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Archives for September 2009

Sense and sensitivity

Betsan Powys | 11:49 UK time, Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Guess who'll have a satisfied smile on her face when the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, announces at Labour's party conference that a re-elected Labour government would scrap car parking charges for in-patients attending hospitals in England?

The promise, we're told, will be to phase out the car parking charges over three years. The move will cost £140 million each year and would be paid for by cutting unidentified "bureaucracy and back room costs".

Apparently, if necessary, the UK government would legislate to introduce the move.

Not the policy of abolishing car parking charges for all as introduced by Edwina Hart and the Welsh Assembly Government. This is for in-patients only - not a free for all.

All the same she would probably be forgiven for recalling what the Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said back then:

"We don't think it makes sense to spend money that's currently being spent on patient care - getting people treated faster and better - on subsidising car parks. If that's what Scotland and Wales want to do, that's one of the joys of devolution. We're spending the money on improving patient care".

By the sounds of things, it makes a bit more sense now than it did then.


A word of praise from Wayne David now over the way Edwina Hart has 'led the way' over car parking charges.

'I welcome the statement by Andy Burnham today that the NHS in England is following the Labour-led approach in Wales to free parking at hospitals. Mr Burnham clearly signalled his intention today to give free parking permits to families visiting in patients. This is an example of Wales leading the way, and I applaud it.'

Why no word from Mr David's boss? Perhaps because the Welsh Secretary made his own views on the sustainability of offering free car parking in hospitals pretty clear ... last Sunday just as he did in March last year?

On your marks

Betsan Powys | 10:02 UK time, Wednesday, 30 September 2009


_38117804_sprint_start.gifThere's a "very important meeting" happening at lunchtime tomorrow in Transport House.

I think I can already hear the sound of a starting pistol firing.

All Welsh Labour AMs - or comrades in this instance - have been invited along to the first half of a special meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee. Once the WEC formally accepts Mr Morgan's intention to stand down, the race will officially be on. An announcement made within 48 hours of his birthday counts as "on or around" I think.

It just can't be helped, I suppose Labour would argue, that the announcement is being made just in time for the candidates to come out and launch their campaigns ... just as the Conservatives want to make a splash at their conference in Manchester.

All of those non-Labour sources who've said the plan is to look on at the battle over the next eight weeks and "rise above it" had better start practising.


By the way an Email arrived yesterday to remind us all that The All Wales Convention will be ready to report in November - in fact, "before the end of November. Sir Emyr Jones Parry says "Analysing all the evidence we've collected from organisations and members of the public is both fascinating and challenging. We are on schedule and I remain confident that we will have the report completed and published before the end of November".

Given Rhodri Morgan has made it clear he's not going anywhere until the budget has been put to bed - in other words December 8th - in whose inbox will the Convention's report end up?

Confused? You will be.

Betsan Powys | 21:41 UK time, Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Dear children,

I'm sorry to tell you that research published today shows that the children of working mothers are less active and less likely to eat healthy food. You are therefore more likely to be obese. In the last year, I should also warn you I've learned that the children of working mothers are more likely to have problems with reading, more likely to become teenage mothers/parents themselves and are damaged for life because they find it harder to socialise.

I should tell you as well that there've been studies in the past year that show mothers who work compensate by buying their children healthier food than most and use the time they have together far more intensively to encourage social and emotional development.

All in all kids, I wish you luck.

Your (working) mother.

Budget to bed?

Betsan Powys | 12:32 UK time, Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Rhodri Morgan told the Labour group this morning that he plans to stay on as First Minister
"until the budget is put to bed". That means December 8th.

The election to choose his succesor will be held in the meantime. In other words we now sort of know where the finishing line is but still have no idea when the starting pistol will be fired!

Stands, stitches and stirs

Betsan Powys | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 28 September 2009


The very nice lady who sat next to me at a fringe event last night was quite clear that Usdaw had the best giveaways on their stand. Their raisins kept us both going and she'd heard they were promising more and better today. I hope she's made it to their stand to find out.

I'd have to say though that Unite has caused more of a stir amongst other delegates.The warm welcome given to Edwina Hart by them last Wednesday night did nothing to settle the feathers ruffled by her emergence as a serious contender to replace Rhodri Morgan when he finally announces he's going to step down.

Unite's top man in Wales, Andy Richards, recieved her with a hug and a kiss as she arrived to speak to a meeting of union activists. She got a warm round of applause before even beginning to address them and also before the camera left the room. The implication, from the top man at least, was clear - she's one of ours.

I gather a number of emails have been flying around since then, expressing concern about old fashioned union stitch ups and so on.

One "Labour source" told the Western Mail they'd found the spectacle "very disturbing". -Not sure we can we still use the singular really given we already have the Sharks and the Jets - you decide which one is which - and probably the Harts too. Not so says Jeff Cuthbert AM in a letter to the newspaper today: "I think this person has very little knowledge of the party's traditions and certainly no feeling for the union movement". In other words, union power is here to stay, like it or not.

Just why this warm welcome caused such a stir among the Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis camps is made absolutely clear by some figures quoted by the ever-well-informed Lee Waters over on This Is My Truth. He cites a fascinating breakdown of the relative size of each union whose votes will make up the "third" electoral college - the first and second being AM/MPs and party members.

And who's top of the list?

Unite - with 100,450 members eligible to vote, dwarfing the next largest, Unison Wales Labour Link, with 52,000 and the GMB with 51,000.

Discomfiting? You betcha. The other unions are considerably smaller. Usdaw have 22,000 members, CWU 14,000, right down to the Musicians' Union, who were much in evidence at last night's Welsh Night, with 2,000 and TSSA with 1,000. In total, affiliated organisations and societies have just under 300,000 members eligible to vote, so Unite could potentially deliver a third of that college. To put it into perspective and if our maths is right, if all its members voted the same way, it would deliver the equivalent of 20 AMs or MPs.

Of course, they won't do that. The unions will ballot their members, and cast their votes according to the proportion who voted for each candidate. The days of the block vote are long gone.

But if Mrs Hart can take the lion's share of the Unite vote and then make substantial inroads into the Unison and GMB too, then it could go a long way to offsetting any lead that Carwyn Jones is building up among MPs.

The more you look at it, the more intriguing it gets.

Right place, right time

Betsan Powys | 08:21 UK time, Monday, 28 September 2009


Being in the right place at the right time. It doesn't happen by luck you know.

Carwyn Jones, the not-yet-declared leadership contender can tell you that much. It takes planning to find yourself in the right place to shake hands with Gordon Brown as he arrives to say a few words at Welsh night. It takes planning to make sure your soon-to-be-campaign manager is on the spot to film 'the moment'. Coming to a slot on Rhondda TV soon perhaps?

As a Labour parliamentary candidate who'd grabbed a snap with the PM put it, "you learn to be shameless, you know". I think she suspects she's going to need more than a 6x4 with Gordon Brown to win her seat but lost the will to live? Certainly not. Conference seems to be full of people who are rediscovering it. The poll in the Independent this morning that puts Labour on a par with the Liberal Democrats may sap it a bit but reading that the Conservatives are down by two points on last month should surely re-energise them and bother Mr Cameron.

No sign of Edwina Hart in Brighton. She 'doesn't do conferences' says a friendly voice. 'If she'd turned up this year you'd probably slam her' .. for being shameless no doubt. Still. It's winning friends and influencing people time - winning over MPs in particular. Bar talk and nothing else gives Carwyn Jones the support of at least 15 MPs if not more, Huw Lewis 9 if not a few less, depending in which part of the bar you're standing. Edwina Hart? Her camp must accept there is work to do. One MP couldn't help but pull a face last night when I mentioned her name. I'll put him in the Carwyn Jones camp then.

Huw Lewis is here, there, everywhere and rarely without Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East and former General Secretary of the Labour Party in Wales stapled to his side. I'll put her in the busy, upbeat Lewis camp then.

On Radio Cymru a few moments ago Rhodri Morgan was as sanguine as ever and happy to admit that no, he hasn't made up his mind exactly when he'll be off. He wants to do it right and as they say in Cardiff, tidy. Right place, right time.

As one senior figure with a vivid turn of phrase put it to me yesterday, Rhodri "has shown a bit more skirt" and with it lifted the mood of those who'd started to talk about "silly" and damaging delays.

Rhodri Morgan is down to speak at a fringe event later. Just as well he's made clear he is about to stand down before leadership hopefuls spotted the title of the Unite event: "Keeping people in work".

Going, going ...

Betsan Powys | 15:53 UK time, Sunday, 27 September 2009


01.jpgNo date, no details but this was the speech of a man who is going:

'I"ll be announcing, before too long, the exact details of how and when the election of my successor is going to take place'.

You don't talk about successors unless you're planning to go pretty soon - my version of 'before too long'. At a guess his possible successors won't be too unhappy with that. There were mutterings that clear signals had been given he'd be going this Sunday and that this was getting 'silly'. At least they must now glean from his speech that the race is about to begin.

This way they get a chance to see faces, old and new in Brighton and work out whose support is in the bag, who's not quite in the bag and who would tell them where to shove their bag.

Spare a thought for my colleague in the newsroom who wasn't sure what to call the quotations from Mr Morgan's speech. He plumped for 'Rhodri doesn't announce departure date' - does what it says on the tin.

