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

Waving or drowning?

Betsan Powys | 16:01 UK time, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

"The irony" said Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams this morning, "is not lost on me".

What irony was that? The fact that her party is using a mechanism provided by a system of devolution they regard as absurd to stall the progress of a form of devolution they regard as twisted.

In an 'if you can't beat the system for now, use it' kind of move the Lib Dems are taking advantage of the fact that the House of Lords must approve the transfer of any power to the Assembly to throw a spanner in the works of the transfer of power over Affordable Housing. (We didn't touch on the irony of the fact that an awful lot of housing experts seem to think suspending the right to buy would have pretty limited impact in areas of housing pressure anyway ... you can have too much irony in a morning).

Plaid, say the Lib Dems, have betrayed the principle of devolution by agreeing to the insertion of a veto on the abolition of the right to buy. Its legal legitimacy is now in question and in the name of defending the devolution process, the Lib Dems want it redrawn, minus the veto. The finger is pointed not at the Welsh Affairs Select Committee for raising concerns about the transfer of powers, or at the Secretary of State for coming up with the veto (note this corrected version - the solution came from the Secretary of State having taken the Committee's view into consideration) but at Plaid for agreeing to it: "that fatal Plaid Cymru climb-down put the Welsh devolution process in a very fragile situation".

When it comes to a General Election, there's no doubt Plaid will accuse the Lib Dems of standing in the way of the Assembly Governmen't efforts to gain extra powers to do something to provide affordable homes in areas of housing pressure. Perhaps Lib Dem canvassers ought to make note of their leader's response now on a pocket sized piece of paper and keep it at the ready for voters who'll care little about constitutional tussles but care a lot about affordable housing: "We wouldn't be having to do this if Plaid hadn't sold out".

Conservative peers ought to vote against it, says Nick Bourne, on the grounds that it was never a good idea. The fact that it's got caught in constitutional quicksand now is proof, he says, that they were right to oppose it all along. I'm not sure I follow that logic but I do follow the maths. If enough Conservative peers join forces with enough Lib Dem peers, then the LCO could sink in the quicksand, not just get stuck in it.

We know that at least one peer who sits on the cross benches is 'minded' to vote against it. Bear in mind that word "minded". Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas may vote against it, then again he may not. He may not vote at all.

The irony, say irritated Labour voices, is that he's left it until now to question an Order that the National Assembly - over which he presides - has already supported democratically. Why not question raise his objections earlier? Why not question the way it was drafted earlier? With some justification, the Presiding Officer may point out that he did just that and got pretty short shrift at the time.

Six months ago the tussle over the transfer of these powers was already being described as "willy waving" by one acerbic Welsh MP. I dread to think what colourful turn of phrase he'd come up with now.


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.