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Archives for May 2010

Off to go

Betsan Powys | 11:39 UK time, Sunday, 30 May 2010

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_1120542_buslane150.jpgJust when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ... David Laws' past expense claims prove that this future based on new politics ain't going to be easy.

Mike German is off to the House of Lords and his wife takes over in Cardiff Bay.

Alun Cairns offers to wave goodbye to the Bay as he heads off to Westminster but his party decides they can't do without him.

Some angry Plaid members suggest the coalition should be called off because of Carwyn Jones' decision to reject Cardiff Council's plans to reorganise schools in the West of the city - a plan that would have seen a Welsh medium school move into a building that's currently home to an English medium school.

Conservative AM David Melding agrees that all bets are off for an Autumn referendum but calls - if you missed it, on Called to Order - for a November poll.

And me? I'm heading West for a break. Back a week Monday when it'll all ... well, be off again.

Before, after, ever after

Betsan Powys | 13:25 UK time, Thursday, 27 May 2010

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"We do think the Barnett formula is coming to the end of its life.

"But the assurance I would give to people is that if you replace the Barnett formula you have to replace it with a needs-based formula and there's plenty of evidence to say Wales' needs are very great"

David Cameron, launching the Welsh Conservatives' manifesto in Prestatyn, back in April.

As spring turns to summer and election results turn to coalition deals, so Francis Maude, Tory Cabinet Office minister took to the airwaves on Good Morning Wales this week to tell listeners that the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government is "committed to keeping" Barnett, that change is "not a priority." That it, in fact, "protects Wales".

A clearly uncomfortable Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne's reaction? "That's just not right".

Someone else's discomfort is equally easy to understand. Unfortunately for Kirsty Wiliams, one of the lenses trained on her when Kirsty met Cheryl was in, what at a guess was, Labour party hands.

It's fairly clear that while the UK Tory and Liberal Democrat parties are - at least relatively - content with what they managed to get into the Queens' speech and the legislative programme, their Welsh counterparts are, you feel, not in any way content.

Scotland, after all have got a new Scotland Bill. Here's a spokesperson for the Secretary of State for Scotland Danny Alexander. "There's a serious intention to get on with this. We're moving faster than was previously envisaged but we are having engagement along the way to make sure we get a better package."

That package includes Holyrood getting greater control over income tax and borrowing.

For Wales specifically? Nothing in the Queen's Speech but a strangely worded clause in the coalition agreement to look further at funding and other issues if and when a referendum on further powers is won.

It is an odd clause and there's been a great deal of head-scratching across the board, including in the higher echelons of the Welsh Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups, who - and I'd offer pretty decent odds on this one - weren't given the sign off before it went to press.

But now, all is clear.

Consider this, then, from Jenny Randerson, in the Assembly chamber earlier this week. "The Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition want to go beyond Holtham, to Holtham-Plus".

All four parties, she said, have been guilty of having been "far too modest" in their ambitions for the Assembly.

"We want tax-raising powers for this Assembly. That is what we are looking at and that is why it must come after a referendum on legislative powers."

That's Holtham, as in Gerry Holtham, whose initial report on the Barnett Formula has taken on talismanic properties for the politicians in Cardiff Bay for laying out, for the first time, some hard economic evidence to back up the claim that the Barnett formula under-funds Wales.

Not quite as talismanic for Mr Maude, who seemed confused when this was put to him on air, claiming alleged under-funding wasn't a "key part" of the report. Summer reading perhaps?

It's fair to say Mr Holtham is not best pleased that his hard work has been roundly ignored by the incoming Government so far but he can at least take some comfort from Ms Randerson's words, because his second report, into taxation and borrowing powers for Wales, is due out early in July.

Then we'll find out who's calling the shots - Francis Maude or Jenny Randerson.

Brave new world

Betsan Powys | 10:57 UK time, Wednesday, 26 May 2010

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The allocation of chairmanships of Select Committees will be discussed in Westminster this morning and in one respect - and one only you suspect - Peter Hain, the former Welsh Secretary, is going to have to accept that David Cameron has not forgotten about Wales.

Divvying up who chairs which comittee now happens in a brave, new democratic world thanks to reforms announced back in March. Stitch-ups are out and a secret ballot of all MPs are in as a way of electing new committee chairs.

One thing we now know: the Welsh Affairs Select Committee will in future be chaired by a Conservative - the first ever Tory to sit in that particular chair. An unbroken chain of Labour chairmen that goes from Leo Abse in 1979 to Donald Anderson, Gareth Wardell who held the position uninterrupted for 14 years, Martyn Jones and Hywel Francis comes to and end.

Not even in 1983, when the Conservatives won their largest ever haul of seats in Wales - 14 - did one of them chair the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. But now they clearly do want it - I'm open to suggestions as to why - and given they're in charge, they get it.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee chair? That remains in Labour hands.

Who'll get the job and the extra kudos/cash? Cue horse-trading.

Nominations open once the debate is done and dusted and a ballot will be held in fourteen days' time. Nominees need the signatures of fifteen supporting members from the same party and can also include the signatures of five elected members from other parties if they wish.

David Davies MP? As a member who was in the past offered "better gigs" than the Welsh Affairs Committee as a colleague puts it, that seems unlikely.

Stephen Crabb MP? He's a whip so he couldn't throw his hat into the ring, even if he wanted to.

Jonathan Evans MP? Doesn't an experienced 'retread' - that awful word - beat a new boy to the job - or is there a brave, new boy in a brave, new world who fancies making a name for himself?

UPDATE 14.00

My colleague, David Cornock, tells me Jonathan Evans has ruled himself out of the race, perhaps with his eye out for other opportunities to make a mark.

So doesn't that put David Davies firmly in the race after all? Perhaps the "gig" will appeal if there's a chairmanship involved?

Or will there be a push for what I'll call a more 'centrist' chair, even if that means a brand- new boy on the block climbing straight into the chairman's job?

Putting about some stick

Betsan Powys | 09:51 UK time, Wednesday, 26 May 2010

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_47925355_leightonandrews170bbc.JPGOver breakfast this morning I learnt many things about what happened in the 2010 election and, even more significantly, why.

There was a lot to digest, facts and figures and trends that add up to a pretty happy outlook for Labour in Wales, a huge challenge for the Conservatives, much head scratching for Plaid and better news for the Liberal Democrats than I think for one moment will eventually be delivered when we next go to the polls.

For now I'll pick out just one set of statistics.

1500 people in Wales were asked, in the days after the General Election, how they thought things had been going since 2005. Did they think things had got better or worse as far as the NHS, education, law and order and their standard of living were concerned? The picture, in general, is this.

Most thought the NHS had improved. And guess what? Most put that down to the Assembly government, not the UK government. Satisfied smiles in Assembly government corridors.

What about education? Not such a glowing picture. Around a quarter thought it had got better but just a few less thought it had got worse and just over a quarter had seen no change at all. Again just over a quarter didn't know - a far higher proportion than in any of the other policy areas studied.

But get this. Of those who thought it had got better, the credit went to the Assembly government. Those who thought it had got worse were more likely to blame the UK government. Wryly satisfied we-got-away-with-it smiles in Assembly government corridors?

No. At least not on the Education Minister's face.

Leighton Andrews has been threatening for some time, to - as I put it back in March - put a bit of stick about:

"See also Leighton Andrews, rewarded with the plum job of education and in the words of Francis Urquhart, not afraid to put a bit of stick about. He's started a few things. Let's see where they are in two, or three hundred days' time".

Last night he took that stick and waved it in the faces of leading figures in the Welsh Higher Education sector. In fact as I came back from London last night my Blackberry - yes, yes, they've relented and given me my very own "hand-held device" - started bleeping frantically with evidence of some serious stick-waving.

By the end of the evening in Cardiff University I imagine some of those in the audience - administrators and head honchos in particular - had almost felt the air move as the stick came slashing down right in front of their noses. They may even have been tempted to hold out their hands, palms upwards.

Here's just some of what he had to say:

"I will be blunt and I will be candid. In the first six months I have been in this post, I have begun to wonder whether the Higher Education sector in Wales actually wants the Assembly Government to have a higher education strategy, or whether it even believes that there is such a thing as a Welsh higher education sector ..."

"Indeed, I am not clear - eleven years after the National Assembly was created, and thirteen years after our historic referendum vote - that the higher education sector in Wales welcomes devolution or democratic accountability at all. Since our education agenda in Wales is based on the principle of democratisation, that is problematic."

On he went.

"We have had more higher education institutions per head in Wales than any other part of the UK but have failed to break free from the bottom end of the UK growth and prosperity table. Our HE institutions are small compared with those just over the border. For all the achievements of higher education institutions, they have had only a very limited transformative impact on our economy, and on our global presence and reputation · We are not having a high enough impact in terms of the quality and quantity of our research · For too many in Wales, higher education remains a distant, and irrelevant activity, clouded in mystery.

So change is afoot.

"If we are to make the changes needed; we also have to be willing to question what may not be needed. We do not want governing bodies that act simply as a bunch of cheer-leaders for university management.

"I was interested to learn recently that some members of university governing bodies have been appointed on the basis of a phone call. Who you know not what you know. It appears that HE governance in post devolution Wales has become the last resting place of the crachach".

How did the audience take it, I asked? Some mouths gaped. Some fought back. Others pointed out that one man's democratisation is another man's eternal "bog standard" service. What about excellence? Doesn't that mean shutting doors, as well as opening them?

As I said back in March, Leighton Andrews has "started a few things" - and this debate is another that in Welsh terms, is just starting.