Meanwhile the Welsh language version of news online is struggling. Gordon Brown liked the one about how Labour 'have temporarily mislaid that magic recipe for blending mushy peas of old Labour with the guacamole of new Labour' but ... lost in translation I think.

Hard hats and smiles

Betsan Powys | 11:27 UK time, Sunday, 27 September 2009


Will Rhodri Morgan be making "a big announcement about his future" today here in Brighton?

I don't think so. I don't know so but I'm pretty clear in my own mind that he won't.

People who feel they ought to know these things and who generally do know about these things were whispering last week that the 80%-he's-off I'd put on it was in fact more like 99%. Now the same people are throwing their hands up in the air. Others were hearing "live rumours" last night that he won't be doing anything concrete "this side of Christmas".

Here's my take on it: Rhodri Morgan has made it entirely clear that the decision as to when he goes is his to make. He'll continue to mull over it, quietly, by himself, until he's happy with it. Be patient is the message. Then he'll start telling a handful of people about it and is extremely unlikely to change his mind however they respond. When people predict 'Rhodri not leaving' he says rubbish. When people predict Rhodri will go next Tuesday at 1.30pm he'd no doubt rubbish that too because the one thing he does know is that they don't know.

It's how he does business. Not comfortable for the party around him at the moment but it's how he's playing it.

How useful are briefings at times like these? Inevitably, not very. The same goes for predictions.

The only things that's useful, it seems to me sitting here in Brighton, is to start listening very hard to discover how long the Labour party in Wales, Rhodri Morgan's colleagues, are prepared to give him before they start to insist the decision isn't entirely his - but theirs as well.

We'll be listening to his speech later this afternoon and to the plaudits that will follow - and listening too as Peter Hain goes out to prove that while some in the party may have lost the will to live, while some may be behaving as if it's all over for Labour long before a General Election is called, he is not and will not.

Reminds me of the two signs right outside the temporary newsroom here: the first says HARD HAT AREA. The other, by the CCTV, says 'SMILE.'

Roll up, roll up.

Betsan Powys | 13:56 UK time, Friday, 25 September 2009


jumble_sale203_203x152.jpgGuess what's going on at the offices of the Cardiff West constituency Labour party today.

I couldn't help noticing that they're having a Bring and Buy sale.

If anyone spots the local AM turning up with a carrier bag full of his smartest suits, let me know won't you?

Beauty Contest

Betsan Powys | 07:30 UK time, Friday, 25 September 2009


Will there be a farewell to Rhodri piece that doesn't make something of the fact that he is just that to most of us: Rhodri?

The Morgan bit of his name is well known - no mean feat as some party leaders here can tell you - but is superfluous. He is Rhodri. The school run dad shouts 'When's Rhodri off then?' 'Has Rhodri's been keeping you busy?'

A Westminster civil servant who admitted to being more of an expert on Scotland than Wales once tried out a theory on me. Wales, he said, is unsure about devolution, still not wholly sold on it and so needs a strong, identifiable personality at the helm. Hadn't Rhodri made the Assembly, made devolution acceptable to many of those who hadn't wanted it, partly through the force of his personality? And wasn't there unfinished business which pointed to the need for another strong, identifiable character?

He was talking about a First Minister of course, or at least a Labour leader as First Minister. We didn't get as far as discussing whether the needs of the Labour party in its current state and the needs of Wales for the future are necessarily one and the same thing.

Anyway, let's stick to the point he was making.

Are strong and identifiable both characteristics Rhodri's successor must have? Strong? No doubt. Take that as read. What about identifiable? Was he saying that a distinctive personality was more important than, say, an ability to see that the party around you is in dire straits? Was he saying that a vivid USP beats a message that is direct and appealing and an ability to communicate it to people who vote Labour and more importantly, those who have stopped voting Labour?

He was thinking about Wales, about the job of keeping devolution on track, about a figure-head that could bring the force of their personality to bear on a country that is none too sure where it wants to head - or is it sometimes loses heart.

I was thinking back to that conversation after hearing another question raised: will this campaign - if it ever gets going - be about policy ideas and a clear political narrative or will it be a beauty contest, a race won by the person most of those with a say in the matter can imagine doing the job?

Think about this.

By Christmas the next Assembly election will be less than 18 months away. There's a General Election just round the corner. Are any of the candidates, or their camps, going to spell out policy ideas in detail if they think any half decent ones might be nicked by other parties? How do you persuade people you have a fistful of policies but not show your hand?

Or should we accept that, in the end, it will be about personality? And that - if there is a contest and if they do stand - Carwyn Jones, Huw Lewis and Edwina Hart will only win the votes of Labour grass root supporters, councillors, union and elected members if they tackle these challenges:

Carwyn Jones must win the argument that one man's bland is another's broad appeal;

Edwina Hart must convince them she knows abrasive is bad but assertive good;

Huw Lewis has to persuade the doubters that behind the rhetoric, there are real, deliverable policies.

And as for "identifiable" - isn't it the case that those with a vote will identify not just a First Minister but perhaps first and foremost a leader who can get their party out of the hole they're in?

Lewis x 3

Betsan Powys | 13:58 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009


What was the second most read article throughout the UK on BBC online this morning?

This one.

John Lewis comes to town and the hits come pouring in.

A charming hack, who should clearly sell his soul and go and work for the 'other' side saw an opportunity for Huw Lewis. Couldn't he change his name to John? Great publicity. Never knowingly undersold could work too, couldn't it?

Meanwhile another Lewis shares his take on the future of the Labour leadership in Wales. Take a look at this piece published today in the New Statesman.

Some things strike you as ... just not quite right?

United we stand

Betsan Powys | 11:50 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009


It didn't take her long.

Edwina Hart sailed past the cameraman who was recording the comings and goings outside the Assembly chamber yesterday and called over to Carwyn Jones, who'd spotted the camera and was trying to decide whether he should just carry on walking or turn on his heels.

"I hear Andrew's not standing then!" Off she went in a way that said yes, there's speculation but there's a job of work to be done.

As Health Minister, there's no doubt Mrs Hart addresses meetings most days of the week. It's just that journalists don't tend to be invited. Cameramen beware. But last night's meeting of Unite union activists in Transport House, the nerve centre of both union power and the Labour Party in Wales - coming at the end of a day when Andrew Davies had made his move - took on an added significance. Yes it was to discuss general health service issues, including the importance of retaining health service employees but as I say, journalists don't tend to be invited.

She received a warm welcome. There was even a kiss and a hug outside from Andy Richards, Unite's top man in Wales, followed by applause from the activists for the camera inside - note those words - camera inside.

So where does Unite stand?

"There are no 'anointed' candidates by regional secretaries of Unite in Wales said Mr Richards. "We've got a democratic political committee structure. The political committee will interview all the Unite candidates for that position, when it comes about, and the committee will make a decision. The lay members of our union will make a decision on the night, and that candidate will have all of our support and all of our resources behind them".

I think two of the three names now linked to the leadership race have a good guess where the third thinks those resources are headed.

And where does Edwina Hart stand? Or should that be, will Edwina Hart stand?

"Possible candidates" she said, should wait until the First Minister decides to stand down. "Rhodri has been a great First Minister and he'll obviously advise people in due course ... People are commenting far too much about it and taking their eyes off the main issues which are for me NHS reform and for people, their jobs and livelyhoods."

What about Andrew Davies' comments? "I always consider it a compliment if Andrew says anything nice about me.

Opposition politicians can't wait to tell you she has the job in the bag.

Why not strike a deal with Huw Lewis they suggest and offer a quiet assurance to one or two who are planning to nominate him that they'll not be castigated for it in future? Huw gets a job, Edwina gets the top job.

Their relish at the thought was just as interesting as their political future gazing.

Odds on

Betsan Powys | 12:34 UK time, Wednesday, 23 September 2009


When the cameras are welcomed in to see the first cabinet meeting of the new term limbering up for a session, the talk - so as to avoid proper politics and big decision making naturally - goes something like this:

First Minister: Have you thought about the pictures on your Christmas card for this year?
General muttering.
Unidentified female voice: I don't send cards to anyone.
First Minister: Ah well, some send a Mother's Day card, a Father's Day card, a Christmas card, a birthday card ...

That word. Birthday. I've just looked back at the tape. Both Carwyn Jones and Edwina Hart look very carefully at the piles of notes in front of them. The will-he, won't-he continues though with the man himself seemingly keen at yesteday's lobby briefing to strike off possible reasons for 'won't-he.'

Let's assume he will go then.

On the back of a notepad I'm scribbling the names of three candidates and a list of the Labour AMs who will endorse them. They need six names each to enter the race. On my list, Huw Lewis has six. Carwyn Jones and Edwina Hart have a few more names in their columns than they need. Some of the names have a question mark next to them, an arrow suggesting they could go one of two ways. Might this AM not like the idea of a female First Minister more than his ideas? Might he switch under duress to him? Rather a lot on this list from the same part of Wales ... and won't he say he's voting this way but in the end, vote that?

But on my list at least, everyone has six.

I have no idea whether Karl the bookie heard Andrew Davies on Good Morning Wales using the 'b' word - 'bland' - about what his preferred candidate is not, or whether he heard him call her "a winner". But Karl's odds have just arrived:



INow that her name has been well and truly put in the frame, will Mrs Hart feel the need to come out and do her own talking - sooner rather than later?

En garde!

