BBC BLOGS - Betsan's Blog

Archives for February 2010

Labour eyes

Betsan Powys | 11:00 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010


Labour eyes aren't smiling these days. Then again the pairs of Labour eyes I've stared into recently aren't half as downcast as they were some months ago.

Back then I spoke to one key party man who seemed to have recognised an inevitable truth. It really was time for Welsh Labour to cut their losses, stop wasting their energies and sparse resources on trying to hold on to seats that were patently goners. Give up on Cardiff North. Give up on the Vale of Glamorgan. Start digging your heels in and digging trenches in seats where sitting Labour MPs haven't had a fight on their hands ever before.

Be realistic. Minimise losses. That was the mood, the message, the gameplan that was forming.

Then a few days ago the same pair of eyes told a different story. Change of plan, they said. It's game on. Have you seen the way the polls are heading? Have you heard the new found confidence in the voices of some Welsh MPs who last year had given up the ghost? We're not giving up on a single Welsh seat.

There is a logic here, of course.

Even if you think they truly are goners and the bookies have long since given them to the Tories why give up on seats where there'll be another fight in the Assembly election this time next year? Doesn't it make sense to ensure the damage is contained, so that the next candidate into the fray has less lost territory to claw back?

So how do you do it? How does Welsh Labour tackle this election?

Come on, you know the answer to that. At least if you've been listening to the boy at the front of the class, Peter Hain, you should know. The Welsh Secretary's been laying it on the line for a while now.

You turn this into a straight fight between you and the Tories.

Lib Dems? Irrelevant, barely worthy of a mention.

Plaid? A wasted vote, a back-door pass into Number Ten for David Cameron, a vote Labour could to with picking up.

There'll be constituencies where that argument doesn't work, of course. There it's up to the local campaign to pick their own fights - a message Llanelli MP Nia Griffith, despite sitting on a 7,000+ majority seems to have heard loud and clear.

But look at the big picture. Labour's best chance is to make this an us and them election and trust that 'they' have still failed to seal the bargain with 'us' the voters. A vain hope, you might argue but are you sure? Labour are sensing, hoping that you're not as sure as you were.

Watch tonight's Party Political Broadcast with interest.

I haven't, of course, seen it but I've heard a bit about what it might look like. On the eve of Welsh Labour's pre-election conference in Swansea the picture I have in my mind's eye (the eyes have it in this blog entry) is this: that nice, cuddly, Welsh speaking Labour leader and First Minister Carwyn Jones staring at Plaid and Lib Dem voters, warning them that a vote for anyone other than Labour at this election will lead to a Conservative future. Come on guys, you don't want to be responsible for letting that happen, do you?

We don't expect you to betray your principles, of course not. But look at it this way, our principle of fairness for all is yours too, isn't it? And you agree with us that if those Tories get in, they'll slash and cut and ... like us, you don't want that to happen, do you? So you see a vote for Labour makes sense. Just this once.

Then it'll be the Welsh Secretary's opportunity to turn the screw. This is between us and them. You're either with us or you're against us and you can't afford to be against us this time. A combination, then, of dishing out what Labour would regard as some ugly truths alongside the love-bombing of non-Tory voters.

It seems rather appropriate, doesn't it ... that Labour are heading off to Swansea, the "ugly, lovely town."

Upper cuts

Betsan Powys | 13:17 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010


boxing_gloves_226x127.jpgRon Jones is the executive chairman of Tinopolis, the media group based in Llanelli.

He has an an 'opolis' as Maureen Lipman might have put it admiringly and that, perhaps, allows me to suggest another 'o' word that fits in this case. He is, as far as I know, the nearest thing Llanelli has to a business oligarch.

He brought a thriving television business to the heart of the town and then built on its success. He now wants to see it grow further. Tinopolis is one of the companies bidding for the right to provide the news in English on ITV in Wales in future.

I think it's fair to say therefore that he wields some influence, if not on the life of the nation, then on the life of Llanelli. So the 'o' word sticks.

I've no idea if he's ever stepped into a boxing ring but Mr Jones has just delivered an extremely provocative and decisive series of upper cuts to the Assembly Government and to the public sector in Wales.

What's under attack? An announcement by the Deputy First Minister recently that he will lead what the Assembly Government has called "a new Economic Renewal Programme for Wales".

Read on:

"To avoid facing up to the failure of all previous strategies our government has declared this to be year zero. We should now pretend that changes in the world economy occasion a re-focussing of our efforts, building on the excellent work and success of the past.

Our economic past is not history, we are living in it. The business model for Wales has been broken for years and we need to acknowledge that before we can move on".

Then he really gets into his stride. "Bloated" public sector of Wales, get this:

"The great levers of the economy are outside Wales, but we were entitled to hope that devolution would at least bring an understanding of our economy, empathy for what our country needs".

"Instead, post-devolution we have created the foundation of an economic nightmare. The public sector stole Objective 1. We lost the wasteful hundreds of the WDA only for them to reappear within WAG, now hidden in a new fog of bureaucracy and hidden from public view".

"The petty regulation beloved of Tory and Labour governments in London has been accepted and gold-plated. Crucially, our people are poorer now than any in the UK and falling further behind".

"Faced with this, searching for a new strategy is an insult to the people of Wales. Something should be done is an empty phrase but perhaps WAG should at long last stop analysing and consulting. We are at the stage where anything is better than that".

Something. Anything. But what exactly?

Round the houses

Betsan Powys | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Yesterday Nick Bourne pointed a finger at the Liberal Democrats who had become, he said, "a national joke" for the way they'd turned their back on an opportunity to go into coalition government in Wales back in 2007. A chance to share power was offered on a plate to a party who think power should be shared fairly and they turned their backs on it.

Today the finger is pointed the other way.

It is "ridiculous" and "bonkers", says Mike German, the man who led the Lib Dems when in 2007, that Conservative AMs will vote against an Assembly Government bid to transfer further powers over housing to the Assembly in the chamber this afternoon.

The Housing Legislative Competence Order - oh come on, I've laid off LCOs for weeks now - would transfer extensive powers to the Assembly over social housing, housing for vulnerable people, regulation of social landlords and that key Thatcherite policy, the right to buy council homes.

In fact with the electoral clock ticking there's a bit of an LCO rush on.

Assembly Members are being asked to vote on this Order this afternoon in a bid to get it through Westminster before the General Election. Labour and Plaid have enough votes with Lib Dem support to pass the legislation in Cardiff Bay but Tory opposition here means Tory opposition in Westminster and therefore, an increasingly slim chance of getting the matter sorted before MPs head out to campaign for their political lives.

"They're bonkers" said Mike German. "I think its ridiculous to vote for a referendum to seek further powers then refuse to accept them when they're offered on a plate."

The Conservatives feign surprise at the fierce attacks coming their way.

"The Assembly Government" said a spokesman "have known since the beginning of this process that we are opposed to the transfer of 'right to buy' powers and we will oppose this order on that basis."

How come them, ask supporters of the Order - having spotted a chance to keep up the narrative of Welsh Conservatives as secret enemies of further devolution - that the cross party committee who considered this particular Order concluded that "we support the general principles of the proposed Order."