But a clue, on page 54 of his speech, for those who wonder where the Education Minister is coming from.

"Academics are grasping the nettle. It is time for university administrations to follow them. It might perhaps be timely to remind that audience of how we came to have a university sector in Wales in the first place.

It was a determined political act, resulting from the campaigning of a political movement".

Make no mistake. This Education Minister has every intention of repeating history. His take on the sector is, says last night's speech, is to be a determinedly political one.

He names the date...

Betsan Powys | 16:03 UK time, Tuesday, 25 May 2010

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I picked the right day to come up to Westminster...

During the Queen's Speech debate in the Commons, David Cameron has just told MPs the referendum on Assembly law-making powers should be held next year.

"What we're going to do is allow the referendum to go ahead that was actually rather held up by the last government, so yes, a date will be named for that referendum and I believe it should be held next year and I believe there should be a free and open debate in Wales for that to happen."

On my way to see the Welsh Secretary, more to follow.

UPDATE

Making things add up is rarely as simple as it looks.

When Cheryl Gillan arrived in Portcullis House, delayed either by the long walk from one bit of Westminster to the other, or by trying to work out how exactly she should respond to the Prime Minister's openess in the chamber - her favourite turn of phrase turned out to be "do the maths."

"I agree with my Prime Minister".

So the referendum should be held next year. That means it won't be held in the Autumn?

"Do the maths."

We invited her to do it on our behalf.

The ten week period "needed and required" by the Electoral Commission to road-test the question, said the Welsh Secretary, "cannot reasonably be truncated" without inviting legal challenges later down the line. "It's looking increasingly difficult" therfore to hold an Autumn referendum.

Impossible even?

"You can do the maths". In fact "It's the First Minister who hasn't fully appreciated the maths".

The First Minister - via a government spokesman - has fully appreciated the opportunity to get angry over the lack of consulation with him before this afternoon's maths lesson.

"We are also dismayed to have been told of this announcement via the media and not through the formal channels of government.

"Indeed, we are surprised this announcement was made before we had received any communication from the Secretary of State.

"When we correspond with the Secretary of State, we ensure she has received the letter before Assembly Members are made aware of its contents."

And then, as now happens in double-coalition land, it goes a bit like this:

Plaid Cymru point a finger at the Lib Dems and the Tories.
The Lib Dems have a go at Labour.
Labour turn back on the Tories.

In fact Alun Michael accuses Cheryl Gillan of "lying" when she says it's the lack of preparatory work by her predecessor, Peter Hain, that's made today's lesson - "do the maths" - inevitable.

Here come the cuts

Betsan Powys | 10:38 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

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Here come the cuts, delivered by a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in Westminster to the budget of a Labour Plaid coalition in Cardiff Bay. We'll come to the politics of it all in a moment.

First: by how much did the First Minister expect the Assembly Government budget to be squeezed by this morning's announcement? The figure he'd used was £220m, one that assumed most, if not all, of the £6b in cuts would have a knock-on effect on Wales via the Barnett formula.

In the event the sum Wales must cut looks like being £162.5m. Calculators are out in Whitehall and in Cathays Park and they're coming up with a sum that says Ministers must find that £162.5m out of the budget they'd already allocated for 2010-11. There are a lot of raw figures in there so take it as read that there will be some devil in the detail that is yet to become clear.

This is, says Cheryl Gillan, "a fair deal for Wales". Savings in Wales have been "limited" and are less than is being asked of many UK government departments.

So what now? Isn't the Welsh budget already set for 2010-11? Yes, it is. Have the Assembly Government been arguing privately, therefore, that they shouldn't be treated like "just another Whitehall department"? Yes, they have. George Osborne has already offered the devolved nations the chance to defer the cuts until 2011-12 precisely because their budgets had already been agreed on.

It means, says the Welsh Secretary, that in her view there is "no need to cut essential frontline services in Wales - or any part of the UK - as a result of these savings."

The offer to defer "could be useful" said the First Minister last week.

It could be useful but it could also be storing up big problems for later. What will the scale of the cuts be in 2011-12? If you defer the whole £162.5m, or even a part of it, what happens if the cuts that year are, say ... £300m? That would be £462.5m to find.

And the politics?

Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones are in Stormont today meeting the leaders of the devolved administrations. Top of the agenda? Cuts. Close to the top of the agenda? Economic recovery and how to make it happen, while delivering the item that's top of the agenda: cuts.

An SNP, DUP and Labour leader standing together and making it absolutely clear that when their own national elections come about, that the cuts they're having to deliver - or storing up to deliver later - are being foisted upon them.

With Gordon Brown gone, Carwyn Jones can now stand with the other two and point a finger at Westminster.

War of words

Betsan Powys | 11:55 UK time, Thursday, 20 May 2010

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question_mark15_203x152.jpgAnd here it comes: the war of words I saw coming yesterday.

The First Minister has challenged the Secretary of State quite openly in a letter that insists a referendum in the Autumn is entirely possible and that "it is our understanding that the drafting work on the Order in Council to be laid before Parliament will have been substantially completed by the end of this month".

"We have expressed our strong preference for a referendum to be held in late October of this year" and guess what, suddenly there is a suggested question in both English and Welsh for the Secretary of State to consider.

This is the suggested question and the pre-amble:

"At the moment the Assembly can make laws about some, but not all, things which only affect people in Wales.

"Parliament has decided that the Assembly should be able to pass its own laws for Wales on all devolved subjects. But this can only happen if voters in Wales support this in a referendum.

"The devolved subjects include health and social services, housing, education and local government. The laws could not be about social security, defence or foreign affairs.

"Do you want the Assembly to have the power now to pass laws on all the subjects which are devolved to Wales?

YES

NO

Over to Gwydyr House.

UPDATE 12.45

From the former incumbent at Gwydyr House, Peter Hain:

"The preparatory work I ordered to be done as Secretary of State allowed this timetable to be met. Cheryl Gillan has no excuse to back track.

"Why is she still refusing to support the First Minister in achieving a successful referendum so that the Welsh Assembly can make its own laws for Wales in devolved areas?

"It's time for the Secretary of State to get off the fence. The public deserve to know if she will be supporting a 'Yes' vote or a 'No' vote in the referendum."

Plaid Cymru too are sticking to the line that an Autumn referendum is possible - and have introduced a new suggestion as to how it might be achieved: getting the Privy Council to meet later than their current schedule, which is to meet in July, in order to approve the referendum".

From Kirsty Williams and the Lib Dems: "What a difference a week makes. Labour and Plaid Cymru seem to have finally stopped stalling, having spent three-and-a-half years kicking this referendum into touch".

A response from Gwydyr House when we have one.

UPDATE

And here it is:

"The Secretary of State received the letter from the First Minister this morning. She is continuing work to progress a referendum and was already due to meet with the Electoral Commission and host a series of consultation meetings to discuss the referendum in Cardiff on Monday."

Jonathan Morgan AM's response on his blog is rather snappier. Nick Bourne's take on things is here.

Great Expectations

Betsan Powys | 10:13 UK time, Thursday, 20 May 2010

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Expectations. My theory? Never a mistake to dampen them down.

Years ago my brother had a friend who went home from college over Christmas and hinted to her parents that she was pregnant and had spent her entire grant already. Grant? As I said, it was many years ago.

They turned very pale until she told them that actally, she wasn't pregnant, nor was she broke but she had failed her first term exams. She found her parents weren't terribly concerned.

The other day I bumped into a Welsh Lib Dem who was pretty confident that the coalition deal, published today, would have some sweeteners for Wales - and for Welsh Lib Dems - in it. Holtham was mentioned. Not sure what would be in there but it was all looking pretty promising.

So what is in there they can point to and wave at Plaid and Labour?

Not an awful lot. Clearly nothing about devolved issues - there wouldn't be. And yes, everything that's said about issues that aren't devolved are, of course, relevant to Wales.

But what about some specific goodies he'd hoped for, like taking forward the recommendations of the Holtham Commission?

This is what the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto said they would do:

"Replace the current Barnett formula for allocating funding to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments with a new needs-based formula, to be agreed by a Finance Commission fo the National and Regions"

What does the coalition document say?

"We recognise the concerns expressed by the Holtham Commission on the system of devolution funding. However, at this time, the priority must be to reduce the deficit and therefore any change to the system must await the stabilisation of the public finances".

When might that be? No time soon, certainly.

The document goes on to say:

"Depending on the outcome of the forthcoming referendum, we will establish a process similar to the Calman Commission for the Welsh Assembly".

It'll be instructive to see how the Welsh Liberal Democrats bridge the divide in language and substance of the two documents.

By the way the coalition document also pledges to "take forward the Sustainable Homes Legislative Competence Order" and to "support" further electrification of the railways. Neither sound like water-tight, here-you-go pledges to me.

The next time a Welsh Lib Dem hints that they're pregnant and broke ...

UPDATE:

This is the response from Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams

"Along with the benefits the people of Wales will see from a Conservative-Liberal Democrat UK government, like lower taxes for workers and a fairer pension settlement for older people, these commitments in this document demonstrate the clear contrast between this active government and the idleness of the past 13 years of the Labour government.

"Making sure that housing powers are devolved to the Assembly, supporting further electrification of the railways and setting up a Commission to look at funding for Wales are all issues the Welsh Liberal Democrats have been fighting for and I am pleased that the UK government has shown commitment to Wales and Welsh devolution by announcing these commitments today".

"Serious risks", serious reading

Betsan Powys | 10:43 UK time, Wednesday, 19 May 2010

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cherylgillanpa282.JPGThere are some who read this blog who are of the firm view that writing anything about a referendum on the future powers of the Assembly, let alone when that referendum might be held and what the question might be, is an utter waste of time.