Betsan Powys | 18:49 UK time, Tuesday, 22 September 2009


So it looks like "" will come in very handy.

Not a well-meaning supporter at all but a campaign that has come to life by proxy.

Andrew Davies, the Finance Minister and a man whom the maths said could well have won it had he wanted the job, says he doesn't want to be First Minister ... should the job become vacant. (Oh for being able to drop that last clause.)

Significant? Well I think you could say we'd worked he wasn't likely to stand some time ago. But the next bit is more so. He doesn't want the job but should his fellow Minister and long time ally Edwina Hart go for it "I will do everything I can to make sure she is the next First Minister".

Can she win it, I asked? Oh she will win it, came the response.

Watching them ... watching us

Betsan Powys | 14:03 UK time, Tuesday, 22 September 2009


To First Minister's Questions.

There were seats to spare in the public gallery but not very many.

There were some empty seats in the chamber but not very many.

A collector's item for those who made it - a well attended FMQs.

The mood was magnanimous. Plaid's Leanne Wood wished the First Minister a happy retirement. She was being, he said, a bit previous. He didn't dwell on how previous. Immediately to his right, Edwina Hart had her head down. Carwyn Jones to her right didn't flinch. Huw Lewis was out of earshot, politely chatting to a group of visitors - putting the people first.

The Financial Times got an honourable mention at least half a dozen times. Its "glowing" reference to the ProAct scheme - designed to prevent redundancies - is probably already in a frame and on an office wall somewhere on the fifth floor.

Magnanimous, did I say? More like "self-congratulatory" to the ears of Conservative Alun Cairns. What about the 116,000 people in Wales who were out of a job? What good was praise in the Financial Times to them? Not fair, sighed the First Minister. Praise for the ProAct and ReAct schemes was praise for the Welsh Manufacturers Forum who came up with the idea - not a self-congratulatory pat on the back for the government. They'd simply spotted it was a good idea and made it work - unlike the Liberal Democrats, came a swipe from somewhere, 'one of the smaller groups in this chamber' who'd pelted it with criticism, talked it down.

He shook his head sadly. Kirsty Williams shook hers. Alun Cairns shook his too for good measure.

AMs, as usual, typed away furiously. Two or three were browsing BBC news pages. I have good news for them - and for you. In future you'll all be able to click on this and watch what's going on as it happens. It's a brand new service that will grow and grow over the coming weeks and months, letting you watch them ... watching us ...

Let me know what you think.

Going on a spree

Betsan Powys | 11:25 UK time, Tuesday, 22 September 2009


You've heard of a spending spree.

You've heard more than enough about a spending squeeze.

Well here's a 'spree exercise' - one we'd heard nothing about and one that's going to hurt.

This morning the First Minister revealed that for the past two years the Assembly Government has been conducting what he called a "Spree Exercise", a two year internal evaluation scheme of public sector projects. How do you spell that, mouthed one reporter? Forget how you spell it. What is it?

Mr Morgan mentioned this particular SpREE - Spending Review and Evaluation Exercise -in response to a question about how the government intends to cope with its most difficult budget round ever.

Along the way a number of "low priority" projects have been indentified which could be cut in response to the "very difficult" budgetary situation.

_39385037_trafficlights203.jpgHe talked about traffic lights, about using red, amber and green as a way of identifying which projects had been delivering, which hadn't; which were safe and which are operating under the glare of a red light that says their money is about to stop.

Would chopping the budgets of these public sector projects lead to job losses? There would, said Mr Morgan, inevitably be a "drop-off" in the number of public sector jobs in Wales, although this would in part be offset by the increase in people working for the Department for Work and Pensions dealing with the impact of the recession. Welcome to downturn swings and roundabouts.

Which projects are under threat? He wouldn't be drawn. That will be up to the Finance Minister's job when the draft budget is published this autumn.

The First MInister's not talked about this process before in his briefings but the government refer us to this statement made some years ago.

It's fair to say it was news to Nick Bourne too. The official opposition - or the "government in waiting" as he's taken to describing the Conservative group - say it's the first time he's heard it discussed like this. Mr Bourne has, as he admits himself, been asking Mr Morgan with "what some might call monotonous regularity" about the spending programme and possible cuts to come.

Still. Now we know. So just who is working for public sector programmes that are, as the First Minister puts it, "nice to have but not things you need to have?"

No go.

Betsan Powys | 15:45 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009


_46301499_sign.jpgHave they taken the bait, or haven't they?

The four Assembly Members who tabled a motion calling on the Assembly Commission to keep things as they are with regard to the bilingual record of proceedings in the chamber seemed to be refusing to back down. There was indeed a compromise but it wasn't one they would accept.

Then it sounded as though they were backing down from the barricades, before revealing that they were going for it after all.

Alun Davies, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Paul Davies and Jenny Randerson are tabling another motion which says this:

"The National Assembly for Wales notes the decision of the Assembly Commission on Monday 21 September to undertake a review of language provision in the Assembly and to produce a formal bilingual record in 3-10 days rather than the 24 hours as at present.

The National Assembly for Wales is disappointed with both this decision and the way in which this issue has been managed by the Commission.

The National Assembly for Wales therefore resolves that the status quo is maintained whilst any review takes place and that the review is conducted openly and transparently with AMs and others given the opportunity to comment and take part".

I thought it was all over. It isn't ... for now.

Red herrings

Betsan Powys | 14:24 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009


Right: let's have another stab at this.

How many houses in Wales would the new million pound tax affect, given the plan is to work from land registry values - in other words what you paid for your house all those years ago, not what it might be worth now?

Not many noughts, I ventured. Around 100? One nought, said my colleague. The answer is 40.

So bringing in the tax in Wales would raise very little. The money we'd put into the pot would be minimal.

But we'd get a lot out. We have a disproportinate number of people earning a low income and igven the money raised from the levy would go towards raising all of those people out of the tax bracket, Wales would be getting rather a lot out of the pot.

Good news for Wales, then. End of story.

Of course it might not happen this way, especially in the devolved nations but ... this is the plan for now.

Oh and forget Barnett - another of the red herrings that seem to be drifting into the Conference Centre from the sea outside this week. Glad to see I'm not alone in coming across those.

On another note: the Welsh Lib Dems' Transport Consultation Document is out. It's about 'changing the centre of gravity' from road to rail, about cutting all public subsidy from the north-south air link and if what you're after is more of an M470 than an A470, "don't look to the Liberal Democrats".

At least that is perfectly clear.

Peter and Paul

Betsan Powys | 12:11 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009


Some questions to which we're still seeking some clear answers:

Does the £1m property tax apply all over the UK?


It's expected to raise a billion pounds of revenue?


And it'll apply in Wales, though clearly it'll hit areas like the South East of England rather harder?


So .. to put it bluntly, is this pay day in Wales? A win win situation? We've got fewer £1m mansions but rather more people on a low income who would benefit from the money raised so ... yipee?

Yes .. well ... actually say Welsh Lib Dems, the Assembly could opt out if it wanted to.

Why would it want to?

Well if councils do apply the new tax in Wales, any money raised by them will be taken off the block grant from the Treasury that the Assembly Government gets to decide how to spend.

So the money that would be raised in Wales with the one hand (comparatively not that much actually) would be taken off with the other? Paying Paul, robbing Peter?

Um ... I'll come back to you with an answer to that one later. But it would be up to the Assembly whether it wanted to help people on a low income, help lighten their tax burden. It's about inequality and fairness.

But it would lose that same amount of money from the overall sum it gets?


If you raise money with one hand only to have it taken away from the other, can anyone spell out clearly the incentive to administer it at all?

Nothing personal guys.

Betsan Powys | 16:27 UK time, Sunday, 20 September 2009


_45758103_dafelthom_poster.jpgThere may be a compromise ahead ... or so sang the Presiding Officer on The Politics Show this afternoon.

He was talking about the future or otherwise of a fully bilingual record of debates in the Assembly chamber and a compromise - one that would appease angry AMs, while allowing the PO to make absolutely clear his disappointment "that the debate hasn't risen above talking about what we are doing already and not looking to the future".

Let's take a stab at what that compromise might look like: English-Welsh translation will be reinstated but not the expensive, overnight sort. How about the if-you-want-it-that-much-you-can-wait-a-few-days sort? It might not save them £250,000 but it would save them a few noughts surely?

And might they use a bit of what they've saved to pay for a fully bilingual record of some committees in future - perhaps the ones discussing legislation?

The Commission will meet tomorrow to talk compromises. In the meantime a direct message to his former colleagues at the Welsh Language Board from the Presiding Officer: he really doesn't want to fall out with them. After all his "deep unease" with their role in the matter isn't personal. It's purely constitutional guys.

Red lines

Betsan Powys | 12:51 UK time, Sunday, 20 September 2009


_45079920_runners_pa.jpgDown to Bournemouth.

By the time I got past Bath coverage of the Great North Run on the car radio was already being overshadowed by the runners lining up for the Great Rush to Cut. Ed Balls was limbering up to cut £2b from the education budget in England, while Nick Clegg was already way down the course, proving he was serious about cuts by warning Liberal Democrats they might have to wave goodbye to their policy of scrapping university tuition fees.

He still hates the thought of tuition fees, is dead set against tuition fees and would like to do something about getting rid of them but there's only so much money in the pot and the party had to be "realistic" about what they could do with that money if ever in government.

Remind you of Plaid Cymru's 'still opposed in principle but not in government' line?

