's noises off are pretty deafening.

So perhaps he's doing it because it's no secret that he feels extremely strongly about Plaid's policy not to re-introduce student fees; perhaps because there is evidence that scrapping student fees did start to make an impact on persuading more Welsh students to study in Wales; perhaps because he's more convinced by that evidence than some others in his own party; because he doesn't accept that a combination of the recession, an even tighter settlement from the UK government than was anticipated, likely further, deeper cuts are overwhelming enough to make this change in policy just impossible to fight; because nobody said that being in government would be easy but that on this, he feels Plaid Ministers have given in too easily.

Is it a challenge to the leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones? Let me answer with another couple of questions: how can it not be? And given he's astute enough to know it would be seen as such, then if Adam Price minded that very much, he would have backed off, wouldn't he?

It's Ieuan Wyn Jones who told Plaid's National Council that a change of heart wouldn't be accepted by the Cabinet. Adam Price uses that very warning to question whether the consultation on fees was genuine or "or merely a rubber-stamping exercise". That's not backing off.

There are plenty in the party - younger members, those who cut their teeth as student politicians - who will strongly agree with him. There are others who will have read his letter, which was copied to all AMs and other 'interested paties' and sensed Adam Price trying it on. There are no signs that AMs other than Leanne Wood and Bethan Jenkins will break ranks and refuse to back the decision taken by their Ministers which means as things stand, top up fees will be reintroduced unless Adam Price's legal challenge - this time - comes to something.

What happens next? Jane Hutt must respond, legal experts must decide whether there is enough substance to the complaint to constitute a breach of proper processes and Plaid? "Civil war" is going it some but they, surely, have an awful lot to talk about


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.