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Archives for November 2009

Lessons learned

Betsan Powys | 09:10 UK time, Saturday, 28 November 2009


stig_large.jpgOn Monday morning a room full of seventy and eighty-something year olds taught me a lesson. No, they taught me a few.

Lesson number one: as far as a future referendum goes never talk in terms of 'full law-making powers' being devolved to the Assembly because a room full of men who've spent their lives leading people, curing people and playing it straight as civil servants are still sharp enough to know that's really not the case. Most of them, at a guess, don't want any more powers devolved to the Assembly but they'd like to know what they're in for if they vote Yes or No.

Lesson number two: never talk in terms of powers 'akin to' the Scottish Parliament, not unless you have the time and the nifty mechanism to explain exactly what 'akin' means in this instance. What it actually means is not very like at all. If there is a referendum and if there's a Yes vote in that referendum then the 'akin' comes down to the fact that in Cardiff, as in Edinburgh, politicians could get on with it without having to refer to Westminster first.

What it is they could 'get on with' - in other words, what sort of powers they'd have - would remain very different.

And lesson number three: when your audience can hear lunch being served next door, try not to talk about a move from Part 3 of the Government of Wales Act (law-making powers delivered bit by bit) to Part 4 (law-making powers delivered all at once) if you don't want to lose them.

When Sir Emyr Jones Parry talked about a 'fog' surrounding the devolution debate in Wales, he was right. And so much blood and ink is being spilt about when and whether a referendum should be held it's perhaps not surprising that few people have thought too much about what happens if and when Wales gets there. Carts and horses and all that.

But it should be - hence yesterday's quiz. The Order of the Golden Anorak is shared between Tomos Livingstone, the Western Mail's political editor and the Stonemason, who is made Holder of the Goblet of Perpetual Cynycism for not being help himself from framing his answer as he did.

Anyway, back to the quiz. The link between the ten things on the list? They're all things that the National Assembly would still probably not be able to pass laws on even after the move to Part Four, even though each fall within areas which are devolved to Wales. See what I mean about "full law-making powers" not really cutting it?

At this point - stop. Switch on the kettle. Make yourself a strong cup of coffee. This next bit gave me a headache to work out and is, in all honesty, the work of what feels like an ad-hoc constitutional committee. The chief adviser was the Stig - our tame constitutional expert who prefers to remain behind a tinted crash helmet a la Top Gear.

So, Stig, is the move from Part 3 to Part 4 after a successful referendum the Welsh legislative equivalent of trading in a Trabant for a Lamborghini?

No. And here's why. Let's open our hymn books to Schedule 7 of the Act. Schedule 7 is currently sleeping, that is, it only comes into force after that successful referendum on Part 4.

Part 4 will give the Assembly the power to pass Acts, or pieces of primary legislation, in each of the 20 devolved fields - think health, education, agriculture, the Welsh language, environment and so on. Schedule 7 is, in a nutshell, a list of exceptions and there are a fair few.

So for example under field 10, which is Highways and Transport, there are a list of exceptions, which include road freight transport services, including goods vehicles operating licensing, drivers' hours, public service vehicle operator licensing, and several more, relating to rail security and heritage, shipping, aviation, and so on.

Under field 3, Culture - broadcasting is excepted, under field 4, Economic Development, consumer protection is excepted.

In many cases, it's just common sense that the exception should mean that powers should stay at Westminster - look, for example, at field 9, Health. There, the exceptions include abortion, human genetics, human fertilisation, human embryology, surrogacy arrangements and xenotransplantation for example. No one would want a misguided Act of the Assembly resulting in Wales becoming a kind of Frankenstein tourism destination.

But once Schedule 7 wakes up, it becomes a living thing - that it, it can be changed, updated, refreshed, however you want to put it. And how? Via an Order in Council, approved by the Assembly, and both Houses of Parliament. Sound familiar? Those who thought we'd see the last LCO vanish with a Yes vote might want to think again.

Of course, the whole Government of Wales Act has been a living document, with matters and exceptions being added to Schedule 5 - Part 3's equivalent of Schedule 7 ... keep up at the back ... every time an LCO is passed. This means that when we move from 3 + 5 to 4 + 7, there will need to be a tidying up exercise - one Super-Order that will rewrite Schedule 7 as it was originally drafted at the time the Act was passed in 2006.

But that one first Order, according to the Act, will not be passed with any reference to the Assembly. It will be drawn up by the Wales Office, or its successor and voted on by both Houses of Parliament. This could be a tidying up exercise but it could, in theory, give a significant boost to the Assembly's new powers, by removing some of the exceptions.

Contrast the current lengthy LCO process to get powers over the Welsh language - when powers over broadcasting could be devolved at the stroke of a pen in Whitehall by removing it from the list of exceptions in the new Schedule 7. Of course, DCMS would probably have a view on this, but I'm sure the savvier advocates of maximum devolution -and its sharpest critics - will be looking with interest at this process.

The lesson then?

On a very basic level, it's about terminology. When it comes to Part 4, full law-making powers it certainly ain't. Post a Yes vote, the Assembly will be keen to flex its muscles by passing Act after Act perhaps but how long before it finds something it's not strong enough to lift?

Then our new friend Schedule 7 may become of interest to more than just anoraks and Stigs.

Fight the Fog Quiz

Betsan Powys | 11:51 UK time, Friday, 27 November 2009


I'm not around today but don't want you to 'leave with nothing' ... as someone who's not known for her love of Wales likes to say.

So: try this for size. I'll post the answer - and reason for bothering to ask the question - later.

What do these ten things have in common?

*Repealing the hunting ban in Wales
*Imposing new rules on laboratories which test on animals
*Bringing in stronger protection for consumers
*Minimum standards for hearing aid providers
*Stronger licensing of public sector vehicle operators
*More stringent limits on lorry drivers hours
*Minimum pricing for alcohol
*Tougher anti social behaviour orders
*Higher safety standards for ships and boats using Welsh ports

Have a go.

Holding your breath

Betsan Powys | 13:15 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009


So what has Peter Hain announced this morning?

If you're in his shoes, the answer is "a major breakthrough for Wales".

If you're in Adam Price MP's, it's "a betrayal of the people of Wales".

What is 'it'? It's the UK Government's response to this man's report. Gerry Holtham chaired an independent commission that looked at the way Wales is funded. It concluded that by the end of the next decade, without reform, Wales could have lost out by more than £8 billion pounds - the equivalent to £2,900 per Welsh resident - due to the formula being used at the moment to work out how much public money comes to Wales - the Barnett Formula.

The Holtham Commission report also said there should be an immediate "funding floor", so that Wales doesn't slip any further behind, ahead of the whole system being fundamentally reformed.

That was the wish-list. What's been delivered?

Mr Hain is clear that the Barnett formula so far has delivered a fair deal for Wales but that if in future it does, then he's got a commitment from the Chancellor Alastair Darling - for the first time as he points out - that "the UK Government will take action if Wales becomes disproportionately disadvantaged by the Barnett Formula".

What does that commitment amount to?

It's not Gerry Holtham's "floor" - the interim measure whereby the Treasury would amend the Barnett formula to effectively freeze funding at the current level.

There is no specific floor in this commitment and it's not clear either to what extent a future Conservative chancellor, should there be one any time soon, would be bound by Mr Darling's Welsh deal.

Gerry Holtham isn't talking major breakthroughs but neither is he talking betrayal. He's welcomed the promise "to take steps to ensure that Wales is not 'disproportionately disadvantaged' in the future". He is clearly on side.

Then comes the qualifier: "Evidently there is work to be done to make the pledges operational, and also to consider the other recommendations that are not covered by the UK Government's statement".

So what of those who see in Mr Hain's statement a betrayal?

They hone in on one word in the key statement and cry foul: "if Wales becomes disproportionately disadvantaged by the Barnett Formula". If? It already is disproportionately disadvantaged, they argue. That's exactly what the Holtham Commission concluded after all and the UK Government don't seem to be saying he's wrong.

No ifs. No buts says Adam Price.

"They recognise implicitly that Wales is 'disadvantaged' by the Barnett Formula, as it has been for decades and for which we are acutely suffering, but will only step in once Wales is 'disproportionately disadvantaged', whatever that means. Quite simply, this is a betrayal of the people of Wales and, in every area of Wales, people will now know that Labour has simply let them down".

I doubt somehow whether you were waiting for a cheque for £2,900 to land on your mat - or even appear in your account in instalments. IF you were by any chance, now's the time to stop holding your breath and start wondering just what the Conservatives would do about reforming the Barnett Formula.

The Cardiff Concordat

Betsan Powys | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 25 November 2009


_45605337_hain.jpgThe "Cardiff Concordat" doesn't quite have the same ring to it as the "Broughton Declaration" perhaps but then Peter Hain would argue that the two statements have quite different implications.

Cardiff Concordat?

Broughton Declaration?

What's it all about?

Remember David Cameron visiting Broughton and that well-trailed response to a well sign-posted question about his take on a referendum? What he announced that day was that if Assembly Members requested a referendum on granting greater powers to the Assembly, he would say yes. He wouldn't veto it.

As "decisive" a declaration, said David Melding AM, as Sir Emyr Jones Parry's report, even if it preceded it. "Thankfully" he said, his relief palpable, "that "anti-Welsh" bear-pit has been artfully avoided".

Peter Hain's response at the time was distinctly cooler. "If Cameron's true intentions were indeed for the best interests of devolution in Wales" he suggested "he should have waited to consider the widely-anticipated recommendations of Emyr Jones Parry ... This is no more than a Cameron headline-grabbing stunt"

Mr Hain did wait for Sir Emyr to report, then came to Cardiff this afternoon to deliver the message that he, just like a Conservative Welsh Secretary, would not veto a request for a referendum, if one were made.

Except his announcement, contends Mr Hain, is not 'just like' Mr Cameron's at all. The Conservative leader might have said no to a veto but hasn't said yes to lobbying for referendum success for those who want more powers. Mr Hain wants a referendum so he can go out and campaign - once again - on the yes side. He just doesn't think that should or can happen any time soon.

"We must not be straight-jacketed by a pre-determined referendum timetable that could trigger the disaster of a NO vote. We must keep all options open, meanwhile patiently building the consensus across the parties and throughout civil society which we will need to deliver a clear YES vote."

So all options for the timing of the referendum remain open but this is about winning. It's not about a timetable.

His speech - which kicked off by putting Rhodri Morgan on a par with Owain Glyndwr, Aneurin Bevan and Lloyd George by the way - was, apparently, written days ago. It was finished days ago, ergo his message wasn't influenced in any way by yesterday's events in Cardiff Bay.