How did Peter Black put it back in May?

"It is all very well your bleating, 'We haven't got the money' but the fact is that you do have it; you have chosen to spend it differently."

Unlikely, then, that Mr Clegg will cast a vote for the Welsh Lib Dems in tonight's blog awards. Their You Tube film exposing "Hyprocrite Plaid and Labour protesting" against introducing top-up fees is up for best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat award. The prize is yours ... in principle.

The prize for best use of your question in a Liberal Democrat press conference goes to Rob Speht, a Lib Dem councillor from Swansea.

Kirsty Williams got through the Barnett formula questions ok (yes, there was a cake) and the bit about amalgamating the Welsh Secretary's job with the Scottish and Northern Irish jobs to create a cabinet member for the Nations and Regions. She is "comfortable with that suggestion" because "by that stage, Wales would have a proper parliament". We'll take that as party policy and a red line in the sand, then?

There'd been a "robust discussion" after Vince Cable let slip his thoughts on scrapping the defence training academy in St Athan and a paper had been sent to Nick Clegg containing advice should he ever enter into negotiations with David Cameron on forming a coalition. It ishould, she suggested, be sub-titled "How not to conduct coalition negotiations".

A final question from Councillor Speht. "Where do you stand on mineral rights" he asked - on the bits of oil and gas, minerals, wind farms and so on in Wales? You can't, after all, talk about Barnett in isolation from that sort of thing, can you?

Ahem ... yes, for today, Kirsty Williams could.

UPDATE: Plans to create that new amalgamated role of a cabinet member for the Nations and Regions are not reliant on there being a 'proper parliament' in Wales first. They are reliant on the Lib Dems being in power in Westminster ... which would lead a referendum ... which if won would lead to a 'proper parliament'.

More from Nick Clegg on student fees:

"There is no question mark over the policy of the Liberal Democrats to scrap tuition fees. Thre is no question mark about my personal commitment to that policy. The only question mark is about when we can afford to scrap it ... We've got to treat people like grown ups. It is a policy that has significant financial implications".

From the floor :"The abolition of tuition fees is about a lot more than just money!"

Nick Clegg: "Yes it is. So is candour".

Didn't quite work ....

Form an orderly queue

Betsan Powys | 14:10 UK time, Friday, 18 September 2009


When I was handed a copy of Adam Price's speech at the Plaid conference I put a big, red cross next to the passage that included these words:

"I do want to come home. I'm tired of beating my head and my hands against the dumb cold walls of Westminster. I will never feel that I belong in that Parliament, thought I have to breathe its dust-laden air".

I say 'included these words' because the original copy we were given went on to say rather more than was actually delivered to conference. On paper it read to me like an announcement that the Director of Elections was not only standing down from that post but was about to leave parliament too. Listen out for the applause, I said on Conference Live. He's about to tell them he's off now.

Except that wasn't how it was delivered and that's not the version that appeared on Adam Price's blog. I don't have to hand the copy I brought home with me but I know I crossed out at least a few lines, as though the message was being toned down. His delivery was more 'I have a dream' than 'They have found an Assembly seat for me'.

I already had him down to fight Neath in 2011 if you remember. I think I'll stick to that as we learn that it is indeed 'I'm off at the General Election' to the States for a year where he's to take up a Fulbright scholarship.

So who gets their hands on his predicted 46.39% of the vote in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr at the General Election - and Plaid's safest seat? Get in line now boys. I can think of a few local candidates who've done the usual rounds of hopeless seats. And isn't Jonathan Edwards, Plaid's former Head of Strategy an Amman Valley boy? What about John Dixon - doesn't he deserve a shift to a safe-as-houses seat? Could Dafydd Wigley be tempted to find an old Aunt tucked away in the constituency somewhere?

Ok, I'll stop the speculation.

But hang on - then there's the Director of Elections post. Less get in line boys than here come the girls. That job has gone to Helen Mary Jones ... so who gets to be Director Communications?

The response from the party leader? Ieuan Wyn Jones is 100% behind Adam Price's decision. He wants him back as soon as the year out is over to be a part of the team. And this, you suppose, is as neat a way as any to make the transition from the "dumb, cold walls" of Westminster to the transparent - but still pretty sheer walls - facing the Plaid Assembly team.

Monday 0700

The orderly queue, so far, is of Plaid's young guard ruling themselves out. Llyr Huws Gruffydd says he's sticking to his patch in Clwyd West and Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid's Co-ordinator for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ceredigion, reckons he has a job to do behind the scenes. There are, he suggests, big(ger) guns who are interested in the chance to represent the people of Carmarthen East. They may not be familiar names to you. Let's see if more familiar names join the no thanks queue ... or stay silent .

Small feet, big shoes

Betsan Powys | 10:32 UK time, Friday, 18 September 2009


high_heels.jpgI'm at home today and picked up my copy of Golwg to read with a coffee.

They've managed to get an interview with Edwina Hart and have honed in on her love of shoes. The politician "with the small feet and the high heels" as they call her is photographed in a pink, patent, beribboned pair that are clearly a favourite and not designed to walk up the steps of the Senedd.

Ah - the reporter seizes on their chance to ask her about the leadership. "Is she ready to step into someone else's shoes?"

"I don't step into anyone else's shoes" comes the response - "more like create new shoes for myself perhaps."

And then there were three ...

Betsan Powys | 09:39 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009


_39953387_domains-bbc203.jpgTake a look, said a text message, at the Whois domain name search engine. Type in

I did and found the domain name was registered to Carwyn Jones, National Assembly, Cardiff, Wales, CF99 1NA.

It was created on September 11th 2009.

Hm, said the text. "It's registered to his National Assembly for Wales office. I wonder if that's against assembly and electoral rules?"

Isn't it interesting that the somewhat toxic mix of leadership campaigns and electoral rules are already being raised in some quarters? The prototype, of course, was Hain4Labour - the campaign website of the Neath MP's ill-fated bid for the deputy leadership of the Labour party.

But let's face it an online presence is going to be vital for any serious candidate to take on Rhodri Morgan's job. So how interesting that was created and registered 16th September 2009 - yesterday. Back to Whois. The administrative contact is Mark Ronconi of Business Web Marketing of Upper Killay in Swansea.

What do we glean from this? Either that Edwina Hart is on the verge of launching her leadership campaign or that a well-meaning supporter wants to make sure the ducks - remember them - are in line, just in case.

In case you were wondering, no sign yet of a or a

Lining 'em up

Betsan Powys | 16:38 UK time, Wednesday, 16 September 2009


duck-race-150.jpgA Labour party official has just confirmed that "the ducks are all lined up for Rhodri to announce he's stepping down and to trigger an election ... but ... "

"But" indeed.

We all know that things don't always turn out as you might expect when Rhodri Morgan and ducks are concerned. Let's just accept we might all be going round in circles on this one for a little bit longer.

Parties and perils

Betsan Powys | 13:02 UK time, Wednesday, 16 September 2009


perils_of_pauline_tracks_small_thumb.jpgIt's still a case of reading between the lines but it is starting to feel as though this stab at the choreography around Rhodri Morgan's departure wasn't that far off.

Let's say that 80%/20% will he, won't he shifts to 85%/15% and let's say too, for now, that the 85% are right.

His speech to conference in Brighton will be on a week Sunday. It will, perhaps, be rather less between-the-lines and rather more in-the-headlines than that particular entry had imagined and we will, so the whispering goes, 'be left in no doubt' as to his intentions by the time he leaves the stage. Not very statesmanlike to stand down in Brighton, rather than Cardiff did I say? Apparently that's almost the point. This is a party political matter and that is how the party want it to be seen - an announcement by the party man to the party, with the party faithful.

Next on will be Peter Hain. Then Sunday's Welsh night, with last year's goodbye Glenys topped by this year's hwyl fawr Rhodri. I imagine Frank Hennessy's been drawing up his song list for some time.

Unless someone's playing a very deliberate spoiling game, the First Minister's farewell is designed to go something like that.

But song lists aside, here's another list for you - a list of what we'll call 'the new marginals'. I've just been sharing it with producers who must decide where they're going to send their reporters over the coming months and who've got used, over the years, to commissioning constituency profiles on Cardiff North, the Vale of Glamorgan, Ynys Môn and of course, Conwy. How many of those have you seen over the years?

"If you're doing a piece to camera and want to see Conwy Castle, the town, a bit of the surrounding countryside and the coastline in the distance, there's a lovely spot just here" ... advice from the man who churned out pieces last time round and the time before that and for all I know, the one before that one too.

The newly-named Aberconwy make it onto the new list but only just and not because Betty Williams MP's successor is going to come from the same party. Some other familiar names are there - Ceredigion, Llanelli, Ynys Môn and don't take your eyes off Blaenau Gwent. (I was up there on Monday night and was told that in a school election not that long ago, Plaid took it. But back to the real world ...)


Alphabectically it goes Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Carmarthen West and South Pembs, Cardiff South and West, Clwyd South, Gower, Delyn, Montgomeryshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport East, Newport West, Swansea West, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham ... I stopped there for the purposes of this morning's meeting.

A Labour source suggested recently that looking at North Wales, the party's best bet for a hold was Wrexham. Not Alyn and Deeside? No. The demographics have changed. It went in the European elections and now people are listening to warnings that on a bad night, it could go at the General Election too.