If you're one of them, give up now. Look away.

I'll write another blog entry later, I hope, on another issue that galvanises some and switches others right off. Should the report of proceedings in the chamber be entirely bilingual or not? The answer, according to an independent review panel formed to answer just that question, is 'no'. That'll explain why the Presiding Officer was so jovial yesterday.

But back to the referendum and whether holding it in the Autumn is still an option or not. You might not give two hoots as to whether that option is still open or not. But bear in mind that a few months ago, Plaid Cymru were so adamant it should remain an option that they threatened to walk out of the coalition over it. Politically then, as far as trust between coalition partners is concerned, it certainly did matter rather a lot.

So: yesterday, I understand, a letter was sent by the Electoral Commission to Cheryl Gillan, saying that they will require a 10 week period of consultation before they can give a considered opinion on the question to be asked in the referendum. Without this, they said, there are "serious risks to the successful conduct of the referendum."

It's curtains, then for a vote in the Autumn.

I've drawn parallels with the climactic scene in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs before, where virtually all the characters end up pointing guns at each others' heads simultaneously. This is going to be a sequel where they all pull the trigger. It's going to be messy and unpleasant.

So as a pre-emptive strike, here's some background, much of which is likely to be lost in the recriminations.

Following the trigger vote in the Assembly in February, the First Minister wrote his formal letter to the Wales Office. It took him 10 days. The law says he had to do it "as soon as reasonably practicable." It was a few paragraphs long. He'd argue he had to get those few paragraphs right. Nick Bourne would argue he wasted valuable time. I'll leave it to you to make up your own minds on that one.

Once the former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain received the letter, he got the ball rolling. It's clear substantive work was done on the Order. A project board was established, with representatives from the Assembly Government, the Wales Office and the Electoral Commission to work on the administration needed to put the Order together - with two key exceptions. Firstly, the board didn't consider the date. Fair enough. It's the job of the senior politicians to make that call. There was also no consideration whatsoever of the question to be asked and this is where the difficulties start.

The Electoral Commission have a role, enshrined in law, to give a detailed view on the intelligibility and fairness of questions asked of the people in a referendum. This makes perfect sense. It stops politicians cooking up a question that leans towards their favoured outcome, or blinds the voters with complicated technical propositions.

In November 2009 the Commission published guidelines on their process for "road testing" a referendum question, which includes extensive focus groups, asking for advice from experts and so on. The timescale for this was crystal clear: ten weeks, based on getting two weeks notice that the exact question was on its way.

This point, I understand, was made equally crystal clear to members of the project board. But it's this timescale that's going to be at the heart of the row about to ensue.

At the lobby briefing for journalists yesterday, the First Minister Carwyn Jones repeated the mantra that "all options" for a date for the referendum remain open. He said he saw no reason why the Order shouldn't be laid before Parliament "by the middle of next month".

Really, we asked? We can see why you're going to stick to that line First Minister, in the name of sticking it to the Tories now that they're in power in Westminster but ... really? The second mantra was trotted out - "the timescale is tight but doable".

Now technically, the new Secretary of State could lay the order in Parliament by June 17th, the 120 day deadline since the Wales Office received the First Minister's letter. If the Electoral Commission was asked for its assessment of the question in a three week timescale, rather than a ten week one, it would make a formal response. This would satisfy the legal need for consultation by the Secretary of State.

Bingo. There you have your "tight but doable". But everyone knows it cannot work like that.

If it did, it's clear the Commission's response would come with significant caveats, making it clear they felt they hadn't had sufficient time to come to a proper view and could therefore not vouch fully for the intelligibility of the question. Critically, a report of this response has to be laid before Parliament and the Assembly at the same time as the Order. No Secretary of State in her right mind could possibly ask for a vote in favour when that response contains words like "serious risks to the successful conduct of the referendum".

So how did we end up here?

The Commission's ten week timescale has been known since November 2009. Copies of their guidelines were sent to Peter Hain, to Cheryl Gillan as Shadow Welsh Secretary, to the then First Minister Rhodri Morgan, to the Welsh party leaders and to Carwyn Jones when he became First Minister. It's also been abundantly clear that for the Autumn referendum to happen, the Order would need to get through Parliament before the summer.

The Welsh political establishment have known for some considerable time, then, what we are dealing with here - or should have done. And yet, trust me, it feels very much as though we're about to see a particularly vicious bout of infighting between parties and between governments.

It's most certainly not for me to referee what's about to happen. But it is up to those of us paid to watch what's going on to point out that fundamentally and factually, it's the fact that the referendum question wasn't addressed in the months before the General Election that is at the root of where we are now. The then Secretary of State makes the point that he couldn't have got on with considering the question because it wouldn't have been at all appropriate for him to do so during the period of purdah before a General Election. The Electoral Commission wouldn't have thought it appropriate and no-one in the Assembly Government has suggested that analysis is wrong.

Still, the fact remains that with no wording in the offing, no Secretary of State could now deliver an Autumn referendum.

There are other questions about how far both parties in the Assembly government accepted a timescale that has been proven to be impossible and why they continued with the "all options open" mantra when it was well past its sell by date some time ago.

It might also be worth asking why the First Minister has written to the new Secretary of State formally requesting an Autumn referendum when he didn't, to my knowledge, make that request of her predecessor?

Pressed on who is responsible for the current situation an Assembly Government source came up with: "it's the responsibility of the current Secretary of State to get this through. We look forward to her excuses."

Was there the slightest hint of a smile there too?

The Chamber

Betsan Powys | 14:42 UK time, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

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Another first: the first First Minister's Questions since the two parties in opposition in the Assembly formed a coalition to govern in Westminster.

Would someone have been in the chamber, quietly digging trenches in anticipation of the 11 months to go until the next election?

They hadn't but they might as well have. Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams wore bright red and a words-can't-hurt-me expression on her face. Nick Bourne looked up for the fight - a constructive one based on mutual respect, naturally. Every one else looked, as usual, at their computer screens. They wrote Emails. They read the Guardian online. They sifted through paperwork on their laps. Yes, I know what Assembly Members argue. This way they can get their work done without having to stay away from the chamber. Point taken but boy, it's a switch off.

First up? What did the First Minister have to say about under-age drinking? It's clear, said Joyce Watson, that the amount people drink is related to the amount in their wallets, rather than the number of units in the bottle. Adverts suggesting the World Cup can only be enjoyed with a beer in your hand didn't help. What were the First Minister's thoughts?

His first thought was to lob the first brick of the afternoon at the new Westminster coalition. If their reported plans to hike VAT happen, then this Liberal Conservative government would clearly be out to hit the poorest hardest. One half of the chamber liked the way things were going already. In the other half they rolled their eyes.

On to protecting industrial heritage. In the chamber they were talking about the Hafod Copper works and the Musgrave Engine House in Swansea. I couldn't help looking at the small Liberal Democrat group and wondering about protecting the industrial sized impact they'd had on the Labour vote in places like Merthyr and Pontypridd on May 6th. I visited Dowlais Top a few days before the election. I saw a series of home-made signs in gardens saying things like "Give ... Labour ... in ... Merthyr ... a ... shock!" - and the Lib Dems did just that. Never again, local activists must be thinking ruefully.

The First Minister was already on to the next questions: what did his government intend to do about marking Wales' sporting heritage, about reviewing spending not just on education, or health but across the board? Jeff Cuthbert joined in. "Did the First Minister agree the Lib Dems should clearly state their position on student fees?" Hadn't they been very much against then but now - in coalition government - were for them? Would they scrap any policy in order to gain power?

I peered over the edge of the gallery, just in case Plaid AMs had been tempted to join in the jeering.

People in glass houses come to mind here, muttered Mick Bates.

On went the First Minister. Legislation around the removal of asbestos from public buildings wasn't devolved but he shared Nick Ramsay's concerns about the number of teachers from Wales who, over the years, have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

And as to the Lib Dem leader's question about Food Standards Agency plans to display information about food safety assessments online only? Well that would be dealt with by "your new" Conservative Liberal Democrat government in London. Not devolved. Next.

Labour's Alun Davies was already furious when he got up and he was no less furious when he sat down. The details he'd heard from the Treasury about proposed cuts had "absolutely terrified" him. The Lib Con cuts had been outlined "with relish". Would the First Minister make it clear why cuts were having to happen, so that Assembly Members had a chance to spell out to their constituents whose fault it was and fight every cut made?

The First Minister would. He did, however, welcome the 'flexiblity' offered yesterday by David Cameron, an opportunity for the Assembly Government to defer cuts for 12 months if they wanted. A pretty abrupt change of tune there from a First Minister who was extremely dismissive of the same offer when it was made before the election. Yes, the offer of flexibility was welcome. Pressing ahead with cuts so soon, though, was unnecessary.

End in sight now.

What about unauthorised absences from work during the World Cup, asked Conservative Darren Millar. What would be done to make sure tax payers didn't pay for public sector workers to bunk off and watch crucial matches? Tax payers should never pay for public servants who are bunking off, said Mr Jones. Neither should they be expected to pay for unauthorised absences from the Tory front bench. Alun Cairns' seat in Cardiff Bay was empty. The green leather of Westminster for him today.

Road safety, fitness of school buildings, closing small schools, the government's priorities for the next six months left one more chance to turn on the new coalition government. It fell to Rhodri Morgan. Was the First Minister concerned that his priorities would be knocked sideways by the very different priorities of the new, incoming Lib Con government? What would happen to the Defence Academy in St Athan? What about the full electrification of the Paddington to Swansea line? Would it still go ahead and be finalised by 2017?