He has met the Labour group of AMs to talk those through and there was one 'by the way' worthy of note. Here it is: "And by the way, I see no inconsistency between Welsh Labour's statement yesterday and that of the First and Deputy First Ministers. Actually what he said in the chamber, before correcting himself, was that he saw 'no consistency' between the two statements. AMs gleefully cheered the slip.

But the clear message of the day?

"The pro-devolution forces need time to consider it (the All Wales Convention report) and to take the pulse of Welsh public opinion. For now I say only that the global economic crisis, combined with the anger about expenses, has created a deeply anti-politics culture in Wales - hardly the best time to be rushing to ask for more powers for politicians".

So no veto and a pledge once again to support a yes campaign.

Just don't ask him yet.


A question from Plaid's Nerys Evans on the timing of another 'event' - or is it a process - or the evolution of devolution. When will the UK Government respond to the Holtham Commission report?

The answer? Peter Hain will be making a statement tomorrow.

Democracy ... live

Betsan Powys | 14:03 UK time, Wednesday, 25 November 2009


The Secretary of State will address Assembly Members at around 3pm.

If you can't face the excitement of another live blog - I know, you can only take these things so often - then tune in to Democracy Live where you can watch this afternoon's events as they unfold.


Here's hoping you're finding Jane Hutt's statement and the debate on the future of Higher Education interesting. What's she's announced about re-modelling the sector in Wales is pretty significant in fact and will be much mulled over by those in the sector who must now prove how 'cohesive' and 'responsive' they can be - it's just not quite what I'd promised you.

The morning after ...

Betsan Powys | 08:16 UK time, Wednesday, 25 November 2009


So in the cold, wet light of day where have yesterday's events left us?

It's left us with two statements - both signed by Rhodri Morgan, the first co-signed by Peter Hain, the second by Ieuan Wyn Jones.

They seem, given any scrutiny at all, to be in flat contradiction to each other. Senior Labour sources contend they are not. Either way they are now out there, in black and white and the challenge facing the coalition is not out there too, in bright red and green.

Labour could still pull the trigger on the referendum process early next year, then "start considering the All Wales Convention report in detail as a prelude to stepping-up wider Party consultation" - really? They would pull the trigger, then work out whether they'd done the right thing? That's not, after all, the way these things are usually done. "Ok so you might think that's a bit out of kilter ..." said one Labour source. But it could be done.

Granted you need a deal of contortion and squeezing of meaning but if you can manage that, then you can square the first statement with the second.

But while it may be possible to contort and squeeze meaning out of words, when it comes to deeds, you either have to pull that constitutional trigger - or not.

In the cold light of day the suggestion one or two Labour voices were whispering in Plaid's ears last night, that Rhodri Morgan had "set up" the whole thing to show Peter Hain what would happen if Labour pulled the rug on a referendum ... well, who knows. Key Plaid figures shrug their shoulders and turn their gaze on the Secretary of State.

Peter Hain has kept his counsel since the publication of the original joint statement. The implication? Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself - the statement does the talking.

It'll be around 2.30pm when the Secretary of State does his talking. His audience will hang on his every word.

Points and punchlines

Betsan Powys | 19:34 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Why couldn't there be a referendum in the Autumn of 2010 if the Assembly doesn't trigger one as early as January or February?

A fair question asked by the Good Evening Wales presenter. I gave what I imagine you'd call a 'broad-brush response'. But to those of you who want more detail, then read this legal advice circulated today by the Presiding Officer and written by a man who'd never dare hold a broad brush in his hand. He's more of a fan of pointillism I would have thought.

This is the crucial passage:

It is extremely difficult to see how the legal and administrative steps for a referendum under section 104 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to be held can be completed before the impending UK general election unless the Assembly were to resolve, virtually immediately, that a referendum should be held. If this were possible, a referendum could be held in the Autumn of 2010.

If the Assembly were not immediately to resolve that a referendum should be held (or other exceptional measures taken to compress the necessary steps into the period before a dissolution of Parliament) then, provided the process is triggered by a resolution early in 2010, it would be possible (but entirely dependent on a high priority being given to the necessary Order by the incoming SoS) for an Order to be made between the election of a new Parliament and the beginning of the summer recess. If so, this, again, could enable a referendum to be held in the Autumn of 2010.

If neither of the possibilities set out in paragraphs 15 and 16 are realised then the need to complete the necessary legal and administrative steps means that the earliest date on which a referendum could be held would be the Spring of 2011.

To leaven the bread here's my award for best joke of the day. It goes to Jonathan Morgan and went something like this:

I can exclusively announce that the winner of the Labour leadership contest is ... wait for it ... Peter Hain. Can I wish Carwyn, Edwina and Huw all the best if they become his deputy!

Comic pointillism perhaps.

Peace in our time?

Betsan Powys | 17:04 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009


I asked you a few hours ago to read a statement from the Welsh Labour party - and asked you to concentrate on the last few words.

Here's another statement. Again: keep going until the last few words.


The Assembly Government once again reaffirms its commitment to the One Wales agreement in relation to a referendum on Part Four powers.

Both parties recognise the difficulties which would be created for a purposeful and united 'Yes' campaign, if that were attempted to be held during the run up to a General Election.

Both recognise that a successful 'Yes' campaign will rest on mobilising support from all political Parties in Wales, and from those who have no political affiliation.

Otherwise, all options for the timing of a referendum remain open. Nothing has been ruled in or ruled out, including, if it proved practical, a referendum in the autumn.

The mood downstairs amongst Labour Assembly Members? That Rhodri Morgan has had a bad day, one where he was seen to be wriggling even when all wiggle room had gone, one that has ended with a hastily penned statement that essentially says: I didn't really mean it.

Will Peter Hain, who is in Cardiff Bay tomorrow, say the same?

First Minister's statement

Betsan Powys | 14:47 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009


I've never live blogged a statement in the chamber by the First Minister before. This then, is a first.

He's not left the chamber while waiting his turn to speak. No sign of leaving for a conflab with Plaid, or his own side.

He's off. Kicking off in Welsh - thanking the Executive Committee of the Convention for their hard work - setting out what their job was.

Main challenge? Finding the elusive Mr and Mrs Joneses throughout Wales whom this is all about and finding out what they think.

Not whether WE think we've served a reasonable apprenticeship and should have more powers. WE are biased. It's what THEY think - Mr and Mrs Jones.

The core of the report: it is emphatic that there would be "substantial advantages" in moving form Part 3 (where we are now) to Part 4 (full law-making powers).

A yes vote? "Obtainable" but can't be taken for granted.

What should the question be? A no-brainer if you ask a question about Part 3 and Part 4 will not pass muster. But then the question is up to the Welsh Secretary.

We're on to a new metaphor.

The ball is in our court.


"The Assembly Government intends in the new year to bring forward a motion for a full debate on the Convention's Report I am reassured that the Convention believes that our One Wales agreement to hold a referendum during this Assembly is both practical and achievable, but I must leave the details to my successor as First Minister. In the meantime, please digest this report with your turkey and Christmas pudding, and we shall return to this subject in the New Year."
his doesn't sound like the statement put out this morning, hand in hand with Peter Hain and Garry Owen in the name of Welsh Labour.

Nick Bourne agrees ...

Will the First Minister distance himself from the Welsh Labour statement put out earlier today?

Does he regret it?

The Presiding Officer interjects. Will the leader of the Lib Dems stop heckling? Her turn will come soon enough.

Nick Bourne leaps to her defence. She was encouraging, not heckling!

We were rather hoping Rhodri Morgan would answer Nick Bourne's question directly. Both statements say different things. By which one does he stand?

He doesn't.

We don't need certainty to go for a referendum. But remember the difference between what people said in opinion polls back in 1997 and how they actually voted in the sanctity of the ballot box.


I think you've misread this morning's Labor party statement. It doesn't say we won't talk about the timing of a referendum. What it does is ask how do you generate a Yes vote ... while there is a General Election campaign on? How can you do that with whole-hearted participation not just from Labour but from all parties while your attention is on a General Election? The statement doesn't say we won't talk about it.

He's clearly trying to calm the mood - oil on troubled waters.

(I check my messages. This from a Labour backbench AM: "People are furious and this morning's group meeting was both shocked and angry. Rhodri cannot bind his successor. We could again be seen as being on the back foot and losing public confidence. This cannot not be allowed to stand."


Helen Mary Jones responds for Plaid.

Doesn't want anything to undermine the trust and co-operation that has so far been the feature of discussions about a referendum/forming the Convention/terms of reference etc


Here we go: Can the First Minister confirm that nothing in this morning's joint statement with the Secretary of State rules out any of the timings of a referendum within the framework of the One Wales agreement?

No wriggle room there. Will he rule back in (despite this morning's statement) a referendum in the Autumn of 2010?


Rhodri Morgan: on the question of timing ... the statement was about making progress, not about how it's been interpreted which is about slowing down progress. Its' about practicalities. How do you move forward to a Yes vote in a referendum. That'll be up to my successor and Ieuan Wyn jones and the Secretary of Staet.

But when you look at the windows available to hold a referendum, then it will take some months before you can hold a referendum.

We're agog. He's stopped. He doesn't seem to have ruled it in or out. But his tone is unmistakably conciliatory. A sort of First Ministerial 'we didn't mean it like that, honest'.


The 'encouraging' Kirsty Williams on her feet.

Does he agree that the Autumn si the optimum time for a referendum? If so, there would need to be a vote in January or February to trigger it. You've made clear this isn't a matter for you, or for you and the Secretary of State alone ... true ... but does this morning's statement rule it out, or does it not?

What is there to stop this National Assembly taking this vote in January or February next year? is there anything in your statement this morning that denies us that vote early next year? Surely Plaid Cymru will not sit by and allow that to happen.

The only comfort we can take from this afternoon's statement is that the cup passes from your lips to your successor's ... but do they have the dead hand of the Secretary of State on their shoulders?


A good speech by Kirsty Williams. The First Minister detects "partisan emotion" in the latter parts but doesn't shrug off her contribution as he sometimes is tempted to.

Don't talk about a 'dead hand' he chides. It's Labour who did the heavy lifting to get us to this point in the devolution debate.

He comments on the question (civil servants already having a go at it, it will be road tested by the Electoral Commission etc)

Back to timing: back to the statement. It does talk about progress but it's hard to imagine a Yes campaign operational in the run up to a General Election. It doesn't say we are banning any talk about this in the Labour party in the run up to an election.


The ever loyal Jeff Cuthbert joins in. For the second time today the last few words are the key ones: will the FM agree that there is nothing in the joint statement that rules out any timing of a referendum.

Over to Plaid.

Is what the First Minister has said this afternoon enough to placate senior figures who were livid just a few hours ago - or not?