Last year a Labour AM told me that at that week's Labour group meeting, they could have sworn they'd heard a noise in the background - that of a train hurtling towards them at high speed but that no-one else seemed to be hearing it. Given it wasn't the sort of thing I'd got used to hearing from them, I listened properly.

A few months ago I passed them on the steps of the Senedd. You know that sound, they said - I know you think it hit us in June but I can still see those headlights coming.

It's started to hit home outside Wales that in a year's time, the most powerful Labour minister in the land will possibly be the person in charge of dealing with that impact.

Don't, then, expect the candidates who want to become First Minister to spend more than a few days saying goodbye to the old one - if he does make way for them. Sunday and Monday? Yes. By Tuesday won't it be Rhodri who?

They have a train to stop.

Drip drip drip

Betsan Powys | 12:45 UK time, Monday, 14 September 2009


_42939829_antar_bbc_203.jpgIt isn't always easy to tell what it is you're hearing in the rush of noise that is a party conference.

You can always make out the sound and fury of course, the soundbites and the drums being beaten over issues that suddenly gain in importance with months to go to a General Election. But making out what I'd describe as a drip ... drip in the background is harder work.

Plaid held a Q+A session with Ministers in Llandudno, where Ieuan Wyn Jones was asked about 'the referendum' or for those of you who drop in only now and then, the referendum to boost the Assembly's law-making powers ... the one Labour and Plaid made central to their power-sharing deal ... the one they've pledged to hold on or before the 2011 Assembly election as long as it's felt the public want one.

That's where Emyr and the Appetite Testers come into things (or Emyr and the Persuaders as True Wales see it).

Ieuan Wyn Jones was entirely clear in his answers to the questions put to him. There was no need to strain to make out his message.

"It's very important" he said, "that everybody out there knows what the
constitutional goal of this party is. I think it's very important that we don't hide that and the public knows it. What we have to be is be open - say to people where we stand on the

In other words the long-term goal of Plaid Cymru remains an independent Wales.

The quiet stirring of shifting sands came care of Plaid's deputy housing minister Jocelyn Davies. She raised the possibility, as did the Presiding Officer some months back, of holding a referendum on the same day as the 2011 election.

"I think we should consider it, put a good case to the Electoral Commission
and perhaps they could clarify whether they would be opposed to it or not,'' she said.

Many of those there listening thought they'd heard the Electoral Commission saying back in May that it was a very bad idea. With the best interests of the voter being their main concern, they'd said "that referendums on fundamental issues of national importance should be held separately from other polls".

They'd honed in on the danger of multiple choice-type manifestoes depending on whether the referendum is won or not, the danger of confusing the voter, the danger that it would all "impact negatively upon voter engagement, turnout or outcomes in both polls".

It sounded and felt like a no-no.

But they hadn't stopped there. They'd added, back in May, that in the case of combining a referendum on the Assembly's law-making powers with an Assembly election, as in all cases "the Commission would consider any proposal in the circumstances at the time".

So would they be opposed to it, or not? Was it over-egging things to read their response as a no-no?

It sounds to me as though it was. There is, as one softly-spoken but crystal clear voice at the Commission put it to me, never a perfect scenario as far as timing goes. In the real world a referendum cannot always be separate. So? The Commission would certainly reiterate that having separate polls is better for the voter but they'd look at the case on its merits, should a case ever be put.

If you'd thought, then, that the Electoral Commission had frozen out the possiblity of a combined election and referendum day, it sounds clear to me that they haven't.

Adam Rant

Betsan Powys | 14:57 UK time, Saturday, 12 September 2009


adam.jpgI've no idea whether either Nick Bourne or David Melding tune in to Conference Live. It's sunny out there, I know and politicians have lives and Sky +.

But if, by any chance, they were watching a moment ago, they'll just have heard Adam Price sending them both a message. To one, he showed the hand of political friendship. To the other, it was a fist.

To David Melding, it was this: "Join us, David the water's warm ... You're living proof that it is possible to be Welsh and a small 'c' conservative".

Be warned Mr Melding - I think that's what they call a back-handed compliment.

To Nick Bourne, it was anything but: "Who can forget Nicholas Bourne beaming before Carmarthenshire's votes were counted, thinking that Wales had collectively voted itself out of existence for the second time in our history ... No man who betrayed his country so enthusiastically could ever earn the right to lead it".

Perhaps it's just as well that Adam Price delivered his speech in English only, the only senior bilingual Plaid figure who seems to get away with that unscathed. 'Brad' in Welsh has connotations even stronger than 'betrayal'.

What was that about "the prevailing wisdom of a party that has always defined itself as being against the development of our Welsh Democracy" too? Was it an informed hint about the internal argument amongst Conservatives about whether to include in their manifesto a pledge not to block a referendum, or just a general bullet fired in their direction?

I'll bet you one thing: one or two of the messages fired at Welsh Labour MPs in his speech will be repeated in the bars of Llandudno many times tonight, perhaps the "matching silk ties, silk hankies and for I know silk underwear as well" proving the favourite.

Lord, Hear our prayer?

Betsan Powys | 12:13 UK time, Saturday, 12 September 2009


hansard-460x230.jpgWhat's Plaid's position on the row about whether the bilingual record of proceedings in the Assembly - its version of Hansard in parliament - should be maintained?

They've just passed an emergency motion which says Plaid "is strongly of the opinion that the intention of the Assembly Commission not to translate in writing speeches from English into Welsh made at Assembly plenaries is unacceptable and Conference calls on the Commission to reverse its decision".

Now we know, though it seems some key and senior figures disagree - and I'm not talking about the Presiding Officer, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas here. It's only 'certain kind of nationalists' who set such store by this sort of thing, said one - a delegate who won't have applauded that particular motion which sailed through conference.

The loudest burst of applause heard so far? I think it's fair to say it was for Angus Robertson, the SNP's parliamentary leader, over his defence of the Scottish government's decision to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi - the "Libyan bomber". They liked it a lot. Scottish democracy, said Mr Robertson had grown in stature. More applause.

They liked this line too:

"At the next Westminster election we need to elect a record number of Plaid and SNP MPs to form what I'm calling a Celtic Bloc, a block on cuts and services like the NHS, a block on financial attacks on the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Governments and a strong force in Parliament that stands up for the real priorities and values of people in Wales and Scotland".

Quid pro quo for such a warm reception? Did I hear him drop in a 'think different?' On message or what?

Triple toe loops

Betsan Powys | 11:15 UK time, Saturday, 12 September 2009


_42375024_skating_afp416.jpgPlaid delegates never tire of telling you how much the enjoy coming to Llandudno and to conference HQ in the Venue.

They probably remember the old Arcadia theatre stood here before the snazzy Venue was built but it's unlikely that many of them remember that even before the Arcadia, there was a skating rink on this spot, taken over by a showman who wanted to imbue the place with a bit of showbiz quality. It was the kind of place you came on a Saturday night to show off your moves, impress the crowd with your flashy edges.

Ieuan Wyn Jones has never been the showbiz type. In this year's conference speech he stuck to what he knew. He only went off piste once and that was to poke fun at himself. It was Adam Price, of course, who famously referred to him as "coming across like a good country soliciitor". Mr Jones substituted "charismatic" for "good" but only, you sensed, to give his audience a bit of light relief. The tag has stuck and he's going with it.

There've been no flashy moves at conference in fact. No double lutzes or triple toe loops to grab the headlines. There's been just one move we'll dub "The Crossroads" - one that entails taking a "different route" to everyone else, carving out a path that is unlike that of the "London lapdog" parties. We shouldn't really be surprised by that I suppose. Pre-election conferences don't tend to kick off and what's the betting that every single party at every single conference will say they want to offer something "different", something that responds to the public mood for a "different kind of politics?" Pretty short odds I'd say.

What did we get from the leader's speech then? It was hard to avoid the line "us on the left" that was flagged up in advance. In other words the Tories are coming and there's no point relying on a disorganised Labour party to stop them. If you've never voted Plaid before but don't want to let the Tories in then vote for us. We'll take 'em on for you.

What did that woman on a high street in Islwyn say on the news last night? Something along the lines of 'we've always voted Labour around here and we probably will again ... even if they don't deserve it'. Plaid's message to her? Try us. Then again what did that man say? That he knows Plaid are the party for Wales but are they "left, right or centre?" It'll take quite a move to dazzle him. He'd love the "us on the left" line, hate the thought that Plaid would be prepared to do deals with David Cameron - if it turns out he needs them and if they truly thought a referendum and chance to revise the Barnett forumula were on the table.

How do Plaid hope to do in the General Election? They'll want to hang on to what they've got, re-take Ceredigion and Ynys Mon (though as a man who knows the island far better than I do puts it, it's far easier to see why each candidate would lose Ynys Mon than why any one of them would win it.)

Other targets? Aberconwy and Llanelli maybe but beyond that?

At this stage Plaid will dazzle themselves if they carve out enough support to take anywhere else.

Maximum wage, minimal blogging

Betsan Powys | 13:22 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009


Apologies for the light blogging. Other duties getting in the way but given Plaid conferences are always awash with bloggers - even celebrity bloggers are nothing new here - then I doubt you'll be missing out.

An interesting motion put down by Plaid's Westminster MPs has won support from conference. It called for a maxiumum wage that "would ensure a greater balance between the amount paid to high earners and that paid to ordinary staff". No doubt the detail on how exactly you make that work and the role of a High Pay Commission that's backed by Plaid MPs too, will be coming soon.