How come the same committee, of which Conservative AM Brynle Williams was a member, seemed content with the scope of the LCO on Right to Buy, adding a recommendation that consideration be given to extending legislative competence to include Community Right to Buy in relation to social housing?

How come Conservative AM Darran Millar spoke in the debate on laying the LCO and said that "we have an issue as a party on the right to buy, but, given the UK Government's proposals to review the housing revenue account regime, we must put dogma aside in this respect and focus on maximising the numbers of households that are housed rather than scrapping the right to buy for simply political reasons."

So what do you see here - realpolitik at work or inconsistency?

The Conservatives don't want the right to buy to be scrapped so they vote against anything that makes it more likely. Problem is their leader is a committed supporter of devolving more powers to the Assembly, the sort of powers he will try to block this afternoon.

Neutral voices are a rarity in Wales. The chief executive of Community Housing Cymru is not one of them, as Nick Bennett makes clear in his statement. All the same, in a debate where the language is getting stronger by the minute, here's his take on the Welsh Conservatives' position:

"This is the second housing LCO that CHC has given evidence to in the past two years and I would be flabbergasted if it fails. This comprehensive LCO is not just about the right to buy. If it falls then it endangers the chance to form progressive legislation to prevent homelessness, increase tenants rights and also improve regulation- which is essential for securing additional private lending into the housing sector in the future.

"Ironically the right to buy was effectively suspended last year by the credit crunch rather than government. As a former member of the All Wales Convention I have to say that I am perplexed by the opposition to drawing down legislative powers in the field of social housing when only two weeks ago there was a unanimous vote on holding a referendum across all devolved areas! It's a little like saying you want to go to war but not into battle."

Plaid Cymru's Dai Lloyd keeps it shorter. "Facile" is one word I can repeat.

"True bilingualism"

Betsan Powys | 10:12 UK time, Tuesday, 23 February 2010


rings_203x152.jpgOne of the first comments on this blog, back in the days when it hadn't even been christened Betsan's blog - cracking title that - was from a man called Philip. He must have been among the first to notice the blog when it appeared in the run up to the Assembly election in 2007. He was certainly one of the first to let rip in the comments section.

Let's just say it took a while to realise that if, sometimes, there was frustration welling up in his comments it was aimed, not at me, nor at the blog but at a country he'd not lived in for a while. It was some time later before I found out it's a country he's considering returning to. He talks about "the homeland" and a desire to come back to it. He wants work in Wales. He wants Wales to work. He doesn't want independence for Wales.

His family always spoke and still speak Welsh to each other, though living away means he's rusty. "Speaking Welsh is fine" he said in an Email a while back "but that is just conversation". Back then he was looking for a job "in a post-credit-crunch' world and ... I may well be considering moving back to the old country next year". He had a fear then that what he called "a more closed-off and isolationist approach is not really the way to help preserve the language".

He reads blogs voraciously, partly because he finds that newspapers and the radio in England as he put it "tend to be very focused indeed on life within the M25". So he's stuck with my blog because he gets something out of it he wouldn't get anywhere else and because - and you're not used to compliments I know, those of you who leave comments - but he reckons he sometimes spots "the wisdom of crowds" in what you have to say.

He hasn't found a job yet but he does keep spotting stories from all over the world that to him, say something about Wales too. He passes them on and they're worth reading. Last week he sent this piece from the Montreal Gazette: True Bilingualism is Games' first loser.

His comment: "Pa obaith i Gymru?" or "What hope for Wales?"

Be clear about this: he's a thoughtful man who wants to see the language his family speaks preserved. He now writes, when he writes, in Welsh. He's glad his sister's children speak Welsh. He spends quite a lot of time thinking how to sustain it while grappling with his own nervousness about some who speak it.

Perhaps in Philip's honour we could have a tempered, thoughtful debate about Vancouver, the Olympics and the French language. Perhaps you'd like to think in terms of Newport, the Ryder Cup and the Welsh language? After all who knows both countries better than Sir Terry Matthews who might recently have read, care of, that many first-time visitors to Wales "are surprised to learn that the language still is taught in schools and commonly spoken among natives".

Go on.

The wisdom of crowds compliment alone demands it, surely?

Diolch Philip.

From the archive

Betsan Powys | 14:15 UK time, Monday, 22 February 2010


_45350746_stephencrabb_elvis_226x170.jpgWhat were you doing on May 6th last year?

A visit to the archives will tell you that Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb was attending Prime Minister's Question Time. He went for this one:

"What does the Prime Minister intend to do about the important issue of bullying in the workplace, given the reliable reports of a senior Whitehall boss throwing about mobile phones and printers and swearing at switchboard operators?"

Prime Minister: "Any complaints are dealt with in the usual manner."


Then again they might get dealt with in a rather more public - and perhaps significant - manner, with a matter of weeks to go before a General Election.

A bloc or a block?

Betsan Powys | 11:18 UK time, Monday, 22 February 2010


_42416864_wales_flag2.jpgI can think of one man, at least, who'll forgive me for having a bit of a light touch on the blogging front from Plaid Cymru's conference over the weekend. I'm afraid that what Kim Howells would undoubtedly recognise as real work got in the way of the "sheer toil of blogging".
Still, let's play catch-up with one phrase heard repeatedly at the Swalec stadium: the Celtic bloc. That's right, the Celtic bloc, not the Celtic block Honorary President Dafydd Wigley thought I was asking about after a fringe meeting on Saturday. "No idea sorry" he said. "I'm a bit confused by the lay-out here. Which one IS the Celtic block?"

The Celtic bloc I was after is the one that would involve SNP and Plaid MPs working together to strike a deal for Scotland and for Wales should there be a hung parliament and should Mr Brown or Mr Cameron come knocking after the election. Plaid's Deputy leader at the Assembly, Helen Mary Jones was pretty clear in televised pieces that ran on Friday that "especially working together" Plaid and the SNP would be a force to be reckoned with.

Except ... why would they work together, when their shopping lists must surely look quite different?

Let me explain a simple truth that the man who went through the Barnett Formula like a dose of salts on behalf of the Assembly Government made perfectly clear to Plaid delegates on Saturday. It was, as the Editor of the Bevan Foundation's blog has put it, a bit like watching a man snuffing out candles left, right and centre.

I'll concentrate on just the one: the Celtic bloc.

What's likely to be the number one issue at this election? The economy: when and how the governing party would deal with the inevitable of cutting public spending. Labour say not too soon or you'll kill off any chance of growth. The Lib Dems broadly agree. If you don't cut early enough there'll be no growth to work with, say the Conservatives, though one or two in their ranks seem slightly concerned that an effort to be honest with voters has gone too far, that indicating they'd cut sooner and deeper might have left them looking just a bit too honest for their own good.

In a Westminster election it is bound to be the big issue. Yes, devolved politics, where the budget spent by the Assembly Government is entirely dependent on what they get from the Treasury means the debate in Wales is not quite the same one. Don't blame me. I'll only point you in the direction of the Government of Wales Act 2006. But yes, in Wales too, it will be the biggest issue of all.

On Friday the First Minister will address a summit he's called to discuss the way forward for public services. Carwyn Jones is, after all, the man now charged with driving forward the delivery of public services. The message sounds as though it has to be: yes, that's an axe I'm holding behind my back but go on, squeeze those efficiency savings and boy, the axe will hurt a whole lot less.