Plaid say they are still waiting on a clear statement from the First Minister that Labour have not ruled out an Autumn referendum. He has sounded conciliatory in the chamber but has not yet said so bluntly.

There are now off the record briefings coming from Labour that the joint statement in Rhodri Morgan and Peter Hain's name does NOT preclude holding a vote in the Assembly before the General Election that would trigger a referendum. It might sound as though it does ... But it doesn't.

Plaid have issued far, far more serious threats to the future of the coalition than Labour had expected. Some in the Labour camp seemed not to have 'got' quite how senior the Plaid sources were who were issuing those threats.

I think they have now.

I gather there's a meeting happening now down in the dark depths of the Cwrt (a stone's throw from the chamber) between Plaid and Labour special advisers. The joys of glass walls.


Rhodri Morgan has joined them.

Oh yes there is.

Betsan Powys | 14:05 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Plaid have responded quickly.

They clearly knew there was a statement on the way. Rhodri Morgan is, after all, down to make one this afternoon. But it seems equally clear they thought they knew what was in it. They knew what was in it and how it was to be worded.

What was published by Welsh Labour just over an hour ago wasn't it.

The result? A warning from Plaid that their coalition with Labour is in serious danger of collapsing.

If you rule out any progress towards a devolution referendum until after the General Election say Plaid Cymru - and I'm talking senior sources - then be aware that this is the most serious threat to the coalition since its formation.

It is, say Plaid, a "serious breach of trust" and "completely unacceptable".

How serious? "There is no way the party would allow its ministers to sit around the table with Labour if this is allowed to stand."

Which means Rhodri Morgan or his successor must do what what if they want to placade Plaid?

They must make it entirely clear that the coalition will not be jeopardised by Labour's internal politics.

The possiblity of a referendum next Autumn must be there.

Technically a vote after a General Election would allow that - but only just and only technically. Therefore a vote to trigger a referendum must happen before a General Election.

What if Rhodri Morgan's successor won't sign up to that?

The warning is ominous and comes from a party that is very, very angry at the top: "Then they should remember that they can't become First Minister without our vote".

And just for good measure: "They've got to remember that they're in coalition with Plaid, not Peter Hain".

No rush, lads

Betsan Powys | 12:58 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009


b00k7s0d_366_206.jpgWelsh Labour have just issued a joint statement in the name of Chair, Garry Owen, First Minister Rhodri Morgan and the Secretary of State, Peter Hain and in response to Sir Emyr Jones Parry's report.

Keep reading until the last five crucial words:

1. We welcome the detailed report by the All Wales Convention and reaffirm Welsh Labour's commitment to primary legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly (under Part 4 of the 2006 Act), and to campaign for these in a succsessful referendum.

2. Because a 'No' vote in a referendum could set back devolution for several decades, triggering the referendum process needs to be based on a firm prospect that public opinion is ready to respond positively in the referendum.

3. Our internal policy process has already begun: Welsh Labour's Welsh Joint Policy Committee has met, prioritised the need to campaign for a General Election victory, and agreed to start considering the All Wales Convention report in detail as a prelude to stepping-up wider Party consultation with AMs and MPs, councillors, trade unionists and members as soon as the General Election is over.

There it is: Welsh Labour will not make a move to consider when to hold a referendum until the other side of a General Election.

There's nothing woolly in their statement. It's not a case of priorities or emphasis. It's blunt and to the point. The party won't start to consult on issues surrounding the timing of a referendum until beyond the General Election.

And bang goes the plan of those - perhaps you heard the Presiding Officer on last week's Dragon's Eye - who wanted a vote in the Assembly that would trigger the referendum process this side of the election. That would, went the story, allow the Welsh Secretary the 120 days he has to consider the issue while the parties got on with the job of fighting an election and the Yes and No campaigns got on with the job of getting themselves going.

But without Labour support?

How will Plaid respond? Wasn't Labour's ability to help deliver a referendum 'on or before 2011' Plaid's main motivation for saying no to the rainbow and yes to a deal with Labour?

This morning Conservative leader Nick Bourne emphasised he was relaxed about having that vote after a General Election. A referendum could still be held in Autumn 2010. Bear in mind, he added, that a Conservative Welsh Secretary wouldn't use the full 120 days to consider the matter. It would be a matter of weeks, so triggering a referendum this side or that of an election wasn't such a big deal.

What will Rhodri Morgan's possible successors feel? Relief that their hands have been tied - or frustration?

Kirsty Williams has made the views of the Liberal Democrats clear enough - no messing, go for an early referendum.

Next question: who sits on Labour's Welsh Joint Policy Committee? They thought you might ask.

The Welsh Joint Policy Committee (WJPC) is a 21 member body that is responsible, with the Wales Policy Forum, for overseeing policy matters within the competence of the National Assembly for Wales for submission to the Annual Welsh Labour Conference. All sectors of Welsh Labour are represented on the WJPC including:

Chair of the Wales Policy Forum,

3 x Vice-Chairs (one from each of the following: Welsh PLP, NALP and WLGA Labour Group),
4 x CLP reps (elected by CLP reps to Welsh Policy Forum),
4 x affiliated organisations reps (elected by affiliated organisation reps to Welsh Policy Forum),
4 x Labour Assembly Government Ministers (First Minister + 3 others),
2 x Wales Office Ministers (Secretary of State plus Minister),
2 x Welsh Executive Committee representatives (elected by WEC),
1 x NPF Wales rep (elected by representatives to the NPF).

The MEP is ex-officio member of the WJPC.

Their priority? Winning a General Election.

Anything beyond that? Long grass?

Seal on by

Betsan Powys | 17:48 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009


billy-the-seal-300x206.jpgA colleague who reads obscure WAG documents over breakfast and who I sometimes suspect of reading the Government of Wales Act 2006 in bed sends me a note:

"Clause 116. Welsh Seal and Letters Patent

(1) There is to be a Welsh Seal.

(2) The First Minister is to be the Keeper of the Welsh Seal.

In the latter years of his leadership, Rhodri Morgan has subsisted largely - and healthily - on a diet of mackerel and other oily fish. Clearly for him keeping the Welsh Seal fed and nurtured is no problem - but what of his successor?

An area of expertise which has had insufficient attention during the leadership race?"

Ah, there are still three days to go until the ballot boxes are ... sealed.

Game on, not game over.

Betsan Powys | 16:25 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009


I've introduced him to you before, the psephologist who keeps reminding all around him that the General Election hasn't happened yet. The Conservatives haven't won it yet. In fact they may never win it.

The last time I heard him argue cogently and persuasively to a room full of journalists that the Tories have yet to "seal the deal with the electorate" as we keep putting it, he was so keen to make a lasting impression on all present that he offered to give his presentation through the medium of dance. Perhaps thankfully that wasn't necessary. The statistics did a perfectly good job of jolting anyone who thought David Cameron has got this election in the bag.

Well he hasn't changed his mind and neither, for what it's worth, have those Conservative politicians who stop for a chat in and around the Assembly. They sense victory, they are working full out for a victory but they're the first to agree that the 1997-it's-in-the-bag feeling is not there. It could be closer than people think. A hung parliament? Absolutely possible. Don't you realise how many seats we need to win to get even the slightest majority?

I do. It's 117. If you're in any doubt as to "enormity of the task" ahead of the Conservatives - I'm quoting Eric Pickles who utters the word "enormity" as no one else quite can - then as he put it in his recent War Room briefing, the Tories will have to win seats they haven't taken since 1987 like Pendle, Nuneaton, Ipswich; seats they haven't taken since 1983 like Dewsbury and Halifax; seats they've not taken since 1970 like Bradford West and even, wait for it, seats like Carlile they haven't taken since 1959. Oh and "we're going to need to do well in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales".


So all in all Mr Pickles would approve of the psephologist's thinking, which really hasn't changed in the past few months.

Yes, the polls suggest that David Cameron is more popular than Gordon Brown but as a leader, Mr Cameron polls significantly higher than his party. In other words we quite like Mr Cameron but do we think he's changed his party as we thought Tony Blair had changed Labour? No, apparently we don't.

The Conservatives lead Labour in the polls when questions about handling the economy are asked but taking care of ordinary people post-recession? Spreading the burden of inevitable cuts? Minimising public sector job cuts? Labour often comes out top.

Of course the same sort of polls suggest the Conservatives are going to win the election. But win it by enough to be, roughly, 11 points ahead of Labour and win the narrowest of majorities? How sure are you?

Who else would approve of the psephologist's message? I'd suggest a senior Labour party figure who was in town recently hammering home the same sort of message himself. He was despairing at his own colleagues who seem to have given up the fight, senior colleagues at that who are quoted back at him when he tries to persuade ordinary voters on the doorsteps that it's game on, not game over.

For Labour to win? Prepare for a tough fight aimed absolutely and mercilessly at stopping the other side from winning.

Could it be done? Yes, it could ... if his colleagues could be persuaded to stand and fight.

Ratio Ga Ga

Betsan Powys | 14:19 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009


_42805961_clay_hazel.jpgCutting the number of politicians is pretty fashionable these days. Just ask David Cameron who's proposing a ten per cent cut in the number of MPs at Westminster if the Tories win power. You'll have that down as the "Tory tear-up of the map of Wales" or a common sense plan based on "fairness, good economics and good politics" depending on your voting intention come election day.

Closer to home though another body, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales, is working away at a similar exercise for local councillors. It's undertaking a review of electoral boundaries. Why? The object of the exercise is to ensure that the ratio of electors per councillor is equalised across Wales. I'm not sure what the collective noun is for councillors - a chamber/cabal/cotierie/committee are the suggestions I can include - but whatever it is, the aim is that the number of councillors per chamber should reflect the number of electors they represent.

It's already published three reports, on Denbighshire, Neath Port Talbot, and Newport - the first of 22 reports in all. A spokesman for the Commission has told us that each report is likely to recommend a reduction in the number of councillors by seven to ten. On a Wales-wide basis then, that could mean up to a sixth of the 1,260 councillors are for the chop.

Popular with the public? Possibly. Popular with politicians? What do you think? I'll stick to probably not.

Now the Boundary Commission is a body that's entirely independent of politicians but it works to directions from the Local Government Minister. Read that sentence again and you'll spot the pinch point. It's an independent body but it prepares proposals for his consideration. Sounds like a recipe for trouble?

Well here it is.

The Commission's three initial reports have not gone down well in Cathays Park. In a letter to Edward Lewis, the Commission's Secretary, a very senior Assembly Government civil servant (no naming of names according to convention) says the three have given him "significant cause for concern" which he "understands is shared in the local authorities concerned and the local government community more widely". He and they find it difficult to understand the Commission's proposals in the context of the direction and primary legislation. He demands a "detailed explanation of the rationale behind these proposals".