The party leader may be wondering by now whether he's paid enough. Given it's big speech day Ieuan Wyn Jones had an early start, his round of radio interviews taking him from Radio 4's Today to Radio 5's Nikki Campbell (sorry: that should read Nicky Campbell, though I bet he'd find it hard going spelling my name ...) and on to Llandudno FM. Sadly for the people of Llandudno - or should that be for Mr Jones - it turns out that he was off mic during his final interview, which means Llandudno FM fans will have heard the presenter telling him she'd been practising pronouncing his name and they'll have heard all the questions she posed ... but not the answers.

I did make out one: "Rhodri Morgan will be standing down soon as First Minister. You're the Deputy First Minister so do you think you should take over?"

"Yes, I'd love to! But it doesn't quite work like that ..."

Campaigning in poetry?

Betsan Powys | 06:00 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009


_44390106_leighton_andrews_203.jpgThere is still no date set for Rhodri Morgan's departure.

With just over a fortnight to go until he celebrates his 70th birthday there's no date and therefore no race to succeed him as Labour leader and First Minister.

But there is a campaign manager.

By pure coincidence I'm sure, on the day Plaid's leader takes to the stage at the party's Autumn conference news emerges that should Rhodri Morgan announce that he is standing down, then Leighton Andrews is ready to take over as Carwyn Jones' campaign manager.

SHOULD he stand down? This isn't, I think we can safely say, the move of a candidate who expects the First Minister to stay put.

The campaign manger's CV?

You'll remember the extraordinary skilful job the Rhondda AM did of managing the Burberry campaign.

You won't have forgotten either his role in the Yes for Wales campaign.

What about the first time round when the race to become First Secretary was run, as the job was then? Leighton Andrews is credited with the line - in support of Alun Michael - that "Nobody does it better." Mind you if we're looking back to those days, a Carwyn Jones supporter this time round would no doubt might remind us all that another probable contender for Rhodri Morgan's job, Huw Lewis, made his support for Alun Michael pretty clear at that time too.

Those who'd rather see Huw Lewis taking over from Rhodri Morgan and who'll be flocking to see their man share a platform with John Cruddas MP this afternoon aren't impressed. "Getting your campaign manager to endorse you is a bit like dancing with your sister - fun for a while but gets you nowhere in the end".

As Plaid have been saying in Llandudno, I suspect you need to "think about" that one.

Tight squeezes

Betsan Powys | 17:40 UK time, Wednesday, 9 September 2009


That space you may have been watching surrounding whether the official record of proceedings in plenary will be fully bilingual or not in the future has just got too crowded for updates.

The Welsh Language Board has clearly paid for and got its legal advice. Under the heading "Board demands answers" it has just rejected the Assembly's request to change the wording of its Welsh language scheme.

Bear in mind that crucial to this argument is whether the Assembly Commission had adopted the scheme for which Assembly had voted.

No, says the Commission.

Yes, says the Welsh Language Board and refer to a letter sent by the Presiding Officer back in October 2006 which the Board says makes clear that the Commission was adopting a Welsh language scheme under the guidelines set out in the Welsh Language Act.

I'll quote the Board's comments:

"In a letter to the Board on 28 August 2009, the Assembly assumed that there was ambiguity in the wording of section 4.8 of the scheme:

"A bilingual verbatim record is published of each Plenary meeting."

The Board believes that the wording is clear.

The Board states that the Assembly's Welsh Language Scheme is a statutory scheme, adopted by both the Commission and by the Assembly.

In its original letter to the Presiding Officer of the Assembly on 10 August, the Chief Executive of the Welsh Board, Meirion Prys Jones, asked a series of questions in order to determine the background and basis of the decision not to translate the record of Plenary meetings into Welsh. The Board is not satisfied it has received answers to all the questions. Therefore, the Board has requested that the Assembly provides comprehensive answers by 22 September 2009.

In cases where the Board has doubts that a public body has failed to comply with its language scheme, it has a statutory power, under the Welsh Language Act 1993, to hold an investigation. If the Board has not received a satisfactory response to all the questions asked by 22 September 2009, it will continue to consider the next steps on the basis of the information already made available".

That tight corner, out of which Sir Humphrey was still confident he could squeeze, just got a whole lot tighter.

"Think about it"

Betsan Powys | 13:39 UK time, Wednesday, 9 September 2009


_41463470_thinkerrodin.jpgOff to Llandudno in the morning.

'You musn't go by anything I've said', as Rudyard Kipling put it because you know what journalists are like at conferences. You don't? Here's how one of the top dogs of the Welsh public affairs community defines us:

Journalist: n. Can't conference with them, can't conference without them. Inquisitive, often friendly, but - like your best friend's dog - has an agenda and can always come back and bite you. Remember why they're there: they need copy. They're skilled at making a story out of absolutely nothing. So help if you dare. If you're a manipulator, you'll know the art. If you're an influencer, you're just vox pop fodder. You'll always leave conference wondering why quite so many of them were needed.

I've read from A-Z but can't quite see into which category public affairs movers and shakers fit - somewhere between 'manipulator' and 'influencer' perhaps? I'll work on it this weekend as we head off to the first of the Autumn season's conferences: Plaid in the Venue in Llandudno.

What will delegates have on their minds?

They will be looking for every opportunity to go on the attack against the Conservatives - point to the right and fire.

They will be shaking their heads at the 'lack of certainty' surrounding the First Minister's future - is he standing down or is he not?

They will be looking at the polls, seeing an opportunity to scoop up support from voters formerly known as Labour.

Plaid were unhappy with anyone who suggested they ought to be unhappy with the results of the European election, with anyone who suggested they'd be looking at SNP gains in Scotland with envy. They may have said they were going to come first on June 4th but come on, isn't that the sort of thing 'manipulators' say that sort of thing before an election?

Privately they would have been very happy with second. Can't say anyone, even privately, suggested that they'd be very happy with third.

What do the facts and figures show?

Plaid did well where they needed to do well, in seats where they work hard, seats that are obvious targets at the General Election. That they'd received more than 1000 votes in every constituency - one of only two parties, UKIP being the other - was a consoling fact that made it onto twitter in no time at all. Here was evidence, went the accompanying analysis, that Plaid were making inroads everywhere, that they, not Labour, could now legitimately claim to be a party for the whole of Wales.

But breaking through in solid Labour seats, in the valleys? It didn't happen, even on a night when Labour's percentage of the vote fell further in Wales than anywhere else in Britain. Wasn't it a no-brainer that with Labour votes up for grabs everywhere, Plaid would have wanted to pick up more of them than they did?

Inevitably, yes.

So was there serious and detailed debate asking what it is that prevents those voters who put a cross in the Plaid box at the Assembly Election from giving them their vote in a General Election? Some 'ah go on, we put you off don't we?' focus group work that makes you blush and hide it at the back of the drawer but only after you've read it, re-read it and analysed it? You'd assume there has been, though we're unlikely to find that out.

What about a spelling out of the fact that if those voters aren't persuaded to vote Plaid at the next General Election, with the big three political parties in Westminster as unpopular as anyone can remember, then when?

This morning I got a text from Plaid. It said "think about it".

What does that mean?

Does it mean that they have thought about all of that? Does it mean that facing up to it is a crucial part of their strategy for the election campaign? And this weekend, will we see them thinking about it, hear them debating it, watch them squaring up to it robustly or will it be the 'steady as she goes' Plaid that heads up to Llandudno?

The one certainty? What the 'Bar fly' and his mates - I'm back with the A-Z - will be discussing into the early hours. David Taylor, the man who coaxed the Aneurin Glyndwr website into existence, is considering standing for Labour in nearby Arfon at the General Election.

Locally Plaid say they're delighted at the news.

About Wales

Betsan Powys | 13:22 UK time, Wednesday, 9 September 2009


A blog entry from The Guardianstarts with the words: "This is about Wales. And it may not amount to anything. But you never know."

Don't let the introduction - "sounds disparaging ... wasn't meant to" - put you off. It's worth a read.

And finally ...

Betsan Powys | 17:02 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009


And finally ... the motion which is being tabled on behalf of Alun Davies, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Paul Davies and Jenny Randerson and which must surely bring to a halt plans to no longer translate contributions made in English into Welsh for the official record.

Here it is in full:

Equality within the National Assembly for Wales

This is a motion tabled under Section 27 clause 6 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.

The National Assembly notes the decision of the Assembly Commission to cease the direct translation of Welsh to English within the record of proceedings.

The National Assembly further notes that this decision was taken without any consultation with Members and that Members were not notified that the decision was to be taken.

The National Assembly for Wales believes that a commitment to equality is a founding principle of the institution.

The National Assembly for Wales is disappointed by this decision of the Commission and instructs the Commission to ensure that the Assembly's commitment to equality is reflected throughout the work and the decisions of the Commission.

The National Assembly for Wales reaffirms its commitment to both of Wales' national languages, the creation of a bilingual Wales, and instructs the Commission to treat both languages on the basis of equality.

The National Assembly also affirms the right of Members to be informed of the work of the Commission and to be consulted on any major decisions.

The suggestion? That unless the Commission and the Presiding Officer fall into line and scrap their plan, then the matter becomes one of confidence.

Watch this space.