The First Minister assured the old First Minister that these were issues he'd raised with the Secretary of State and he'd do so again soon.

Then a point of order. Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams must have used her time online wisely. The aspect of the Food Standards Agency's work that she'd raised in her question was, in fact, devolved in 1999. Would the First Minister acknowledge he was wrong to say it wasn't?

Not in so many words, no. That is not, after all, how it works. Some aspects of the FSA's work may have been devolved but labelling was an issue now bound up with European regulations ... The jeers came from the other half of the chamber this time.

The Presiding Officer beamed, by his own admission unusually indulgent this afternoon. I get the feeling something has put him in rather a good mood and that we'll find out very soon what that something is.

Under construction

Betsan Powys | 11:48 UK time, Monday, 17 May 2010

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It's the language that has you almost expecting Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Carwyn Jones turning up in the Senedd this afternoon in a hard hat each and a luminous jacket.

They are both out to "construct a relationship" and to "work productively". What exactly that means and how precisely that works, neither will be too sure yet. Neither are we but we're clear about Mr Cameron's purpose here. He is in Wales today, so soon after an election because he has a definite and serious purpose: to engage with a government in Wales that is made up of opposition parties in Westminster while at the same time to drive on his party's attempts in Wales to gain ground politically.

Get on with Labour in power, take them on elsewhere.

What do we know before he arrives:

1. An offer to defer spending cuts in Wales for a year, in recognition of the fact that the Assembly Government has already set it budget for 2010/11 is now officially on the table. It had been made before the election in a rather half-hearted kind of way. In fact a senior Conservative suggested to me just last week it was all a case of Nick Bourne 'flying a kite'. Apparently not. Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron are holding the strings now and the offer is there, part of what we had better get used to calling "the respect agenda".

2. If the WAG are wondering what exactly they would be agreeing to defer - only to take on as a double whammy of cuts in 2011/12 - then they and we will find that out on Monday. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, announced this morning that the details of the £6bn in-year spending cuts will be announced on a department by department basis on Monday, rather in the emergency budget on June 22nd. The potential impact on the Assembly Government's budget will be known then too once the Barnett consequentials of spending reductions at a UK department level have been worked out.
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3. We know that Cheryl Gillan is pointing a finger of blame at Peter Hain for not "progressing" the necessary preparations for a referendum. She is still, in fact, "in shock" at finding what was on her desk or, perhaps, what was not. She and Mr Hain, now her Shadow, will no doubt continue to trade verbal blows on that front for a while yet. Mr Hain's response by the way - "rubbish on stilts."

4. More significantly we know that Cheryl Gillan plans to remain neutral if and when that referendum is held. We know because that is what she told Radio Wales this morning. She will neither campaign for or against giving the Assembly primary law-making powers in areas devolved to it. She'll make the referendum happen but won't seek to influence what happens in it. So if you were wondering whether there might be a potential for a re-run of the moment captured above, then the answer is no.

5. We don't know for sure but must now strongly suspect that there is no chance of a referendum being held in the Autumn. Mrs Gillan didn't say so outright but in her interview this morning she came as close to ruling it out without actually saying so, as it is possible. The potential of holding it on the same day as the Assembly election next May was again whispered in my ear last week in London. Somebody had better whisper it pretty loudly in Nick Bourne's ear, given his public opposition to holding the two votes on the same day. (Bit hard, mind you, to argue that holding a General and Assembly election on the same day come May 2015 is fine ... but that holding an Assembly election and referendum on the same day is not. Perhaps those hard hats might come in handy sooner rather than later ... )

Will there be any real hard bargaining on financial issues today, let alone any deals? No, of course not. Will two men start to work out how to deal with each other? Yes. Will they shake hands? Will the Deputy First Minister be in the shot? Will Kirsty Williams, once again this week, be there in person but decidedly not in the spirit of political co-operation?

I'll report back later.

And the new Welsh Secretary is...

Betsan Powys | 17:39 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

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Cheryl Gillan MP

UPDATE: Reaction coming in...

Welsh Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne AM said:

"I am absolutely delighted. No-one has worked harder for Wales at Westminster over recent years than Cheryl Gillan.

"I am confident that as someone born and bred in Wales Cheryl will represent Welsh interests around the cabinet table with her usual passion, commitment and determination.

"I have valued our close working relationship since her appointment to the shadow cabinet in 2005 and look forward to that continuing in the interests of Wales now that Cheryl has taken up her new role.

"I hope Cheryl's appointment will mark the start of a new, positive relationship between the UK and Assembly governments, and between the Assembly and Westminster.

"I also welcome the fact that Cheryl will be the first woman to hold the post of Secretary of State for Wales.

"This is an historic achievement for Cheryl and for the Conservative Party and one which should be widely welcomed."

Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd MP said:

"I'd like to congratulate the member for Chesham and Amersham on her appointment. Unfortunately, instating a Secretary of State from outside Wales will be widely viewed as throwback to the 1990s.

"There are many important issues that will face Ms Gillan as she enters the role. On top of her desk will be the request for a referendum from the Welsh Assembly Government on more law making powers. She has said previously that she would not stand in its way, so I look forward to a prompt call for it to be held.

"There will be some people in Wales that will under-whelmed at this appointment but I hope that Ms Gillan will make every effort to work with the Welsh Assembly Government - and also to spend time in Wales so that she is able to find out the issues affecting our country."

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:

"I wish Cheryl well in her job. The real test for her now is to show how committed she is to Welsh devolution. Cheryl Gillan has to stand up for the people of Wales and give us a say on how we want our devolution to proceed. An early referendum on further law making powers for Wales will be her first test."

Peter Hain, Labour's Shadow Welsh Secretary said:

"I congratulate Cheryl Gillan on her appointment, I like her as a person, and obviously I wish her well.

"However, the new Government must realise that the decision to appoint a Welsh Secretary from an English constituency will baffle and indeed anger many people in Wales. Far from representing the new politics that people want to see, this smacks of the bad old days. Between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats they have 11 MPs in Wales - are David Cameron and Nick Clegg really saying that none of them are up to the job? There is no reason why Mr Cameron's faith in Mrs Gillan could not have been rewarded by offering her another post in a cabinet sadly lacking in women.

"It would have seemed more sensible, and sensitive, to offer the job of Welsh Secretary to a Welsh MP."

The deal...

Betsan Powys | 15:36 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

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Breaking lines from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement, hot off the press...

The new administration will "offer" a referendum on further Welsh devolution. Fair to say the answer will be yes please - the question, of course, is when.

A commission to consider the West Lothian Question - or English votes for English laws. Given the geographical distribution of party support across the UK at the election, this is a useful marker for the Tory backbenches in particular.

Nuclear - early indications were that an "agree to disagree" position between the parties, coupled with the appointment of nuclear-sceptic Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne as Secretary of State for Energy and Environment led to concerns that the future of Wylfa B might be in jeopardy. The pro-nuclear lobby can breathe a little easier - agree to disagree turns out to mean that the Lib Dems will abstain on the key planning legislation to enable the new generation of nuclear stations - which means the Tories should be able to get it passed.

Spending - "modest cuts of £6bn to non front line services within the financial year 2010-11" subject to advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England on their feasibility and advisability. Plaid Cymru suggested earlier today the Welsh proportion of these cuts could come to £220m - we'll have to wait until the Emergency Budget due in June to find out for sure.

Funding for the NHS should increase in real terms each year of the Parliament - can only be good news for the Welsh block.

Fixed term parliaments of five years - this, as has already been pointed out elsewhere, puts the next General election in the same month as the Assembly election AFTER next, or May 2015. That seems a long way off at this stage however...

Gunboat Diplomacy

Betsan Powys | 18:51 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

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gunboat.JPGThis photograph was taken from the BBC's balcony at the National Assembly in the Bay, around 1820 this evening, as the deal to give the Conservatives power at Westminster was being finalised.

A warship was being manoevered into position in the large dock which runs parallel with Ty Hywel. It would appear that the line from Carwyn Jones earlier - arguably now Labour's most senior elected politician - that he wasn't looking for conflict with the new administration MAY not be reciprocated .. !

The fingers, if not the big guns, are already being pointed: Plaid at the Tories and the Lib Dems for getting ready to start cutting public spending in Wales and at Labour "for throwing away the opportunity" to stop them;

Labour at Labour for delivering "an insult to the electorate" with attempts to cobble together a deal that would never have worked and that looked like a desperate attempt to cling on to power; Labour at Labour for killing off that "progressive alliance," which they argue still was worth trying to get off the ground; Labour at the Tories - and the Lib Dems - for the "savage cuts" to come;

and consider the position of Welsh Lib Dems who, it's claimed, shed a tear in the Assembly chamber this afternoon at the news that their party had stopped speaking to Labour, who knew they might be saying hello to power in Westminster but waving goodbye to a swathe of those who gave them their vote in Wales last Thursday.

As for the Conservatives? A happy, relieved bunch in Wales but acutely aware that cuts must be made, that the parties of government in Cardiff are getting the ammunition ready and that next year's Assembly election will now present them with a very tough battle indeed.

And yes I know that David Cameron is the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool took office. What's bothering me? He's younger than I am. These new PMs look younger every day.

Havard v Hain

Betsan Powys | 14:59 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

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Last night, as I reported here, there were big Labour beasts coming to College Green to be seen and heard objecting to the idea of a Lib Lab pact. It wouldn't last. It was unedifying. More importantly it was simply the wrong way to go.