So: back to the Celtic bloc.


IF the electoral maths falls in their favour and the support of their MPs is needed, what would SNP and Plaid MPs want? As far as Plaid goes, the shopping list is there for all to see. Money. They know no incoming government is going to revisit the Barnett Formula overnight but they know too that an incoming government desperate for their vote could come up with some cash.

How much? Let's start, say Plaid, with the £300m that Gerry Holtham's commission said Wales was not getting and would be getting if the way money was divvied up was entirely consistent and fair. In other words take a look at the many formulaes used in England to divvy up cash, take a look at variables such as how many children under 16 there are, how many pensioners, the proportion of the population on benefits or with chronic health problems, apply those to Wales and you can make a pretty convincing argument - indeed the Holtham Commission did just that - which Wales should be getting some £300m more per year.

However take that dose of salts and apply it the Scottish situation and, guess what? You come the "political problem" as Mr Holtham put it so neatly. The same maths applied to Scotland suggests they'd be losing out to the tune of £4.2b per year. That's right, £4.2 billion.

So now, if and when Plaid and SNP MPs are sitting outside Mr Cameron's or Mr Brown's door in a few months time, tell me this: what are the chances they work as a bloc on this one?

Go West

Betsan Powys | 13:04 UK time, Saturday, 20 February 2010


Some news just in - Mark Drakeford has been chosen as the Labour candidate for Cardiff West for the May 2011 Assembly elections, where he'll be bidding to take over from the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

Mr Drakeford was widely seen as providing the intellectual underpinnings for the much vaunted "clear red water" strategy of differentiating Welsh Labour from New Labour.

And that clear red water strategy is certainly popular with the Cardiff West CLP members if the results from this morning's hustings is anything to go by - Mr Drakeford trounced the other two candidates - gaining 102 votes, to Ramesh Patel's 50 and Sophie Howe's 42.

Should he be elected, Mr Drakeford will find the life of an AM rather different to that of a special adviser at the very heart of government. Paying affectionate tribute during his farewell speech in the Senedd in December last year, Mr Morgan came up with this priceless anecdote.

"I also want to thank all the special advisers that I have had. The function of a special adviser is sometimes described as that of a spin doctor, but by and large, our special advisers have not been spin doctors but policy wonks out of the top drawer--professors of sociology, and suchlike.

"I will never forget one moment when Tony Blair was coming to address people in Wales, and making a major speech on Europe in the old library in central Cardiff. He was a little late in arriving, and so the person in charge of his security arrangements turned to me and asked to speak to my senior special adviser.

"I pointed to Mark Drakeford, a professor of sociology, who was wearing his usual sweater and pair of jeans, and after digesting the news that this was my senior special adviser, this chap went over to Mark and asked him, 'Where shall I position my team of rooftop snipers?' I did not think that he had quite understood what a special adviser was."

Around and about the Plaid conference just down the road from Transport House, a few delegates might have been hoping for a Ramesh Patel victory, following his controversial comments regarding Welsh medium education in Cardiff, but In intellectual (and sartorial) terms, it seems Labour plumped for the heir apparent.

Flipping questions

Betsan Powys | 08:01 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010


pancake2_elvis_226.JPGOn pancake day in Llanelli Plaid were doing a pretty good trade.

Their leaflets were getting nods of approval, mutterings of 'they've got it right you know.' The list of signatures on their petition against care home closures was getting longer by the minute. The man in the Crazee Crepes van nearby must have been looking on with envy.

And then as people walked away came the flipping question, the one that Plaid must answer if they're not to flop on this election day.

Why vote Plaid when they can't win?

"They do a good job for a small number of people but they're never going to win, are they?" said one Labour voter who'd only need the slightest of nudges at this election to flip his allegiance and give his vote to someone else. "I don't want to waste it on Plaid".

Cue some more reasons not to vote Plaid.

They're great on making pledges, less great at doing the maths.

Sorry love, no good asking me. I don't speak Welsh.

Don't they want a Welsh army? Mad mun.

Cue a pre-election conference where we get to hear Plaid's answers and a few questions of their own.

Why vote for anyone else at this election? Why vote for a party led by a Prime Minister who cannot divest himself of all responsiblity for the economic crisis you're seeing and feeling every day? Why vote for the other party who are offering change but who've said their response will be to cut earlier and harder, a Conservative party "who've never been and never will be relevant in Wales" as one Plaid briefing put it yesterday.

Why not vote for a party that could punch above its weight in a hung parliament, one that - electoral maths willing - could concentrate on getting the best deal for Wales it can squeeze out of the governing party? On the shopping list? That £300 million per year the Holtham Commission report suggested Wales was missing out on, a pledge to protect schools and the health service when the axe has to fall, a deal to have the referendum when the Assembly Government want one, not according to a UK Government timetable.

And the 30% hike in pensions?

At that point the language turns to principles and priorities, rather than promises. Plaid "will get the best deal possible for Wales."

Here's another Plaid question we'll hear this weekend. Plaid can't do the maths? Try this.

We'll raise capital gains tax. We'll limit relief on pension contributions for high earners and if 'high' is over £100,000 we'll raise income tax to 50%. That raises £9.4 billion.

We'll spend £2.8 billion of that on the pensions pledge you all dismissed as irresponsible, cruel and fantasy economics, though granted, it will only be for over 80s in the first instance. We'll spend £5.1 billion on taking a million of lowest earners out of income tax altogether.

Let's counter with just one other, obvious question - and leave you to come up with others. What about the other huge, massive question being posed by the economy, the one the three big parties believe holds the key to winning or losing this election? What's the Plaid plan for paying back the £72 billion or so of the national debt that someone is going to have to find from somewhere by 2014?

Ieuan Wyn Jones' answer is bathed in the soothing knowledge that he'll never be tested on it. "I'd like to talk in terms of what we'd protect. We'd protect health and education. We accept that there'd have to be cuts in other areas".

He'd like to talk in those terms and because he leads a party that won't win the election, he can. What he must be hoping is that the other answers being offered by Plaid at this conference add up to more than three seats at this election and a platform to government at the next.

Spinning blades

Betsan Powys | 10:37 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010


_1755413_turbine_bbc_150.jpgRemember that scene in Working Girl?

The one where Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill succeeds in persuading a room full of sceptics that a hugely successful business idea was, in fact, hers? How she'd one day put two unconnected ideas together and come up with a stunning business plan that she hoped would save a workforce from a takeover bid and an uncertain future?

It came to mind a few weeks ago when I met a man who sounds nothing at all like Melanie Griffith I'm glad to tell you but whose excitement about a business idea was palpable. He's involved in wind energy, knows a lot about it and wanted Wales to harness it as an industry over the coming decades. Then one day, while visiting the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, he'd been chatting to a fellow wind energy expert when he remembered a snippet he'd heard on the news bulletins about the bleak future of Anglesey Aluminium.

And bingo. The germ of an idea. A golden opportunity. Could the infrastructure on the massive former Anglesey Aluminium site not somehow be used to build wind turbines - in the sorts of numbers needed for those huge wind farms the government have been planning for the seas around the UK? Someone was going to have to build them, thousands of them. Why not us in Wales?