UPDATE: As one of this blog's readers has noticed - a reader that as far as I can tell from his comments manages generally to keep a clear head - the motion should read "translation of English to Welsh" not vice versa. Clear head = good thing.

UPDATE: Sir Humphrey is not a happy bunny and into the space we're all watching lobs this sentiment: "Nothing has changed".

It's certainly true, as Sir Humphrey's friends point out, that the motion doesn't compel the Commission to back down. My suggestion yesterday was that it didn't do that precisely because it gave the Presiding Officer a way out. Any stronger and the matter would become one of confidence.

There's unhappiness too that the motion claims "members were not notified that the decision was to be taken" when the papers for the Commission meeting on June 1st were made available online on June 22nd. All Assembly Members were sent an Email drawing their attention to them.

Fair enough. What should they have spotted? If they'd worked their way through the paragraphs on strategy, the figures and the percentages, they would have come to this:

3.11 Areas of spend that could be reviewed include:

Service levels - in areas we may need to consider the balance between demands and affordability (for example the current requiment for a fully bilingual record of plenary meetings".

So yes, it was there - page three, in brackets but there.

So what next?

No sign of the Commission backing down, though doesn't Sir Humphrey always find a third way? One that allows for a 'review' that would take a look, not just at direct translation of proceedings but at how the Welsh language is used in committees and on a day to day basis in the Assembly: one that would create a way out of a tight corner.

One of the four Commissioners, Labour's Lorraine Barrett, has no intention of trying to get out of the corner at all.

The decision, she says, is the right one. Money has got to be saved and time would be far better spent not getting "het up" about this decision and rather concentrating on the "exciting plans" the Presiding Officer has in place to enhance the use of Welsh in the Assembly more generally.

It's significant, she suggests, that there is no translation at all in Scotland and Ireland and adds too that as far as she can recollect, the decision wasn not controversial when it was discussed with her fellow Commissioners. Were objections raised, as we're now told by Plaid's Chris Franks and by Nick Bourne?

That is not her recollection.

"This is a draft budget, so obviously people will have their views, but I think it's the right decision".

This space is starting to get rather more crowded.

Rations, what rations?

Betsan Powys | 12:59 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009


Every little helps - that seems to be the message from Tory leader David Cameron in his speech today. And while he dealt with the big picture of the ballooning budget deficit, also being addressed by the Chancellor just across town from here today, the focus was on the cost of politics - always a popular tub thumper.

He'd obviously had his staff out conducting research around Westminster.

"Walk into a bar in Parliament and you buy a pint of Foster's for just £2.10.

That's a little over half as much as in a normal London pub.

And in the restaurants on the Parliamentary estate, you can treat yourself to a 'Lean salad of lemon and lime marinated roasted tofu with baby spinach and rocket, home-roasted plum tomatoes and grilled ficelle crouton' for just £1.70.

That's all thanks to you - taxpayers' cash subsidising a politician's food and drink.

We all have to eat, we all sometimes want a drink, there's nothing about this job that forces us to eat or drink any more than if we did something else.

So with the Conservatives, the cost of food and drink in Parliament will be increased to match the prices normal people pay in cafes, restaurants and bars around the country."

Given that the Assembly made such a big deal of leading the way for Westminster with Sir Roger Jones' pay and expenses report (a report, which incidentally, many AMs are still hopping mad about) it's hard to see that the Assembly authorities could continue with the pretty generous food and drink subsidies in Ty Hywel.

What was that about living on rations...?

Meanwhile I'm off to pay for my own orange juice while we discuss the weeks and months of "political turmoil" to come. Not my words by the way, rather those of someone who's looking forward more than most to the battle to fill Rhodri Morgan's shoes.

Snubs, nods and winks

Betsan Powys | 13:05 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009


If this was indeed the first snub of September, we now have a contender for the second.

Dafydd Wigley has withdrawn his nomination for membership of the House of Lords - not a flounce nor a principled stand he says - more like pragmatism. He's hung on for 18 months, is known to have turned down the kind of job offers former senior politicians tend to get and isn't prepared to hang around any longer.

Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid leader in the House of Commons has "turned every stone" to ensure the nominations meant something, says Mr Wigley, that they led to actual seats in the Lords. What "turning every stone" means in a process as opaque as this one and that started with an alleged nod-and-wink from the Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, is anyone's guess.

However in a quiet corner of the Eisteddfod field in the Bala, Mr Llwyd broke the news that nothing would be moving before the General Election.

Janet Davies and Eurful ap Gwilym are still hanging on in there with Mr Wigley's support but they, as he points out in the Western Mail and on the radio this morning, wouldn't find themselves sitting in the Assembly if Janet Ryder, currently an AM, wins the Clwyd South seat at the General Election. He would. Rather a lot of ifs and buts and woulds and coulds there and talk of "winning 26% of the vote" in Clwyd South in the past is even to Mr Wigley's ears, you suspect, unconvincing.

Why have the nomiations got nowhere?

Mr Wigley offers three theories:

1. Gordon Brown doesn't like nationalists.

2. Gordon Brown doesn't like the fact that the three nominees went through a process of being demcratically chosen by the party.

3. He doesn't like the way he's been treated by 'some Plaid members' in the House of Commons.

If could, of course, be something simpler. The Cabinet Office has said in the past that it's down to Plaid failing to do things properly and that making "unsolicited nominations" wasn't on.

Either way Mr Wigley hasn't just "cleared the air". He's cleared a path to fighting a seat in May 2011 too should any offers, solicited or otherwise, come his way.

Here goes ...

Betsan Powys | 11:45 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009


"News is that Rhodri Morgan is staying on as Labour leader in Wales until after the general election. Apparently the decision is based on pressure from Westminster colleges. Rhodri said that only a 'force majeure' event would ensure he stays on. Don Touhig's political future evidently falls into that category".

So says Guerrilla Welsh-Fare.

"Tosh" says Rhodri Morgan's team.

"Rubbish" says Rhodri Morgan himself.

Pretty remarkable, I say, that it's taken until now - a matter of weeks to go until he is expected to stand down - for the rumours to start filling the vacuum the Labour party have created around the leader's departure.

Game over

Betsan Powys | 18:29 UK time, Friday, 4 September 2009


Just as I went on air on last night's evening bulletin, the phone rang.

The story? The Assembly Commission's decision to stop translating speeches made in English in plenary into Welsh for the official record. Pick and mix bilingualism? Maybe but it would save a quarter of a million.

Labour's Alun Davies had already been interviewed, not just because he thought the Commissioners were wrong but because the way they'd taken the decision had left him outraged.

Back to the phone call. Joining him in his outrage was the Conservative, Jonathan Morgan - a non-Welsh speaker as he'd pointed out himself but incredulous that the Commission had felt it within their rights to make a decision that went contrary to the will of the Assembly. That is not what they are there for.

Why was the call significant? Because it signalled that this story would not end up in the High Court despite more than one threat of legal action. It would end with politicians, not barristers, killing it.

Not in our name was the message.

It's been driven home today by Nick Bourne in a letter to Dafydd Elis-Thomas:

"This translation service is something that has occurred in our National Assembly since its inception and I believe is embedded in the way that we approach language issues";

a letter from Cheryl Gillan to Peter Hain:

"If the Welsh Assembly, itself, ceases to treat Welsh and English on the basis of equality in its own publication of proceedings, it would seem to send out a contradictory message about support for the Welsh language";

and for the Liberal Democrats, Jenny Randerson:

"I believe that people all across Wales should have the right to read what their Assembly Members say in the two languages of Wales".

Plaid's Chris Franks, a Commissioner himself, says he objected to the idea all along but that the minutes fail to reflect that.

It's game over - with the Presiding Officer, for once, outmanouvered.

By the way you'll notice I've not blogged very much on this story. Let me come clean and explain why. It's because it's about the Welsh language and part of my reason for steering clear is that I anticipated the kind of responses you'd post in return.

Prove me wrong. Prove thatas I've written elsewhere this week, we can have on this blog a cogent, purposeful, flowing discussion, one that adds something to the debate, whatever your view and however strongly it's held. Let's not have one that causes offence and leads to readers of the blog avoiding the 'Read comments' button like the plague.

Go for the ball - then you can go in as hard as you like. Go for the man and you're off.

The long fuse

Betsan Powys | 16:43 UK time, Friday, 4 September 2009


It's still oh so quiet in the Bay.

There's still more than two weeks until the AMs return for the start of the autumn term, or as one dressed down party aide put it to me, rolling his eyes, 'the children come back to school'.

But the silence is deceptive.

There's a background noise of a ticking clock - or the countdown to September the 29th, the self imposed deadline for the First Minister to make his intentions about his future known.

Has the decision been made? Yes. Those who were still talking 50:50 going/staying last week are revising it daily to 70:30, 80:20. The consensus is that Rhodri Morgan will stand down. There's no force majeure, be it an autumn general election or swine flu out of control in Wales which is leading him towards staying on.

So instead, thoughts turn to choreography.

September 29th - Rhodri Morgan's 70th birthday, in case you're not a regular reader - falls during Labour's annual conference. What better way to announce that he's standing down as leader of Labour in Wales than among comrades, basking in the warm gratitude of his party, from the Prime Minister downwards, for all he has achieved in a long and distinguished career. Mr Morgan is a party man through and through, after all.

But there are a couple of issues here.