The Labour member for Merthyr is an MP who comments only when he wants to and when he has something to say. Now is one of those times and Dai Havard wants it known - in the strongest and most colourful terms possible - that he wants no dealings with the Lib Dems.

"This policy decision is too important to be left to party managers and apparatchiks. The Affiliates; MP's and Members of the Labour Party need not just to be activated for a Leadership election but to be involved now in the discussion of the future collaborations the Labour Party should have and the vital business of deciding how to progress and organise for Constructive Opposition and renewal.

The current sight of two millionaire public schoolboys squabbling over the future of the welsh valleys and discussing the relative sloth of Public Sector Workers and their future employment is bad enough. The idea that the future is to institutionalise such a post hoc, after the event, system is unacceptable. To collaborate in it establishing a Labour led version of it is not only wrong but politically damaging for the Party and the country.

The ideas of New Labour died before the General Election and its corpse needs disposal following the funeral rights administered by the people last week. More 'managerialism' and a 'cosy consensus' or so-called 'Progressive Alliance' is a misreading of history and an insult to the electorate not a benefit".

"Progressive alliance" - a term Dai Havard, who saw a 16.9% swing to the Lib Dems in his constituency, would never, even want to see used without those vital inverted commas. It is an alliance Dai Havard would not want to see at all.

It's starting to feel in Westminster as though he needn't worry for very much longer.

Sounding out

Betsan Powys | 12:07 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

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"Oh, the voice of sanity in an insane world!" one prominent Lib Dem commentator shouted into her mobile phone as she hurried from one broadcasting pod to the next broadcasting gazebo.

"Hello Single Transferrable Pundit" said one STP to another. There are any number of them around Westminster and any number of us who want to talk to them.

Over in another corner, down the line from Bangor, Elfyn Llwyd performs the most rapid "reverse ferret" ever seen on BBC 2.

Plaid Cymru want to scrap Trident, said the interviewer. Would you be prepared to give ground on that in order to strike some sort of Labour-led deal?

"NO!" said Mr Llwyd. That's it then, we thought. Bye bye the need of a phone call to Plaid Cymru. "NO! ... but ... we're not to going to dictate the defence policy of the UK government are we, let's be realistic".

Neil Kinnock was listening and happy to spell out the only real deal that would ever be on offer to the smaller parties.

"There cannot and will not be any specific special deals" he said and the nationalist parties know it. The only real deal on offer is halving the debt over the next few years and not immediately as the Tories would. That's the best that can be offered.

In Cardiff, away from the 'insanity' Carwyn Jones was spelling things out pretty clearly too. He is not willing his own party out of power ... of course .... however a Lab-Lib coalition with smaller parties supporting it would be "possible but very difficult." The lesson learned in Wales, says the First Minister, is that parties have to be tied in to strong agreements. "Understandings and informal agreements don't work".

So Mr Clegg: stability lies one way says the First Minister and it didn't sound as though he was at all confident that meant the Labour way.

And what's that I can hear in the distance? Could it be the sound of quiet anticipation - in strategic terms at least - within the One Wales government of a Tory-Liberal pact at Westminster and what that would do for their prospects in May 2011?

Back then

Betsan Powys | 07:45 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

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A few days ago I asked Rhodri Morgan - the man who, unlike Gordon Brown, only thought he was "toast" during coalition talks - what his advice would be to David Cameron if he was considering going for a minority government.

"Am bido boddran" came the answer. "Not to bother". To run a government that gets anywhere you need stability. You need numbers.

Wasn't Mr Morgan also the man who back then dismissed the possiblity of a Labour-free rainbow coalition of the parties that came second, third and fourth because it simply wasn't right not to include the party that won most seats? He was. I was there when he said it. His Labour colleagues in Westminster aren't saying that now.

It's inevitable that those of us who were there are starting to hark back to the aftermath of the 2007 Assembly Election. I'm not pretending to compare like with like. The world and his wife weren't camped on the steps of the Senedd. City bosses didn't give two hoots what the outcome was of furtive meetings behind closed doors. The personalities involved were quite different and here's a fundamental difference for you; there was every prospect of the team that eventually crossed the majority finishing line lasting the full four year course.

But there's a bit of deja vu going on.

Were we entirely thrown and confused by the daily twists and turns for 55 days in all, by the will they ... won't they meetings? Yes.

Did we foresee the outcome from the start? No.

Did the voting public in Wales find it "unedifying". Maybe.

Do they see it that way now? I doubt it very much. The sky didn't fall in. The talks eventually ended and a new partnership took over. It will probably happen again because that's the electoral system we have.

They certainly found is confusing but here's another big difference: they didn't wake up to tabloid headlines telling them it was all "squalid" and "cynical." There were no dire warnings either that a deal that would give anything other than a book token to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland would risk a serious back-lash in England.

Oh and one more thing that could turn into an echo of 2007. There came a point when the Lib Dems stopped looking like a party that had something to bargain with, a party that was keeping its two possible partners equidistant and simply started to look flaky.

In Wales, in 2007 that was fatal for them.

On the move

Betsan Powys | 20:38 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010

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Waiting on the platform in Cardiff Central, a Labour man who was trying to keep up with events.

Things not going quite so smoothly in the talks between the Conservatives and Lib Dems, said I.

His eyes lit up: what have you heard?

By the time we got to Bristol, the train had broken down but things in Westminster were on the move.

It turns out Mr Clegg had been having talks with Labour as well and wanted more and more official talks. Really? His hope, that the Labour government wasn't, yet, dead in the water. His concern, that the Lib Dems would be equally difficult to pin down if talks with Labour took off. But here was a chance to govern for a while longer at least, to prevent the sorts of cuts the Tories would bring in and to gain some respect from the electorate who would see that when the going got truly tough, Labour stepped up to the plate. As Peter Hain might have put it, they didn't shirk their "duty".

Wouldn't Gordon Brown have to step aside for that to happen? He was too canny to answer that one outright.

By the time the train pulled into London Paddington, the Prime Minister had answered it for him.

College Green has been full this evening of Mr Brown's colleagues telling the world's media that what he did today was wise, dignified and right. Of that they had no doubt. Whether striking a deal with the Liberal Democrats was the right thing to do - a bargain that would have to be bolstered with further deals starting with the SNP and with Plaid - "with Alex Salmond, Uncle Tom Cobley and all" as one put it - they really, really weren't so sure. It wouldn't last. It was unedifying. It would mean England alone bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Others disagreed, used the word "viable" and "national interest" a lot. This was not just a scramble to hold on to power. It was a case of responding to what a hung parliament throws at you and doing what is best for the economic future of the UK.

"How long did it take you in Wales?" asked one seasoned commentator. 55 days or so I said. His face eyebrows shot up, the rest of his face fell. It's not often that we political commentators in Wales get to glow! Ah yes, been there, done that.

I've not heard the words "unpalatable" or "inedible" used yet but if I listen hard tomorrow, it might just be a matter of time.

The Monday list

Betsan Powys | 10:11 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010

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So as the dust settles on the voting - if not yet the result - perhaps it's time to provide us all with a handy checklist of the kind of issues that got rather drowned out during the campaign but are going to be significant here in Wales over the coming weeks and months.

No I don't mean cleaning the house and reminding the children they have a mother too: I mean the other significant isues. Thanks to the marathon broadcasts and the no-you-can't-switch-off-yet nature of this election they're in what I'll call a "stream of consciousness" style, starting with the biggest issue without a shadow of a doubt, which is...

1. PUBLIC SPENDING AND THE WELSH BLOCK GRANT

It's number 1A on the agenda for whichever administration takes power. It's top of the list because the implications for Wales are pretty massive.

Remember we're already seeing reduction in some areas of the block grant this year compared to last year. The colour and make-up of the new government will determine whether it falls further this year, or we start to feel the real pain in the next financial year.

The Liberal Democrats made a new deal stimulus package for green jobs one of the centrepieces of their manifesto, which would have delivered an extra £125m to the Welsh budget. However there wasn't much in the way of detail as to how that would be paid for and the Conservatives made in-year spending cuts an even more high profile part of their prospectus for Government.

The shadow chancellor George Osborne made Wales a sort of afterthought offer he thought it couldn't refuse - to delay the impact of any spending cuts this year until next. We'd asked why the offer had been made in Scotland in recognition of the fact the government there had already agreed its budget but not in Wales ... and were told pretty sharpish that Wales could have the same offer too. It's fair to say it received a pretty lukewarm response behind the scenes from the Assembly Government, who doubted whether an offer made via briefing to journalists would ever amount to a cast-iron offer, and who fear the hammer blow of having to make up this year's cuts on top of the deep cuts which will come from 2011-12 onwards. A Labour-led administration would start the cuts next year, but whoever's in charge, there's also the key question of what proportion of any spending reductions in Whitehall will be passed on to Wales. Much of this will depend on the negotiating skills at the Cabinet table of the...

2. NEW SECRETARY OF STATE:

A few variables here: with the Tories (at least at this point on Monday morning) seemingly in pole position to form a government, the obvious candidate is the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan. She's already held preliminary talks with First Minister Carwyn Jones but it's by no means a done deal that she'll occupy Gwydyr House if the Tories take office. A - let's choose my words carefully here - less than stellar election campaign won't have helped her cause. (Yes, the same could be said of Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd and the Liberal Democrats' Roger Williams but they're not up for a job; Peter Hain's "savage cuts" mantra wins that particular contest, given it seemed to be be brutally effective on the doorstep in many areas).