There were lots of men in suits to persuade it was a viable idea. It sounded great but ...

Then came the pleading and finally, a few key men in suits visited the site on Anglesey. They came away intrigued. Suddenly, the man with the plan could see two, three hundred jobs coming to the island, coming in to replace at least some of the many hundreds lost with the end of smelting operations on the site.

But there were more men in suits to be persuaded - lots more - and a company who'd have to agree to the plans to transform the site. The man with a plan was now one cog in the wheel, part of a serious bid to get this idea off the ground.

In today's Daily Post, on the day he's planning to visit North Wales and Anglesey, Secretary of State Peter Hain tells the paper of "Hain bid to turn ex-smelter into turbine factory ... Last night he declared he believed it 'could be the beginning of good times' for the area as he set out his vision for the island to become a centre of excellence for green technology".

Let's hope Mr Hain is right for the sake of everyone who lives on Ynys Mon. Boy could they do with some good news and good jobs. By the way I call it Ynys Mon because that, after all, is the name of the constituency. Labour, who hold it, are determined to hang on it to come the general election and it's not just the man I met some weeks ago who thinks the plan - not yet finalised and still at a pretty sensitive stage of negotiations - has just become election fodder.

I think he may be allowed a small smile. The latest news is that Mr Hain's flight up to North Wales has not yet arrived at Cardiff International Airport. As he knows, timing is everything.

Positive thinking

Betsan Powys | 14:04 UK time, Thursday, 11 February 2010


"Brains - always half full" said the advert.

You've probably seen it yourselves. A pint glass, the bottom half empty with the beer having risen inexplicably, even magically to fill the top half.

In my hand, a press release announcing that George Osborne was on his way - on foot from Cardiff Central station of course - to visit the brewery, address key business people and reveal "a new economic model for Wales."

It started in the bottom half of the glass. Wales' share of the national debt, says "new Conservative party research" is £72billion, or in other words £24,000 per man, woman and child. GVA per head in Wales is 74.3% of the UK average - the lowest of the low amongst the devolved nations and English regions.

"More positive thinking from Brains".

It moved swiftly on to the top half and eight benchmarks for Welsh economic growth. I'll list them.

1. Ensure macroeconomic stability
2. Create a more balanced Welsh economy
3. Get Wales working
4. Make Wales open for business
5. Ensure Wales shares in rising prosperity
6. Reform public services to deliver better value for money
7. Create a safer banking system that serves the needs of the economy
8. Build a greener economy.

That's the model. Had Mr Osborne, I wondered, omitted to include the instructions with the kit? Which party, after all, would NOT want a Wales that is a centre of international business, with a healthier share of private sector money in its economy, a Wales with raised productivity and fewer people out of work? In other words HOW do you get the beer into the top half of the glass?

There's a pledge to change government procurement procedures so that small and medium sized businesses find it easier to learn about contracts and can therefore bid for and win them - nothing specifically Welsh there but a pledge Mr Osborne calculated could mean a £500m boost for the Welsh economy.

Otherwise? Doesn't pledge number one, "ensure macroeconomic stability" mean cut public spending and raise taxes? Won't that hit Wales, so reliant on the public sector, particularly hard? Was that the message Mr Osborne wanted the two prospective parliamentary candidates accompanying him on his tour of the brewery to sell on the doorsteps of Cardiff South and West? Certainly not. But wasn't it clear to everyone, he added, that the current economic model as espoused by Labour over the past thirteen years, has made Wales the poorest region of the UK?

Peter Hain's uncharacteristic gift - came in handy. Comparing Wales with Rwanda showed you the poverty of Labour's ambition for Wales, said Mr Osborne. Sell that one on the doorsteps of Cardiff South and West.

"Brains - now available in smooth".

Between the mashing tuns, the steaming barrels and reams of Reverend James labels the Conservative candidate who's out knocking doors in Cardiff South and Penarth couldn't wait to get on with it. It felt, he said, a bit like 1939. "We've got the guns, got the ammunition. Just want him to call the election now."

It was, said Simon Hoare, a quite different experience from canvassing neighbouring Cardiff West in 1997, when voters had ripped up his leaflets and thrown eggs at him.

Will Conservative plans to cut deeper than Labour, to cut sooner than Labour not frighten those Welsh voters fed-up with Labour but unused to ticking the Tory box? Won't they be seeing very early signs of recovery and think twice about giving their support to a party who they're afraid will cut those green shoots before they have a chance to grow properly?

"Wales can't go on like this" - a parting shot from the Shadow Chancellor before going off to woo Cardiff business people. "I'm confident we'll do well in Wales."

More positive thinking, from Mr Osborne.

R is for ...

Betsan Powys | 13:13 UK time, Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Yesterday at the Welsh Affairs Select Committee Peter Hain found himself insisting that the Wales Office is "a pretty feisty midget batting for Wales ... if midgets can bat for Wales."

Today he's left the cricketing analogies behind. Instead he's batted off Conservative questioning about the state of the Welsh economy by delighting in the fact that Wales is better off than Rwanda.

The conversation during Welsh Questions went a bit like this.

David Jones MP: "Given that figures recently published show that economic
inactivity in Wales is worse than in any other part of the UK; that three Welsh
local authority areas are among the five poorest in the country; and that Wales
has the highest rate of severe child poverty of all the home nations; what did
you have in mind when you boasted last week that Wales is still a wealthy
country? Complacent or what?"

Granted, when David Jones fixes you in his sights and goes for it, it can be a disconcerting experience.

Hr Hain appears to have been disconcerted.

"Do you not agree, that compared with Rwanda and most countries in the rest of the world - most countries in the rest of the world is the point I was making if you'd not chosen to take that quote out of context - that Wales is indeed still a wealthy country?
"Yes, we have suffered setbacks in the last few years. We suffered terrible setbacks in the 1980s and the 1990s, and one of the reasons that we are in a strong position is that we have moved forward with investment to support businesses, to support the economy, and that is one of the reasons why incapacity benefit has come down by over a fifth when under the Conservatives it was rising year upon year."

Welsh journalists have been hurriedly checking UN statistics. They tell us in 2005 77% of Rwanda's population lived below the international poverty line of 1.25 US dollars a day.

You can't argue with Mr Hain on the facts then.


A mea culpa from the Wales Office.

"Frankly, I could have chosen my words more carefully. Of course no one is suggesting that Wales has ever suffered from poverty on the same scale as in Africa.

"My point was that home repossessions and job losses in Wales are, thankfully, at a much lower level than under the disastrous recessions of the 1980s and 1990s when Conservative Governments were in power."

A mea culpa that doesn't take its eye off the ball mind.

... and on ...

Betsan Powys | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 10 February 2010


bbc_democ_B.gifLife goes on and yes, you too, have lives.

So if you missed yesterday's debate and vote because you had a job to go to, a job to try and find, children to pick up from school, a pint to drink, a cake to make, a hospital or care home or sunbed or art centre or gym to visit ... and if you wonder which one of the commentators who are sharing their take on what was said and done yesterday have got it right, then watch the debate - and the vote here, care of Democracy Live.