In other words, boys, what do you think you're up to? You're skiing well off piste here.

But as the Assembly Government have found a number of times, independent bodies tend to think it's up to them to choose which slope they can ski down.

Here's the reply from Mr Lewis. "The Commissioners are most concerned that the contents of the letter coming from such a senior civil servant, could lead others to question the independence of the Commission."

He goes on to say, "In my view, the Commission has complied with the Direction ... and the figures in the draft proposals clearly demonstrate this." And just to make the point once more, Mr Lewis says that the Assembly Government's dressing-down letter "could also be construed as implying that the Commissioners are not competent for the task." They can "stoutly defend" all that has been and will be published in due course.

Yes, it's all couched in Sir Humphrey language but it's fair to say that Sir Humphrey and the Boundary Commission aren't exactly seeing eye to eye on this one.

So what of the local councillors themselves? No civil service pleasantries for them thank goodness. They've gone for a full frontal attack. If the Assembly Government are implying the Commissioners aren't competent to follow the Minister's direction, the councillors pretty much spell out that that the Commissioners aren't competent to use a calculator.

In a release titled "Mathematical error leads to blunder by Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales" the leader of Cardiff County Council, Rodney Berman, claims that the Commissioners are guilty of what I think I'm allowed to call a statistical cock-up. That is, they've worked on the basis that a ratio of 1:3000 is less than a ratio of 1:4000.

Now at this point, more than one of my old maths teachers will be smiling inwardly - if not laughing out loud - in the knowledge that some kind soul has had to patiently explain to me in words of one syllable why that is a cock-up at all, let alone a pretty big one. Maths was never my strong point but I can see how Councillor Berman is arguing that this means the Commission's proposals have gone in the opposite direction to the Minister's direction and could explain why the Assembly Government are so unhappy.

Maybe Councillor Berman's worried about his own grasp of maths, so he E-mailed Cardiff University to ask for their statistical opinion on the matter. This is what he got back from no less than a Professor of Medical Statistics:

"Oh dear. Yes, a ratio of 1:3000 is larger than 1:4000. If you had 12,000 electors then a ratio of 1:3000 would mean 4 councillors while one of 1:4000 would mean 3 councillors. It is a bit confusing as obviously 3000 is less than 4000 - but those are what you divide by. I suspect the confusion is common."

Indeed. So does Councillor Berman have a point?

The answer from the Commission is - wait for it - yes and no.

Yes, they have interpreted the direction differently from that originally issued by the Assembly Government but there's a simple reason for that which has nothing to do with cock-ups and misinterpreting ratios. Put simply if they'd followed the Minister's direction to the letter, they say, they would have ended up recommending that Cardiff, for example, should have 142 councillors. Given the Minister has put an upper limit of 75 councillors on any authority in Wales the Commissioners say - not unreasonably perhaps - they felt they were better off trying a different formula.

So Councillor Berman may be able to work a calculator but it sounds as though he and the Commission were punching in different figures - or not singing from the same spread sheet.

That's the maths. What about the politics of it all?

The Commissioners are meeting tomorrow to discuss the whole business and their next lot of reports are due out before Christmas. Is it me or don't Ministers, councillors and Commissioners have a bit of work to do to ensure public confidence in the review of electoral boundaries?

Living in Wales

Betsan Powys | 11:23 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009


smile203_203x202.jpgWhat is it like to live in Wales?

Yes, yes, I know. One word answers shouted loudly at the screen are sometimes tempting and even cathartic on a Monday morning but try not to. Instead put down your cup of coffee, stop writing that report you should have finished by Friday, turn the radio down, leave the children in front of the telly a little while longer and think about it.

What's it like, living in Wales? Not a bad quality of life as it goes? Rubbish? Much worse than where you've come from or where you'd like to be? Better than it was a few years ago? You'd say getting worse by the day but it couldn't get much worse? Pretty damn good and anyway what d'you expect when public money's tight?

What do you reckon?

What was it like the last time you went to the doctor or visited hospital? If you use buses (unlike one of my colleagues who claims never to have been on one), what's your local bus service like? Council-run leisure centre (if they haven't had to shut it?) Recycling facilities?

"7,500 citizens" have had their say. You can delve deeper into what exactly they had to say here but let me give you the upshot: ask us about out own experience of, say, the NHS and we tend to be full of praise (note the 'tend' in that sentence). The staff were fantastic. My Mum couldn't have had better care. They need better facilities and more money but they do a wonderful job with what they have.

Ask us about the state of the NHS and we tend to think it's in a mess, or in what headlines always seem to call a 'parlous state' .

So are we surprised that when asked face to face about different aspects of their day to day lives in Wales, the answers given by those 7,500 citizens, whoever they may be, "show that overall, satisfaction levels across a range of public services areas were high, with most commenting particularly positively on the contact they had with public service staff".

No, I didn't think you would be.

Still there are, apparently, "still some aspects which could be improved on".

Right, once again then: living in Wales - what's it like?

Merry Christmas

Betsan Powys | 14:36 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009


_45243050_xmascards_bbc416.jpgFrom Cabinet minutes Oct 5

Item 1: Minutes of the previous meeting and matters arising

1.1 Cabinet approved the minutes of the previous meeting.

Matters arising - Christmas Cards

1.2 The First Minister indicated that, although he was retiring in December, he believed it would be appropriate to send Christmas cards just before stepping down.

And thus do great empires fade away.

Mind you he'll be more than happy to read that 91% of AMs questioned by Ipsos Mori disagreed that free bus travel for pensioners in Wales should be restricted for pensioners with below average incomes. His should be quite safe ... for now.

The appliance of science

Betsan Powys | 12:39 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009


A voting intention poll commissioned by the BBC? In your dreams and let's face it, in mine. Still, at least someone's been canvassing the opinion of the great Welsh voting public. Problem is they've been coming back with different answers.

A few weeks ago a YouGov poll asked this question and got these answers:

If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales full law-making powers how would you vote?

42% would vote Yes
37% would vote No
6% wouldn't vote
15% don't know

A 5% margin in favour of yes over no. I've heard a reliable whisper that they'd had a dry run on this poll as the new polling company on the Welsh block and in that one too, the margin was exactly the same: 5%.

The Convention's own opinion poll made public yesterday asked this question and got these answers:

If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales full law-making powers in these areas, how would you vote?

47% were in favour
37% against
13% didn't know
3% either wouldn't vote or offer an answer.

A margin of 10%: the kind of result that makes politicians sweat because it neither tells them what they want to hear, nor what they don't want to hear. What it tells them is that the decision is theirs.

Then last night ITV Wales revealed the results of their YouGov poll. They asked:

If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales increased law-making powers, how would you vote? Note 'increased' not 'full'.

51% said they would vote yes
30% would vote no
6% wouldn't vote
14% didn't know

A 21% margin in favour of a yes vote? Confused? Does the distinction between 'increased' (a bit more) and 'full' (mmm, sounds a bit like independece) explain such a vast difference?

I don't know enough about variations in methodology to draw any conclusions from such a variation in results. Perhaps you do.

My own caught-in-the-lift poll tells me that head of the Wales Governance Unit, Richard Wyn Jones, doesn't think there'll be a referendum on or before 2011. The look on Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas' face says that he does. That makes Prof, no, PO, yes. Oh and the man who got off on the third floor (heading towards the Tory offices) was adamant the Prof was wrong. There will be a referendum, next Autumn. He winked.

Ah the applicance of science ...

While I'm at it, the results of another poll - a survey of AMs that's done regularly by Ipsos MORI.

One result will probably be framed by the Hartan Army by the end of the day and will be pinned to the dart-boards of every Carwynista and Lewisista in town.

30 AMs from all four parties were asked who is the most impressive Assembly Member of any party at the moment?

Edwina Hart got 25% of the vote.
Rhodri Morgan got 22%.

Message? Edwina Hart has fans across the political divide.

Coming closest to those two? Plaid's Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones with 12%.

Both Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis got 5% - more than Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, and Conservative leader Nick Bourne who were both on 4%. There were no votes for the Liberal Democrat leader.

Five Lib Dem AMs were questioned: five out of six.

I think we can work out which one wasn't.

Yes, probably.

Betsan Powys | 00:00 UK time, Wednesday, 18 November 2009


_44824553_-12.jpgIf you don't want a referendum, then it's probably best that you look away now and avoid direct eye contact with the All Wales Convention's report.

The gist of it? Go for it, though we don't guarantee you'll win it.

It cost £1.3million, is 132 pages long in each language and is not the "fuzzy" piece of work Sir Emyr Jones Parry thought you and I expected of him. The All Wales Convention comes to the unequivocal conclusion that, based on what ordinary people and institutions have said in their evidence, based on "impartial and carefully prepared scrutiny of what we heard", adopting a system where the National Assembly can make its own laws without having to refer to Westminster would be more efficient and clearer than the current system. More importantly, the evidence says that is what people want.

Ideally the Convention says a vote on holding a referendum would be held before June 2010 so that the referendum itself can be held - and won or lost - before the next Assembly Election.

And here comes the 1.3 million pound question. Does the Convention think that referendum would be won? I'll quote the crucial passage from the report: "Our judgement is that a "yes" vote in a referendum is obtainable, but the evidence we have collected underlines that there can be no certainty about this".

I'm not bound by diplomatic language so let me sum it up like this: the current system is pretty messed up if not entirely broken. You do want to fix it but we can't guarantee that if you were asked to vote on it, enough of you would turn out and enough of you would say 'yes.'

The sum of its parts

At the embargoed briefing, a brisk Sir Emyr and his team kept suspense to a minimum. The All Wales Convention makes "an unequivocal recommendation for the merits of Part 4". Stay with me. I'll explain. This - every 'part' in all its glory - is important.

The current system where the Assembly must first get the nod from Westminster before it gets extra powers came about thanks to the Government of Wales Act. If there's a referendum held and won, then technically we would be moving on to Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act.

There would be "substantial advantages" to doing that according to the Convention.


An interesting point to kick off: as things are now more powers are devolved to the Assembly via framework powers - in other words hitching a lift with a passing piece of UK-wide legislation - than via the infamous LCOs. That route of devolving power isn't open to scrutiny by the Assembly. Powers are devolved based on the say-so and the whim of ministers based in London and are exposed to next to no public debate.

Contrast that with the LCO system where pretty limited powers are devolved only after a great deal of scrutiny and debate.

Sir Emyr had our attention. On he went.


If full law-making powers were devolved then it would be much easier to legislate strategically. With the LCO system, that's not possible. On big things like climate change that affect half a dozen policy areas, you can think strategically if you start with the powers you need and a blank piece of paper. If you start with a long and complex list of bids for power from another institution that you're not even sure you're going to get, you can't.