So it's possible that Jonathan Evans, who scraped home in Cardiff North, could be in line for the Welsh Cabinet seat, although Mr Cameron might choose to deploy his talents as a junior minister in the Home or Justice portfolios. Whoever is the new occupant of the Wales Office (or as David Jones MP would have it again, the Welsh Office) the relationship with the Assembly Government will be absolutely key, not least in terms of the...

3. REFERENDUM ON FURTHER POWERS

See what I mean about stream of consciousness?

A team has been beavering away in the Wales Office since the First Minister's letter was received following the Assembly's "trigger" vote in February. No one outside those four walls knows how far they've got and the 120 days for the Order to be drawn up and laid before parliament expires in mid June.

There's a growing feeling that the political uncertainty in Westminster caused by the hung parliament has effectively done for the Autumn referendum option (if it hadn't been done for before, that is). Very few people want another general election in the autumn, but the new electoral maths means it has to be a possibility, which would make calling a referendum on further powers in the middle if it highly risky. Plus there's the question of parliamentary time to get the Order through before the Summer recess, which shouldn't be underestimated. And a new Secretary of State, should there be one, may well want to take their time in terms of getting the wording of the question and at the administrative arrangements for the poll right.

Whatever happens, the clamour from Wales for a referendum on further powers is only likely to increase, particularly in the wake of the debacle over the...

4. HOUSING LCO

Which remains, as it has spent most of its unhappy existence, in legislative limbo. There is approaching zero chance that a new Tory administration would be prepared to let it through having effectively blocked it in the dying days of the last Parliament. Would it be a priority for a incoming government of a different hue? And will the presence of a current and another former AM on the back benches have any impact on the smoother passage of LCOs? Such as Glyn Davies and ...

5. ALUN CAIRNS

Now one of a very rare breed: a dual mandate politician. Double jobbing, as it became known rather pejoratively during the expenses scandal, came in for some scathing criticism from Sir Christopher Kelly, the man charged with looking into the whole affair and making recommendations to sort it out. In an interview following his election in the early hours of Friday, Mr Cairns said categorically that he would be tendering his resignation as an Assembly Member to the party's management board immediately and it would be for them to decide what happened next.

If the second on the list were a man the party was ready to welcome with open arms, there would be no problem. I think it's fair to say that he is not.

Watch this space.

UPDATE

More what-if thoughts on the role of a Welsh/Scottish Secretary should there be a Tory/Lib Dem deal here.

The Dresser

Betsan Powys | 10:01 UK time, Sunday, 9 May 2010

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There are times - and this is one of them - when a Welsh dresser in a kitchen somewhere in the Llanuwchllyn area becomes the most familiar Welsh dresser on tv.

It belongs to Plaid's Parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd. He invariably sits in front of it when the cameramen roll up and political journalists want to know Plaid's thinking on impeaching Tony Blair/opposition to war in Afghanistan/doing any kind of deal with Labour/doing any kind of deal with the Tories.

For those who can't stop watching the News Channel at the moment then you'll have spotted that the dresser was back and may yet make another appearance if Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg fail to strike a deal. You'll have listened carefully to Mr Llwyd's words too I bet and noticed - as I pointed out in the last entry - that while Plaid talk in terms of talking to Labour ... just in case, they never did rule out talking to the Tories.

That's what Alex Salmond did on Friday. The message from the SNP leader yesterday?

"The assumption by some that the only option now available for a new UK
Government is a Tory-Liberal pact is not correct.
"There are alternatives and far more progressive outcomes available should
politicians have the will to seize the moment. Plaid and the SNP are indicating
that we do."

What do we read into those words from a Welsh perspective?

Mr Salmond and Mr Jones make it clear they would strive to strike a deal with Labour first. Sign up here for the progressive majority? Here we are, front of the queue.

Should that collapse and should any sign of a deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have long since collapsed too, then this way there is a door left open for Plaid: one that allows them to talk to David Cameron ... who would by then be working out whether a minority government can survive.

Plaid would, of course, have to go it alone. The Tories are, as a friend put it so vividly, "so much more toxic" in Scotland than in Wales. Yet neither would Plaid surely fail to spot the many dangers of propping up a government that would be about to - what was it again Mr Jones - inflict a series of "slash and burn cuts to Wales's budget (that) will hit our businesses and economy hard" ... as the Plaid press release put it just five days ago. How many millions would make Plaid calculate that it's worth it?

The chair in front of that dresser could yet become a pretty uncomfortable place to sit.

A blog entry worth reading here from a figure in the Labour movement whom it's easy to imagine would one day become a key figure in the Labour movement in Wales.

His take on the party's performance in Wales - lowest percentage since 1918 but a very decent haul of seats - is proof that not everyone is prepared to join in the act of giving a collective sigh of relief.

Overtures

Betsan Powys | 12:37 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

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Meet two men who just might have some serious bargaining power between them. Might.

The leader of the SNP Alex Salmond, is out there putting it characteristically bluntly:

"I am accepting the offer of the Prime Minister on behalf of the SNP and Plaid Cymru ... to have the civil service back up to have discussions to see what the possibilities are in terms of defending the interests of Scotland and Wales in this parliamentary situation."

"Fate seems to have dealt us a mighty hand" says Mr Salmond, but went on to make it crystal clear - he is ruling out any sort of deal with the Conservatives. A senior SNP source made equally clear that it's on the grounds the Tories had been "comprehensively rejected" by the Scottish electorate.

The other, leader of Plaid Cymru Ieuan Wyn Jones, puts it characteristically less bluntly:

"What we have made clear is that we are prepared to talk in order to secure a good deal for the people of Wales. We want to make sure we have a fair funding formula, that the vulnerable are protected, that our economy comes out of recession, and I think those are the kind of discussions we need to have in order to ensure that the people of Wales have something that they can look forward to".

What do Plaid make of the blunt language coming from the SNP camp?

A senior source says makes this of it: "Discussions need to take place, both internally and between parties. Plaid will not be providing a running commentary on this".

However, Mr Jones was offered the opportunity to rule out any sort of deal with the Conservatives earlier this morning, and he publicly, and pointedly failed to take it.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy between Mr Jones refusing to rule out talking to, or indeed doing a deal with, any other party, and Alex Salmond's rejection of any sort of deal with the Conservatives, the Plaid source said a coalition with the Tories had always been ruled out from the very beginning - but would not confirm or deny anything about the party's position regarding a deal with the Tories on a vote by vote basis.

Possible early cracks in the so-called Celtic Block emerging? One thing we can be pretty sure about: the phone has been ringing.

But whether talks about talks turn into talks at all, let alone talks about anything concrete, we really don't know.

The morning after

Betsan Powys | 06:54 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

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Overheard on the journey from one studio to the next. "What d'you think? Another General Election?" "Maybe ... but at least that's money saved on a referendum."

Overheard in that studio, Michael Gove discussing the formation of the next government and telling the Today programme that it "now falls to other parties to help David Cameron form that government."

"Minority government" says Jonathan Evans. "Where are we? 307ish? Easy". Ah the balance between riding the momentum and hubris.

And Peter Hain talking about a Labour Liberal Democrat coalition that would get over the 326 seat majority mark thanks to "a wider arrangement" with "other left leaning parties".

Plaid Cymru might have had a bad night but their 3 MPs might yet count in some way in a very, very delicately balanced parliament.

Going up

Betsan Powys | 23:23 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

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UPDATE 05.55

As dawn breaks over Westminster - and Wales, I'm told - I'm signing off.

We have some idea what parliament will look like.

A clear idea as to the shape of our future government?

No such luck: not yet.


UPDATE 05.39

Kevin Brennan doesn't buy the argument that because some 2 million people more - on current figures on seats declared so far - have voted for the Conservatives than have voted for Labour, Gordon Brown has lost the right to govern.

"Yes we've done far less well than the Conservatives ... but this is a parliamentary system, not a presidential one."

In othe words, it's our shout if we can strike a deal.

UPDATE 05.13

Cardiff North is finally declaring: Jonathan Evans - whom some have been suggesting might be made Welsh Secretary in a Conservative government - has won by the smallest of margins, fewer than 200 votes.

"It has been an enormously difficult task to wrest this seat from Labour ... "

Clearly more difficult, much more difficult than expected, which is why no Conservative - in Cardiff North or Chesham and Amersham - will be counting on making it into the Wales Office.

Julie Morgan: "a miss is as good as a mile".

Cheryl Gillan, in Chesham and Amersham, has seen a swing of 2.3% in her favour and is safely elected.


UPDATE 04.54

Any anoraks still up?

If not, here's something to consider when you get up tomorrow:

On average the swing to the Tories in seats where the Lab majority over the Tories in 2005 was less than 20% has been:

NORTH OF ENGLAND 6.2
MIDLANDS 7.2
SOUTH 6.4
WALES 5.7

Only Scotland clearly stands out. There the swing in marginal seats has been 3.0% to Labour.

Chew on that as Ed Balls survives but Charles Clarke does not.

UPDATE 04.40

Two familiar faces to Welsh Conservatives winning seats in England:

Robert Buckland in Swindon South and Karen Lumley beating the former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in Redditch - a big Labour scalp.

And the Lib Dems are putting a brave face on what must be a hugely disappointing night in Wales (though the wider picture might yet yield them a shared role in government) -

"A Lib Dem surge in the Valleys seats of Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd (swings of 17% and 13%) has positioned the party to win there in next year's Assembly election. With a strong swing to the party in Wrexham as well, there are clear Labour-Lib Dem battleground seats in 2011.

"While we are happy that our share of the popular vote increased from 2005, we are convinced that the electoral system is unfair and needs reforming.