In fact any time you have a job to go to, a job to try and find, children to pick up from school, a pint to drink, a cake to make, a hospital or care home or sunbed or art centre or gym to visit, you can catch up with the people responsible for those things and find out what they've done about them - here.


Alternatively, you can watch this afternoon's debate on the use of sunbeds via Democracy Live and watch Labour's Ann Jones bringing democracy to life by castigating me for suggesting that people might ever visit sunbeds.

She might steer clear of sunbeds herself but it's good to know she visits the blog occasionally.

Life goes on

Betsan Powys | 19:11 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010


_42388469_senedd203.jpgTo those with long memories a reminder that this "historic day" comes on the eve of a decade since another "historic day" for the Assembly .

And for all the talk of hands of history and winning the hearts and minds of the people, the First Minister has found that life goes on.

He's won the referendum trigger vote and lost his Assembly pass.

Hand of history? Pah. Hand me my pass.

Trigger pulled

Betsan Powys | 17:33 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010


The final score was 53:0.

The absentees were Carl Sargeant, Irene James, Lynne Neagle, Karen Sinclair and Mick Bates. Neither the Presiding Officer nor his Deputy voted of course.
Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM had guessed which way it would go and had his press release at the ready.

"This is an historic day in the journey that is devolution in Wales. It will now be up to the people of Wales, provided the Secretary of State for Wales agrees, to decide whether we move to the next phase of devolution."

The Secretary of State, Peter Hain ... just one minute behind the Presiding Officer and avoiding hyperbole.

"Carwyn and I have been working very closely together over the past two months to make progress on this issue. I fully support the First Minister's approach and now look forward to receiving his letter so I can begin the necessary preparatory work to take this forward. In the meantime, as Carwyn and I have said jointly, we both agree that the priority in the coming months will be the General Election, the outcome which will be so important for Wales. We must secure economic recovery for Wales, not choke it off with hasty cuts to Government spending.‬"


More responses.

From Conservative Cheryl Gillan: "If the request for a referendum is on my desk should I become Secretary of State for Wales, I will not stand in its way.

"Conservatives have said that we will let the people of Wales decide, but my real priority remains the economy, inward investment and getting Wales working."

From Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams: "We cannot underestimate the importance of what we have done today. This is the next step of devolution and we are ready to move on, across the political divide, together. While the General Election and issues such as the economy, our health service and schools must take precedence over procedural issues, this doesn't mean that the yes campaign cannot start getting organised so that we can be quick out of the blocks when the referendum is called".

And from Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones: "The unanimous cross party support for this referendum is a clear signal of the breadth of support for a referendum and strengthens the case for it substantially.

"We know that most people in Wales now believe that the Assembly is where most decisions that affect their daily lives should be taken. Most people in Wales also believe that it is right that the Assembly should have more tools to do the job more effectively. If it's alright for the Northern Ireland Assembly to have powers to make laws without having to get the consent of Westminster, then surely it's alright for us in Wales. After all, what could be more natural than allowing the Assembly to pass laws about Wales, here in Wales?"

And from John Bufton, UKIP MEP:

"With all the parties in Cardiff Bay voting together to give themselves more power UKIP are the only political party who believe more governance does not mean more democracy.

"On such an important issue it is vital the media stay impartial and present both sides of the argument fairly. The people should have Referendum because they deserve to have the choice. We don't need propaganda we need the facts, and that includes being told the real cost of devolution.

"More seats in the Assembly and additional powers just means we have even more laws affecting our everyday lives. No matter what the Yes campaign say, people must ask themselves will you really see the benefit of Politicians voting themselves more powers?"

On your marks, get set ...

Betsan Powys | 12:49 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Pull the trigger and what do you get?

A reaction.

If you're an athlete you work at it and work at it until "the interval time between the presentation of a stimulus and the initiation of the muscular response to that stimulus" is as short as possible. In other words the trigger's pulled and you go for it.

One stimulus. One option. One goal.

If AMs pull the trigger on a referendum in the chamber this afternoon - and they will - what do you get?

If you're Peter Hain then within 14 days you get a letter telling you, as Welsh Secretary, of the Assembly's wishes. He then has four months - 120 days - to work away at a draft order for a referendum, the one with the details about questions and dates, to be voted on by both Houses of Parliament.

What if you're not Peter Hain?

You get to see a visible sigh of relief amongst the four parties, an even greater sigh of relief amongst those who want to see a Yes vote in a referendum that the vote was an united one. And do you get to hear the sound of silence that comes with an agreement that with the trigger pulled, it's time to shut up on this issue until after the General Election?

Labour's Alun Davies AM brings a plea to move forward the debate about giving the Assembly the power to make laws without the need for Westminster say-so to an end like this: "That's it for now. That's my last word on this for about 88 days. After all, there's a General Election to fight". He would add, of course, "And to win".

So what happens to that debate during those 88 or so days? Who moves it forward?

When Sir Emyr Jones Parry and the All Wales Convention were testing attitudes to the current settlement and assessing the degree of support for a referendum he sent a letter to the four main political parties asking them for idea around law-making. What, he asked, could you achieve after a Yes vote in a referendum that you can't achieve now?

The response to that particular stimulus?

Zero. Nothing. No-one responded.

So once again, what happens to that debate now?

Who moves it forward?

When the trigger's pulled, who reacts?

Hiding out?

Betsan Powys | 13:21 UK time, Monday, 8 February 2010


charlstonsmaller.JPGJust back from Charleston's steak-house - "Celebrities hide-out, best steaks in Cardiff probably, just ask Charlotte Church, Gavin Henson and Mike Phillips" says the banner outside.

Mr Bates claims he remembers nothing at all about the food, or indeed anything else:

"As a result of my fall I have no recollection of events thereafter, until I came round in the accident and emergency department of Cardiff's Heath Hospital, when recovering. I am extremely grateful to the paramedics and hospital staff who gave their care and attention, I do not underestimate the fantastic work these professionals do on a daily basis and value the care I was given. I repeat my unreserved apology for any concern or difficulty I may have caused that night."

There are rumours in the Bay that he's been told to stay away tomorrow. Go to your constituency ... and stay there. Not so say the Lib Dems, though he may choose to busy himself with work in Montgomeryshire.

By the way while the centre of Cardiff might be hitting the headlines today, it's Cardiff North that will be on the Ten o'clock news. The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson spent some of his weekend taking the pulse around the "in places leafy" bits of the city, in a seat where Tory Jonathan Evans is hoping to oust Labour's Julie Morgan at the General Election.

You can read Nick's impressions here.

Blowin' in the wind

Betsan Powys | 07:58 UK time, Monday, 8 February 2010


33482.jpgGo to Mick Bates' website and you'll see a picture of the Montgomeryshire AM cradling a lamb, another of him out with his sheepdogs in the beautiful Powys countryside.

There's a quotation from his hero, Bob Dylan: "...All I can do is be me. Whoever that is..."

His colleagues across the board and political divide would probably tell you that is a gentle giant, a man who comes from a different sort of background to many who've made it into the Assembly chamber - a former teacher and farmer - a man with strongly-held beliefs about sustainablility who's cultivated deep roots in Mid Wales.