Laws, in the end, must be accessible and capable of being implemented. Granting full law-making powers comes closer to achieving that than the current system.

The system by which laws are made should be transparent and understood by the ordinary people of Wales. Mrs Edwards from Pontypridd and Mrs Jones from Bonymaen were invoked. Conclusion? They don't understand how their Assembly gets its powers and therefore, makes laws. In a democracy, it's vital they do understand. Granting full law-making powers comes closer to achieving that than the current system.

Do the ordinary people of the UK I asked - I was thinking Mrs Wilson from Portsmouth - really understand the system of law-making in Westminster, an argument put forward regularly by the Secretary of State for Wales. Maybe not came the response but do you draw much comfort from that? The glint in the eyes turned steely.

There should be one place where the law of Wales is available and under the current system, there is not.

"A great fog"

There was, he said, "a great fog out there, a lack of understanding." In a democracy, that was no good at all.

Could the current number of Assembly Members - 60 - handle the enhanced powers? Yes, though adding to that number in future isn't ruled out.

So on what had the Convention based the 'yes vote obtainable' conclusion? On the evidence heard and on the polling evidence too. Their own poll suggested 47% would vote yes, 37% would vote no. That leaves 16% undecided or saying they wouldn't vote.

And there you have it: the 'winnable but no guarantee of winning' formula we've come to know so well over the past few months.

Then came the equivalent of the Big If. Many factors would impact on the result of a referendum - perceptions of nationhood, how the Welsh Assembly Government has performed, attitudes to Scotland and so on. Popularity of the campaign leader seemed fairly near the top of the list. The clear implication? Use Rhodri Morgan.

As expected then, no guarantees that a referendum, if held, would be won.

How much would holding a vote cost? "The closest comparator would be the recent European elections - the costs in Wales for holding this election in June 2009 (counting officer fees) came to approximately £4.9m. Campaigning costs? £100,000 per campaign -Yes and No.

There is a lot more in the 132 pages that deserves scrutiny. Turn to p.26 for a stab at how much the current system costs, p.100 for a clear marker that says governing by restrictions and exceptions - you can have this bit of power but not that - is not a reasonable way forward. If there's a 'yes' vote, any changes to the list of the areas where power is devolved "should reflect the legitimacy which the National Assembly for Wales would have been given in that referendum".

Will the report change the minds of those who believe a referendum would be lost?


Will Peter Hain continue to believe that holding a referendum soon would be a show of "bad faith to Parliament" and that Parliament wouldn't agree "to trigger a referendum before of during 2011" anyway?


Will the report put considerable pressure on Rhodri Morgan's successor?


Listen again

Betsan Powys | 13:38 UK time, Tuesday, 17 November 2009


If you weren't up early yesterday and missed the piece the Today programme ran on the background to the All Wales Convention's report - you can listen back to it here.

Scroll to 0:46 minutes in.

While you're on tenterhooks and the clock ticks too slowly as you await Sir Emyr's report, here are another couple of links to keep you occupied.

Sexism and the leadership debate under the microscope at Wales Home and a blog called Devoution Matters that will appeal to those who think that ... well I suppose that devolution matters.

The Big If

Betsan Powys | 12:47 UK time, Tuesday, 17 November 2009


It's not often that I can describe my colleagues as little boys on Christmas Eve - and they are mostly boys as you know - but yesterday was an exception. So agog was the Western Mail's Senedd Correspondent at the prospect of the All Wales Convention reporting that he felt, he said, as though it was the eve of Christmas Eve.

This morning Nick Bourne, the Conservative leader, was "looking forward" to reading the report.

Jane Hutt, the Education Minister was simply "awaiting it" - a neat distinction between the language of government and opposition.

The Convention's report will be made public at midnight. There will be some official responses tomorrow but expect little more than the photo opportunity equivalent, a sort of thank-you-for-the-hard-work and we'll-consider-it response. I imagine some will even steer clear of welcoming it. It's publication will be marked and no more.

There'll be a statement from Rhodri Morgan next Tuesday. The Tory leader was quick to "understand" if the First Minister would want to leave any meaningful debate until a new First Minister is in place. In fact he was pretty clear that for any debate to be meaningful, it would have to be led by the new First Minister.

That takes us into 2010, the stockings long-since opened and packed away, the tree taken to a council recycyling site.

But hang about: just hover over next week. On Wednesday the Welsh Secretary Peter Hain will be in Cardiff Bay to address Assembly Members. He'll be making a statement on the Queen's Speech before it's debated by AMs. While he's here it's hard to imagine he won't have something to say about the way the current legislative process is working, Sir Emyr's report and the timing of a referendum.

He has made his views entirely clear already. If you want to read the speech he gave in Cardiff some weeks ago in full, then here it is. His political detractors portray him as anti-devolutionary, keen to protect alleged whispered pledges to Labour MPs at the time of the coalition deal that though a referendum "on or before 2011" was part of the deal, it would never happen. It would never wash with the public. How can the architect of this current system accept, they say, that it is broken and does need fixing?

Mr Hain would of course argue that what he's doing is something far simpler. He's doing as others have been telling me over the past few weeks I should be doing, others involved in the election of a new Labour leader and First Minister - following the numbers. Look at opinion polls, look at the gap between those who say they'd vote 'yes' in a referendum and those who'd vote 'no' and consider the gap. 5%, 6%, 7%? No more and not enough. Think timing. Think likelihood of winning.

Granted, ask the public a question in terms of a kind of parity with Scotland and the figures the pollsters gather shoot up. The gap opens, is gaping wide. But while a Yes campaign might be fought on those terms, the question would never be put in those terms. So again, follow the numbers: 5% ... 6% ... 7%.

Let's wait and see what Mr Morgan and Mr Hain add to the debate next Tuesday and Wednesday.

In the meantime: the report itself. It'll be yours to read online come the morning. I'll be typing 'if' into the word search box - a pretty big 'if'. I'm guessing like everyone else that there'll be sections that push the boundaries of the Covention's remit, sections that don't offer firm recommendations but concentrate on the evidence gathered.

I imagine they'll discuss numbers of AMs. They'll discuss the evidence put to them that Wales ought to follow the Scottish model in that everything ought to be devolved other than the areas listed as reserved. A recommendation to that effect though? That would indeed take a pretty hefty "measure of boldness".

I'll be looking out for a line that says something along the lines of "If a Welsh referendum is fought on the issue, the Convention believes the evidence suggests it could be won".

If the referendum is fought on the issue? Which referendum can you think of that was fought on the issue, that was a straightforward answer to the straightforward question put on the ballot paper? Which referendum result can you think of that wasn't affected by the popularity of the government, how much money was in people's pockets, how secure their job was, how the weather turned out?

If it's there (an if in itself) than it's a pretty big if.

If you want to see an Assembly with full law-making powers, Assembly Members able to get on with law-making without reference to parliament - then enjoy the moment. If you're a True Wales supporter, brush off those press releases accusing the Convention of being no more than a taxpayer funded Yes campaign.

But on both sides of the fence, beware the 'if'.

Ty Jonathan

Betsan Powys | 14:50 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009


Go to Google Earth.

Type in Cardiff Bay.

Zoom in on Ty Hywel - the red-brick building behind the Senedd that houses AMs' offices - and this is what you get.

Does the Tory AM for Cardiff North, Jonathan Morgan, never go home?

Or has someone forgotten to let us know that the building has been renamed yet again - this time in his honour?

Minding your language

Betsan Powys | 12:27 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009


The very first note I have scrawled in my notebook on the Labour leadership election says "Leader for the whole of Wales". I wrote it leaning against a wall in the back of the Ogmore Labour Club where Carwyn Jones launched his bid to become the next Labour leader and First Minister of Wales - "the whole of Wales" of course.

He used the phrase again in the interview he did after the launch and at a guess, he's used it at least twice a day since then. It is his pitch: that as a Welsh speaker with a broad appeal across the party, he is the right man to take over Rhodri Morgan's job and position in the party and in the country.

What does he mean by "the whole of Wales?" From the outset I think we - and certainly his opponents in the race - took him to mean North and South but in particular the Welsh-speaking bits of the country along with the non-Welsh speaking parts. He would thrust home his appeal in those areas "West of the Loughor and the Clwyd" as Rhodri Morgan once put it, where the language is as its strongest and where Labour has been made to suffer at the polls but he wouldn't play into the hands of those who feared he was a bit too friendly with Plaid.

He'd be like Rhodri Morgan - able to speak Welsh but not about to thrust it down your throat.

So when Edwina Hart tells tonight's edition of Y Byd ar Bedwar that it's wrong to say the next First Minister should be a Welsh speaker, that she's "no less Welsh than anybody that speaks Welsh" and that she'd "also find it very useful if I could speak some other languages like Bengali or Chinese when I'm in the Swansea community" what is she doing?

Is she being crass and insensitive, intentionally alienating Welsh speakers as supporters of the language have already suggested?

Is she making a political calculation that Welsh speakers with a vote will give it to Carwyn Jones and that she needs her own USP on this issue for her own party - in other words, he'll be soft on the language, you bet I won't be? A political calculation at work.

Is she displaying enough chips on her shoulder to feed a bio-mass power station for a whole year?

Her Plaid supporters - and she has plenty - talk about her action on the ground in her constituency, promoting Welsh medium education. Take heed of what she does, not what she says ... The Presiding Officer is one. I talked to others at the weekend at a festival in Newport that, how shall I put it, tends to attract more Plaid-leaning supporters than any other party. Of those I spoke to, every single one wanted Edwina Hart to win.

So which one is it?

None of the above, say her supporters. She is simply saying it as it is and appealing, wait for it, to the whole of Wales.

In this 'whole of Wales' what she's saying is common sense - "unexceptional and unexceptionable" as a supporter put it to me this morning. A reference in your manifesto to a fear that Welsh-medium schools could turn into "the exclusive preserve of a self-appointed minority" isn't read with raised eyebrows and as unnecessarily hostile. It's read as a reasonable desire for the Welsh language to be regarded as a language for everybody.

In this 'whole of Wales' Edwina Hart gets a nod for recognising that Wales is a diverse nation. After all, says one Hart supporter, hasn't Rhodri Morgan talked about "the whole of Wales" in the past in terms of it being ethnically diverse? (He has talked about a fear that closing an English-medium school to make way for a Welsh-medium one would be ethnically-polarising) And the out-going First Minister has said himself it's not essential that his successor speaks Welsh.

Where does all of this leave Huw Lewis? It leaves him with an opportunity to show he knows how sensitive the question is ... and keeping his head down in his Open University Welsh grammar text books.