UPDATE 04.10

"People have voted to ensure the Tories did not win" was a Labour message we heard earlier. Just a point worth making perhaps - can that be said of the Lib Dem 'progressive majority' in Swansea West. Didn't they vote Lib Dem to ensure Labour didn't win?

David Cornock reports from Westminster that talks might already be underway between Labour and the Lib Dems ... unconfirmed he stresses.

Alun Michael: results so far "don't give a licence to David Cameron to govern".

UPDATE 03.55

Recount in Cardiff North - who'd have expected I'd be typing that in the early hours?

This from the pointy headed people:

With just four seats left to declare, the BBC is forecasting that the eventual result in Wales will be:

LAB 26 Seats -3
CON 8 Seats +5
LIB DEM 3 Seats -1
PC 3 Seats No change
OTHERS 0 Seats - 1

Meanwhile, the predicted shares are:

LAB 36 -7
CON 26 +5
LIB DEM 20 +2
PC 11 -2
OTHERS 7 +2

Bear in mind that on a much, much better night for Labour than we'd envisaged - than they'd envisaged - the percentage of the Labour vote is still predicted to be their lowest since 1918 in Wales. They hit a low of 37.5% back in 1983 which translated into 20MPs (out of 38.)


UPDATE 03.48

Peter Hain has talked "duty" and "obligation" to govern.

David Jones, not surprisingly, takes a very different view: he talks moral authority. "It looks as if the Conservative Party is going to be the largest party in this parliament and therefore it has the moral authority to form the next government."

Carmarthen West has turned blue. Simon Hart is elected; Nick Ainger loses by some 3000 votes.


UPDATE 03.37
Cardiff North has gone to a recount.

Yvette Cooper: unless David Cameron gets a majority it is "right" that Labour seek to govern and .... they have "much in common" with the Liberal Democrats.

Andrew RT Davies is "foaming at the mouth" the other end of the studio. His message to Peter Hain: "WAke up and smell the coffee Peter!"

Ah ... coffee? The night is young.

UPDATE 0305

No stories of voters locked out, failing to vote, of sit-ins in Wales. In fact voter turn-out is up here but not by as much as we might have thought. The Electoral Commission has said it'll conduct "a thorough review of what has happened in those constituencies where people have been unable to vote".

David Cameron a few moments ago: "What'll guide me is to do what is right ... I will put the national interest first."

Does that read as: I'll give it a go? Will he have the numbers that give him that chance?

UPDATE 02.50

Labour look to have held Cardiff West but with a much reduced majority and they've also, I'm told, held Gower despite the Conservative candidate's earlier optimism.

Swing from Labour to the Conservatives in Wales? As of 02.30 it's 5%.

As only Andrew RT Davies could put it: "We're on our way we are". On our way how far though? The swing in English constituencies isn't at this point suggesting a Tory majority.

UPDATE

Swansea West is, I'm told by a man who should know, won by Labour ... by 531 votes.

UPDATE 02.18

A view from rural Wales for you! Glyn Davies has, apparently, done what most people thought he might do 2 months ago ... but not 2 weeks ago - and beaten Lembit Opik.

What effect will Alun Cairns and Glyn D and Guto Bebb have on the Welsh Conservative group in Westminster?


UPDATE 02.16

Recount in Swansea West - Labour clinging on, apparently, by 40 votes.

UPDATE 01.55

Nick Smith - and his "oh I know" campaign in Blaenau Gwent storms it for Labour. A thought: that Alun Davies AM must be thinking his gamble has paid off.

Has Glyn Davies ousted Lembit Opik in Montgomeryshire? Or is it simply far closer than the incumbent, the very confident Mr O had thought?

Let's think about something else: how remarkably different the Labour picture is in Wales and in England. Two thoughts: well done Peter Hain is an obvious one ... but an (even) bigger thought: given the same is true of Scotland ... and if the Conservatives fail to pick up anything like the same number of seats in Wales and in Scotland as they do in England ... yet go on to win, then won't this go down as the most English of successes for Mr Cameron?

UPDATE 01.38

Carmarthen West "looking Tory" says a source. Same source got Labour's 4000 majority in Llanelli right so ... Has a collapse in the UKIP vote helped the Conservatives to take Gower too?

Gordon Brown talks of that "consensus" against the Tories again as he holds his own seat. He's going nowhere unless David Cameron gets his majority.

Chris Ruane celebrates "a cracking result" for Labour in the Vale of Clwyd.


UPDATE 01.12

Let's remind ourselves of this from Nick Robinson's blog earlier:

"Ed Davey for the Liberal Democrats has confirmed Nick Clegg's pre-election night statement that the party with the most votes and seats has the right to try to form a government"..

The voices from Labour HQ say: Gordon Brown goes nowhere unless David Cameron wins a majority.


UPDATE 00:57

Arfon - not as close as last minute rumours had been suggesting. Hywel Wiliams takes this notional Labour seat safely.

Labour confident they've held Vale of Clwyd - by 1500.


UPDATE

Byron Jones (minus his taxi) says a win for him in Gower is 'on the cards'. The message "to look out for Gower" was spot on then.

Close in Montgomeryshire say the Conservatives and ahead in Cardiff West at this point ... but in Brecon and Radnor, Lib Dems look like hanging on safely.

UPDATE 00:32

Ieuan Wyn Jones: "probably going to be a disappointing night for us .. have to acknowledge that ... not the sort of break throughs we might have been hoping for".

White flag stuff pretty early on. Are Plaid expecting Mark Williams' majority to grow significantly?

Are they afraid Llanelli is tight but that Labour hang on? I hear "big inroads" but not enough to take from Labour.

I'm hearing Labour's take on Plaid's night too - "a shocking night for Plaid".

And the Tory take on the Vale of Glamorgan being anything but theirs? "Rubbish".

UPDATE

"Family feud" in Blaenau Gwent over? Labour always said it would take 3 elections to get it back. Looks like they might get it back sooner - as Nick Smith, the Labour candidate, told his party confidently some months ago.

UPDATE

A note has been thrust under my nose ... source is Vale of Glam candidate. Note says: suggestion Labour have held the Vale of Glamorgan.

Now then ... if that is true ... I've just listened to Alana Davies, the Labour candidate and I'm going to add a big 'if' and file that note away til later. What she seems to be saying is 6 months ago I was dead in the water. Now I'm not .. Defending a majority of 1500, she SHOULD be dead in the water if the Tories are to get to anything like 305 seats.

UPDATE 23.55

Rhodri Morgan is at the Cardiff North count. I'm reminded of talking to Rhodri Morgan when the idea of a rainbow coalition was more than brewing in Cardiff Bay. He wouldn't stand for it. The party that had won most seats HAD to be part of the ruling coalition he argued then.

The Welsh Secretary takes a different view tonight: it is the "duty" of the anti-Tory, progressive majority to take to the helm.

Llanelli? "Close". Turnout at 67%. Nia Griffith looking remarkably down and confirms it's very, very close.


UPDATE 23.40

The loyal Lib Dem who bet his car some months ago that his party would hold off Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion reckons his car is ... safe. Reckons.

UPDATE 23.34

Peter Hain: "The Lord Ashcroft millions have failed to deliver. There is an anti-Tory majority and that offers all sorts of possibilities for this parliament.

"David Cameron thought he had the keys to Number 10 in his back pocket ... not what I'm hearing, certainly not in Wales".

"We await the verdict of the voters but we seem to have made more progress than most people seemed to be expecting".

Huw's giving it a go: IF the results right, where does that leave Gordon Brown?

"He's the PM. It's his responsiblity to make sure there's stable government ... Our duty, the majority in parliament who do not want the Conservatives ... is to make sure there's a progressive majority in parliament that opposes Tory reforms ... and that there is fundamental political reform. We have an obligation to make that work".

Oh and more suggestions of smiles on Labour faces, not only in Blaenau Gwent but in Ynys Mon too. Trying to watch for a response on Helen Mary Jones' and Leighton Andrews' faces. They're behind a camera ...

NEW ENTRY

As all eyes turn to Sunderland once again another suggestion - one that says updating upwards, adding to the top of the blog entry, is easier for you to read and digest.

I aim to please.

This is it.

Betsan Powys | 22:00 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

Comments

And we're off!

A few hours ago I stood in a short queue before I voted, something I've never had to do at out local polling station. Parents were arriving with children, as though sensing that this was an event worth witnessing, even if they hadn't a clue what exactly they will be witness to by tomorrow morning.

Our best guess?

Here's the exit poll.

Labour - 255 (-94)
Conservative - 307 (+97) (Revised to 305)
Liberal Democrats - 59 (-3) (Revised to 61)
Others - 29 (no change)

In other words: a hung parliament - the Conservatives short by 19 votes of an overall majority.

Be aware - perhaps very aware tonight of all nights - that all polls have a small margin of error, one which could be significant in a tight election like this where the three main Westminster parties have been so close in the opinion polls. And there could be different voting patterns around the country - something I have a feeling you'll be watching out for tonight with Huw Edwards and with me on BBC1 Wales.

Keep your comments coming. Give the moderators a busy night and I'll do my best to keep the blog going (when Huw's not looking ...)

UPDATE

22.05

Nick Bourne: "It's just a poll"

Mike German: "That doesn't square with what I've been hearing on the doorsteps"

Leighton Andrews: "Exit polls have been wrong in the past ... I don't think we know much more than what the polls have been suggesting for the past few weeks."

Helen Mary Jones: "Important not to read too much into it. We have different elections going on all over the county ... I am surprised at the Lib Dem figure. Conservative and Labour figures? Feel just about right to me."

UPDATE 22.46

David Cameron says "we can govern with this result" ... Leighton Andrews has a belly laugh.