The paramedic who went to give him assistance after a drunken night out in Cardiff in January says he found an aggressive, physically violent man who punched him in the chest, swore at the ambulance crew and had to be baby-sat by hospital security. He told this morning's Radio Wales that the crew plan to press charges against Mr Bates.

Party leader Kirsty Williams has already said that "abuse towards NHS staff is not acceptable". Mr Bates will know this. He sat on the Audit Committee a few years ago when it looked into better protecting NHS staff from violence and aggression.

Now the party boss learns the paramedic at the scene says the abuse came courtesy of a fist, not just a bit of lip.

Mick Bates has already said he's planning to stand down at the Assembly election in 2011. The question now must be whether he makes it that far, or whether - at a time when politicians are trusted and respected so little - there are just too many questions and dare I say it hypocrisy blowin' in the wind this morning.

Problem for the Liberal Democrats is that the last thing they must want now is a by-election in Montgomeryshire, a seat where Lib Dem Lembit Opik MP will fight on his hands come the General Election. So much for party morale on the ground.

What does the boss go then? Down the line of taking away the whip from Mr Bates, taking away his committee chairmanship and hoping the whole thing goes away?


The Liberal Democrats have released this statement:

"Following a conversation between Kirsty Williams and Mick Bates they have agreed that he will be relieved of his front bench duties and his Chair of the Sustainability Committee whilst this matter is being investigated. We have informed the University Health Board and Ambulance Service that both Mick and the Party will fully co-operate with any investigations''

To be fair ...

Betsan Powys | 16:24 UK time, Saturday, 6 February 2010


What has this conference been about?

In Nick Clegg's words 'one principle, one value, one hope, one aspiration' and in my words, one f-word: fairness.

This is how it goes: Labour have failed to deliver fairness over thirteen years in government, the Conservatives would never deliver it, Plaid can't deliver it.

Who will? The Liberal Democrats. On taxation, on public spending, the Liberal Democrats.

Kirsty Williams picked up the baton in her speech (Why does she pronounce part-eih and Swans-eih like that by the way? 'It's what angry Llanelli sound like, suggests a colleague.)

"The Tories never shared those values .They never got it. And Labour have long since left them behind". Plaid? They were squeezed into one angry section, dismissed as being "long on nationalist thinking, short on rationalist thinking" - dreamers-up of huge hikes in pensions that prove to the Liberal Democrats that Plaid could not deliver fairness either.

Was it me or did this speech from the Welsh party leader not position the party just that bit further to the left than past speeches? Having avoided the bear trap of abstaining in the referendum trigger vote on Tuesday, avoided being seen to stand with the Tories - a good thing in her party's view - perhaps the new-ish leader felt able to put her own stamp on things and know that she will take her party with her. She's got to do something. The Lib Dems scored well in 2005, very well. Iraq is back on the agenda but the Welsh leader must know she has a fight on her hands to secure the four seats she's inherited, let alone add to them.

The party could have done with her at last night's fringe event - a four party + True Wales debate on the future for Wales. Alun Davies AM, David Melding AM, Dai Lloyd AM and Mike German AM and Len Gibbs of True Wales addressing the Lib Dem faithful. "That's the problem with Welsh politics" said one of those faithful, "not enough middle aged men involved in it".

If anyone needed reminding that a yes vote on Tuesday doesn't mean a yes vote in a referendum, a snapshot of last night's line-up - eloquent as they were - should do the trick.

Peace in our time

Betsan Powys | 16:45 UK time, Friday, 5 February 2010


On Tuesday, the trigger will be pulled. The Assembly Government will get at least the forty votes it needs to start the formal process towards a referendum on further powers.

You'll recall the cause of the standoff - opposition parties demanding an assurance that the referendum day would not coincide with the Assembly elections on May 5, 2011, the government steadfastly refusing to give it.

But with both opposition parties fully in favour of the referendum, staring down the barrel of being labelled devolution-wreckers, and the new administration of Carwyn Jones fearing the shattering blow of calling the vote and losing it....the situation resembled the climactic scene of Reservoir Dogs, with everyone pointing a gun at everyone else.

Calm heads have prevailed tonight. The First Minister has acknowledged the difficulties in having a referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections, and the strength of feeling on all sides of the chamber. He'll move to accommodate these, and pledge to move forward on an all party basis.

Words are being chosen carefully, but they're enough. Notice that May 5 2011 isn't categorically ruled out, but at the same time, both opposition parties will feel their point has been amply made.

The Conservatives have issued a statement welcoming it, here in Swansea, the Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams will be breathing a private sigh of relief and a wearing a small smile of satisfaction, I suspect.

Peace in our time.

A pint of what he's having

Betsan Powys | 14:16 UK time, Friday, 5 February 2010


_44184910_beer_bbc203.jpgJust for a second there I thought that Eleanor Burnham AM was in big trouble.

Just for a second I thought that hours before their Spring conference in Swansea she'd divulged a huge Liberal Democrat secret - details of an unusual secret weapon that will hand victory to the Lib Dems at the General Election.

"We have" she told Radio Cymru a moment ago, "a fab beer." Apparently it's one that the voters will love, that the voters will trust and that will cause them to plump for the Lib Dems when it comes to the vote.

"Mae gynnon ni gwrw ffab" is what I heard.
"Mae gynnon ni guru ffab" is what she actually said.

You got it. She was talking about Vince Cable.

Grand dilemmas

Betsan Powys | 17:32 UK time, Thursday, 4 February 2010


Heading off to Swansea soon to the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference.

Things to look out for:

Disdain for Labour's love-bombing (Peter Black AM has had enough of it, or should that be can't get enough of it?)
Use of the word "fair"
Tight lips. Liberal Democrats have been told to keep stumm about plans for next Tuesday's vote on the referendum.

Which vote on which referendum? Your confusion is not without reason. Read this extract from Conservative Iain Dale's Diary the other day:

"I hear Labour whips are very worried about losing Tuesday's vote on changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote system. With a majority of more than 60, they ought to win the vote comfortably, but doubts are being expressed about how a significant number of Labour MPs will vote. Very few are AV enthusiasts and there are plenty who reject any hint of any kind of electoral reform. Others, especially those who are standing down, may well just decide not to bother turning up.

In addition, the LibDems have published their own amendment to the motion. They hate AV. They don't regard it as in any way proportional. It is therefore likely they will abstain, but if their amendment is treated with contempt, they could join the Tories in the no lobby. The Tories are on a three line whip, with dire warnings being issued to those who think they might have an evening off".

Ring any bells? Substitute 'AV ' for devolution, substitute 'evening off' for 'day off' (child friendly hours in the Bay remember) and there you have a dilemma-laden Tuesday for the Lib Dems.

How do you explain to the voters why you've abstained, or voted no in two votes on two issues that you as a party support wholeheartedly - a change to the voting system and beefing up the powers of the Welsh Assembly? How long do you get with voters to explain the reasons why you wanted to amend both motions, even if your reasons in both cases are perfectly legitimate?

The danger for the Welsh Lib Dems is obvious. They failed to go into coalition with Labour. Why? Because not enough of those with a vote on the night thought the deal on offer was good enough. The vote was tied. Lib Dem rules led to a triple-lock system and a good-bye wave to a term in coalition government. By the time supporters of the deal had picked the lock, it was too late. The Lib Dems no longer looked like a safe partnership bet.