What if ..?

Betsan Powys | 14:23 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009


redposter282.jpgWhat if ... we said to a group of students from the art college at Newport University and UWIC.

What if Sir Emyr Jones Parry and his Convention report puts Rhodri Morgan, puts his successor and his Deputy, Ieuan Wyn Jones in a position where they will want to hold a referendum any time soon?

What should the campaigns, both Yes and No, hone in on? How should they sell their message? Where should they pitch it?


They worked hand in hand with Rachel Banner from True Wales and Cynog Dafis of Tomorrow's Wales and came up with these slogans and these posters.

The art work will be there for all to see on Sunday's Politics Show along with the thinking behind it.

Whether there's any imminent use for it all? We'll get the biggest clue yet on Wednesday.

On the buses

Betsan Powys | 10:17 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009


Apologies for a quiet day on the blogging front yesterday.

The day started with opinions - the view in the Bay on who'd come out best and worst of the hustings, recorded the previous night. Had Carwyn Jones been almost too polished and at home? Had Huw Lewis pitched his message right? Edwina Hart's style of engagement came over - would people love it or loathe it?

No knock-out blows but surprising views from some senior corners on who'd made the most of their moment and won on points.

An enterprising comparison from one of those who was there.

It's not fair to condemn Carwyn Jones for years for being lazy, then condemn him equally for being too assured, he said. Not fair. He's stand-out in this sort of public forum and a First Minister needs to give assured performances. Condemning him on both counts makes him the Danyl Johnson of the Labour leadership race. If you've just said WHO very loudly, then apologies. In fact apologies to anyone who doesn't spend their Saturday nights watching the X Factor and for whom Edwina Hart as Miss Frank as Huw Lewis as Jo McElderry means nothing at all. Yes, I know Miss Frank's out already but so is just about every other girl in the competition apparently so his choice was rather limited.

Don't worry. Bad comparison, getting worse, ends there.

If you have a view on the hustings, ring the Radio Wales lunchtime phone-in. The number is 03700 100 110. I'll be there.

The day ended, by the way, with more opinions. I did the school run on the 606 bus with a bunch of kind and lively pupils from Fitzalan who helped illustrate what sort of powers the Assembly currently has and would have if a referendum were held and won. They were intrigued by the whole process of recording, rather less so by the debate around powers.

I doubt whether Dave the driver cared very much either way by the end of the journey.

Five minutes with ...

Betsan Powys | 12:14 UK time, Wednesday, 11 November 2009


clock.jpgIf you've got fifteen minutes to spare, sit back and meet the three Labour leadership candidates as they're subjected to five minutes with Carl Roberts and his 'are you real people' questions. It's known officially as quick-fire democracy, apparently.

Who's got it right? Who's got it wrong? Who - perhaps most significantly - has got 'it'?

And just who are those out-of-focus AMs having a quiet cuppa and a chat in the tea-room behind them?

The Interview

Betsan Powys | 10:56 UK time, Wednesday, 11 November 2009


You must have been there yourself.

The job interview is drawing to a close. So far, you've done ok. You've answered all the questions put to you. You've not put your foot in it. You're not sure if you've outshone the others going for it but you've shown you know what is required to do the job and you've set out why you reckon you could do it well.

Then comes the final, throwaway question from them: Why do you want this job?

Edwina Hart, Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis might be thinking just that this morning. First comes the news of the fire that will greet their baptism as Wales' brand new First Minister. It'll come in the form of the UK governmen'ts pre-budget report which will be delivered in parliament at 1230 GMT on Dec 9. The new Welsh Labour leader will have been in the job for around 24 hours before the Chancellor delivers "an update on public finances" - in other words, before they discover just how tough things are going to get.

Welcome to the job First Minister.

Their first challenge? To look at the unemployment figures relased today and respond in any other way than putting their head in their hands and wail. In Wales the number of people unemployed grew by 14,000 to 125,000 between July and September.

In the North East, in Yorkshire/Humber, in the West Midlands, the numbers went down.

In London, the North West, in the East Midlands, in the South East, the South West, they went up. They went up in Scotland and Northern Ireland by 4,000 - to 7.2% - but nowhere did they go up as much as in Wales. Here they went up by 14,000 - to 8.7%. In pure numerical terms, that's almost twice the rise of any other region in the UK.

There will be any number of stories hidden here - trends that are going up, not down, trends that are increasing but increasing more slowly than they might. But the bottom line is there for all to see. The same goes for the enormity of the challenge for the Assembly Government and its new leader.

Ah and then there'll be the All Wales Convention which reports next Wednesday. It'll be sitting in that handover pack Rhodri Morgan leaves on his desk for the next imcumbent of his office. To what extent he'll have left the decision for them to take, we'll have to wait and see but as the outgoing leader put it to journalists recently, if his successor doesn't want to make the decision, they shouldn't want the job in the first place.

So Mrs Hart, Mr Jones, Mr Lewis: why DO you want the job?

UPDATE: The Assembly Government have commented, though not on the unemployment figures as they have for the past few months. They've commented solely on the claimant count. That shows a smaller increase than in recent months, despite the big rise in unemployment figures. This is what they're calling "encouraging to note":

"Whilst it is important not to read too much into a single months figures, it is encouraging to note that the claimant count level in Wales has continued its downward trend. During the early stages of the global downturn, the claimant count was rising by around 4,000 per month - tailing off to around 1,000 per month during the summer. Today's rise of 300 - the smallest increase since the start of the recession - is an indication that the recession could be bottoming out, although we are not at all complacent and will continue to fight for every job and to maintain the skills of our workforce."


Come off it, we said. What about the unemployment figures?

"It is disappointing that the latest figures show a quarterly rise in ILO unemployment for Wales. This does not however reflect the position over the year (a comparison recommended by the ONS to remove some of the volatility in quarterly figures). In addition, the level of ILO unemployment does not take into account any changes in economic inactivity - a historically important indicator for the Welsh economy. The employment rate for Wales over the year (taking into account unemployment and inactivity levels) shows one of the lowest falls when compared to the rest of the UK - with Wales outperforming London, the South East, Scotland and Northern Ireland (amongst others)."

Going nuclear

Betsan Powys | 12:42 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009


_1136305_wylfa300.jpgOn or near the top of the list at this morning's Welsh Assembly Government lobby briefing would have been a question about yesterday's UK Government announcement on the next generation of nuclear power stations.

Near the top too would have been a question or two about Carwyn Jones, the Counsel General's views on the future direction of public services in Wales and the response of the Finance Minister and the Health Minister to those views.

In the event, there was little point raising either issue. There was no government minister there to take our questions. A first - out of fairness, let me make that much clear. The Chief Medical Officer, who did step up to the mark, was informative about swine flu ("the WAG has followed a pathway that we are proud of") but not in a position to give the goverment's response to much of anything else. Why would he? He's the CMO stupid.

So why was he standing in for a government minister?

Was there a particular minister who wanted to avoid the lobby this week? Or was there a cabinet hair-washing session happening upstairs?

Let's hope this first is also a last.

So back to nuclear, specifically a new nuclear power station on Anglesey - Wylfa B. We know where this First Minister and his government stand on nuclear power in Wales. Rhodri Morgan was interviewed yesterday and re-iterated the official government line: "We remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy obviates the need for new nuclear in Wales".

"Obviates". That's clear enough. We don't believe it's needed. We don't want it.

The Assembly Government doesn't get to make the decision but wants public hearings before any new nuclear build on the Wylfa site.

The Assembly Government is concerned about waste: "it remains our intention to protect people in Wales in terms of hazardous waste".

The Plaid Deputy First Minister does want Wylfa B of course but only when he's wearing his hat as the local Assembly Member. His government is opposed to it. His party is opposed to it but the Anglesey AM is pleased that "the UK government has stated its position in terms of nuclear energy".

So what about the three would-be First Ministers? My colleague Iolo ap Dafydd, the Environment Correspondent, was bang on with his timing yesterday when he considered the candidates' view on energy and environmental matters.

Let's hone in on the one candidate whose views are, we know already, in contradiction to the current government policy.

A few weeks ago Carwyn Jones said was it was "time to get real on climate change". A robust start. He went on. "I believe nuclear power will form part of Wales' low carbon response to the serious challenges we face in the years to come. "

Will form.

His views are perfectly clear and in contradiction to the current First Minister and the current Welsh Assembly Government. He supports nuclear as part of the Welsh energy mix as long as the waste question is dealt with.

So a straightforward question then: if Carwyn Jones is elected Labour leader on December 1st and becomes First Minister on December 8th, what will the Welsh government's policy on nuclear energy be by December 9th?

A finger is decisively pointed at the paragraph above: " .. nuclear power will form part of Wales' low carbon response to the serious challenges we face in the years to come". How it's implemented, how it's articulated? That'll be up to the government - which is a coalition after all - to work out.

"Can't see the Deputy First Minister complaining too loudly though, can you?" asks one who clearly has it all worked out.

But just hang on. Let's hone in another of the leadership candidates - Edwina Hart. In her manifesto she states that as "to sources of energy, I have always taken the view that, where nuclear power is concerned, only the highest degree of scepticism is sensible. We must never forget that the safety issues which come with nuclear power are not simply ones for the present generation but for the future".

Does that sound like she supports Wylfa B? No, it doesn't. But she does. She does as long as the waste question is solved and is rather more sceptical that can be done than her fellow leadership candidate, Carwyn Jones. But Edwina Hart supports Wylfa B.

And Huw Lewis? He too supports Wylfa B. It's a community that's used to nuclear goes the argument. It's a community desperate for jobs. It's a distinct case.

So there's the hat-trick. All three candidates on the record as supporting Wylfa B, unlike Rhodri Morgan.

The leader of the opposition has clearly worked out that here may be an Achilles' heel for the Assembly Government. Nick Bourne went big on the nuclear issue at FMQs. Where does the government stand on Wylfa B, he asked repeatedly?

Rhodri Morgan's response - "There was a lengthy discussion in Cabinet yesterday, and there has been no development of our policy."

That discussion was chaired of course, by a First Minister who is against new nuclear in Wales. Naturally no "development" of the policy, no going on the record in favour of Wylfa B.

But what would be the outcome of the same discussion in January next year chaired by a First Minister who IS on record as being in favour of Wylfa B?

Would collective cabinet responsibility mean that someone like current Environment Minister Jane Davidson, a leading supporter of Carwyn Jones as it happens, would be expected to go in front of the cameras and make a vigorous argument in favour of Wylfa B? And would she?

Anuerin who?

Betsan Powys | 09:19 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009


What a sharp eyed bunch you are.

If you've ever wondered what happened to the website that hosted this then read on.