The first among them, as the sharper eyed of you will have noticed, is that contrary to popular belief, Rhodri Morgan is not the leader of the Labour Party in Wales. He's simply leader of the Labour Group in the National Assembly and it's by that role that he is de facto the First Minister.

Secondly, the Labour conference is in Brighton. I spend regular family holidays in Brighton and I reckon I've sniffed out most of the local Welsh connections. It didn't take me that long. Wouldn't it undermine an announcement with such fundamental implications for the leadership of Wales that it was delivered in an English seaside resort, not in Wales, if not the Welsh capital? It doesn't feel ... statesmanlike somehow.

You can easily imagine that it's not exactly what a Prime Minister straining every sinew to ensure conference messages all drive towards towards the General Election would want either.

Here's where the choreography comes in though. Remember the ticking clock, and reach for the calendar. It would be impossible for Mr Morgan not to make his intentions clear at the conference - his own "on or around" deadline imposes that on him. Were he to say nothing, the speculation would run out of control that he's staying on.

He must either have said he's standing down by then - more of that in a moment or ...

Mr Morgan tells his colleagues in Brighton that he's addressing them as First Minister and as leader of their group in the National Assembly for the last time. There's a warm glow, a between-the-lines rather than an in-the-headlines bye-bye perhaps.

Then it's back to Cardiff. At 2pm on Tuesday Mr Morgan will face his weekly session of First Minister's Questions. It's likely that both Nick Bourne and Kirsty Williams will have already used their questions the previous week to press him on his future. They'll have watched his obvious discomfort over recent months at attempts to get him to show his hand.

It's likely, surely, that the Assembly authorities would be receptive to a request for the First Minister to make a personal statement to the chamber at 2pm as the first item of business. But his announcement that he's standing down as leader of a political grouping is surely a party, not a government announcement? It would all be in the wording, I suspect. There are a lot of upsides to this. It's statesmanlike, it would allow the other party leaders to pay warm and as I'm sure we all anticipate, sincere tributes to a man who has done more than any other to keep devolution in Wales on track.

The Labour conference, though, is late in the season, and the Assembly returns from recess on Tuesday, September 22, a week earlier. It's possible that Mr Morgan could make an announcement that soon, if he fears any reluctance to respond to the goading will simply fuel the speculation that either he's staying - or he still hasn't made up his mind.

A few days seems like a decent interlude before the battle for his job starts in earnest. Then we may all be reminded that "Oh so quiet" was a cover version - of a song called "Blow a fuse".

Ears to the ground

Betsan Powys | 17:14 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009


There are plenty of subjects that are, as President Obama put it, "above my pay grade".

There are many more where it makes a lot of sense to keep stumm until those upstairs have worked things out. This particular battle - the battle to get a leaders' debate off the ground and on to the screen - is undoubtedly one of those.

Still ... it's pretty hard to avoid hearing others talking about it.

In yesterday's Times the head of Sky news, John Ryley, accepted that "some will feel angry to be excluded." Let's think ....

If a debate with the three main party leaders is broadcast in Wales without Plaid's parliamentary leader joining them, the infamous Elfyn-o-meter would almost certainly go off the scale.

What about the clear commitment to hold separate debates in Wales and Scotland? It appears that to Plaid, that partial solution sounds a little like a partial pregnancy.

Then comes the warning. In Mr Ryley's view voters would "be quick to punish any party that turns to lawyers in a vain attempt to prevent the public having the opportunity to hold its leaders to account".

Here's an educated guess: lawyers known to Plaid and there are one or two of those, will have been contacted already.

And what about UKIP and the BNP? Aren't they likely to chomp at the bit if
there's half a chance of taking on the mighty broadcasters in court?

It's hard to see how this all ends tidily. Which will cost more I wonder - the lawyers fees or a stage set twenty metres long with a rather a lot of podiums along its length?

Still ... above my pay grade.

Getting it right

Betsan Powys | 12:17 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009



Politicians know that striking the right note at memorial services and funerals matters a lot. Get it wrong and it matters even more.

Decide not to turn up to celebrations in Normandy because you have already agreed to discuss Wales hosting the Ryder Cup and a great many people won't forgive you.

Turn up at the Cenotaph to lay a memorial wreath in a short overcoat that was pretty sensible given the weather but that looked to many like a donkey jacket and people won't let you forget it.

Tell a shocked audience of millions that the "People's Princess" will remain in their hearts and memories for ever and people will remember it.

Over on ConservativeHome David Davies MP questions the wisdom of advising Ministers not to turn up at all to the funerals of servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan.

Here's a taste:

"The experience of sitting a few feet away from the mother, father, brothers, sisters and wife or girlfriend of a young man who has lost his life because of decisions taken by Parliament is sobering. I walk away asking myself a lot of questions about the rightness of those decisions and whether things could be done differently. Now more than ever we need to be asking those questions. For that reason alone, if the families are happy for us to do so, MPs have a duty to try to attend these funerals.

For the same reasons, if not more so, Ministers should be present at as many funerals of service personnel as possible. Currently it is their policy to attend none. That is reprehensible.

The MoD claim, ludicrously, that attending funerals would give publicity to the terrorist cause. Nonsense. The funerals are widely publicised in any event. The ones I have been to have all been attended by the Lord Lieutenant - the Queen's representative - and the appearance of a Minister would be unlikely to make them any more noticeable to members of the Taliban hiding out in the Hindu Kush".

The MoD might well argue that their number one priority is to respect the fact that the families are going through a difficult time. Staying away, rather than turning up as per some sort of official rota system, is a sign of that respect. Ministers wouldn't, after all, be welcome at all funerals and memorial services.

David Davies, who tends to call a spade a spade, suggests that's easily resolved. Just pick up the phone and ask the family. They may well jump at the chance of having a Minister there when they're laying a son, or daughter, to rest.

But what then?

David Davies might hail their courage for being prepared to stomach the result of sending troops to war. No point pretending, though, that others won't slam them mercilessly for pulling a cheap PR stunt.

Angels and pinheads

Betsan Powys | 17:31 UK time, Wednesday, 2 September 2009


char_sirhumphrey.gifFirst there was this - the Presiding Officer suggesting back in 2000 that the Welsh-language version of the assembly's proceedings should be scrapped.

Back then the Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board, John Walter Jones, was reported as having some sympathy with Dafydd Elis-Thomas. He accepted the argument that translating some documents into Welsh could be regarded as tokenism and that the money would be better spent on translating documents "that people actually read". Symbolism is ok unless it costs, seemed to be the message.

Not for him, then, the argument that if the National Assembly can be seen to take bilingualism or leave it, what sort of example does that set everyone else?

In 2009 the Assembly Commission, under the guidance of Dafydd Elis-Thomas, has indeed decided not to translate English speeches made in plenary into Welsh in future.

And this time the Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board seems to have taken an entirely different view.

Meirion Prys Jones has written to the Assembly Commission to raise the possibility of an investigation into the decision. He's not alone in suggesting that, given it seems to go against its very own Welsh language scheme, the National Assembly is in danger of breaking the law here. The Welsh Language Board clearly think it's a possibility or they wouldn't be talking in terms of potentially embarrassing investigations.

Try and set to one side whether the decision is the right one or not. Isn't the uncomfortable truth for the Assembly's Commissioners that the words 'statutory' is usually pretty binding?

Getting out of that one turns out to the be job of Clare Clancy, the Assembly Comission's Chief Executive.

Binding, she says? Pah!

Ms Clancy has written a reply to Mr Jones of which Sir Humphrey would be proud. It denies the Welsh Language Board has any authority to undertake an investigation at all. Why? Because the language scheme (with she accepts is guilty of 'ambiguity') is the National Assembly for Wales's and not the Assembly Commission's and guess what, the Assembly, as opposed to the Assembly Commission, isn't subject to the Welsh Language Act.

Now the Commission's job is to make sure that services are provided for the Assembly. On this occasion wouldn't Assembly Members be forgiven for thinking its job seems to be have been making them believe they'd voted for a proper, water-tight Welsh language scheme when it's now argued, they haven't?

There is not much doubt, is there, that the will of the Assembly was to have a language scheme that was statutory, binding, that meant something in law? That is not, says Clare Clancy in her letter, what they've got.

If you look at that letter long and hard enough, you just might catch a glimpse of a host of angels dancing on a civil servant's pinhead.

If you listen hard enough I gather you'll hear a letter landing on the Assembly Commission's doorstep, one from the Culture Minister 'conveying concerns'. He's suggested that "individuals who would like to express their opinions about this decision can contact the Assembly Commission directly, or contact the Welsh Language Board, which is responsible for monitoring the Commission's Welsh language scheme."

Hang on. I thought the Commission didn't have a Welsh language scheme ...

Looking to Holyrood

Betsan Powys | 10:15 UK time, Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Are you watching?

I'm wondering how many other offices in the National Assembly have tuned into the debate happening now in the Scottish parliament, the debate on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

It looks like a pretty full house in Holyrood. The contributions so far have been passionate, forceful from all sides. Some have been confrontational, more confrontational than one or two of their fellow MSPs might have hoped. Some use strong language to better effect than others and yes, opinion is generally dividing along party lines.

But how many others in offices in the National Assembly and beyond are following the debate and mulling over the reasons we're rarely treated to such cogent, purposeful, flowing debate here? Is it the arena, the issue they're debating, or those debating it?

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