How did it look from outside that room in Llandrindod Wells? It looked as though the Lib Dems had choked. When they got a chance to put policies into action, they choked.

Hence the dilemma for Kirsty Williams.

If the Lib Dem group don't get a reassurance from Labour and Plaid that the referendum will not be on the day of next year's Assembly election, they have two choices: they can stick with the Conservatives, abstain and stand accusedm again, of choking and blocking the one option they do support - an Autumn referendum.

Or they can be seen not to do stand in the way of a referendum for now, vote yes on Tuesday and fight their battles on date later in the process. Labour and Plaid praise their maturity, while sniggering into their sleeves that they knew the LIb Dems hadn't the stomach to abstain. Meanwhile the Conservatives and Nick Bourne who are adamant that the Lib Dems are with them on this all the way will call them flaky.

There is another option of course. It's possible that Kirsty Williams might just rein in her more strident side, manage to talk tough but fair and persuade the coalition government, that's getting every-so-slightly more nervous that she just might mean it, to give enough ground to deliver a united front from all four parties on Tuesday.

If there are dark corners in the the Grand Theatre in Swansea, I'm guessing that's the advice the party's leading lady just might be getting.

Two way traffic

Betsan Powys | 10:32 UK time, Thursday, 4 February 2010


First Mohammad Asghar leaves Plaid Cymru's benches to join the Conservatives. The Conservatives parade their new man. Plaid condemn the way he went about it and question his motives.

Now Plaid have confirmed a story that's been around for a few days that the President of the Conservative Association in Aberconwy - a seat that must be a straight fight between the Tories and Plaid - has decided to up sticks and join them. Why? Not because of a new-found zeal for further devolution and eventually, independence but because he knows the Plaid candidate well and "I realised that I could never vote for, or support, another candidate".

Cue the Conservatives who've got in first to condemn and question his motives. "Since Christmas Cllr. Tew has resigned from numerous positions including being Santa Claus for Conwy Town Council. He will be judged by the people of Deganwy who voted for a Conservative but are now lumbered with an alleged 'socialist and nationalist' at the next council election".

Conservative candidate Guto Bebb is of course right to point out that the people of Conwy are now "lumbered" with a politician who represents a party they had no idea he had any sympathy at all with when they elected him. A fair point from a candidate who has every chance of taking the seat and could do with unity in his local party in the run-up to polling day. And by the same token he'd probably accept that the people of South East Wales are "lumbered" with an Assembly Member who was elected because they voted for a party he ... doesn't represent.

Funny business, politics.

And talking about two way traffic, take a look at the interview our colleague in Westminster, Bethan James, recorded with out-going Islwyn MP Don Touhig yesterday, the first since he announced he's off. Listen closely to his response when he's asked whether he'd consider swapping Wesminster for Cardiff Bay.

I think we'll take it the answer is ... no.

Asking the questions

Betsan Powys | 15:20 UK time, Wednesday, 3 February 2010


When Andrew Davies left his job as Finance Minister at the end of last year - albeit in circumstances which caused some eyebrows to be raised - the bottom line, he said, was that after a decade in the Cabinet he wanted his life back.

There were mutterings in the corridors of Cardiff Bay at the time of the possibly destabilising effect on the new First Minister in having such an able political operator as Mr Davies on the backbenches, with an awful lot of time on his hands.

In the event and despite his role as Edwina Hart's main backer Mr Davies has remained rock solid loyal, both in public and private since the end of the leadership contest. And his reward? Along with his former Cabinet colleague Dr Brian Gibbons, he's been handed a plum posting: member of the Finance Committee.

Judging by today's performance in taking evidence on further and higher education funding, the former big beasts of the Cabinet are thoroughly enjoying their new berth as interrogators ... rather than the interrogated.

In recent years close observers of Assembly committees (let's just describe them as a small but hardy bunch) have frequently been driven to despair by AMs reading out questions prepared in advance by the Members Research Service in a dull monotone, with minimal attempts at follow up scrutiny. Reports of some performances have been pretty cruel it has to be said. "Why don't they just add 'it says here' to the end of their question and have done with it?"

There were times when today's committee resembled Division One football side which had just signed a couple of Premier League footballers on loan. Both Mr Davies and Dr Gibbons have spent the last ten years or so taking on and grilling the Sir Humphreys of the Welsh civil service. After all, if Ministers are sold a pup by the civil servants, they know its they who have to stand up in the Assembly and take the flak, which tends to concentrate the mind rather.

Mr Davies spent most of the morning picking forensically through the written evidence given to the committee in advance, and demanding a definition of what the witnesses meant by "efficiency savings" in the education sector.

He was clearly fairly exasperated with the answers.

"What I would say about the evidence, Chair, is that assertions are made, and when you ask for the evidence, it's anecdotal? It's very difficult for us as a committee, then, to actually interrogate that."

The rising inflection on the word "anecdotal" left the room in no doubt on what he thought of it. He went on to lecture the witnesses, from the Association for College Management and the University and College Union, among others about the focus on difference in funding levels between Wales and England, without a similar focus on the disparities in performance.

He cited one further education institution offered substantial extra money towards collaboration, but which turned it down because it was a repayable loan, not a grant.

Was this the AM for Swansea West speaking, or a rather frustrated former Minister for Public Service Delivery? It was certainly someone who knows where the bodies are buried.

At the same time, of course, there's more than an element of pride here too - there's a record in Government to defend, remember.

But if having former Ministers free to make the points they perhaps wished they could make while in office is proving painful for witnesses used to a somewhat gentler experience, it's also a headache for the committee chair too.

Last year the finance committee chair Angela Burns AM found herself presiding over a committee that sometimes began to resemble a circus, one particular lowlight being a public row between members as to whether one had plagiarised a document written by another and then submitted it as formal evidence.

The new line up appears to have cured some of those problems but there were signs today that Ms Burns is going to have her hands full in keeping some of the new members reined in. "Through the chair" she snapped at one point, as Mr Davies went after another witness during another AM's questioning. He had the good grace to smile and acknowledge this ... but it would be advisable for future witnesses to make sure they've got some pretty clear answers ready in the coming weeks.

Oh and by the way spare a thought for the new chair of the European and External Affairs Committee. Rhodri Morgan AM will this afternoon introduce and outline the recommendations of his committee's report on Cohesion Policy. The government's response to the report and its recommendations was signed by ... Rhodri Morgan AM, when First Minister, with responsibility for European and External Affairs.

"Kind people pushed drugs at her"

Betsan Powys | 13:34 UK time, Wednesday, 3 February 2010


In a moment I'll put up a blog entry about the Finance Committee meeting this morning. it was one of those meetings and is one of those blog entries, I hope, that tells you something about what's going on in the corridors of Cardiff Bay. I put them up every now and then because if you don't get to read about the ins and outs of committees here, you're probably not going to read much about them anywhere.

I was going to put it up now but before I pressed the button to publish, I noticed a comment made by BBC News website reader about the effect dementia has had on her and her family.