Aneurin Glyndwr was launched by Welsh Labour with the aim, according to Peter Hain, of building "a network of progressive people who are interested in politics, but are not obsessed with it".

The author of the now infamous parody of Tom Jones' Delilah - though not the voice that belted it out - was Eluned Morgan, now former MEP. "We in Welsh Labour" she said "have passion and energy and with initiatives like Aneurin Glyndwr we will take on and expose the hollow rhetoric and opportunism of the Tories, nationalists and Liberal Democrats in Wales."

Well it seemed to be resting (reasting? spellechecker anyone?), then seemed definitely deceased. Now it's become "an online resource for Labour party members in Wales."

Before those members sign up and take everything that is on it as gospel, they might like to point out that whoever's in charge needs a spellchecker - urgently.

If you become leader ...

Betsan Powys | 11:04 UK time, Monday, 9 November 2009


contenders2_226.JPGTonight the three Labour leadership candidates will line up at lecterns and prepare to take questions from an invited audience. They must be getting used to each other's company though I doubt, after the weekend, whether anyone's suggested a leadership hustings car-share scheme.

Monday evening? Must be Swansea and the latest official debate organised by the Labour party.

The three hopefuls have already faced official hustings in Rhyl, Narberth and Newport. On Thursday it's Cardiff and the final chance for Labour members with a polling card/s in their pocket to make up their minds. Who should take over from Rhodri Morgan?

People are waking up to Huw Lewis as a man with ideas that can't be ignored say his fans, especially young voters. He's not persuading people he can deliver, so can't be trusted with a vote in such a crucial election, say his detractors.

Edwina Hart's fans say she cuts a swathe through the two men and comes across as a real person. Her critics say she's abrasive and then some, calling big business "our class enemy", the Western Mail a "Tory rag" and claiming BBC Wales is "run by Plaid Cymru".

Carwyn Jones has been coming across as assured and charismatic, say his supporters; another bland politician in a suit say his detractors.

Which prominent Labour politician is seen glad-handing which candidate is noted, analysed and put out there for commentators to think on. Which prominent Labour politician is seen resolutely avoiding glad-handing which candidate is put out there even more quickly. You and I, though, are not there to witness it all unfolding.

The three candidates have already debated online - take a look if you haven't already yet seen it.

But later this week the ante will be, as they say, well and truly upped. The three leadership candidates will not only answer questions in front of an audience; they'll face the cameras too which means you can make up your own minds whether the seemingly unshakeable bland/abrasive/inexperienced tags are out of date, were never in date or are absolutely on the money.

The BBC leadership hustings will be broadcast in the Dragon's Eye slot on Thursday at 10.30pm. If you want to contribute a question via Email, then do. Send it to

The big deal

Betsan Powys | 22:50 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009


It was always likely to happen but all the same let's note the day the sharp elbows truly came out in the race to succeed Rhodri Morgan.

Yesterday the Carwyn Jones campaign put out a press release to be made public this morning. "TIME TO LEAD - POWER MEANS RESPONSIBILITY" said the headline. So far, so the usual attempt at the weekend to look full of ideas and get reported. But hang on and read on.

"Carwyn is the only candidate in the election to link constitutional reform directly to improvements in public service delivery, saying the people of Wales may want more devolution but they also want politicians to do better when it comes to improving their services".

Who's the Minister in charge of public service delivery? Who rarely has a conversation that doesn't, at some point, contain the words "public service delivery?" Ah yes, of course, the man who is also the real power behind Edwina Hart's campaign.

Keep reading.

"Our current structures of governance in the public service - in local authorities and health services for example - must be platforms for delivery, not stand-alone empires. Otherwise the people will demand more radical change."

The structures of governance in the health service? Another direct hit. Followed by this line:

"Carwyn is set to challenge current Welsh Assembly Government thinking on public service delivery".

In other words Carwyn Jones is set to challenge what Andrew Davies and the Welsh Assembly Government - in other words the Cabinet in which he has a role - has been doing for the past few years.

There was, we gather, fury from the Finance Minister. Was there not, he wondered out loud, "such a thing as collective cabinet responsibility?" Backbench AM and leadership contender Huw Lewis can vote against the government on its plans for a badger cull but don't forget that the hand being played by Carwyn Jones is quite different.

A matter of hours later, a correction was issued. He was no longer "set to challenge current Welsh Assembly Government thinking on public service delivery" after all. Instead "Carwyn is seeking to set a new direction for future Government thinking on public service delivery." There is, of course, no difference in his plans. The sole difference is the rather smarter form of words.

But let's get back to that thought about power and responsibility and a passage in the press release that's creating waves in Plaid circles. It deserves scrutiny - I'll quote it in full.

"Labour delivered devolution. I was proud to campaign for a yes vote in 1997 as secretary of 'Bridgend Says Yes'. In the 2006 Government of Wales Act, Labour delivered the framework for the Assembly to have law-making powers if backed by the people in a referendum.

"I have always been committed to further law-making powers for Wales.

"I am totally committed to what was agreed in 'One Wales' but that should in no way preclude my responsibility, if elected Leader, to consult within the wider Party on the findings and recommendations of the All Wales Convention.

"But consideration of the Convention's report must not be a matter solely for AMs to decide - it must involve the entire Labour movement in Wales, AMs, MPs, grassroots members and trade unions.

"I will campaign for a Yes vote when the referendum is called, but we need a united Labour Party for a victory."

So have we been asking the wrong question? I've not been alone in wondering which First Minister would take a decision on whether to go for a referendum or not - the outgoing one or the brand new one? Carwyn Jones seems to be saying here that if he's elected, it will be neither. The decision will be in the hands of the Labour movement in Wales.

How would it be involved? By which mechansim? A re-run of the Special Conference that gave its blessing to the coalition and its current policy on a referendum? He doesn't say but here it is, a cast iron guarantee - to use the language of the moment - that the decision won't simply be made by the new First Minister and the Labour group in the National Assembly.

Edwina Hart says Carwyn Jones has been peeking at her hymn sheet:

"I have made it quite clear at hustings meetings during the campaign that I would want to consult the party about the referendum process once we knew the outcome of the All Wales Convention. I have also made it clear that we need much wider consultaion with the party on issues generally. Clearly Carwyn is in agreement with me."

And Huw Lewis? His priority, he makes clear, is taking on the Tories at the General Election, no matter what the Convention says about a referendum.

But look at this:

"With regards to involving the entire Labour family in any referendum campaign, of course. Unity of purpose is paramount to the Labour movement - but it is my recollection that a decision has been made on this, involving all sections of the party and affiliates, at the time of the special conference."

There are senior Plaid voices now saying exactly the same thing and in no uncertain terms - that the deal on where the parties stood on a referendum was signed, sealed and delivered back in 2007.

Walking away from that agreement could be, in the words of one Plaid voice, "a deal-breaker".

Cultural understanding?

Betsan Powys | 11:03 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009


On St Andrew's Day I wonder how tempted Alex Salmond will be to raise some questions -perhaps answer a few - about his future plans for an independent Scotland?

How soon after that would the UK Government be obliged to offer their own answers to come questions raised by the Calman Commission earlier this year. Will they take the same opportunity to respond to the Holtham Commission?

It's questions, questions, question these days. Here are a few more for you:

Does the majority of the population of Wales understand the devolution settlement?


To what extent do they need to understand it? To what extent does it matter if their understanding is scant?

Not just debatable but about to be hotly debated when the All Wales Convention report their own findings on November 18th, the day - incidentally - of the Queen's Speech.

How much do people who live in the UK but not in Wales understand about day to day life here? Do they know what would be different for their families if their company relocated here for instance? Do they know how the health service differs, how the education offered to their children would be different?

What do they think it feels like to live in a bilingual country?

Listening to yesterday's edition of Radio 4's Front Row with Mark Lawson makes you wonder.

This week we learned what the brand new National Theatre Wales will look like. Its Artistic Director, John E McGrath was invited onto the programme to talk about it. Good news you say, promoting understanding of what goes on here beyond Wales etc The conversation moved on to the National Theatre's peripatetic nature and a comparison made with the National Theatre in Scotland. This is how it went:

LAWSON: But far more than it arises perhaps in Scotland, you have the language question, which is whether the plays should be performed in English or in Welsh how have you resolved that one?

MCGRATH: Well we've come up with a canny solution for that in Wales, which is to create two theatre companies, National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. Theatr Genedlaethol has been going for a few years now, so that's really opened a space up for an English language theatre.

LAWSON: So all your plays will be performed in English?

MCGRATH: They'll be performed in English but more important than that they'll be performed in theatre.

LAWSON: I understand but we know that this is a big political issue in Wales. You are confident that you won't have people standing outside the theatre with placards which many of your actors and writers won't be able to read, protesting about the fact that it's all in English?

MCGRATH: There's been absolutely nothing but enthusiasm for the project in Wales and the Welsh speaking community's been a huge part of the support. It's an issue I think for people in England, it's not an issue for people in Wales. Here we're talking about a very confident country that has increasingly got its own government and wants to speak to the world.

There are plenty of questions in the wind these days about the quality of theatre provision in Wales, be it in English or in Welsh. The Culture Minister has been posing a few questions of his own this week and given he's the man holding the purse strings, ears in theatre land will prick up and listen.

But promoting understanding of where we're at in Wales? Are there really intelligent, erudite cultural commentators in England who believe there would be noisy protests outside national theatre productions in Wales, simply because they're put on in English?

Apparently so. There wouldn't of course but to what extent does it matter that some people think there would? Quite a lot, I'd say.

If you're interested, listen back to the interview here.

Aura of infalliblity

Betsan Powys | 15:20 UK time, Thursday, 5 November 2009


_45252854_haka_ap.jpgYOU know what 'aura' is, don't you?

Ah yes, in Wales we're very good at piling on the pressure, stoking the fire, talking up your side's chances, questioning the other side's aura of infallibility ahead of the big match. Appearing confident, as if that trophy's yours is half the psychological battle after all. Confident, unafraid, on course - good. Cocky, complacent, dismissive, in the bag - bad.

Ok, so you know where I'm going with this ... December 1st, Labour leadership, the Rhodri Morgan Trophy that is the First Minister's job.

The battle's moved from the open territory of supporting nominations - and I use the word 'open' cautiously and with much healthy scepticism - to the closed world of phone polling. Would you expect any one of the three camps to let it be known their phone polls are indicating their candidate is stuffed? No, thought not but just to pause a moment here.

The calls are going in at quite a rate - an impressive rate that would rival any recent election campaign run by Welsh Labour. If that's true - and I've no reason to doubt it but no ability to check it - then that raises some pretty fundamental questions about campaigning capabilities, who has them, who hasn't. You might wonder how on earth that kind of call volume is being achieved, to use the jargon ... but let's not get side tracked.