Neil Kinnock quoted as saying: "we are going to have a very interesting few days ahead of us". Inedible or unpalatable deals? And who gets to do the choosing?

UPDATE 22.59

Suggestions of smiles on Labour faces in Blaenau Gwent - no more than that but hey, suggestions of smiles have their place on election night.

Delve deeper into the exit poll and this is what you find:

a suggestion that Labour may have actually had a swing in its favour in Wales and Scotland.

The Conservative vote is anticipated to unchanged compared to 2005, whilst the Labour vote may be +2.

The Liberal Democrat vote is expected to be -4% down on the last election.

The comparative figures for England are Cons +5, Lab -9, LD +1


A BOGOF bargain

Betsan Powys | 13:00 UK time, Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Comments

If they can do it, so can I. I mean throw in a visit to Tesco whle on the campaign trail. It's become such a feature of this election campaign you imagine visitwales.com might soon have a rival called visittesco.

Not that I imagine my experience in Tesco in Canton can be compared with David Cameron's welcome to Tesco in Holywell or Gordon Brown's visit to their store in Hammersmith. Neither Sir Terry Leahy or Prunella Scales turned up. And before you point it out I know Nick Clegg has been working the Tesco seam too, Ieuan Wyn Jones has probably managed to fit in conversations with one or two Tesco shoppers and workers and yes, I could name other supermarkets that have become part of the backdrop to this campaign too. It's just that Tesco have featured so heavily in news footage my 6 year old daughter asked whether they were standing in Cardiff.

But I did pick up something on my own visit to the supermarket last night.

In the queue, standing behind me were a fifty-something man and woman who seemed to be work colleagues. Neither had, or so they told each other anyway, decided how to vote.

The gist of their chat was this: the woman's mother, a pensioner, didn't want to lose her bus pass so she was afraid to vote Tory. She had heard, though, that maybe Labour were just trying to scare her and she didn't like that thought either. Nick Clegg? Nah, not for them. Plaid didn't seem to be on the radar, though they're 'doing all right' in the Assembly.

The upshot was something that said 'I hope none of them get it' - it being a majority. In other words the Tesco couple were in fact willing a hung parliament, willing a sort of political BOGOF bargain where you got two sharing power for the price of one vote.

Why?

Not because they hoped it might lead to early electoral reform.

Not, I suspect, because they were looking forward to a re-run of the coalition talks held in Cardiff Bay back in 2007. That deal in the National Assembly, incidentally, took 55 days to broker which if you look at Institute of Government-quoted calculations has Wales at number 4 in the European league of "Length of government formation process", tucked in between Italy and Finland.

Not because they've read the comments of people like Ken Clarke - no fan of hung parliaments to put it mildly:

"What we're plainly headed for would be a great deal of squabbling, with small parties given disproportionate influence, trying to manoeuvre advantages for themselves before they allow a Conservative government to get on with the job ... To sit and listen to a Conservative would-be government trying to negotiate with the Scots about how much less the public spending cuts are going to be north of the border ... would, I think, be very tedious."

It wasn't those sorts of concerns.

Standing in the queue last night they just wanted to see power shared because that, for them, seemed to offer easy to assess, tangible, grabbable change. They knew the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were offering change. So have Plaid. They've all based their campaigns on it one way or another.

But when all was said and done, here were two people who'd decided they probably wanted it but that they were going to rely on ordinary voters to deliver it.

UPDATE

I'm told by a tired but reliable source that a woman recently serving Ieuan Wyn Jones in Tesco in Culverhouse Cross asked him for a Plaid Cymru badge. There. Full house.

Hanging on in there

Betsan Powys | 13:19 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Comments

cricketball_pa_6666.JPGA footnote to this morning's Labour briefing at the Swalec Stadium.

On the wall behind Peter Hain, Carwyn Jones, Wayne David and Jessica Morden I spotted a framed photograph. It was taken in Karachi during the 3rd test match between Pakistan and England back in 1973.

It may delight the Welsh Labour team to know the side that was sitting on a decent lead after the first innings in that particular match simply couldn't nail down the victory.

This particular hard-fought match ended ... in a draw.

(For cricket anoraks the second highest scorer for England was Wales' Tony Lewis on 88.)

Rising temperatures and cold logic

Betsan Powys | 12:09 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Comments

toryredcard_226x170.JPGWe've reached the point where there are "48 hours to save Wales from" a long list of things.

We've reached the point where there are signs of panic in constituencies where they've managed to disguise it rather well until now.

More of that in a moment.

We've reached the point where Peter Hain appears to have taken the message he's hammered home for many months now - Liberal Democrat (and Plaid) supporters should vote Labour this time to keep out the Tories - a step further and suggested Labour supporters in Tory/Lib Dem marginals should vote Lib Dem.

As the clock counts down and as the temperature rises I think I'd do well to stick to logic. Here we go.

I say Peter Hain "appears to have" urged tactical voting amongst his own as well as amongst others because that, after all, is the logic of what Mr Hain tells the Independent today. He tells the paper:

"I support every Labour candidate and the Liberal Democrat leadership supports every Liberal Democrat candidate. But voters are intelligent and they know what the real fight is in their own constituency. They will draw their own conclusions."

I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what he meant. This morning, at a sunny Swalec Stadium, Mr Hain was in full blocking mode. He denied he'd meant anything of the kind.

"I do not want people to vote Lib Dem" he said. Watch my lips. It doesn't get clearer than that.

So what is the logic, we asked, of a sentence like "I'm supporting all our candidates but ..."

He was not, Mr Hain, telling Labour voters to vote Lib Dem. That was our - and most people's - reading of what he had said to the Independent. He was saying nothing more, nothing less than he has been throughout this campaign. If you want to keep out the Tories, vote Labour. Anything else was in our - and most other people's - reading of his words.

While we probed the issue of just how perilously close Mr Hain had come to doing something that in campaigning terms is just not cricket - telling your own supporters to vote for someone else to keep your gravest enemy out, a real life cricket match was going on outside. Felt to me like another life, another world actually. Still ...

So we'd tried bowling swing, what about spin?

Wasn't Mr Hain's negative, anti-Tory message starting to appear just a little ... well, negative?

With Carwyn Jones on one side and a giant "red card" on the other, he kept up his attack on the Tories with the sort of vigour I didn't think anyone would have left in them with hours to go until voting booths open.

"Fear of the Tories is really live on the doorsteps" said Mr Hain. He was, he insisted, and indeed Labour were, responding to what they were hearing. There is no appetite in Wales for a Conservative government. It was 'panicked Tories' who found Labour's message negative.

Beyond the boundary, outside in Cardiff West there are signs that it is Mr Hain's own side who are panicking a bit. Labour's Kevin Brennan has sent out a letter to electors which ends on this ominous note:

"There are real choices for Wales in this General Election. Only Labour and Conservative have ever won in Cardiff West and there is a real danger the Tories could win this year."

Let me remind you that Mr Brennan had a majority of more than 8,300 in 2005 and the swing needed for the Conservatives to take the seat would be just over 11%.

Back at the Swalec Stadium my colleague, David Cornock commissioned by Radio Wales to prepare a package on the highs and lows of the campaign for a few ideas of Labour highs. Could Mr Hain help?

"Chelsea won on Sunday!" said the Welsh Secretary. Even the girl in the room knows they play in blue.

Saturday poll

Betsan Powys | 08:51 UK time, Saturday, 1 May 2010

Comments

On the day, that feels so very long ago, when Labour launched their manifesto in the Wales Millennium Centre, the Lib Dems were just dreaming about being linked to words like "surge".

Nick Clegg and "mania" ..? Don't be daft.

Back then thought that the Prime Ministerial Debates would fundamentally change people's minds, change the whole focus - the language even - of the campaign seemed very remote.

Then came the first debate, then came the clear suggestion that quite a few minds had been changed and big Lib Dem spike that showed in the ITV Wales/YouGov poll.

This is what I wrote back then:

"The ITV/YouGov poll of voting intentions, which carried out its fieldwork in Wales between April 14-17 (the debate took place on the 15th, before you ask) has come up with these results, with difference from March figures in brackets:

Labour 33 (down 4)
Conservative 23 (down 6)
Plaid Cymru 9 (down 5)
Liberal Democrats 29 (up 17)

Now that's what you call a spike. Month on month, it's frankly jaw dropping".

Now, in a country where the paucity of polls is still a real problem, another has thankfully been published, this time a poll conducted by "Wales-based Research and Marketing Plus" - a new name on me - and carried out for the Western Mail.

The results are these:

Labour - 37.5%
Conservatives - 23.5%
Liberal Democrats - 21%
Plaid Cymru - 10.8%

Labour, says the paper's Martin Shipton "were last night hopeful it could keep losses in Wales to a minimum on Thursday". In the Labour camp losing some ground isn't too bad, you suppose, when you thought that ground was about to ripped from under your feet.

It's caused Peter Hain, once again, to appeal to Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem supporters to "lend Labour their vote" to keep out the Tories.

I genuinely don't know what we in Wales are about to do when we vote on Thursday. And as a colleague who's been around a good few years longer than I have says, it's the first time in a long time anyone reporting on Welsh politics has said that, a matter of days before a General Election.

So back to the day, that feels so very long ago, when Labour launched their manifesto in the Wales Millennium Centre I asked Peter Hain, the man at the frontline of the Welsh Labour campaign, whether losing some six seats on the night of May 6th would be quite a good night for Labour in Wales, or quite a bad one?

Given every party is out to "win a majority" at the start of every election campaign he's forgiven, I think, for not answering that one. But I do wonder what his answer would be this morning.

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