There are lots of personal experiences shared that point to huge differences in the standards of care for patients suffering from Alzheimer's but the comment that stopped me in my tracks was this one:

"My mother died from Alzheimer's" wrote Jullee Morgan from Llangammarch Wells in Powys. "Kind people pushed drugs at her for about two years before her death".

Kind people pushed drugs at her for about two years before her death.

I will blog about the Finance Committee because while it's easy for some of you to dismiss it as Cardiff Bay navel gazing that says nothing, I don't think that's true.

It's just that Jullee Morgan's experience, in that moment, said a whole lot more.

One Wales, two voices?

Betsan Powys | 12:27 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010


A reassurance that the referendum would NOT be held on the same day as the Assembly election?

Absolutely no way, says Carwyn Jones.

Absolutely no way, says Ieuan Wyn Jones. We're not about to rule anything in our out. How unwise would that be?

Apparently Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader, Elfyn Llwyd wasn't in that particular loop. He's just told a group of journalists in Westminster that a May 2011 referendum has been "ruled out, all but" and the vote will be held in October or March next year.

A vote on election day would be "pretty bloody confusing ... It will be October or March."

One Wales, two voices?


What exactly did Mr Llwyd say? Was he, as Plaid are suggesting, simply laying out the Conservative position as he understood it.

Here are the quotations care of one who was there. Make up your own minds.

"I don't think it is going to be in May, it is either going to be in October or March.
At the present time my suspicion is October."

Mr Llwyd said Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones had held a press conference in Cardiff at which they were not talking dates.

"The Conservatives in the National Assembly are adamant that they don't want it on the same day as the election in May.

"And frankly, there is some sense in that because while parties might be rowing the same boat on the referendum they are also at each others' throats getting seats so it's going to be pretty bloody confusing."

"I don't think anyone wants to be hemmed in by the Tories and giving in to their demands but their demand is that they would be happy to vote for the trigger provided it was explicitly ruled out that there would be something in May.

"In reality it is ruled out, all but, although no guarantees can be given. It is simply not tenable" {to hold a referendum on election day}

Pulling the trigger

Betsan Powys | 08:26 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010


I don't know. You wait for years and then along come two at the same time - two votes in two institutions in the one week that if won could lead to a referendum before the end of 2011.

This blog has had a stab already at laying out the likelihood of the vote being won in the Assembly next week and the process that would lead to that referendum. I won't make you suffer again so here's the potted version:

Am I convinced a referendum will be held in the Autumn? No, open to convincing but not convinced.

Could it happen? Absolutely.

What makes the difference between 'no' and 'absolutely'? Political will. The party in power in Westminster must have lots of it if there's to be an Autumn referendum within months of a General Election.

If the Conservatives win, then Welsh Labour might well find pots of political will but then they'd find they no longer have a Secretary of State.

The Conservatives will but David Cameron hasn't said clearly that he intends to make a referendum in Wales happen as early as the Autumn. What he has said is that the timing isn't up to him. Nick Bourne is adamant that he wants a referendum in the Autumn but ask some of his trusted advisers whether they think a vote would be held in September/October if David Cameron makes it to Number Ten and they're just not sure things would move that quickly. They are hoping, just not sure.

If Labour win, Peter Hain has said clearly he thinks an Autumn referendum would be lost. Would he be cajoled by Carwyn Jones into holding it anyway? Now there's an obvious question for this morning's lobby briefing - one that offers the First Minister a chance to spell out the extent of his political will on this one.

A hung parliament? Ah well, then you'd have to look at the maths and look at who had the clout, along with the political will ... and the possiblity of a second General Election making the timing of a referendum even harder to predict.

What happens today? Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones sit side by side to announce that the vote held in the Assembly on February 9th will be a trigger vote - in other words, it sets us off towards the finishing line of a referendum.

Will the government win the vote next week?

The Conservatives say they won't vote yes unless the possiblity of a referendum that coincides with the date of the Assembly election next year is ruled out. Neither Labour nor Plaid are minded to give them that assurance.

The Lib Dems are saying the same, yet briefing that they'll vote yes next week. Not exactly what you'd call political hardball.

Will the vote be won then? Yes, it looks very much like it.


The Liberal Democrats insist they did NOT brief that they will vote to support the trigger motion next week unless they get a reassurance that a referendum would not be held on the same day as the Assembly election. Reports that they did, they say, are wrong.

The party line? The group will abstain unless Labour and Plaid "do their best to rule out ... no, do rule out" a referendum that coincides with the Assembly election.

There'll be some bartering, no doubt and possibly some overtures to Trish Law - Blaenau Gwent's AM who is all for a referendum but against having it on the same day as the Assembly election.

But bottom line? Next week's vote will be won. The problem the Lib Dems face is that no-one - except some Conservatives perhaps - believes they would vote against a referendum they really want.

By the way it's the Lib Dems who made another point more clearly than anyone else: the vote next week might be won, said Peter Black but without a full slate of parties backing it, don't the chances of winning a referendum diminish?

The cereal serial

Betsan Powys | 15:16 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010


_39986955_cereals203.jpgWhat do today's headlines about free school breakfasts tell us?

Let's kick off with what they don't tell us.

They don't tell us that the Welsh Conservatives have changed their minds on this particular freebie in any way at all. From the first school to sign up right through to the 1000th the Tory group in the Assembly have been against the free breakfasts programme. They've made it clear all along that they'd scrap the scheme and spend the money saved on other priorities. Boiled egg and soldiers? How about books.

Neither do they tell us that the Assembly Government has changed tack on cereals and low fat yoghurt. Providing free, healthy school breakfasts in 66% of Welsh schools is, they say, good for children's general well being, good for their ability to concentrate and learn. It's a scheme that works and a sign of a government that wants to give a helping hand to children from all backgrounds.

But take a look at the language. Look first at this version of the school breakfast rumpus from 2007.

Yes, the line about giving "our youngest children a flying start" is still here in 2010, as is the counter argument that the £8m costs could be "better invested elsewhere".

But otherwise? How about Tory AM Paul Davies dismissing the scheme on Radio Wales this morning as "pre-school childcare for the middle classes" and Labour Minister Leighton Andrews warning that if the Tories were in power, "they would not hesitate in punishing our children." For Thatcher Thatcher the milk snatcher read Bourne the breakfast slasher.

Now there's a Minister who's fully signed up to that other Labour programme - the 'make 'em fear the Tories' scheme, laid out succinctly by the Welsh Secretary in today's Financial Times.

In an accompanying article Mr Hain says he's "able to pin-point 2007 as the precise moment when he started to notice a Tory revivial in Wales". Why then? "People would come to their doorsteps in Cardiff and say they were Tories".

The line of attack now then? Not to pretend that public spending cuts are avoidable. We know they're not and we don't want anyone to tell us otherwise. Yes, public services are devolved but the public money that makes them work comes direct from Westminster. Cuts announced there mean cuts here. The Labour line then, in Wales as elsewhere, is to accuse the Tories of cutting early and oh yes, they'll enjoy cutting, they'll take the food from our children's mouths as enthusiastically as a trucker tucking into a double fry-up.

What does this latest version of the scrap-the-freebie tell us? That the election is under a hundred breakfasts away and that here are two parties at least who know that to avoid being toast on that day, they must go in hard on each other's spending plans.

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

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