All three camps say things are looking good. Let's not be cynical either and dismiss that with a 'they would, wouldn't they?'

Huw Lewis knows he needs massive support from the membership. So far in this race, his team have not oversold their candidate's position. They can add up AM, MP and official union support as well as the next man and they can see their man is running in third. But these days they look very happy with what they're hearing. Let me throw caution to the wind and add another 'very' to that happy.

They need the membership to throw their weight behind Huw Lewis big time or he's first out and our sole concern is which of the other two get his supporters' second preference. That must surely be the concern of the other two candidates.

As I say, the Huw Lewis camp are looking more than happy with what they're being told. Only they know who's doing the telling and how reliable their support is.

The bookies aren't paying out but they're clear who wins: Carwyn Jones. The mantra in his camp? Confident, never, ever complacent. Nothing's in the bag but if you push them on phone polling ... Do the maths. Add up the support that's already been pledged by his fellow AMs, MPs, the sole MEP and he's already smiling - happy in the knowledge he's ahead in that electoral college. But the other two bits of the jigsaw? They seem confident (never complacent) that Carwyn (note the use of the first name at every opportunity) won't do at all badly there.

Add to that the support being pledged by members on the other end of a phone-line and you may think he's laughing.

And yet, and yet, and yet. The Hart camp give a pretty good impression of quiet confidence themselves. It's a campaign team jam-packed with people who, how do I put it, understand the Labour party through and through. When they talk about doing the maths, you may be baffled as to how they work it out but you're left in absolutely no doubt that they themselves are anything but baffled and anything but discouraged. As one trusted and objective voice put it - Carwyn's the favourite but Hart's the value bet.

There are plenty of rumours from left field. This morning's? Irene James, having nominated Huw Lewis, will vote for Edwina Hart. It's a story that did the rounds some weeks ago. Here, I was told, was the confirmation. "Cast iron".

Not so, apparently. In the past few days the AM for Islwyn has sent out a letter affirming her support for Huw Lewis. This is a "bizarre and baseless rumour" I'm told.

The upshot with a month to go?

Watch closely on Saturday. The crowd will love the pre-match posturing. The commentators and headline writers will analyse its impact on the match. Come Sunday we'll care about just one thing: who won.

Direct from Cameron?

Betsan Powys | 14:17 UK time, Thursday, 5 November 2009


_44046181_tory_logo203.gifOk, so I was wrong.

David Cameron will not let it be known - not long after the All Wales Convention reports - that a Conservative Secretary of State would not veto a request for a referendum on law-making powers if one is made.

Wrong because he's in North Wales tomorrow and if asked - and let's face it, Mr Cameron doesn't make it over the border without being asked - he will apparently give a clear answer.

No, no veto.

No, no rubbing noses in it - not everyone in his party will like it after all - but no ambiguity either. No veto.

No, as I've written before, falling into bear traps.

But a clear policy on devolution? No. No veto doesn't amount to one of those. Saying yes to a referendum doesn't mean saying yes in one. Welsh Conservatives will campaign on both sides.

Hands up!

Betsan Powys | 14:07 UK time, Wednesday, 4 November 2009


question_mark15_203x152.jpgSo come then, which one of you is responsible for this - the Government of Wales channel on You Tube?

I ask, only because my colleague Vaughan Roderick and I mentioned it yesterday and then the real Government of Wales (aka the Welsh Assembly Government) spotted it and ... wondered what on earth it was.

It is not their work. It is not their channel. It it not their attempt to engage with the You Tube generation after all.

It says it's "brought to you by the Welsh Assembly Government".

Not, it ain't, they say.

It was updated yesterday. It doesn't look like the kind of site that was knocked up in two hours by a bored teenager, nor is it a knocking job. It's pretty favourable to the government in fact.

So go on - who are you?


Betsan Powys | 13:26 UK time, Wednesday, 4 November 2009


So for whom, exactly, was the decision to impose a charge on plastic bags a victory?

A: The Environment Minister, Jane Davidson, leading the way for other Ministers to follow?

B: It wasn't an outright ban in the end, so a victory for plastic bag manufacturers?

C: A partial victory for those of you who took part in our "If I Ruled Wales" campaign back in 2007?

D: What about the environment? Fewer bags is good news and environmental causes who may benefit if big shops agree to direct the proceeds their way?

E: Not, says the British Retail Consorium, the Welsh consumer will be "clobbered" with new "taxes". You, of course, may disagree and be more than happy to pay the charge/already own a 'bag for life' and never leave it in the boot when you really need it.

None of the above, apparently. It's a victory for the Daily Mail, who have it on good authority that their very own 'Banish the Bag' campaign "inspired" the Welsh administration.

Leading by example

Betsan Powys | 11:52 UK time, Wednesday, 4 November 2009


There used to be a slot on Good Evening Wales called "Today in the Assembly". It had, as you might imagine, a pretty unfortunate acronym amongst those who produced it. "Yesterday in the Assembly" - aired on Good Morning Wales - didn't suffer the same ignominy.

Not much of an excuse for blogging what happened yesterday today but it's probably better than boring you with the real reason. Wall to wall meetings make for tedious blog material.

So did the Welsh Language LCO in its new guise get the approval of Assembly Members? Yes, it did. They voted in favour of the latest draft which was, as you may be well aware, amended by the Secretary of State who bore in mind the recommendations of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.

This is an example, says Mr Hain, of scrutiny at its best.

This is an example, say members of the Welsh Grand Committee, of input at their end of the M4 improving the work done in Cardiff Bay. It's an example of how co-operation, spotting omissions, unintended consequences, future problems and coming up with solutions can make a good order out of a bad one. They are far, far too polite to say that so bluntly but it's exactly how one - at this end of the M4 - who's been closely involved in the evolution of this particular bit of devolution put it to me a few days ago. We, they said, have to suffer Peter Hain going round saying he and Welsh MPs have saved the day and made a silk purse out of a sow's ear. We don't like it but let's face it, we don't like the whole system.

But yesterday in the Assembly one Labour Assembly Member held the Welsh Language LCO up as an example of everything that is wrong with the current system of devolving power to the Assembly. To put it another way he wasn't prepared, I suppose, to hold his nose. Alun Davies, a member of the Committee who examined the first draft of the Order wasn't the sole critic but he was the sharpest.

It was unacceptable, he said, that many of the recommendations the Committe had made hadn't been taken on board during behind-the-doors negotiations between the Assembly Government and Westminster. This version of the LCO was "incomplete, narrow and minimalist" and it had been "wrapped up in knots".

Now it gets significant: "It sets a precedent I regret where we will not be able to legislate as we see fit".

So? He's had a gutsful of the LCO system and called clearly for a referendum on full law making powers "as soon as possible".

So? I come back to the final thought in this post from a few weeks ago.

On November 18th the All Wales Convention reports. We'll find out whether the author is Sir Emyr Jones Parry, diplomat, or whether Sir Emyr the diplomat-with-a glint-in-his-eye has won through and will deliver a piece of work that makes it harder than they'd expected for the politicians not to go ahead and call a referendum.

Rhodri Morgan remains as First Minister until December 8th. Will he - should he - make the decision as out-going First Minister? The bookies' favourite to succeed him, Carwyn Jones, was asked three times what he thought. Three times he refused to be drawn.

But with some already drawing mental pictures of Rhodri Morgan and Dafydd Wigley as an unbeatable 'Yes' campaign leadership team - (ideas on who'd lead a/the 'No' camp?) - you can imagine others thinking it would be neater all round if the man on the way out took the decision and took it on the chin if it all went wrong.

A little something

Betsan Powys | 10:49 UK time, Tuesday, 3 November 2009


I'm back - and remembered to call into duty free on the way to buy my blogging body-double, Adrian Masters, a big box of Turkish Delight. I told you he'd do it in style.

And something for you too - two links. One from the BBC as Democracy Live goes ... live. The National Assembly appears sort of centre right - not something you get to write very often. Tell your friends. Tell everyone to take a look and tell me what you think.

And this spotted by my colleague Vaughan Roderick, though so far not by many others who browse You Tube by the looks of the number of hits: enjoy the Government of Wales channel ... and again, tell me what you think.

Thanks again Adrian - and in case you don't like Turkish Delight, good news. I'll swap it for a bottle.

They thought it was all over...

Betsan Powys | 19:05 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009


From tomorrow's plenary agenda - "Item 5: Debate and Approval of the draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Welsh Language) Order 2009 under Standing Order 22.34 (60 mins)"

Look innocuous? The end of a long hard road? Only the relative formality of Parliamentary approval to come?

No. As I'm packing up to come home from half term holidays, it seems lawyers for the Assembly Commission have been doing some unpacking - and the LCO (or HELLCO) That Wouldn't Die has one more sting in the tail. It's understood that legal advice will be circulated to Assembly Members tomorrow - crucially before they vote - raising some very serious concerns about the Order as it's presently drafted.

The concerns would appear to relate to the "test of reasonableness and proportionality" clause.

"This matter does not include imposing duties on a person (other than on a Welsh language authority) unless there is a means for that person to challenge those duties, as they apply to that person, on grounds of reasonableness and proportionality."

So what are the concerns? Well it seems that principally that this clause, inserted at the very end of the process following negotiations between WAG and the Wales Office introduces a novel and unprecedented (words we'll hear a fair bit tomorrow) new element to LCOs - that is, of having a test on the face of the Order that every future Measure will have to, well, measure up to. We'll hear the words "far reaching implications" a fair bit too tomorrow I suspect. This isn't just conferring powers, according to the Commission's lawyers, it's potentially confining the way the Assembly can use them.

Another part of the legal advice that will raise eyebrows is a suggestion that the effect of the Order could be to weaken some provisions of the Welsh Language Act 1993. Expect this one to be fiercely challenged from the Government as soon as it sees the light of day. They'll argue that the LCO does not require a challenge mechanism to be set out in a Measure, simply that one should exist. They'll also argue that the '93 Act already allows duties imposed to be challenged on the grounds that they are not reasonable or proportionate - in fact those words are in the Act. As Tom Jones sang (so they say) it's not unusual.

So what happens now? Well it's hard to overstate quite how much the Assembly Government want to see the back of this LCO, and get cracking with a language measure that will have an effect out there in the real world. The whip being what it is, even having read and digested the Commission's legal advice, it's still likely that the AMs on the Government side will hold their noses and vote it through. But words may be heard, I suspect, from the AM who chaired the scrutiny committee in Cardiff Bay, Mark Isherwood, and possibly even the Presiding Officer, Lord Elis Thomas, whose lawyers have delivered both a sting in the tail and a warning shot for the future.

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